MONTREAL – The French have just voted non to the EU constitution. Current EU president Jean-Claude Juncker says countries voting No need a second referendum to obtain “the right answer.” That ploy can work if the first vote was close, but that was not the case in France on Sunday.
Here in Quebec, we know all about the syndrome of referendum-result-denial by political crusaders. On Sept. 7, 2003, Parti Quebecois leader Bernard Landry vowed to hold a third referendum on Quebec independence within 1,000 days in order to get what two previous referendums denied his movement. Those 1,000 days are up this Friday.
He missed the deadline, of course, but current events are reviving separatists’ hibernating hopes. Adscam has the federal Liberals in the dog house in Quebec. The Conservative party is off the radar screen altogether here, and the governing provincial Liberals are unpopular. The Bloc Quebecois will triumph in the next federal election, and the PQ may well return to power provincially. In 1,000 days, federalist Quebecers may have no official representation at all.
The prospects have old separatist warhorses chomping at the bit. They’ve been immured these past 10 years in the dank stable block of their dream palace, morosely masticating 1995’s mouldy ideological hay. Suddenly, their ears are pricked to distant bugle blasts heralding renewed battle.
Much has changed since the last referendum, though. Here are 10 good reasons not to fear a third one:
1. Reason and self-interest work against separation, so only a master demagogue like Lucien Bouchard can whip up the irrational ethnic nationalist fervour necessary for a close vote. There is presently less than zero charisma in separatist ranks.
2. From former PQ minister Richard Le Hir and other informants, we have the straight goods on the separatists’ desperation tactics in the ‘95 campaign: bogus financial studies, corrupt commissions, PQ-sanctioned ballot-box fraud and plans for an illegal UDI—none of which can be repeated.
3. The Clarity Act precludes the kind of rambling, misleading question posed in 1995 that nobody understands, and which falsely implies a right to “sovereignty association” that the PQ could not and did not intend to honour.
4. Montreal, the now-globalized engine of Quebec, is prosperous, peaceful and more multicultural and bilingual than ever before. Politically, culturally, socially and economically, Montreal is a world apart from the ROQ (Rest of Quebec). The city has worked too hard at recovery, with too much at stake internationally, to acquiesce to Quebec City ideologues. Look for a muscular counter-offensive and “distinct society” solution in Montreal.
5. Quebec won’t have the support or sympathy of France, as it did in ‘95, or any other democratic country. The zeitgeist is blowing in the opposite direction of ethnic nationalism, as the EU attests.
6. A potentially divided Quebec, with native and federalist regions opting out of separation, is now constitutionally—not just theoretically—on the table in the event of a Yes vote. Nothing in the PQ arsenal can stand up to this daisy-cutting bomb.
7. Playing the language card is over as a result of Bill 101’s success. Today, confidently francophone Quebecers are actually militating for more English in a super-healthy French environment.
8. The separatists depend on public gullibility and the dissemination of their nationalist spin through tacitly complicit media. In 1995, the francophone media—virtually 100% sympathetic to sovereignty—controlled public debate in French. Technology has fractured that monopoly. Blogs, Blackberrys and chatrooms will democratize the Quebec media ideoligarchy.
9. Asymmetrical federalism – what mainstream Quebecers always really wanted—has de facto triumphed under the federal Liberals, who appease Quebec to keep the peace. There are no more “victim” pegs to hang political indignation on.
10. It was the near-complete absence of strategic planning and leadership—under Jean Chretien and his cabinet, including Paul Martin, who visibly panicked in the final days of the campaign—that nearly blew it for Canada in 1995. Which brings us to the most reassuring reason we have nothing to fear from the separatists: Observing a politically volatile situation unfold on their border, a post-9/11 United States will not wait on events. In 1995, the U.S. expressed polite disapproval of Quebec’s bid for independence. Next time, they will threaten to intervene, and they will mean it.
It would be ironic if it took the cowboys next door to wrangle those cantankerous old warhorses out to pasture once and for all, but no more ironic than the fact that we continually send to Ottawa the very politicians who keep opening the barn doors in the first place.