Canada

The PM bares his knuckles

Robert Lewis May 12 1980
Canada

The PM bares his knuckles

Robert Lewis May 12 1980

The PM bares his knuckles

For federalists it was the week of strange bedfellows. It was as if Jean Chrétien had never denounced Joe Clark as a prime ministerial Neville Chamberlain on the Quebec issue, so lavish was his introduction of the Conservative leader at a Claude Ryan rally. It was possible to imagine that former editor Ryan had never withheld Le Devoir's editorial approval of Pierre Trudeau’s brand of federalism, as the "non” leader applauded the PM’S first referendum speech in Quebec. In between there was Premier Bill Davis, under attack from franco-Ontarians over schools, pledging a better deal for French Canadians across the land.

The burden of the three co-ordinated messages was the same: to erode a smug assumption by many "oui” supporters that the rest of Canada will negotiate with René Lévesque if he wins; and to spread a gospel of hope in a new and improved Confederation if he loses. "The Canada that the ! Parti Québécois government is inviting voters to reject no longer exists,” Clark said in Rimouski, speaking in French. Using al-

most the same words in Montreal, Davis further warned Quebeckers that in the rest of Canada "a ‘yes' vote would result in a closing of minds and a hardening of attitudes. We recognize and support the clear call for change.”

But it was for Trudeau that a split electorate was waiting, and he spared them the subtleties. Before more than 2,000 cheering partisans, the PM reiterated at the week’s close that a vote for sovereigntyassociation is “a dead end.” In a bareknuckled attack, he mocked the Lévesque forces as pale shadows of their unequivocating forbears in the independence movement. Seeking to counter fears about dominating anglos, Trudeau argued that a vote for a rejected association really puts Quebec’s destiny “in the hands of others.” He

0 insisted that “you don’t break up a country £ over an ambiguity,” and challenged Lév| esque’s forces “to tell us what they would § do if Quebec votes ‘non. ’ We know what S you’re asking, but we don’t know what you 5 want.”

1 Lévesque, at a press conference only hours later, was quick to say what he didn’t want: “No more of Trudeau’s aborted dreams for renewed federalism.” He conceded that, if there was a “non” vote, his government would probably go to constitutional talks, but he warned prospective defectors among "oui” voters: “Things would continue as they are. The talks would go in circles, and with a ‘non’ vote Quebec would be there with a greatly reduced bargaining power.”

The hurdle for the “no” side is to convince Quebeckers that major reform will i come promptly. So far there have been too many years of brave talk and timid action, too much hostility toward francophones— grossly symbolized by fans booing French at Toronto sports events—for unqualified hope. What was left for the “nos” in the closing days of the campaign was the promise that negotiations would actually lead to a better deal for Quebec—that is, a miraculous conversion by the devil they know Robert Lewis