30 years on: Success undermines PQ mission

Le PQ remporte les élections: 30e anniversaire

Thirty years ago today, Quebec elected its first sovereignist government amidst opposing emotions in the province and the rest of Canada. Back then, no one imagined that a Canadian success story was being born.

And yet, over the years, the many successes of the Parti Québécois have played a larger part in its failure to achieve sovereignty than any given federalist policy.

Over that time, the PQ turned the assumptions of both its detractors and promoters on their head.

Far from falling on the sword of its inexperience - as the NDP did in Ontario in the days of Bob Rae - the PQ has spent more time in power than in opposition since that heady 1976 election day.

To date, every one of its leaders has had occasion to serve as premier. If a Quebec election had been held this fall, rookie PQ leader André Boisclair would have been favoured to win.

Two lost referendums later, most of the province's ridings are represented by sovereignists either at the federal or provincial level. The Bloc currently holds a 20-point lead on the Conservatives and the Liberals in federal voting intentions.
In 1976, critics predicted that sovereignists - with their secessionist project and their social-democrat creed - would bring Quebec to the brink of bankruptcy.

Thirty years later, the pequiste fiscal track record is better than that of their Liberal opponents.

Quebec did not come to the table of balanced budgets a day later than most other provinces. It was Lucien Bouchard, a sovereignist premier, who waged a decisive war on the deficit, and Bernard Landry who cut taxes.

In opposition, the PQ has backed Liberal efforts to tackle the provincial debt.
Critics also claimed that the province's language law would isolate Quebec from the North American mainstream and turn it into an international backwater.
Today Quebec is home to the most bilingual population in the country. More Quebecers speak more than one language than any of their provincial counterparts.

Quebec artists have carved niches for themselves not only on the French-language international market but increasingly in the anglophone one. In its diversity, Montreal today is a lot more like Vancouver and Toronto than Ottawa, the nation's capital.

By now, most Quebec federalists, including such prominent ones as Stéphane Dion, support the province's language regime.

But that is hardly the only landmark PQ policy that has come to be adopted by the entire Quebec political class.

Over the years, most major PQ initiatives have also become Liberal policy. That's in no small part because the PQ has expanded Quebecers' comfort zone within the federation.

Even the arrival of the Bloc Québécois had had a positive influence.
It has made the House of Commons more bilingual than the federal capital itself and it has brought the debates that take place on Parliament Hill closer to Quebec.

Since 1976, the law that has made French the language of education for most newcomers to the province has made Quebecers more secure about the prospects for the survival of their language.

By injecting more diversity into its francophone mainstream, it has also made the province more open to the rest of the world than many comparable societies.

Since the last referendum, the creation of a comprehensive child-care program, the advent of balanced budgets, and the proliferation of Quebec talent on the international scene have all demonstrated that it is possible for the province to have a model and a personality of its own and still be part of Canada.
There are many in the rest of the country today who see the unavoidable reality that Quebec is different as a threat to the federation.

Some argue that to acknowledge the province's national character would amount to boosting sovereignty. More detached observers see it differently.
Last week, the French Courrier international published a five-page piece on international perceptions of modern Quebec.

As is the magazine's custom, it searched far and wide for published pieces dealing with the issue. From Britain's The Economist to Lebanon's L'Orient-Le-Jour and to the French Télérama, it came up with a sampling of unanimous rave reviews of Quebec's accomplishments.

For those who observe Quebec from a distance, it is its unqualified success at affirming its distinctive personality as a society operating in French in North America that is making the PQ quest for secession less compelling than when the party first came to power.

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