Saturday 28 August 1999
Much was said this week about Bernard Landry's dying-federalists theory. According to the deputy premier, as elderly federalists depart for that big constitutional debate in the sky, the younger, more sovereignist Quebecers should eventually deliver a Yes victory. Absurd, hogwash and insulting summarize rather well, and rightly so, the gist of most reactions.
Unfortunately, not a word was uttered about another theory which might help explain why there probably won't be a referendum on sovereignty in the next few years, a theory that might also explain why Landry is being reduced, or is reducing himself, to demographic balderdash so as not to kill off the PQ members' dream - at least, not quite yet. Let's call it the tired-sovereignist-leaders theory. It goes like this: being headed mostly by older, more conservative and obviously tired leaders, it seems that the Bouchard government has neither the energy nor the political will to work at strengthening support for the sovereignty option. For the skeptical minds, the proof of this lies in this government's own pudding.
Exhibit A: since Bouchard became premier in January 1996, the government hasn't lifted the littlest of fingers to actively promote its own option. With the result that Quebecers have mostly heard the S-word from federalists, that is, logically and to put it mildly, from a particularly negative point of view.
Exhibit B: for all intents and purposes, no real debate was allowed to be held either on this decision to put the option on the back burner or, for that matter, on the zero-deficit policy which has wreaked havoc in most public services. Open debate and disagreements were quashed not only within the government and the PQ, but also within the larger sovereignist movement. Anyone who dared question any of this publicly - including Jacques Parizeau - was immediately labeled an extremist or a hard-liner by the PQ leadership itself, or even accused of helping the adversaries of the PQ.
Since 1996, the magic word that silences real debate is "consensus" - another word for what the bunker wants, the bunker gets. This, in turn, resulted in the demobilization of most sovereignist opinion leaders who quickly understood the price of speaking out and who, therefore, dared not contradict the government on its odd strategies.
Exhibit C: the winning-conditions twaddle that has been both the PQ's and the Bloc's mantra since April 1988. And what are those mysterious, mythical, winning conditions? No one knows. But one may be forgiven for suspecting that the expression may well do the job when the premier finally comes out one day and admits that there won't be a referendum - at least, not on sovereignty, or not during this mandate. Which brings us to ...
Exhibit D: power. Facing a Liberal Party that, thus far, has proved unable to be an effective opposition, some in the Bouchard government are beginning to think that it just might be feasible to win a third term. The attraction of remaining in power being what it is for any government, the temptation not to hold a referendum that would require major time and resources might be too arduous to resist.
As an added bonus, the possibility of a third term, whether it be real or wishful thinking, can also be used to convince PQ members that the referendum isn't really canceled, it's just postponed - again. Now, add to this the dying-federalists theory, stir gently and voila: to paraphrase the famous Rolling Stones song, time is on the side of the PQ, or so some choose to believe.
Still, given his dying-federalist theory, there is a tiny question one may be tempted to ask the honourable vice-premier: if younger Quebecers are so vital to a Yes victory, why then are there so very, very few in his own government?
In the end, one could say that if the tired-sovereignist-leaders theory is right, the passage of time, indeed, stands to benefit the Yes side. But not because of the dying-federalist theory, but rather because with time, the tired sovereignist leaders will inevitably, one day, lose power. Then, and only then, there at least will be the possibility of getting a new, younger, bolder, more progressive, more energized leadership.
That is, if, in the meantime, the tired sovereignist leaders don't end up tiring out even the younger generation.
What about the tired sovereignists theory?
Saturday 28 August 1999