Deschamps shows us time is running out

18. Actualité archives 2006

May 7, 2004
Another one bites the dust. This week, Quebec's most revered comedian, Yvon Deschamps, now in his late 60s, finally gave up. On CKAC's morning program, he said he no longer believes Quebec needs to become sovereign.
Weighing his words carefully, the man who has been an independentist for decades, has now chosen a radically different path.
"There's a resurgence of nationalism and patriotism all over the world. For me, it's like someone who's agonizing. There's always a big breath before death. The concept of sovereignty is outmoded. It's already achieved in our heads and in our hearts."
Of course, Deschamps is entitled to his opinion. But this is no small change. In a dramatic front-page interview he gave to the Journal de Montreal on Nov. 8, 2001, he said exactly the opposite. "Quebec is at a dead-end.The national question must be resolved before the PQ goes into an election. It's urgent."
Deschamps even asked for then-Premier Bernard Landry to hold a referendum within the next year. "I'm scared. If we miss this rendezvous, we'll have to wait another 40 years. Each time Quebecers have given up on independence, we become mixed up, we become lost, like now."
He concluded, almost as a premonition of what he did this week: "I'm afraid that in the very near future, we won't even want to ask this question anymore."
If truth be told, Deschamps's statement is only the tip of the iceberg. For years now, many Quebec artists, though not all, have been jumping off the independence train, choosing instead the so-called nonpartisan one. In September 1994, as the PQ was gearing up for a referendum, the prestigious French newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique reported on just that.
It noted it was better for artists not to display their convictions publicly and that more of them were singing both at Saint-Jean-Baptiste and the Fete du Canada without a thought.
Then came another premonition. Le Monde asked: "Could it be that Yvon Deschamps, who expressed Quebecers' ambivalence in his famous aphorism 'what we want is an independent Quebec in a strong Canada,' might have been right before every one else?"
Today, Deschamps's new position is far from unique. On a larger scale, it only reflects the general atmosphere, the "air du temps," that permeates more and more the francophone elites of Quebec, especially the baby-boomer generation. Their favourite catch-phrase is "people don't want to hear about independence anymore."
There are exceptions, of course, But what we're witnessing here is the Barbarian Invasions syndrome, with boomers feeling nostalgic about those crazy 1960s and 1970s when they devoted their time and energy to independence, socialism and what not. As Deschamps said this week, Quebec nationalism was "an important step."
But Deschamps, like the movie's characters, now feels we've made it as a real nation. We have "our billionaires, the Cirque du Soleil and Celine Dion. We can can be proud to be Quebecers." So if we don't become a country, he says, "it's not a big problem."
So is the Barbarian Invasions syndrome only the product of too much comfort? For some, it could be. And it's starting to spread to younger generations. To be nonpartisan is now the fad. And to be non-partisan is not to focus on this "outdated" sovereignty thing too much. It looks better that way. It sounds more scientific and in certain fields of study and work, it helps get bigger subsidies from both governments and the private sector.
Columnist Michel Venne has just founded a new, "non partisan" institute - L'Institut du Nouveau Monde. So has former Lucien Bouchard adviser Jean-Francois Lisee, who recently has helped set up a new, "non partisan" international studies centre.
For some others though - and Deschamps might be one of them - the issue is quite different. While they are rightly proud of what Quebec has achieved and, I suspect, would still rejoice if it became sovereign, many also feel disenchanted by what the sovereignist movement has become since the last referendum.
Some sovereignists might well have become sincere federalists, but the PQ's empty rhetoric and broken promises on its option are turning off a number of people. Even the PQ's "season of ideas" was a disappointment. Every novel idea put forth by members was instantly shot down by their leader.
Frankly, it's a miracle support for sovereignty still hovers at 45-49 per cent. But for how much longer? Deschamps's sortie is another reminder time is running out. Without more inspiring leadership, time may be shorter than some think.
In larger terms, Deschamps observed as much in his 2001 interview. "Gone is the era of great ideas. There is no vision, no project for the future. To me, what politicians do now is management, not politics."

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