Jacques Bergeron doesn't particularly like the term, but he is what
Most would call a pur et dur Quebec nationalist. The dapper and
Surprisingly spry 73-year-old has spent much of his life fighting for a Quebec nation. By his own account, he hasn't voted for a federalist since John Diefenbaker in 1963, having abstained (or more recently, voted for the Bloc Quebecois) for the last 43 years.
As former Secretary-General of the Societe St Jean Baptiste, he
implemented the society's Patriote de l'annee award in 1975. One of
the first recipients was Camille Laurin, father of Bill 101; Mr. Bergeron proudly shows photos of himself presenting the award to Jacques Parizeau in 1985. He is currently president of the SSJB's Ludger Duvernay section, the society's "members for life," including devout separatists Gerald Larose and filmmaker Pierre Falardeau.
His separatist credentials are unassailable, but what Mr. Bergeron
told me recently would make his nationalist colleagues cringe. "The
solution to our problem is simple," he said from his north Montreal home office. All Ottawa has to do is put into the Canadian constitution that Quebec is a French-speaking province, from which all its laws should be inspired, with an English minority to be respected by the province. "Do that, and a lot of people would abandon the separatist cause," Mr.Bergeron said.
He folded his arms, and a little smile emerged above his chinstrap beard. "I don't think I'd vote for separation again. There'd be no reason to."
Thinking he was finished, I tried to collect my jaw from the floor.
But the lifelong separatist had more to say. "The Bloc Quebecois wouldn't have a reason to exist. The Parti Quebecois would be in trouble, to say the least. Many people would change their way of thinking ."
That was it. No caveats, no clauses, no mention of special status or
further recognition at the United Nations. Essentially, Mr. Bergeron
believes that ending this country's enduring vexation is as simple as
putting into writing was is already true.
"I'm not an ideologue," Mr. Bergeron says. "I'm an independantiste
because nobody wants to give me what I want, in writing, which is a
French-speaking province. My separatist friends tell me that I'm
giving ammunition to the enemy, but I don't care. For me, it's about
protecting the language."
His idea, he says, isn't anything new. He wrote a letter outlining as
much to Joe Clark in 1980, when the latter was trying to win seats in
Quebec. Mr. Clark never replied -- further evidence, Mr. Bergeron
thought, that English Canada simply didn't care about Quebec's
struggle to protect its culture. It's a notion he holds to this day, and it's the backbone of the separatist argument.
"Let us just say that I highly doubt it will ever happen," he sighs. "But you never know."
You never know. Mr. Bergeron's declaration is as good an indication
As any that the fiery bluster of Quebec nationalism, which has plagued
Both French and English Canada for the better part of 40 years, isn't
Simply a matter of irreconcilable differences.
For people like Mr. Bergeron, as with millions of Quebecers who voted
"yes" in the last referendum, sovereignty is a means of cultural protection, a bulwark against the (inherently different) English
culture surrounding Quebec on all its borders.
Constitutional recognition would prevent what Mr. Bergeron and other
nationalists see as the Supreme Court's chipping away of Quebec's
language laws, thus ensuring the protection of the French language.
The BQ and the PQ have long made hay with French Quebecers' seemingly
innate fear of assimilation for their own political ends, wreaking havoc within and beyond the province. Take that threat away, so the theory goes, and away goes much of the separatist argument.
Brian Mulroney may well have tried as much with the "distinct status"
In the Meech Lake Accord. To many outside Quebec, particularly
then-Newfoundland Premier Clyde Wells, "distinct" was code word for
"special." As a constitutionally recognized French-speaking province
within Canada, Quebec wouldn't be special -- or even distinct, for
that matter. It would just be different, once and for all.
With the slightest of overtures -- namely, a single speech delivered
in Quebec during the 2006 election -- Stephen Harper gained an electoral foothold in this province, at once foiling the Bloc and introducing "open federalism" to the political lexicon. But this nebulous term needs teeth: Is Canada open enough to finally recognize what has forever been true? Jacques Bergeron doesn't think so. But in extending an olive branch, however tentatively, the ardent separatist hopes he will be proven wrong.
Martin Patriquin is a Montreal writer
Monsieur Martin Patriquin,
Si vous obtenez que le Canada, par et dans sa constitution, reconnaisse que le Québec est un pays de langue française, dont toutes ses lois doivent s'inspirer, pays (ou province pour les Anglos-Canadiens) dans lequel se trouve une minorité de langue anglaise, vous aurez certainement contribué à sauver le Canada que vous connaissez.
Vous aurez aussi enlevé, à la Cour suprême du Canada, un pouvoir politique qu'elle ne devrait pas posséder, et qu'elle n'aurait jamais dû posséder, ce qui lui a permis de jouer un rôle politique en faisant disparaître des pans entiers de la loi «101», tout en donnant au Canada un pouvoir excessif (et oppressif) sur l'avenir du Québec indépendant de langue française que nous voulons voir naître.
Mais le Canada est-il capable d'accepter en son sein, un peuple capable de le différencier des States, par sa langue et sa culture, ce que refusent de reconnaître son 1er ministre, M. Harper, et ses députés du Québec, Bernier, Verner, Blackburn et consorts, tous pris dans ce qu'ils croient un appui du Québec au PCC, alors qu'en réalité ils ont été élus par la grâce d'un scrutin anglo-saxon à un tour et par une erreur de parcours de nos concitoyens et concitoyennes d'une région du Québec, il faut bien en convenir.
Mais, malgré ces gens, si le Canada anglais acceptait de reconnaître, par, et dans sa constitution, le Québec de langue française, que nous voulons et que nous recherchons, et dont toutes ses lois doivent s'inspirer, peut-être aurez-vous trouver le moyen de sauver le Canada tel que vous le connaissez, et que vous voudriez le voir évoluer?
Disons que je doute fortement de vos chances de succès. Mais, sait-on jamais?
Salutations d'un indépendantiste qui cherche à donner à son peuple un «pays de langue française», capable de devenir le «foyer de tous les locuteurs de notre langue», en terre des «Amériques».
Il m'a fait tout de même plaisir de vous rencontrer et d'échanger avec vous, très ouvertement, sur le sujet ci-avant décrit.
Début juillet 2006
A nationalist's olive branch
Lifelong Que. nationalist has simple constitutional proposal