Such a pleasant dream.
To awake one morning and find yourself free of sovereignty.
To swing your feet around the side of the bed, rub the sleep out of your eyes and look around to a room where not a single sovereigntist lurks in the shadows.
To meander down the stairs, walk into the kitchen and pour yourself a glass of milk and fry some Canadian bacon, without the Sword of Damocles hanging over your head, threatening to break up that country you love so much.
To walk out the front door, get in your car, and drive from the suburbs, into the city, without a single riot obstructing your path and without the military occupying any street corner.
April 8, it’s here at last. The Quebec independence movement is dead.
But while you tippity-tap at your work computer in a sea of Calgary high-rises, somewhere in Quebec City, a meeting is being held.
While Marois ruminates in defeat, at least in this timeline of reality where the PQ fails a miraculous rebound, the elder statesmen of a Quebec libre meet to discuss their options. They probably hold aloft a copy of the Montreal Gazette, smirking in self-depreciation.
Gilles Duceppe is there. Jacques Parizeau is there. Jean-Francois Lisée is there. Pierre-Karl Peladeau might even be there. Maybe they could conference call in Jean-Martin Aussant.
Marois’ loss will be her curtain call. An inglorious last scene, perhaps, but an otherwise admirable and accomplished history in politics.
Who replaces her will be the decider as to what happens to the Quebec sovereigntist movement — where will it stay on course and risk utter irrelevance, whether it back away from the brink and create the winning conditions for the next generation, or whether it will redefine its battle plan.
There is an icon for each camp. In the first is Lisée, with his acidic tongue (pen? keyboard?) and a barrel of war paint; in the second is Francois Legault, and his unwavering support for an independent Quebec that he has wrapped with sheep wool in hopes of not being spotted by the voters; and the third is Francoise David, the eminently likeable face of the kinder, gentler, referendum-crafting hand.
Lisée’s path might be the most expedient, as no one can really fault you for staying on a steady course, even if the ravine is quickly approaching, but it also promises to be the most disastrous. He and Marois are cut from the same cloth — torchbearers for the Parizeaus of the party (even if they don’t always get along), and ultimately children of Rene Levesque.
But it’s their form of with-us-or-against-us tribalism that has alienated the once romanticized movement. They’ve offended the three pillars of federalism — anglophones, Jews, and First Nations — in a way that few others have managed to do since the October Crisis. Their math does not work. What their kool-aid drinking masses don’t get, and what Parizeau was too stupid to realize, is that the pure et dur aren’t having babies, the cosmopolitan youth don’t want their grandfather’s national project, and immigrants aren’t immediately receptive to an aggressive state.
Nobody could blame the party for handing Lisée (or Drainville, or another of their cohorts) the leadership. But doing so doesn’t bode well for a movement in decline.
Legault’s plan, the striving towards “winning conditions,” is not a bad one, for the sake of free Quebec state, if you can stay alive for a few decades. If you can alleviate market nervousness at the idea of secession, you are immediately deflecting a critical lance that the federalist side always employs.
A debt-free Quebec — even if it is financed in large part by the rest of Canada — with a robust voter base — which would be wretched free from Canada, in the event of a ‘yes’ vote — would, at the very least, put the bankers minds at ease. In the interim, a Quebec state could continue its coordinates towards autonomy, as it assumes more control of infrastructure spending, immigration, and international trade (thanks, Stephen Harper.) What’s more, if it could ink deals with the trepidatious First Nations who are resistant to the idea of throwing away centuries of treaties in the name of another nation’s arbitrary spat. Most importantly: a slow-and-steady sovereigntist movement could reassemble the autonomist troops, like Legault’s forces, and begin the hard work of rebuilding political capital and trust from the population.
David’s dream is the gamble. With Quebec Solidaire proving in this campaign that they are not simply a nuisance, or a Montreal-island oddity, the PQ needs to take them seriously. In this campaign, they tried fiercely to shake their voters into fearing a Liberal government, but the solidaires did not budge. Now, they’re cutting directly into the PQ — to the tune of about 7% province-wide, and 15% on Montreal island — and whichever moral compass takes over the PQ following this campaign will need to address that. One way, of course, would be to forge unity with the lefties, and try to ride David’s popularity all the way to the bank.
While it could be said that QS’ popularity comes, paradoxically, because they are not popular — and therefore receive less scrutiny — there is a case to make that David’s popularity is emblematic of something the voters are looking for. Just like Jack Layton won over a broad cross-section of Quebec society with his nominal social democracy that voters could project onto, or Jean-Martin Aussant’s version of inclusive sovereignty, David and QS offer positive politics — and a citizen-led push towards an independent Quebec — however looney they at times may be.
There are three notions that will arise from the PQ’s internal reflection. None of them mean the death of sovereignty.
This is the first race in a decade where the winner has not been pre-determined. Pauline Marois and Andre Boisclair duked it out amid a crowded field in 2005, when it was a virtual certainty that one of them would win. After Boisclair’s failure, partly at the behest of right-wing sovereigntist start-up Mario Dumont, Marois took her turn at bat and anyone who dared get in her way was obliterated.
That decade was destructive. It was a generation of Quebec politics where the PQ managed to lose its right-wing flank, its left-wing conscience, and its ardently sovereigntist raison d’etre.
What follows will have to be constructive, if the Parti Quebecois ever wants to return to power.
OTHER ARTICLES BY JUSTIN LING
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Old Stephen Harper vs. New Stephen Harper on the Fair Elections Act
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Follow Justin Ling on twitter: @Justin_Ling