Friday, March 07, 2014

Relax Folks, a Referendum has not been called

Since the PQ government in Quebec called the long anticipated election in that province commentators, both the ones who get paid to do it and the ones who do it just for fun, have been having conniptions at the prospect of a PQ majority government and a subsequent referendum.  Many of these commentators put forward "analysis" on how this will impact the current players at the Federal level and they lament the fact that they cannot see any current federal leader who can really defend Canada.

They are getting way ahead of themselves.

First, the PQ has not won a majority government.  Government is theirs to lose for certain but it is an open question whether the Quebec Charter can be sustained as the focus of the election for the whole of the campaign or whether some other issue, such as the dismal performance of the Quebec economy, crowds out that issue and thwarts their attempt at winning a majority government.

But let's say for the sake of argument that the PQ does win a majority of the seats on April 7.  What then?  Will we be looking at another referendum?

Not very soon if at all.

The next referendum, if it happens, will likely be the last regardless of the outcome.  Most Quebecers, including that aging and dwindling cohort of Quebec society that supports Quebec independence as a matter of principle, knows that if they fail to win the next referendum that will be it.  There will be no more after that.  It will be a case of "three strikes and your out" because most Quebecers, of any language, will finally say enough is enough.

So, the next referendum, if it happens, has to be as sure of a thing as you can get in politics.  It cannot be entered into on a whim or without a solid foundation of support for independence at the beginning of a campaign.

That solid foundation is nowhere near to be had.  In fact, the appetite for independence is the lowest it has been in decades.  It is going to take years to build that up to a tenable level of support, if it can be done at all. 

So how does the PQ build this foundation?  What issue does it use to do so?

In 1976 the PQ government had a century of anger and resentment at the English domination of Quebec to work with and they also had St. RenĂ© to fight for it.  The result was a dismal failure.  In 1995 the PQ government had the recent memories of the failed Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords to work with and Mr. Bouchard.  They came closer but they still failed.

What issue would the current PQ government have?  The Quebec Charter?  Some future fight they pick with the Federal government?  The resentment of Quebec towards Stephen Harper and the Conservatives?  Do any of these issues have what is necessary to build a solid and enduring foundation of support for independence?  I do not think so and that is even before taking into account the fact that the one leading the independence side would be Pauline Marois.

One reason is the message from the 1995 referendum that taking Quebec out of Canada would be neither cheap nor easy has sunk in with Quebecers.  Many Quebecers ignored this message in the heat of the 1995 campaign but after the fires cooled from that and they had some time for some sober second thought they realized the verity of those arguments.  That is one of the reasons why support for independence plummeted so sharply in the years after 1995.  It will take a very hot issue to convince Quebecers to endure the economic and societal disruptions an independence process will cause.

Then we have to consider the Clarity Act and the Supreme Court reference that preceded it.

Certainly, if they could a PQ government would ignore both after a successful campaign but if it is close and/or the referendum question is not that clear it will give those in Quebec ammunition to fight the result.  As well, one unintended consequence of the Quebec Charter could be to convince those it targets to fight such a result because they have essentially been told that they are second class citizens in their home province.

In short, in order for the PQ to be truly successful they need to be able to go into another referendum with a rock solid majority of Quebecers supporting independence at the beginning of the campaign.  That is probably a nearly impossible task and even if they can do it the task will take a great deal of time, certainly more time than the life of the current Federal government.

Who the current leaders of Federal parties are is not relevant to a future referendum.  If we have one at all, it will be far enough into the future that the federal scene will be greatly changed. 

We all need to take a deep breath and consider the great obstacles standing in the way of a PQ government intent of moving towards Quebec independence.  Those obstacles could be insurmountable and even if they somehow succeed in doing so it is going to take a very long time.  A Quebec referendum is not imminent so there is no need to become all freaked out.

1 Comments:

Blogger Omar said...

I'd like to know just who in the Hell the people are who get all verklempt about the prospect of Quebec leaving Confederation. I want them to stay. I hope they stay. But at the end of the day, I would feel no compunction whatsoever for not having worked myself into some sort of nationalistic and nostalgic fervor if they decided to go. I think the national hand wringing that comes with this issue is largely a made up concept used to inflame non-existent passions for political purposes. At the end of the separation day, We. Will. Survive.

March 08, 2014 7:39 AM  

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