The political obituary of the separatist movement has been written many times before. No less an expert than Pierre Trudeau once proclaimed separatism to be dead and buried, only to see it rise up and nearly ruin the country not once, but twice.
It’s very risky to read the last rites for an idea, for a dream, or for a movement. But this time, with the Parti Quebecois utterly devastated in an election they called on issues of their choosing, we can safely say that separatism is no longer a threat to the dominion.
How did this happen?
Well, I am not an expert on the political climate of Quebec. Hell, I’m not an expert on anything (except perhaps old episodes of The Simpsons, up to about season 10), but that has never stopped me from commenting before. But it seems to me that the PQ’s time has passed it by. Quebec has evolved, and the PQ has not.
The PQ was formed with one purpose in mind — a separate Quebec. It’s right there as Article 1 in its party program. When the PQ was formed in 1968, Quebec was a different province, and Canada a different country. English was the language of commerce, the language of the ruling elite. French was subjugated, despite being the language of choice of the vast majority of the population.
That is no longer the case, ironically in large part thanks to PQ governments. Today’s younger voters, and certainly the immigrant population, know nothing of the bad old days. The October Crisis of 1970, when the separatist movement took and ominous, violent turn (that found a fair level of support amongst the college aged crowd at the time), might as well be the Plains of Abraham to anyone under 40 in Quebec.
But the PQ holds grudges based on grievances that no longer exist. French is the dominant language in the province, in no immediate or even long-term danger of disappearing. Quebec has an arts and culture community that puts all of the rest of Canada to shame. Quebecers are also savvy enough to know that they get way more, economically, out of Canada than they put into it.
In short, they’ve got it good. Quebec is, for all intents and purposes, a nation within a nation. The real concerns of Quebecers are the same concerns of all Canadians — the economy, health care, infrastructure, that boring stuff that makes up government. The savvy Quebec voter (voter turnout was about 70 per cent, a terrific number) knows that separatism, either real or simply a threat, is economically ruinous and painfully divisive.
The PQ is living in the past, holding onto a dream that holds less and less appeal to Quebecers with each passing year. There are no positives to be found for the PQ from the election result. Their time has passed, and the only way they can hope to return to power is to move separatism from Article 1 to the appendix.