Monsieur Landry recently brandished that age old tool of opportunistic Quebec politicians – the promise of sovereignty. This comes hot on the heels of reports that Landry’s leadership of the Parti Quebecois is faltering and that Quebec sovereignty is a lost cause with a new generation.
This situation called for bold moves, and Landry, no stranger to boldness of the sort that costs Quebec taxpayers ridiculous sums of money (take for example the Cite du Commerce Electronique project in Montreal), stepped up to the plate. Landry and other separatists believe that the time to rekindle the movement is coming soon thanks to an increasingly unpopular Liberal government. There has been talk by separatist forces since the 51% No 29% Yes result in 1995 that for another referedum on sovereignty to take place they must be certain of winning conditions.
The current Charest administration have been making tough budget cuts and policy changes resulting in, for example, the layoff of many of Quebec’s overly numerous and underproductive civil servants and scaling back some social services, perhaps setting the stage for a PQ win in the next election. While Charest’s government are making moves that are in the long term financial (if not social) interest of Quebec, Landry’s party will appeal to both the short-term public frustration with these cuts and the universal appeal of patriotic sentiment that has been so useful for George and the gang down south. Separatism is historically an appeal to the heart rather than reason, less than inclusive culturally, and gives less than serious regard for potential economic and social impact (which reminds me once again of the Bush administration). Therefore an issue that almost certainly needs to be addressed for Landry to succeed is that separatists have yet to produce a thorough analysis of the risk and uncertainty in a post separation Quebec. It may not be realistic to expect a balanced assessment but at least it would fuel more constructive debate.
Even though its hard to imagine Quebec as a nation separate from Canada, we don’t have to imagine the harsh effects of the separation movement on investment in Quebec which has stifled the potential of Montreal’s economy in the past 30 years and caused countless professionals to seek their fortunes down the 401 to Toronto and down the 15 to the USA…it is a shame that the politicians are interested in renewing this trend, while the population by and large seems to be trying to move on, and embrace a strong and culturally distinct Quebec as an integral member of the Canadian federation. For once the population of Quebec needs to hold the politicans accountable for the economic harm of their self serving agendas, certainly all evidence points to Quebec politicians suffering from at least the same level of cronyism and corruption seen in the Federal government lately. There is no good evidence that they would do a particularly good job of tending to the incredibly difficult task of leading a new nation through the social and economic difficulties that a separation would entail.