In Quebec, Voices of Moderation

Share via

Since Wolfe and Montcalm fought on the Plains of Abraham in 1759, Quebec has wrestled with its identity. Possessing a French culture within an English country, the province has been treated with ambivalence by the central government in Ottawa, and in turn has itself been ambivalent about how it wanted to be treated. Now the Parti Quebecois, which governs the province and once sought a separate status for it within Canada, has moderated its views.

Meeting in Montreal last weekend, the party set aside a resolution that would have equated a vote for it in the next election with a vote for independence. Instead, a vast majority of Parti Quebecois delegates reaffirmed independence as simply a “fundamental objective.” The vote is good news for those who see the need for Quebec to concentrate on its economic problems and who don’t want to see Canada divided again on issues of language and heritage.

There are those in the party who will not rest until support for separatism, which led to the party’s founding in 1968, is restored as the litmus test of commitment. But they do so at the risk of ignoring the will of the majority of Quebec’s voters, who rejected even a toned-down form of separation--called sovereignty-association--in 1980. Recent polls show that fewer than 20% of Quebecers want either greater autonomy within Canada or independence.


The push for separatism was not without its causes. English-speaking Canadians ruled even in what had been French Canada. Quebecers who spoke French felt discriminated against, left out of the mainstream of their country’s education and employment efforts. If former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau left his country a legacy, it was his attention to this linguistic minority in the province of his origins--attention that helped defuse the separatist sentiment.

And separatism was indeed a threat to Canada’s carefully balanced federation of provinces, just as the violence associated with a handful of its radical advocates threatened the fabric of Canadians’ basic rights more than a decade ago. It is difficult now to remember how on edge Canada was because of separatist activity in the troubled early years of Trudeau’s rule, but the issue is one best put behind the country and the province now by its voices of moderation.