Editorial: April 7 may have been a historic turning point


Ils prennent leurs désirs pour des réalités

Federalists have been wary of proclaiming the death of separatism ever since Pierre Trudeau brashly did so in 1976 — six months before the Parti Québécois first stormed to power.
The same caution applies today, even after an election in which the PQ registered its lowest popular-vote share since the first time it contested a Quebec election, back in 1970, when it ran on a flat-out promise that electing a PQ government would confer a mandate to secede from Canada.
Ardent supporters of Quebec independence are still numerous, and even in the wake of Monday’s electoral debacle, the separatist movement will go on, though as the result suggests, it is currently regressing as opposed to advancing.
The PQ has been down before and clawed its way back to power, but not since that first election has it been this far down. It was driven to 23 seats in the 1985 vote, but even at that it garnered 39 per cent of the popular vote, a far cry from the 25 per cent it took on Monday. In 2007, it fell to third place in party standings, but with more seats (36) and vote share (29 per cent) than it managed on Monday.
There are still three active separatist parties — Québec solidaire and Option nationale, along with the PQ — but on Monday they registered just a shade more than one-third of the popular vote between them. Of the three, Option nationale is too far on the fringe to be taken seriously (0.73 per cent vote share) and Québec solidaire too neo-communist to have any hope of forming a government. This leaves a crippled PQ as the only credible separatist vehicle.
As if that alone does not speak volumes about the state of the option, the campaign this time turned in the Liberals’ favour when the prospect of another referendum under a majority PQ government became the campaign’s focal issue. And along with the stunning defeat it was handed on Monday, the PQ will be burdened for months to come with what will be a leadership campaign bound to aggravate divisions between its ideological factions.
For all of these reasons, this election might well have been a historic turning point, for the separatist movement and for Quebec. It provides the new Liberal government, with its unabashedly federalist leader, an opportunity to drive home for a generation, if not forever, the benefits of belonging within Canada.
This can best be done by not embarking on the tricky business of constitutional tinkering, which has badly backfired on federalists in the past.
As it is, there are ample benefits to highlight — not only the financial windfall Quebec gets from being Canadian, but the persistent recognition of its distinct prerogatives, most recently demonstrated by the Supreme Court’s rejection of the federal initiative for a national securities regulator, and rejection of the Harper government’s nomination of Marc Nadon as a high-court judge.
Success at this will not necessarily kill off separatism once and for all. But it should keep it clinging to life support, as it is at present.

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