In Quebec, sovereignty going way of the Church

Une franco-ontarienne qui prend des vessies pour des lanternes...

It was not so long ago — only a few decades — that devout Quebecers took to the streets in droves on June 24 to celebrate their Catholic faith on the name day of Saint Jean-Baptiste, the patron saint of French-Canadians.
Then, in a matter of only a few years in the ’60s, Quebec took the Catholic Church down from its pedestal, consigned its cardinals and bishops to their altars and moved on with a collective single-mindedness that caused that period to go down in history as the Quiet Revolution.
A half-century after that seismic shift, the Fête Nationale weekend finds the high priests (and priestesses) of the sovereignty movement scrambling to deal with a similar exodus from their various chapels.
That the Quebec sovereignty movement is undergoing a massive crisis of faith is obvious. That its decline may turn out to be as permanent as that of the Catholic Church in the Quebec of the ’60s is a real possibility.
On that score, the polls that show that one in two Quebecers still declares himself or herself a sovereignist are as misleading as the census numbers that recurrently report that a majority of the province’s population is Catholic.
Just because one decides to stop attending a given church does not mean one is looking for a different religion. Nor does the occasional well-attended nationalist celebration amount to a lasting renewal of faith. To this day, lapsed Catholics routinely return to church for baptisms, weddings and funerals.
Less than 100 days into the new Parliament, it is increasingly evident that the May 2 results were part of a larger shift in the tectonic plates of Quebec politics.
With every passing week, the collateral damage of the demise of the Bloc Québécois on the Parti Québecois is becoming more irreversible.
Pauline Marois received a massive vote of confidence from her party just prior to the beginning of the tailspin decline of the BQ. She has since lost five MNAs.
The sum of the dissidents is less important than the conflicting reasons for their departures.
Fatigue with the open-ended wait for an opportunity to achieve sovereignty has claimed some of them. Impatience with the PQ’s go-slow approach to its goal of an independent Quebec has got the better of others. The contrary desire to move on to other battles precipitated the last one.
Harsh words have now been exchanged in public between past and present leaders of the PQ — causing virtually irreparable rifts between them.
Marois’s damage control efforts have so far only made things worse.
According to a CROP poll published on Thursday, the PQ would have lost an election held last week to the Liberals.
But Jean Charest’s latest resurrection could be a mirage, for the poll also showed that a yet-to-be-created party led by former PQ minister François Legault would have swept the province.
Far from sudden, this ongoing shift is actually overdue; it was decades in the making.
The demise of the Bloc was already in the cards at the time of Jean Chrétien’s retirement in 2003. Until the sponsorship scandal cut the legs from under his government, Paul Martin’s Liberals enjoyed a decisive lead (55 per cent) in Quebec.
As for the decline in support for sovereignty and the re-engagement of Quebecers in the federal mainstream, they were both well underway when Brian Mulroney and the premiers negotiated the Meech Lake Accord in 1987.
For a long time, leading sovereignists have insisted on portraying their movement’s history as one long march forward. In their book, every setback had been a mere hiccup along the way to the inevitable destination of an independent Quebec.
But in fact, it was the last referendum that was the hiccup. Without the passions unleashed by the Meech Lake crisis, it would not even have been held.
The sixteen years since the close 1995 vote have featured a receding sovereignist tide –—momentarily slowed by events such as the sponsorship fiasco, but never reversed.
Today, the last best hope of the sovereignty movement rests with another big Quebec-Canada flame-out. But it would take more than a garden-variety brushfire between Quebec and the rest of Canada to rekindle the sovereignist flame. More on that in another column.

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