Signs of Division Within the Secessionist Movement

Signs of Division Within the Secessionist Movement


Peter Stuart’s opinion piece on the recent Quebec provincial election results.
The opinion is in there somewhere…

The election of a minority PQ government in Québec on September 4, 2012 is a strong sign of just how divided the secessionist movement is in the province of Québec, and just how ambivalent Québecers themselves feel about the future of their ‘nation’ within or without Canada. The breakdown of the popular vote, as given by the official Elections Québec website, gave the PQ 31, 94% of the popular vote, with 54 members elected, to the Liberals 31, 21%, with 50 members elected, a margin of less than 1%. The upstart CAQ party, which is heavily-weighted down with soft-nationalist former ADQ members and right-wing pro-business secessionists who’ve bolted from the PQ for a variety of ideological reasons, got a pretty strong 27, 06% of the vote, and managed to elect a fairly healthy 19 members, which is pretty good, all things considered, in light of the ‘first past the post’ electoral system we have. They would have elected a far greater number if we’d had proportional representation in our province. 

On the other side of the secessionist divide, Québec Solidaire (QS), which represents part of the more left-wing, and radical element of the secessionist movement, managed to garner a respectable 6,03% of the popular vote and doubled its representation in the Assembly from one to two members. Option Nationale (ON), another, less-well-known left wing secessionist party, garnered 1, 90% of the popular vote and did not get anybody elected. 

So Pauline Marois really doesn’t have a strong mandate of any kind to hold a third referendum on secession, given that her nearest rivals, the Liberals, have only four fewer seats in the Assembly, and the citizenry gave her party less than one percentage point more popular support overall. What’s interesting is to see the plethora of secessionist or proto-secessionist parties on both the right and left which have sprouted up out of the bosom of the PQ since René Lévesque, its original Messianic founder and protagonist, passed away in 1987, leaving the party without its original charismatic and eloquent spokesperson to articulate a coherent vision for what was then known as ‘Sovereignty-Association’, a sort of Hoodoo Voodoo kind of political independence with economic association, whose real parameters and implications for the movement of goods, services, capital, ideas, and people, within this new multi-national entity was never fully fleshed out, not to mention the very real questions of how this nebulous entity would have assumed control of the defence of its own territory, airspace, and inland and coastal waterways. 

What one needs to realize is that the PQ was never a united ideological force to begin with. It was initially formed in 1968 from the union of two secessionist organizations, the MSA (Sovereignty-Association Movement), and the RIN (Rassemblement pour l’indépendence national). The MSA itself was the result of an earlier union with another organization called the Ralliement national, so its origins were eclectic from the very start, and included all manner of people with divergent opinions and ideological views as to how and why independence should be achieved. 

Some were radical Socialists or Communists and saw no place for capitalism in a free Québec. Others were Social Democrats; while others were pro-business types, the likes of which eventually went on to form the CAQ. Still others were ultra-radical revolutionaries, who advocated for the violent overthrow of Canadian society, and who formed the basis for the FLQ, or Québec Liberation Front, who were to eventually go on to carry out acts of sabotage and terror in and around Montréal between 1963-70, including attempting to blow up the statue of Queen Victoria, various other bombings, and the kidnapping of the British Trade Commissioner, James Cross, who was eventually released, and Pierre Laporte, the provincial Labour minister, who was assassinated in captivity. 

So basically, there’s never been a strong consensus of opinion amongst secessionists about whom, how, and why they should achieve their objectives. Which is both good news and bad news for people in both Québec and the rest of Canada, in the sense that the threat never seems to fully materialize, but by the same token never seems to fully go away. It’s like having a grown-up child still living at home who keeps threatening to move out and get a place of his own, but never goes through with the plan, because after all, living with mom and dad is still a pretty good deal. 

So I guess as it stands now, sonny boy will be with us for a while yet. Just as long as he picks up his dirty socks and doesn’t asks for another increase in his allowance, we’ll be OK. Sigh… Just another day in Distinct Society Land, North of the 49th.

About the author:

Peter Stuart is a freelance writer based in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.
He has a degree in Canadian Studies from the University of Ottawa.
He has written Op-Ed pieces for the last ten years for publications including: Le Soleil, La Presse, Quebec Chronicle Telegraph and Impact Campus.
Peter writes in both French and English, and and has published his first book, entitled ‘The Catholic Faith and the Social Construction of Religion: With Particular Attention to the Québec Experience’.

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