THE NATION’S BUSINESS

Ten reasons why the separatists are losing

The reason Jacques Parizeau sounds so unconvincing is that he can’t convince himself that what he’s saying makes any sense

Peter C. Newman September 11 1995
THE NATION’S BUSINESS

Ten reasons why the separatists are losing

The reason Jacques Parizeau sounds so unconvincing is that he can’t convince himself that what he’s saying makes any sense

Peter C. Newman September 11 1995

Ten reasons why the separatists are losing

THE NATION’S BUSINESS

The reason Jacques Parizeau sounds so unconvincing is that he can’t convince himself that what he’s saying makes any sense

PETER C. NEWMAN

The outcome of the Quebec referendum has always hinged less on what Jacques Parizeau does or says than on the kind of future he is advocating for Quebec’s citizens. Early indications are that the referendum verdict will be negative, for at least 10 good reasons: 10. Quebecers are smart (I). They don’t like to see their tax money wasted trying to bribe voters. During the summer, Parizeau sent a $60-million cheque to MIL Davie Shipyards in Lévis to preserve the jobs of 100 maintenance workers who had threatened to vote against the separatist option if they were laid off.

9. The Jacques Parizeau Factor (I). The Parti Québécois leader is either a misguided intellectual or an overambitious politician. But he’s not a fool. The reason he sounds so unconvincing on the hustings these days is that he hasn’t been able to convince himself that what he’s saying makes any sense. He is far too honest (or at least too smart) to believe in what he’s preaching. He knows perfectly well that once Quebec has declared independence, forging an alliance with the rest of Canada becomes an impossible dream. For any politician outside Quebec to support that option would be tantamount to enlisting Paul Bernardo as your party whip.

8. The votes aren’t there. Statisticians and pollsters who have been measuring Quebec’s political mood remain unconvinced that the majority of the province’s population will support separatism. The first clue came in the 1993 election. At that time, the Conservative party under Kim Campbell was doing its bungee jump without a leg hold; the Liberals under Jean Chrétien could muster virtually no support outside Montreal; and the Reform party and the NDP weren’t even running in the province. At the time, Quebecers had nothing to lose and all kinds of influence to gain by voting for Lucien Bouchard’s separatist Bloc Québécois. The

Bloc did win the largest number of seats, but its ballots didn’t add up to 50 per cent of the total cast. A year later, when Quebecers went to the polls in a provincial election, Parizeau won, but he couldn’t get 50 per cent, either. Had the campaign lasted another 24 hours or so, Daniel Johnson’s Liberals would likely have won a plurality. Late last month, Léger & Léger, the Montreal pollsters, found that while the Yes and No sides were running about even, only 68 per cent of those who were supporting sovereignty said their decision was firm, as opposed to 82 per cent on the No side who vowed never to change their minds.

7. The federalists’ silence is golden.

Jean Chrétien is nothing if not shrewd and during his nearly two years in office he has demonstrated an amazing ability to spend his power wisely. When he joins the referendum debate, late in the game, he will make every appearance count, promising not wispy dreams of constitutional reform, but spelling out in factual balance sheets currently being prepared by his advisers why it will pay for Quebec to remain part of Canada. Some of his ministers will then wade in with well-documented reasons why

Quebecers could not leave Confederation with Canadian passports, Canadian dollars and Canadian dual-citizenship papers in their jeans. They will explain in unemotional terms that, under the circumstances, none of these compromises are possible or practical, and the effect could be devastating.

6. Nobody cares. Like the rest of us, Quebecers face such real problems as a deteriorating job market for the young; no employment for the uneducated; and a questionable future for many of the primary and secondary industries that have traditionally provided the provincial economy’s strength. A recent poll showed that only six per cent of Quebecers thought sovereignty should be the province’s top priority.

5. French is safe. Ottawa has done everything possible to assure the official place of the French language within Confederation, even though the computer world is increasingly programming itself to operate in English—and it’s English that has become the world’s business language. There is none of the excitement that attended past Quebec votes. Lead singers like Céline Dion are busy recording hits for Walt Disney; poets have been reduced to earning a living as nightclub comics.The comics themselves have been driven out of business by the politicians trying to make sense out of their own convoluted policy positions.

4. Three can’t tango. Mario, Lucien & Jacques all have different agendas. They are united only by the hope of eliminating one another. Their alliance will founder before referendum day, as the three amigos reveal their true colors.

3. The Jacques Parizeau Factor (II).

In past campaigns, the PQ leader has opened his mouth mainly to change feet. His slips of the tongue (and mind) are bound to kick in as the campaign accelerates. It’s becoming obvious that the main beneficiary of an independent Quebec would be Parizeau himself. Instead of remaining the lowly premier of an important province, he would become the exalted president of a marginal republic, able to bore the United Nations by blowing one of those avuncular speeches through his moustache. He would at last be officially installed in his Quebec City presidential palace, instead of merely living in a donated house that looks like one.

2. We need Quebec in Confederation. Analyzing why Quebecers aren’t happy within Canada is the only growth industry we’ve got left.

1. Quebecers are smart (II).Certainly they’re not dumb enough to believe that they’d get a better deal from Canada outside Confederation than they would as members of the Canadian family. Sovereignty-association is an oxymoron, just like Ottawa nightlife and uncontested divorce.

Good sense will triumph on referendum night. Canada will be safe. Until the next time____