Bertrand returns to sovereignist fold

After his detour in Canada, Bertrand says he is coming back home with a new vision.


Friday, November 14, 2003
On Tuesday, Bernard Landry had a Remembrance Day he won't soon forget. Former Parti Québécois minister Paul Bégin wrote a scathing letter in La Presse denouncing his continued inaction on sovereignty.
Ironically, on the same night, the Bloc Québécois held a $200-a- plate fundraising dinner in Quebec City to honour Landry for his contribution to the sovereignty movement and for his work as a great "bâtisseur" of Quebec. Enough for any leader to get whiplash.
Ted Moses, grand chief of the Cree nation, showed up and called Landry "a brother and a friend." But it was the presence of Guy Bertrand that raised many an eyebrow. Famous for the highest number of "turncoating" operations in Quebec politics, Bertrand is a brilliant litigator who started out in the 1960s as a hard-line sovereignist.
When he ran as a PQ candidate in 1970, he published "104 questions sur l'indépendance," one of the best documents on the subject to this day. But before the last referendum, Bertrand woke up a born-again federalist, chanting that Quebecers and Canadians should "learn to live together." He spoke to countless federalist audiences where he professed his new undying love for Canada.
Then last year, he showed up at a speech given by then-premier Landry at a gathering of English-rights lobbyists in Quebec City. Bertrand had been invited by Alliance Quebec's Brent Tyler, but that didn't keep him from declaring his newfound support for Landry's idea of confederal union with Canada as he left the room.
But it was this week's Bloc fundraiser that marked his first public return to the sovereignist fold. So much so that Landry embraced Bertrand for all to see after he finished his speech. Surprisingly, it went unreported.
Bertrand confirmed his return in an interview yesterday. "After my detour in Canada, I'm coming back home with a whole new vision," he said, now knowing that "sovereignty is more urgent than ever." With the same passion he displayed for the No side in 1995, he pleads that for demographic reasons, "it must be done within 10 years. It's doable and realistic, but the PQ must change its approach."
For this, "federalists must understand that it's necessary for us to have a country," while "sovereignists must recognize some form of multinational federalism with Canada."
If that's a bit confusing, you're in luck. Bertrand promises to soon give his new viewpoint in more detail, even asking English Canada to recognize the French character of Quebec as part of the "world cultural patrimony."
Somehow, some way, Landry's confederal union can't be too far behind this so-called new approach. In fact, it all sounds perfectly compatible, right down to its profound ambiguity. Who said sovereignty and federalism were mutually exclusive? Just kidding.
Still, there are two ways of looking at this return of, dare we say it without cracking a smile, a prodigal son. One is that Landry has a selective memory and has forgotten that if Stéphane Dion was the architect of Ottawa's hard-line Plan B, Bertrand was the first to challenge in court the legality of the process leading to sovereignty as outlined by the PQ, calling it illegal, unconstitutionnal and immoral.
A more charitable explanation of Landry's public embrace of Bertrand and of his presence at a Bloc event, is that the sovereignty option is so strong and Landry's leadership so powerful that even someone like Bertrand cannot resist and wants in again. But I wouldn't put too much money on that one quite yet.
It's more likely that Bertrand, a lone ranger, misses the old gang, including his brother who was a PQ minister. And some of the oldest part of this old gang seems to have missed him just as much. Must be a generational thing happening.
Still, even Bégin's letter, as harsh as it was, marks his own return as he gets back into the debate on sovereignty. Lashing out at Landry had nothing to do with personalities, but with Landry's inaction on that front - a point well taken.
As for Bertrand, perhaps he's also heard of this internal Liberal poll that a Radio-Canada reporter mentioned this week. As Paul Martin is being crowned the new Liberal leader, some say that support for the Bloc has been going up, not down.
If all this means anything at all, it is that the "dead dog" of sovereignty - as Chrétien called it a couple of years ago - might still have a little life left in it. Enough to wake up Bégin and bring back Bertrand, at least until his next "detour."
But when it comes to the quality of its leadership, as Bégin outlined, that might be another story. One that will keep unfolding in the next few months.

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