Here we go again: the endless debate about Quebec’s place in Canada

Dorothy Dobbie Issues in the News
Dorothy Dobbie
Issues in the News

They call it the grand schlong in the parliamentary halls of Ottawa. That’s when a giant ball of excrement (to be polite) hits your heart and you know you’re in for trouble.

It’s a warning that I should have heeded that cold December night in 1988 when Premier Robert Bourassa used Section 33 of the Charter (the Notwithstanding Clause) to override the Supreme Court ruling that the limitation of English on commercial signs was unconstitutional. I had a sense of dread so acute that it kept me from going to a special reception for the newly elected women on the Hill, something I still regret considering the alliances that I could have made.

Instead, I sat in a taxi outside the East Block, feeling sick to my stomach, and decided to go home and give the reception a miss. I would become more and more accustomed to that sick feeling as the Meech Lake Accord failed and the constitutional issue took over the country’s attention.

Once again Quebec - and thus Canada - finds itself in the middle of a heated debate over separatism.
Once again Quebec – and thus Canada – finds itself in the middle of a heated debate over separatism.

It was a gut-wrenching period for all of Canada, including Quebec, with every possible misunderstanding promulgated on the public by spiteful politicians and uninformed media. Words as simple and ordinary as the French word “demander”, “to ask”, were translated as the much harsher “demand”, inflaming the hearts and minds of Canadians who responded negatively to this tag with its hint of arrogance. How much anguish would have been avoided if the translation had been properly rendered as “ask”?

As for my part, I won’t go into the boring details except to say that I was caught up in the debate at a very intimate level, becoming joint-chair of the blue-ribbon committee with the terrifyingly overblown title of the “House Senate Special Joint Committee on the Renewal of Canada” (otherwise known as the Dobbie-Beaudoin Committee)! Talk about setting something up for failure.

The committee’s report, after it travelled to every nook and cranny of Canada, received 3,000 submissions, heard 700 witnesses and hosted months-long, weekend, televised town hall meetings, led to the Charlottetown Accord. That led to the referendum, which led to defeat for the accord and a guarantee that the debate would go on.

Now it is all threatening to come back. Quebec Premier Pauline Marois, not satisfied with dividing her province on the issue of religious symbols, stepped into a big fat cow pie when she lured Pierre Karl Péladeau to her side as a star candidate. The first thing he did was declare his determination to make Quebec a separate country.

Who knew this billionaire scion was a socialist? Many, apparently. He flirted with communism as a student and changed his middle name “Carl” to Karl after Karl Marx! He’s a funny kind of socialist though, famous for locking out his employees not once but 14 times.

Who’d have thought that he was also a revolutionary? Yet he claims that he has been a lifelong separatist. Nor was he above using his media empire to fuel the flames of resentment about Quebec in his radical Sun newspaper chain. Like many of the Quebec elite, his father also had nationalist leanings.

As for Madam Marois, at first she enthused about how separation would be all gain and no pain for Quebec – unilaterally deciding that there would be sunshine and roses and open borders with Canadian passports and Canadian currency backed up by the Bank of Canada. No doubt her secret fantasy encompasses continued equalization payments, too, since the Quebec provincial debt is 50 per cent of its GDP and going it alone won’t be easy.

A close look at the polls soon changed her mind, however. It seems that the majority of Quebecers, about two-thirds of the population, is in no mood for a return to the pain of the separatist debate, much less the inevitable discussion that will surely follow about partition. What is partition? Why the carving out of a bridge to the Rest of Canada through northern Quebec, leaving a postage stamp country to the pure laine, as the pristine francophone are known among themselves.

And the latest twist? It seems that among the anointed in the province, there has been a common understanding that PKP has long had his eye on the top job, fancying himself as the first president of the new Republic of Quebec. According to Lisiane Gagnon, Globe columnist for Quebec, she first heard this from the lips of none other than Lucien Bouchard. (Funny thing how the Benedict Arnolds of this world attract each other.)

Meanwhile, Pauline is desperately trying to refocus the debate away from the question of separatism, going so far as to push her newly minted star candidate aside when he was recently asked a question about his potential conflicts of interest (Péladeau says he will refuse to sell his media shares if elected). When PKP stepped up to the mike to answer, Madame gently but firmly pushed him back. Her actions spoke volumes. (see http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/03/13/pauline-marois-literally-pushes-pierre-karl-peladeau-aside-as-pq-shoves-campaign-away-from-independence/)

The election is April 7. All eyes and ears should be tuned in to the results. Let’s see if the electorate rejects a return to the separatist agenda as forcefully as Pauline Marois shoved her PQ star away from the podium to avoid more debate on a topic she would rather hide until she is in power.

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