Soon I'll need a compass to do my job. What a disorienting mess Quebec politics is turning into. What with people moving from one constitutional option to the next and arguing over whether nationalism is more important than a street party, I'm not sure where I stand anymore. Help!
The old doctrine that “If you can't beat them, confuse them” has been taken up with admirable dedication by many Quebecers. It started with a story on Radio-Canada television last week about Maxime Bernier, the Conservative industry minister from the Beauce, revealing that he spent two years working in then-Parti Québécois finance minister Bernard Landry's office in the late 1990s. Eh? Like just about every other Conservative candidate, Mr. Bernier campaigned as a federalist, albeit an open and flexible one. And as you probably know, the difference between a “flexible federalist” and a “soft nationalist” in Quebec is not quite as clear-cut as most Ontarians would like. But there should be some sort of visible incision.
Another staff member interviewed claims he not unreasonably assumed Mr. Bernier was a sovereigntist. Mr. Bernier says his role in Mr. Landry's cabinet was that of the token right-wing guy and that in any case nobody ever asked him whether he was a sovereigntist or not. But he also donated money to the PQ, which was because federalism at the time was a lot more intrusive and not nearly as flexible as the current, fashionable version. Who among us... Uh, except for one thing: If they couldn't tell then, how can we be sure now?
My puzzlement had hardly begun to abate when news came that Pierre Trudeau had supported Catholic separatism in his youth. Or so says a new biography, which Marc Lalonde, a close friend of the former prime minister, says is an accurate portrayal. Okaaaaay.
Mere days later, it was arch-famous Quebec playwright Michel Tremblay's turn to give everybody a jolt when he said he was disenchanted with separatism, because nowadays the movement was all about economics and no longer about the pride of having one's own country. I wonder where he sees that, but never mind. At least he had the good sense to add it was easy for him to say “since I'm a multimillionaire.”
I'm sure many separatists felt better when they heard Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe announce he had talked with the author and that “Michel Tremblay told me he's still a sovereigntist, but one who questions the movement's orientation.” Aren't people meant to pick one side and kinda stay there? Sure, you can change your mind. Once. Political ping-pong balls like Jean Lapierre, who went from Liberal to Bloc back to Liberal, or high-profile lawyer Guy Bertrand, whose current constitutional preference I am not familiar with, should be exceptions.
We woke up Tuesday morning to more shocking revelations, this time from another arch-famous and successful playwright, Robert Lepage, who said even though he's still a sovereigntist he agrees with Mr. Tremblay, first version. “We have to question the Parti Québécois on what it has become and on the sovereigntist movement,” he said. “It's a very good thing to call [sovereignty] into question.”
Are things getting confusing enough for you? Wait, these are trifles. The really important question in Quebec these days is, “Which long-standing tradition is more important, the Saint-Jean-Baptiste parade and its accompanying street party or the Grand Prix and its accompanying street party?”
You see, the Montreal Grand Prix Formula One event this year got rescheduled to avoid conflicting with some soccer tournament and instead somehow wound up on June 23-25, thus conflicting with Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day on the 24th. As it is la fête nationale, most stores and other commercial establishments are legally required to close. It would put a cramp on the F1 weekend, when downtown Montreal is invaded by huge crowds of really rich fast-car lovers and their supermodel-esque girlfriends. Downtown merchants were hoping the Quebec government would somehow grant them an exemption.
No way, countered the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste. La fête nationale is sacred and besides, the law is the law. So it was up to Premier Jean Charest to decide whether Montrealers would prefer a day off to drink beer and celebrate Quebec's national holiday or a day off to drink beer at a loud and lucrative street party while admiring fast cars, international stars (F1 drivers, big-name movie stars, the usual) and sculptural babes in not much clothing.
Things are so confusing these days, I was going to bet five bucks on la fête nationale. I would have lost it; the government granted the exemption. Fine. I'll use my money to buy a compass instead.