A lot more than the future of Quebec could be at stake in early September when voters in that province head to the polls to elect a new government. While it’s not a hot issue at present, it may not take much for the separation question to be brought back to the forefront.
Much has changed since 1995, when the last referendum on separation brought the country within a whisker of a constitutional crisis and the possible breakup of Canada. The leadership is different, many of the leading sovereigntists have retired and it’s an issue that has been overshadowed by Quebec’s debt and economy.
Still, there’s a fear it may not take much to change things and cast the country back into a crisis it can hardly afford as it continues to recover from a recession that has cost thousands of jobs from coast to coast, including Quebec.
For that reason, both the federal Conservatives and New Democrats have decided they will not try to score political points by engaging themselves in the Quebec political scene.
That’s a wise decision. Although sovereignty and separation are not hot button issues in the Quebec campaign, all it would take is for Prime Minister Stephen Harper or NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair to make a slip of the tongue to give a rebirth to Quebec nationalism – something that really hasn’t been since the fires of separation were last stoked 17 years ago.
Heading into this campaign, Premier Jean Charest is on very shaky ground. Many Quebec voters don’t approve with his handling of student protests this spring and his crackdown when those students decided to take to the streets of Montreal en masse.
If you believe the polls, PQ Leader Pauline Marois appears poised to be a premier in waiting. Considering the party’s raison d’être, it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Marios has already indicated she plans to make sovereignty an issue once again. There can be little doubt part of her strategy will be to say and do things that will goad Harper and other federalist leaders into entering the political fray. We can only hope that the leaders of both parties can resist the urge to bite because it could have terrible repercussions down the road.
If Quebec voters do decide it is time for change, Marois should not take it as an automatic vote for separation. The last thing this country – including Quebec – needs is uncertainty about its future as a nation. Hopefully this election will be the important issues facing Quebec and not become a sideshow or separation spectacle.