Español After a whopping defeat in the last provincial election, Quebec secessionists are doing a bit of soul-searching, and with good reason.
The Parti Québécois (PQ), the province’s progressive separatist party, held the reins of a minority government when it brought voters to the polls on April 7. The next day, it was bloodied, blue, and shut out of the halls of power.
Instead of the majority hoped for, the PQ lost over half their seats in Parliament to just 30, and they handed the Liberal Party a majority government for at least the next five years. Whereas the PQ secured 32 percent of the votes in 2012, the drop to 25 percent in the most recent election set off a lot of alarms in separatist circles. And as close to 40 percent of the population supports secession, the gap in support for the political party is equally worrisome.
With a federalist party at the helm for now, it seems the hope for Quebec independence will have to be put on hold.
As such, the stinging pain of an electoral defeat is a ripe moment for Quebec’s independence movement to reexamine itself.
To begin, why didn’t the PQ brand of sovereignty and secession catch on?
Most visibly, people did not like the idea of a state-sanctioned “secularism” as a necessary element of Quebec independence. The Charter of Quebec Values (Charte des Valeurs Québécoises) was hastily put through, poorly defended, and served to weaken the social fabric of an otherwise tolerant Quebec society. Pitting a majority of Québécois against religious minorities negated the lessons learned after the failed referendum of 1995, when the “ethnic vote” was said to have precipitated the loss.
What’s more, the PQ’s more collectivist tax and regulatory policy was seen as undeniably hostile to business development, weakening the chances of an economic recovery that would make Quebec prosperous and financially independent. Instead, the party chose to bolster itself with the Charter, making language and identity politics their key contribution to the discourse of the election campaign.
Without a plan for significant job creation on their side, the PQ was destined to fall victim to the job-hungry electorate. This was foreseen by Jean-Martin Aussant, former head of Option Nationale, a more economically focused separatist party, who shunned an electoral focus on culture and Quebec identity.
“People have already embraced Quebec independence because of culture and identity,” he said on Bazzo TV after the PQ’s win in 2012. “At least economically, the federalists still have the capacity to scare us with false arguments [for independence]. It’s there that we need to work and I think it’s advantageous for economic pragmatists to use numbers and facts rather than culture or identity politics. ”
So if the modern supporter of Quebec independence wasn’t favorable to the Parti Québécois because of their economic and social positions, what is the best vehicle for the movement? What motivates today’s Quebec secessionist?
To a large degree, they’re socially liberal and fiscally modest. They want Quebec’s finances streamlined, taxes lowered, and they want the government to stay out of social issues.
They don’t like the fact that they send a large chunk of their taxes to the federal government of Canada, especially when it is used to fund policies many Quebec residents don’t find in their interests, such as military ventures, dubious online surveillance bills, or the bulging Canadian federal bureaucracy within Quebec’s borders.
They recognize the potential for Quebec’s economic independence and success, which rests in letting entrepreneurs have more incentives to create wealth.
“The sovereignty of 1960 was very left wing and progressive,” Jean-Claude Sylvain Guay told Vice magazine earlier this year. Guay, an avid secessionist vying for the leadership role of the federal separatist party the Bloc Québécois, says today’s independence movement is smarter and better positioned to win.
“Today, it’s a more mature independence; more economic, with a rhetoric more focused on rational and logical economic ideas,” he said. “We are now thinking more liberally and neo-liberally.”
As iterated by Option Nationale’s Catherine Dorion, today’s secessionist wants to return to the “dream” of a free and independent French-speaking people where all cultures and ethnicities are respected and represented. They want to unite the revolutionary spirit which brought so many young people out into the streets of Montreal during the printemps érable.
“We don’t defend a revolutionary project like the independence of Quebec without taking the opportunity to explain it concretely, to convince, and to inspire,” writes Dorion.
The idea of independence, of breaking away from one country in order to create a new one, is revolutionary. If today’s secessionist wants that dream to be realized, they would do well to forget the ruined ideology of the Parti Québécois and start anew.