It is a mistake to reduce the controversial launching in France of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City to a mere "chicane" between sovereignists and federalists.
It speaks to a more serious problem that crosses partisan lines: As it lets Ottawa speak on its behalf more and more, Quebec, as a state, is starting to lose its own voice outside its borders. It confirms that the federal motion on the Québécois nation and Quebec's tiny presence at UNESCO are empty shells.
But the Quebec government is not a victim. It is losing its voice willingly. It's no coincidence that the governor-general of Canada, not the premier, is presiding over such a symbolic event, or that history is being rewritten at the speed of light. The year 1608 is now said to have marked the founding of Canada, instead of the founding of Quebec, and of the spread of the French presence in North America until the British conquest.
Amid this surreal revisionism came the final whopper from Stephen Harper: The G-G is a political descendant of Samuel de Champlain himself! How you can turn the representative of the queen of England into a descendant of a governor of the king of France is something best left to specialists in political propaganda.
All of this was done and planned in a collaborative manner among Ottawa, Quebec City and Paris. Contrary to what any previous premier would have done, sovereignist or federalist, Charest agreed to stay home and let the governor-general take centre stage in France. Back home, Charest was repeating Ottawa's line that the founding of Quebec actually marked the founding of Canada.
The real problem here is that the absence of the premier and the presence of the representative of the queen of England instead runs counter to 50 years of efforts by every Quebec government, Liberal, Péquiste or Union nationale, to build privileged ties with France, politically, culturally, economically and socially.
From the opening of Quebec's delegation in Paris by Jean Lesage to France's policy of "non-interference and non-indifference," all of it had one goal: Whether Quebec stayed a province or not, its very close rapport with France was seen by previous governments, here and in Paris, as an integral part of the building of a strong, modern Quebec nationalism. By definition, this created friction with Ottawa. But it was something France had been willing to live with. Until now.
The bottom line is that the events in France and the ensuing mind-boggling revisionism are the sure sign of a major breach in how Quebec and France had agreed to build this rapport, even at the cost of annoying Ottawa. The Charest government has thus turned its back on defending a vision distinct from Ottawa's, including of history itself, while Paris now favours a true rapprochement with Canada.
This is too major a turn of events to be caricatured as just a homegrown "chicane."
This is also no coincidence because it is the obvious product of the combined, concerted wills of Charest, Harper, Nicolas Sarkozy and their silent partner, Paul Desmarais Sr., of Power Corporation - a longtime opponent of Quebec nationalism and a close friend of Sarkozy to whom the French president recently gave the Légion d'honneur.
The goal is clear enough: The scaling down of Quebec's close rapport with France has as its corollary the strengthening of Canada's. That's why Sarkozy wants to trade in the "non-interference and non-indifference" policy for one of a threesome with Ottawa.
Yesterday, as his defence, Charest repeated the mantra of Quebec being a nation. But by the looks of what's happening with the 400th, its leaders are behaving more and more like those of a province.
Seeing Quebec move away from the building of a strong, distinct international personality should worry much more than the sovereignists. The sad part is that it doesn't seem to.
Quebec is losing its voice
Harper, Charest and Sarkozy have conspired to reduce Quebec's ties with France