What Quebec hath born

The collapse of separatism in the Quebec election is good news for the province and for Canada

Québec 2007 - Résultats et conséquences

It's a Canadian tradition: Quebecers spend the day voting and the rest of the country paces, like a father in the delivery room. There's a gothic element to this story: the dad is afraid to peek inside the blanket lest something horrible claw him.

The zenith of cinematic-like suspense occurred in 1995, when Quebecers went to the polls to vote, not on a new government, but on the question of independence. Independence was rejected by only a few thousand votes.
Ever since that late-night fright show, the separatist beast has been dormant, but not dead. The emergence of Andre Boisclair as Parti Quebecois leader worried federalists. Old line Quebec separatists had a stodgy, grey image. Mr. Boisclair was attractive, young and Harvard-educated. He appeared poised to make separatism fashionable again.

The collapse of separatism in the Quebec election is good news for the province and for Canada. Now we'll have to find out what Mario Dumont and his ADQ party stand for -- whether it's genuinely moving Quebec politics away from statism, or just whatever populist policy seems popular this week.
Today it's clear that Quebecers, as reflected in yesterday's provincial election results, never quite took to Mr. Boisclair. The worst possible outcome for Canada -- a Parti Quebecois majority government -- has not come to pass. Mr. Boisclair was supposed to revive separatism with his charm, but his talents were oversold.

So the baby inside the blanket isn't a monster, but what is it then?
It's a hard question to answer because the man of the moment, Mario Dumont, remains a mystery. For many years, as leader of Action democratique du Quebec, Mr. Dumont has practised a policy of strategic ambiguity. He has -- or has had -- separatist impulses, but no one knows how strong they are today.
Late in this campaign, Mr. Dumont gave strong hints that ultimately he rejects the separatist option. Instead, he champions what he calls Quebec "autonomy." If autonomy is another word for decentralization, then the future is bright for Quebecers and Canadians. Prime Minister Stephen Harper accepts the idea that the provinces don't need a central government in Ottawa to micromanage their affairs. As Mr. Dumont has said, Quebec should be allowed to experiment on health care delivery -- as should other jurisdictions -- without being restrained by every strap and buckle of the straitjacket that is the Canada Health Act.

So long as the Liberal party in Quebec was the only federalist option, Liberal politicians like leader Jean Charest let themselves become complacent and uninspiring. The Liberals, risk averse and secure in the knowledge that federalists had nowhere else to go, could never muster the will to challenge the Big Government ethos that defined public policy as set by the province's elites.
Mr. Dumont seems willing to challenge the official statism that for too long has held Quebec back. If he can introduce some pragmatism into Quebec's political culture, Mr. Dumont's contribution could be immense. Relations between Quebec and the federal government could be as healthy as ever (Mr. Dumont and Mr. Harper are not far apart on many issues).

All of this is contingent on Mr. Dumont's unequivocal rejection of Quebec secession. Let's hope for Quebec's sake, and Canada's, that the young ADQ leader has matured since he voted "Yes' in the 1995 referendum.

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