The party that brought us two sovereignty referendums has finally woken up and smelled the federalist coffee. At a Parti Quebecois convention in Saint-Hyacinthe last weekend, an effusive and tearful Pauline Marois presided over her party's biggest policy shift in years-- PQ members voted to drop a promise to hold a third sovereignty referendum as soon as possible once elected. Instead, the party will focus on reminding Quebecers why sovereignty is a good thing. This dramatic reversal speaks not only to changing political winds within Quebec, but also to federal leadership on the national unity file.
Even without looking beyond Quebec's borders (as separatists are loath to do), Ms. Marois's motives are clear. The separatist movement cannot afford to waste its efforts on a hopeless cause. The overwhelming rout of the PQ in the last provincial election drove home this bitter message, as their supporters defected to the "autonomist" Action democratique du Quebec. There will always be hard-line separatists, but the majority of Quebecers want greater provincial autonomy within Canada.
The PQ convention's striking lack of discord on the referendum reversal reveals to some that the party has finally recognized its dire straits. But others see it as a sign that Quebec's separatist movement has splintered. While some hard-liners bit their tongues in Saint-Hyacinthe, others stayed home or had already defected to hard-line left-wing separatist groups like Quebec Solidaire. Of course, the PQ has also been hemorrhaging supporters to the ADQ.
The other piece of the PQ reversal puzzle lies in Ottawa. Strangely enough, a prime minister from the West seems to have had a calming effect on Quebec. Stephen Harper's "Open Federalism" -- more a rhetorical commitment to respect provincial jurisdiction than a substantive policy -- nicely accommodates Quebecers' desire for more breathing room within confederation. And when the Prime Minister added the words "within a united Canada" to a Bloc Quebecois motion calling for the Quebecois to be recognized as a nation, Canadians across the political spectrum took note of a masterful politician at work.
In any event, the prospects for a sovereign Quebec have hit a historic low. Despite Pauline Marois's tears of joy, the PQ's decision to focus on the discourse of sovereignty as opposed to the "means and strategy for achieving independence" is a victory for Canadian unity.
The separatist movement cannot afford to waste its efforts on a hopeless cause.