A CAQ colleague, Christopher Skeete, wrote this piece on his Facebook page. I think it’s bang-on with what inclusive nationalism can mean for all Quebecers. We can be proud and protective of our Québécois identity while still being proud and protective of our place in Canada.

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The fall of Quebec’s sovereignty movement and the rise of Quebec’s nationalist movement

By Christopher Skeete

The recent Quebec election showed us a glimpse of the future. Within this future, we see the fall of the sovereignty movement and the rise of a new Quebec nationalism based upon a “Quebec-First”’ mantra.

At the start of the election, the Parti Quebecois was soaring high in the polls because of their Machiavellian management of the Quebec charter on religious accommodations. Suddenly, when they recruited Pierre Karl Peladeau and he famously stated that he was there to “make a county”, people took him literally and the strength of his candidacy scared voters away.

In place of PQ, the CAQ can act as guard dog to the concentration of power by Ottawa while remaining credible because it is not seeking to remove Quebec from Canada.

Historically, the PQ’s appeal was cultural – the PQ always defended the French language, promoted the unique Québécois culture and stood up to Ottawa’s continued intrusions upon provincial jurisdictions. Separation from Canada was seen as a way of solving the problem. Only by being sovereign, the PQ argued (and still argues), can Quebec truly protect its culture, heritage, history, language and fate. For the past 40 years, this message wasn’t without merit; so much so that Quebecers were asked in two separate referendums if they agreed. In both instances, the answer was no.

Since these two referendums, the world and indeed Canada have changed. The world has globalized and the country’s economic power has shifted away from Central Canada (Ontario and Quebec) westward. One must concede that these two referendums deeply hurt Quebec by scaring away investors and creating an exodus of capital towards Toronto. That being said, however, protecting our culture, heritage, history and language are still very important to the average Quebecer. Is it not possible to do so without resorting to sovereignty? Would a third referendum further damage Quebec’s place within Canada, a place that is already eroding within our federation? As Quebecers we stand at that intersection.

While a sovereign Quebec seems less and less likely, there is a deep desire within Quebec to express its distinctiveness. There is an unfulfilled desire to be unique and exceptional within Canada but also at arm’s length of Canada that is best articulated as Quebec nationalism or, “le Quebec d’abord” (Quebec First). Far from threatening, to understand Quebec nationalism, consider our southern neighbours (especially the southern states) who have strong local ties and affinity for their state but also an attachment (sometimes more and sometimes less) to their country. Quebec nationalism is the Canadian expression of this phenomenon based upon states’ rights.

This nationalism is the last remaining appeal of the PQ and it is being seriously infringed upon by the new and increasingly-popular Coalition Avenir Quebec. This encroachment is only possible because the Quebec Liberal Party shifted away from its nationalist roots since the 1995 referendum. So much so that one must wonder if the PLQ of today would use the notwithstanding clause as Robert Bourassa did to protect the French language or if the PLQ would support bill 101 if it was presented to the legislature today.

Because the PLQ appears unconcerned by cultural issues, the proposed charter on religious accommodation came from the PQ and its popularity demonstrated the ways in which the PQ had remained relevant even though the sovereignty movement has been on the decline. However, the recent shortcomings of the Bloc Québécois and the disappointing results of the PQ in this last election (which mimic the results of the 2007 election) may be signs that the fear of a third referendum may be greater than the desire to protect Quebec’s culture.

If so, the trending decline for sovereignty may be irreversible and the PQ faces an existential threat.

In place of PQ, the CAQ can act as guard dog to the concentration of power by Ottawa while remaining credible because it is not seeking to remove Quebec from Canada. The tendency by Ottawa to intrude on provincial jurisdictions will remain a concern for Quebec much like it was a concern for westerners before economic power shifted their way.

The West’s response was the creation of the Reform Party and later the Canadian Alliance Party. I see a future where the Bloc will leave behind its desire for sovereignty and represent the interests of decentralized power, provinces’ rights and defend Quebec’s regional interests in order to stave of the dwindling power of an economically stagnant Quebec.

What is clear for now is that the recent sweep of the PLQ is more a fear of the PQ’s sovereignty offer than a buy-in of PLQ ideas. The rise of the CAQ in terms of seat numbers and distribution seems to demonstrate that nationalism is the cultural issue of the future and that the sovereignty argument appears to be waning.

Skeete

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