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I Am Skooter
So here's us, on the raggedy edge.
Caught in the struggle tight on the rod / I want you / Bring out the devil to bring out the god
— Peter Gabriel, And Through the Wire
March 9, 2008
Quebec Separatism circa 1977

From The Economist’s February 12, 1977 edition (Vol. 262) a survey of the country prepared by Roland Bird, on the eve of that great referendum that fired passions as few political events have since.

Must the Unthinkable Happen?

Canada can never be the same after November, 15th….

Before Quebecers are consulted on whether they want to stay in Canada, the Lévesque government has a stupendous job to put Quebec’s finances straight, to get its economy moving, and to deal effectively with labour movement…

[Mr. Lévesque’s team] conceivably represents the best in ability that has ever been installed in provincial government throughout Canada’s history….he deals in an endless stream of political philosophy and of equivocal French concepts, rather than administrative practicalities.

He sees himself…as having some sort of “national mandate”, independent of any English vote or of any big business support.

…Now a country still largely governed by latitude rather than longitude is threatened by a possible economic and political breach that could—and almost certainly would—destroy it. It is really inconceivable that Canada could survive as three chunks…A sovereign Quebec would almost certainly be a protectionist Quebec.

…Bullying Quebec will serve no purpose except to encourage the separatists.

Canada is not a unitary country and never has been; it is Mr. Trudeau’s tragedy that he has failed to make it one…But he is the best prime minister Canada has got. There is no greater Canadian and no leader of greater intellectual ability, and he could grasp the country and its people and bring them into a new mood of greater self-confidence.

If Quebec Goes it Alone

René Lévesque did not sweep the Parti Québecois into power on November 15th by concentrating on separatism…_[he]_ went on to slaughter the Liberals with charges of bad government and scarcely another word about separatism.

…The Pequistes are committed to secession and will seek a mandate for it two years from now. Meantime they will show Canada and the world how much better they can run Quebec than the “corrupt” Liberals…Separatism is no longer the subject matter for some exciting romantic seminar…It is touch verismo policy, and if he were to show the slightest sign of backing off from it (which he will not) there are determined assocates in the part who would quickly get rid of [Lévesque] and do the job themselves.

…there is a crisis of decision, not just for Quebec, but for the whole of Canada…Would the Parti Québécois be acting illegally, as the prime minister has asserted, if it took Quebec out of confederation?

At a stroke, the Parti Québécois has mauled Mr. Trudeau’s power base, which is Quebec itself.

Before the Quebec election turned Canadian politics upside down, it was assumed that Mr. Trudeau might wait until the autumn of 1978 before calling a federal election. That timetable is by no means so certain now…For the time being, Mr Lévesque has a fistful of trumps and it is difficult to see Mr. Trudeau ruffling many of them.

The anti-Quebec feeling west of Ottawa was epitomised in the resignation of Mr. James Richardson last October from the ministry of defence…for many Canadians his was a voice registered against Mr. Trudeau for giving Quebec too much.

…_[Quebec]_ is as prosperous as it is, as self-confident as it is, as able to get so hideously close to deserting the rest of Canada and so destroying it, because of what Canada has done for it…Mr. Lévesque’s line has always been that independent status for Quebec would not mean total separation so much as a common association between two “countries”…

The Unhappy Trudeau

The opinion polls in September gave Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal government a mere 29% support…Mr. Trudeau has always been a fascinating mixture. His arrogance can be crushing. His intelligence is unmatched among Canadian prime ministers, with the possible exception of Louis St. Laurent…Yet he can be humble too, as he was after being re-elected by a gnat’s whisker in 1972.

…When he lost John Turner early last year, a wave of apprehension swept the country. Finance ministers do not resign lightly…There is noboy to match him as a potential rival for the prime minister’s office, nobody whom the party caucus would rather choose as a future leader of the Liberal party, if Mr. Trudeau were to go.

…Liberals do not go in for public assassinations, and certainly not of a Quebecer whose knifing would imperil the party’s standing in Quebec.

…After all Ottawa’s efforts to suppress the instinct for separatism in Quebec, the Bourassa government…has been swept out of office, and a government pledged to offering separatism installed with 70 our of 110 seats.

It must be tempting, when federal help on such a scale has manifestly failed in its political purpose, to withdraw it with the idea of chastening separatist aspirations…smacking a child when all that it has said is that it might be naughty would be an act of heavy handedness as silly as it would be ineffective…Either line would seem to be more helpful to Mr. Lévesque than to Mr. Trudeau: if he is bullied by Ottawa, he would convert more Quebecers to separatism; if he had more of the federal assistance that did not prevent his election, Quebec could take it and still go separatist.

…Other provinces may not love Quebec fr its ability to get its own way with ottawa, but they are in the same business themselves and would not see Quebec put down by Ottawa for the simple reason that it might happen to them next…separatism is a long way short of a burning commitment in the popular mind. It is no longer a revolutionary call, as it undoubtedly seemed in 1970, at a time when it had a hideous by-product of violence…

More practical notions are abroad today…a redistribution of power…If [Mr. Trudeau] asks Canadians for a mandate to fight separatism before it has been clearly defined by Mr. Lévesque and endorsed by the Quebec electorate, he would be taking on a constitutional cockshy. And conceivably worst of all must be the possibility that referendum and federal election will fall almost simultaneously in the autumn of 1978. Could he resign in order to lead the Quebec Liberals (he once said he would, if Mr. Lévesque ever got in) leaving Mr. Turner to take over?

Posted by skooter at 9:13 PM This entry is filed under Canada, Politics, Quebec.
This entry is tagged: Pierre Trudeau, Quebec, Referendum, Rene Levesque, Separatism

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