September 24, 2004 Friday
He's back. Buoyed by the election of a fifth MNA, Action democratique leader Mario Dumont is heading into his party's convention tomorrow armed with a brand new constitutional position. Sort of.
The ADQ's "autonomist" virage marks a return to its founding principles outlined in the 1991 Allaire Report. After the failure of the Meech Lake Accord, the report commissioned by Robert Bourassa proposed Quebec exercise full control over 22 jurisdictions - some provincial and some shared with Ottawa.
In some ways, Dumont's newly-minted version goes farther than that. Dumont makes a daring proposal to strengthen Quebec's autonomy within Canada where Ottawa continues to refuse to do so.
In the same way that Jacques Parizeau says an election win should give a party the democratic legitimacy to implement its platform, the ADQ states that an electoral mandate would allow it to trigger a fully autonomist policy, and even make some bold, unilateral moves.
Whereas Parizeau suggests a referendum be held to ratify a constitution, Dumont says no referendum is needed to do all these things: Affirm Quebec's full control over a number of jurisdictions, prepare a new constitution with an amending formula, create a Quebec citizenship that would co-exist with the Canadian one, affirm Quebec's right of self-determination, change our constitutional branding from "province" to "autonomous state of Quebec,"collect all income taxes and send Ottawa its share, implement major hydro-electric projects without Ottawa's permission, and so on.
Dumont thinks this would foster a huge trans-partisan consensus of Quebecers. This, he says, would lead to a "true confederation" in which Quebec's powers as defined in 1867 would be respected, whether Ottawa agrees or not. Where Jean Charest's and Bernard Landry's options have failed to change anything, Dumont contends, Ottawa must face a fait accompli, just like in the good old days of Maurice Duplessis and Jean Lesage.
This virage might seem complicated, but it has the potential of taking votes away from Liberals who feel Charest will never be nationalist enough. It could also hurt the increasingly vulnerable PQ, whose unresolved leadership and ideological clashes continue to fester.
Dumont also hopes it could seduce those soft sovereignists who always are tempted to settle for less than independence. If truth be told, Dumont's autonomist vision comes dangerously close to those of Lucien Bouchard, Bernard Landry, Claude Morin and Jean-Francois Lisee all who tend to see a winning referendum as a way to strike a new, confederal deal with Canada.
Baby-boomer political scientist and former Rene Levesque adviser Daniel Latouche summarized this troubling phenomenon in a recent documentary: "I've always been a very, very soft nationalist. Many of us voted Yes simply because we wanted to stir things up in English Canada."
Dumont's vision could capitalize on the confusion - which some would qualify as deception - Latouche's generation of "soft sovereignists" created years ago. Those who voted, or even promoted, a Yes vote to force Ottawa into concession mode could now get the same approach from Dumont without the trouble of a referendum. What could be easier?
Bouchard remains the ultimate incarnation of Latouche's point: a sovereignist if necessary, but not necessarily a sovereignist. It's no wonder that, according to a report by three young PQ MNAs about young Quebecers and sovereignty, "the name of Lucien Bouchard is almost taboo" in public assemblies.
No wonder, either, that this report paints the picture of a younger generation of Quebecers who, while they say they're sovereignists, have lost faith in the PQ. That's not only because of its lack of clarity on sovereignty, but also because they cannot identify their own preoccupations - globalization, environment, health, education and social equity - with what they see as the PQ's more conservative and business-friendly leadership.
This fascinating report notes that young Quebecers want to know what sovereignty will do to answer these major social and economic challenges. But they can't find those answers listening to the PQ's old guard.
So much so that the three young MNAs dare to suggest that this lack of identification of younger Quebecers with the PQ points to the need to look for new spokespersons for sovereignty outside the party.
Sadly for the younger generation, the PQ establishment remains mired in the old rhetoric that sovereignty would change nothing in their lives, other than posting a Quebec flag at the United Nations. Just believe, they say.
In the meantime, the ADQ, at least, shows the imagination to propose something audacious within its own nationalist vision.
When will the PQ do the same for its own option? When will it deliver what many younger, and even not so young Quebecers expect: the concrete blueprint of a bold, innovative and socially equitable country?
PQ could learn a few things from ADQ
September 24, 2004 Friday