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December 20, 2000 at 4 PM

Political Diatribe Wednesday: Bouchard risks

Political Diatribe Wednesday: Bouchard risks all in fight with PQ rebels

The Globe and Mail reports this morning on a looming scrap deep at the core of Quebec's ruling Parti Québécois, which threatens to tear the party apart.

Premier Lucien Bouchard has waged a war against the hardline element of his party, beginning with Yves Michaud. Michaud is the would-be PQ candidate who last week made anti-Semitic comments and does not wish to apologize for them. Bouchard has, with the approval of Quebec's National Assembly, censured him and essentially blacklisted him from running for office as a péquiste, in an attempt to erase the stain of incidents like the 1995 post-referendum "money and the ethnic vote" brouhaha.

What this affair highlights is what most Quebecers, but perhaps not many other Canadians, already appreciate. There are really two competing factions of sovereigntists in Quebec. Bouchard and the School of Compromise represent pragmatism, sometimes to the point of demagoguery — a willingness to do just about anything to attain more power for Quebec, even if it means abandoning sovereignty for now. One might even suspect that many in the PQ who supported Bouchard's motion are only doing it because they realize it is in their political interest, and not in some noble attempt to Do The Right Thing. Meanwhile, the School of Maîtres ches nous is perhaps best represented by Jacques Parizeau, the mouth behind 1995's odious comments. It's about nous, the white, francophone, "pure wool" Quebecers, versus them (everyone else). To no one's surprise, Parizeau and his gang of merry fools, have come out against Bouchard and the Assembly for being so harsh to one of their own.

I have no qualms in suggesting the majority of Quebecers are either not sovereigntists to begin with, or fit into the former category of "soft" separatism. The Parizeaus of the province are an old and, thankfully, dying breed. Nevertheless, the party itself has, until now, remained under the influence of its radical element; they hold much power. Bouchard's new crusade to purge the party of intolerance is a grand risque, if you will. Either he will successfully ostracize the dinosaurs and help attract "less traditional" Quebecers into the fold, increasing PQ support, or he will come down in flames as his party collapses from the weight of paradox.

What paradox you ask? Well, namely that independence only really makes sense from behind the tinted lens of ethnic nationalism. Why would Quebec need sovereignty unless its citizens truly believe they are different? How exactly are they different unless "they" refers specifically to French-Canadian people, language and culture? The one thing I would never deny is that les Québécois are a "people." They are, as a product of some fairly serious sociocultural isolation for the last 300 years or so. It is not even so difficult to see racial features in certain people in Quebec. Having said all that, this "people" does not represent the only element of Quebec society, and therefore do not have a monopoly on its future, much to the dismay of Parizeau, Michaud and their ilk.

Either way, it seems an off-ramp is in sight on the highway of Quebec politics. As an anti-separatist, I can't exactly say I would be pleased to see the PQ pick up support and maintain power against the listless provincial Liberals. Nevertheless, it would please me to see Quebec join the 21st century in casting aside ethnic nationalism, an ugly blotch if ever there was one.

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