Gazing across a great divide

Allan Fotheringham September 5 1994

Gazing across a great divide

Allan Fotheringham September 5 1994

Gazing across a great divide


Communication, communication. It destroys marriages and can destroy countries. That would be lack of communication of course. Ask any marriage counsellor.

The battle for Quebec as a part of Canada runs along the same lines. The separatist leaders claim that the rest of Canada doesn’t understand the Québécois, didn’t understand the importance of Meech Lake, won’t understand what a “distinct society” means.

This is probably true, but the ignorance runs both ways. The Globe and Mail, for the Quebec election campaign, offered a weekly column to Pierre Bourgault, the longtime separatist commentator. The idea was to give him a chance to contribute a calm explanation of the separatist logic.

He started off well—and calmly—with well-written expositions of the Parti Québécois. He then wrote a column on Jacques Parizeau, saying he was greatly misunderstood by those outside Quebec, that in fact along with being highly intelligent and a man of conviction he exhibited great compassion. He finished by writing: “I know this is probably why you hate us both.”

“You” of course means everyone who reads The Globe and Mail. If he really believes that, you know there is no hope for understanding in this strange, confused and frightened country.

Pierre Bourgault is now a professor in Montreal. He was the original separatist politician of our modem era, starting his own party before it was absorbed into René Lévesque’s mainstream Parti Québécois that eventually achieved power but failed at independence.

When this scribe used to spend more time in Quebec, I debated with him on panels and television, Bourgault, with his arresting albino eyelashes, as eloquent as he was passionate. Afterwards, we could continue the argument over a glass or two. He was humorous, mannerly and always convinced of his cause. If that man now thinks we hate him, there’s little hope for human communication. Bourgault used to be a prominent hot-liner

in Montreal. He wrote everywhere and eventually became contemptuous of Lévesque’s gradual approach to the idea of real separation. The latter’s “sovereignty-association” idea has been described—accurately—as divorce with bed privileges. Parizeau resigned from Lévesque’s PQ for the same reason—it wasn’t going fast enough—and returned only when he could become leader to set it back on his desired path.

“Hate” is a terrible word because it is a self-destructive word. Anyone who hates consumes so much energy in the exercise there is no room left over for understanding or contemplation. Anger is one thing. Hate is another, to be widely avoided.

As more than one Globe reader pointed out, they do not hate Parizeau or Bourgault. They simply hate what they are trying to do to the country.

There is something revealing and very

self-serving in the Bourgault comment. It is the self-obsessed belief of the separatist intellectuals that the world revolves around them. In the comment is the assumption that Bourgault himself, who has not been prominent in recent years—unlike the esteemed Jacques Parizeau—is so well-known in Regina, Kamloops and Halifax that people have time to sit around and hate him.

He knows the country, he used to travel it when he promoted his books and explained the separatist gospel from Vancouver to Toronto, and yet he doesn’t understand it in 1994. He thinks hate fuels the debate.

One of the reasons he doesn’t understand Canada is that the Quebec intellectuals who control their quality newspapers and magazines never try to explain the Canadian world outside Quebec. Since the Quiet Revolution first started to stir, the major Canadian newspapers set up bureaus there in an attempt to explain Quebec to the other provinces. This magazine has long had a staff there and publishes a Frenchlanguage sister magazine.

Quebec papers do not station reporters in Western Canada, not even in Toronto, venturing no farther than Ottawa—or Brockville when somebody stamps on a flag and gives them a TV freebie.

The disciples of the early hothead Bourgault don’t want to venture too far into Canada for fear of what they might find. And Pierre, now settled into the serenity of a professor’s chair, dispenses nonsense like “hate.” Not the enlightenment one might usually expect from academe, to be charitable.

Parizeau the compassionate one will undoubtedly triumph in his election, sustained by voters from Chicoutimi who, one suspects, don’t hate people in Moose Jaw. He will win the ridings around Trois-Rivières with votes from Canadian citizens who, one can assume, have nothing personal against the residents of Brandon.

That is reflected in all the polls that show the Québécois ready to throw out a tired nine-year-old government but quite skeptical of the idea of becoming an independent state.

We will be arguing the question, one knows with resignation, two decades from now while professors contribute learned thoughts to the Globe.

The intellectuals in the bars of Montreal and the common rooms of the universities, Pierre Bourgault their resident priest, have their own peculiar view of this country. That’s their privilege, but they don’t understand it.

This peculiar country, in its own diffident way, in fact loves Quebec. That’s why it doesn’t want it to go.