Separation question still hot
By Ed Stack
The Canadian unity debate is a topic close to the hearts of many and was revived at Western during Jacques Parizeau's presentation last evening.
Parizeau's lecture, entitled "The Future of Canada and Quebec," will almost certainly be received with mixed reactions due to the polarization of opinions concerning Quebec and its current and future role in the Canadian federation.
Western political science professor Doug Long said he is currently pessimistic about the future of the nation. "I don't have confidence in the Prime Minister's leadership in this issue," he said, adding he is alarmed the country has gotten into this mess.
Long said mismanagement at the federal level is the major reason efforts to negotiate with Quebec about constitutional issues have been unsuccessful. "We don't even know if we could have had success with the Meech Lake or Charlottetown Accords had we not bundled Quebec issues together with issues concerning native and gender rights," he added.
He is also concerned the next referendum may be handled just as poorly by the federal government. "I do not believe the hard approach of Plan B will reverse the tide against separation. I believe it will backfire."
Long explained Plan B is a "tough love" plan that involves denying cultural uniqueness, economic concessions and any other efforts to convince Quebec separation is not feasible.
The rest of Canada does not understand the price that sovereignists are willing to pay to reach their goals, he said, adding Canadian leaders need an injection of new ideas about how this problem can be resolved.
Martin Westmacott, associate dean of social science at Western, said a possible solution would be for the prime minister and premiers to sound out public opinion to see if there is a statement of principles that could be endorsed by provincial legislatures and the Parliament prior to the next Quebec election.
"If Lucien Bouchard [current leader of the Bloc Quebecois] wins the next election, it is almost certain there will be another referendum," he said.
After the close victory by federalists in the October 1995 referendum vote, there is a tangible fear among Canadians that the next referendum will show a sovereignist victory.
Department chair of political science Robert Young said the Bloc Quebecois, with 44 seats in Parliament has all the resources to keep the movement going. "Unity is not an issue that will resolve itself, however, for as time continues the problem grows worse," he said.
Long explained the youth of Quebec are learning to think of their province as a sovereign nation. "They are taught in school that Quebec is a nation unto itself," he said, adding this younger generation is not as motivated by emotion as their parents.
"They want to vote "yes" on separation to put Quebec in a better position to negotiate the best deal with the rest of Canada," he added.
Westmacott said Parizeau's political future is uncertain, depending on the success of the separatist movement he helped create but no longer leads.
"He is in a position to influence public opinion in Quebec because of the stance he has taken on sovereignty," he said.
Parizeau is unlikely to return to lead the Bloc Quebecois, Long said, adding there are no polls that show a growing support for Parizeau's harder line.
Whatever the final result, Parizeau's visit has reminded us of the problem at hand and caused lively debate.