Of course partition is possible

Québec 2007 - Après un OUI - Charest et la partition

Are you enjoying the referendum campaign so far? The answer, for most Gazette readers and for that matter for most Quebecers, will surely be a resounding "no."

The big issue is once again eclipsing all the other issues Quebecers really care about, and Tuesday was a good example. First it was Andre Boisclair promising to work, as premier, to ask Canada's allies and friends in the world to help him break up the country. Then it was Jean Charest, invoking the P-word - partition - and then back-pedalling as fast as he could. Meanwhile, Mario Dumont continued to pretend that la question nationale isn't an issue at all. Really, can't anybody here play this game?

We don't expect any better from Boisclair of the Parti Quebecois, nor from Dumont of Action democratique du Quebec. But Charest, as Liberal leader, as premier, and as a federalist, should have had the courage to speak the reality: if Canada is divisible, then Quebec is divisible.

But let's start with Boisclair. Ever since Rene Levesque, PQ leaders have indicated with a wink that world powers and international bodies would nod cheerfully and ask no questions at the news that Canada was fissioning. All PQ leaders go to Paris to bask for 15 minutes in the fame of being seen with the president of the French republic, if not d'egal a egal then at least in some implicit incipient special relationship. Le Quebec libre would have a patron, we are to understand.

Boisclair went farther, promising if not an actual barnstorming tour then at least a global campaign to drum up support for independence. This is a measure of his inexperience: better PQ leaders than he have failed to get much public backing from foreign leaders. For one thing, many countries have their own separatism-prone regions, making their leaders unwilling to throw stones at Canada.

Charest, meanwhile, was guilty of a fault opposite to Boisclair's: he failed to advance his option forcefully enough.

Pressed Tuesday by The Gazette's Elizabeth Thompson, the premier said this: "I don't believe Quebec would be indivisible." Charest might as well have said: "The emperor has no clothes!" Nobody who has thought about this for more than 30 seconds believes in Quebec's mystical indivisibility.

Some political players find it useful to pretend to be shocked at the very concept of partition, but in truth if Quebec left Canada it would surely be subject to pressure for partition - from aboriginal nations, if no one else.

It's easy to see why those on the Yes side duck partition, because the discussion strips the veil of "serenity" away from the legal, political, economic and even potentially military nightmare that a unilateral declaration of independence would unleash. During the federal Liberal leadership campaign, Michael Ignatieff dared to mention the possibility of "civil war" in this context, and he, too, was excoriated. The emperor has a beautiful garment! You can't see it? There must be something wrong with you!

So it's obvious why the separatists shun any mention of partition. But Charest, who often speaks of a Yes result as a "black hole," is evidently too terrified of losing a single "soft nationalist" to acknowledge even the possibility of partition: His handlers soon cranked out a statement disavowing his earlier remark. It has ermine trim, the emperor's gorgeous garment!

Letting the sovereignists set the rules of debate is downright stupid as federalist strategy. Indeed, there is some reason to believe that public support for sovereignty declines when partition is mentioned - as well it might. Soft nationalists are not softheaded; why shouldn't they - why shouldn't we all - think clearly about what another referendum might lead to?

After a day like Tuesday, you can see what we meant last week when we said sovereignty always dominates Quebec's election campaigns. But if that's our fate, at least for now, then we are surely entitled to hope that our leaders can at least exercise some common sense in what they say on the subject.

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