Separatist tendencies in Canada: Their origins, development, and future (Part Two)
By Mark Wegierski
In 1984, many Quebecois nationalists, now disgusted with Trudeau, aligned themselves with the Progressive Conservative party of Brian Mulroney, who was himself a fluently bilingual Quebecker. Mulroney won one of the largest parliamentary majorities in Canadian history. However, in the aftermath of sixteen years of Trudeau, enormous drive and energy would have been required to initiate a process of recovery from the "Trudeau revolution." Though he had allowed the aura of a right-winger to settle on him in 1983-1984, Mulroney was himself driven by liberal sentiments, and – once in power -- he brutally kept down "small-c conservative" elements and ideas within the Progressive Conservative party.
In 1987, Mulroney reached the Meech Lake Accord with the provincial premiers. Quebec, under Liberal Premier Robert Bourassa, agreed to accede to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in exchange for further modifications to the Constitution, which would – among other provisions -- recognize Quebec as a "distinct society." The Meech Lake Accord was well on its way to acceptance, but a disparate coalition of Trudeau Liberals and right-wing English-Canadians disdainful of Quebec managed to torpedo the Accord, when two smaller English-Canadian provinces withheld their approval. In 1992, Mulroney tried again with the Charlottetown Agreements, which were put to a countrywide referendum. Ironically, the Quebecois nationalists rejected the Charlottetown Agreements because they felt they gave them "too little," whereas English Canada felt the agreements gave Quebec "too much."
It was virtually a direct consequence of the failure of the Charlottetown Agreements that the Bloc Quebecois – under the leadership of Lucien Bouchard, Mulroney's former Quebec lieutenant -- arose to contest the federal election of 1993 (running candidates only in Quebec), and the Parti Quebecois won the Quebec provincial election of 1994. Jacques Parizeau's Parti Québécois won the September 1994 provincial election with about two-thirds of the seats (but with only a fraction more of the popular vote, with the "first-past-the-post" system of geographically-based ridings). In 1995, there was the second referendum on Quebec sovereignty, which failed by a razor-thin margin. Jacques Parizeau's bitter concession speech, blaming the defeat on "money and the ethnic vote" was slapped down – even by prominent members of his own party -- as virtually symptomatic of "Nazism" – and he was forced to resign from the PQ leadership.
The Bloc Quebecois won 54 seats in the federal election of 1993, thus becoming the Official Opposition (the second-largest party) in the federal Parliament. Preston Manning's Reform Party – which had arisen in 1987 as a Western Canadian regionalist and "small-c conservative" alternative -- won 52 seats, whereas the Progressive Conservatives (under the leadership of Kim Campbell) were reduced to 2 (two) seats!
In the 1997 federal election, the BQ won 44 seats, but the Reform Party became the Official Opposition, with 60 seats.
In the 2000 federal election, the BQ won 38 seats, with the Canadian Alliance (which had emerged out of the broadening of the Reform Party) winning 66 seats.
In 2003, the Parti Quebecois government was decisively defeated by the Liberal Party in Quebec, which gave the impression that separatism was ebbing.
However, the fortunes of the Bloc Quebecois revived in time for the federal election of June 28, 2004, partly in reaction to the federal sponsorship scandal, where at least 100 million dollars (Canadian) went to Quebec Liberal Party cronies. The Bloc Quebecois won 54 seats. The rest of Quebec's 75 seats went to the Liberals. The Conservative Party – which was reconstituted in December 2003 out of the merger of the Canadian Alliance and the "ultra-moderate" federal Progressive Conservatives -- at that time had a minimal presence in Quebec.
However, in the 2006 and 2008 federal elections, the Conservative Party was able to win 10 seats in Quebec – while the BQ continued to hold most Quebec seats.
However, the federal election of May 2, 2011 marked major change. While the Conservatives managed to win five seats in Quebec, the BQ was annihilated down to four seats, with 59 seats won by the NDP! Quebec, which has a bit of a reputation for doing the unexpected, had pulled off another surprise.
Quebec today is largely defined by its modern Quebecois nationalism, an outlook that mixes traditionalism and progressivism. It is especially "progressive" in its secularism, in its virtual repudiation of the Roman Catholic traditions of Quebec, which had been considered almost definitional of Quebecois identity for most of Quebec's history. Today, Québec separatism to some extent appears to be waning. One of the reasons for the apparent waning of separatism is that Québec is simply being flooded with all kinds of economic benefits to persuade it to remain in Canada, a process that has been ongoing for at least three decades. At least some "non-separatist nationalists" feel that the Québécois are already maîtres chez nous ("masters in their own house").
One of today's ironies is the fact that secularization and modernization have given Québec one of Canada's lowest birthrates and highest abortion rates -- creating a demographic crisis in a society once known for its very large families, and for its "revenge of the cradle" against the English. It could be argued that Québécois nationalists will have to re-evaluate their relationships to what is called "the rest of Canada" (TROC), to their own traditionalist past, and to the massive inflow of Third World immigration into Québec, if they are indeed seriously interested in their survival as a nation over the coming centuries.
To be continued.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.