With the recent resignation of Pierre Karl (PK) Péladeau, another nail has been added to the coffin of the Parti Québécois and the struggle for a independent Quebec.
Without too much of a historical deep-dive, the modern Separatist movement was incubated by the autocratic reign of Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis. Lasting from the 1920s to the late 1950s, the Duplessis era can be overwhelmingly characterised by the grande noirceur (or great darkness) that blanketed the province. During this period, Quebec was a principally confessional state where the church reigned supreme in most matters spiritual and temporal. "Popish" moral imperialism was rampant and social mobility was near impossible.
As is often the case in times of oppression, many leading lights came out of this period -- both separatist and federalist -- and the Church educated a great many of them at Jesuit-run colleges throughout the Province. However, the stage was being set for a cultural uprising.
Many of the early disciples of Separatism -- including Rene Levesque -- were forged in the crucible of the Duplessis era and subsequent leaders including Lucien Bouchard were reactions to its pernicious nature. Whether you count yourself as a Sovereigntist, Separatist, or Federalist -- or avoid these labels entirely -- there is a certain rosy hue of admiration through which one can look at these iconic figures. Say what you will about their politics, these men (and women) had gumption. However, it should be noted that Bouchard has since eschewed his separatist absolutism.
Enter PK Péladeau, rising to power on the coattails of the foundering leadership of Pauline Marois. Whatever tendrils of separatist legitimacy Pauline Marois clung to, Péladeau had none of this and no tint of history will paint him as a champion of social democracy, equality of opportunity or in the same light as his predecessors. While a competent enough politician, Pauline Marois was already fighting a much larger ideological battle before the appearance of the arguably arriviste Péladeau.
With each passing year, the revolutionary, separatist ideologies of the 1960s and 1970s fade into obscurity as a new Quebec emerges.
The crux of that battle is this: Quebecers no longer overwhelmingly support becoming a sovereign and independent nation. Over the few past decades, the Federal government (rightly or wrongly) has created a new and unique identity for Quebec. This new political and cultural reality has granted more autonomy to the Province than any other -- even going so far as to recognize Quebec and Quebecers as a distinct society.
Quebec has arrived on the world stage, essentially leads its own foreign policy and in many ways acts as a sovereign nation -- without the pesky requirement of raising an army for defense and the definite perk of federal equalization payments. Fait accompli, some might say.
Rhetoric around PK ("privileged, "billionaire," "overwhelmingly pro-business") aside, it's hard to imagine a world in which he could have ever served as a beacon of Separatism. Perhaps M. Péladeau has come to this realization himself, though one can only wish a man well for a valiant (if misguided) effort in the face of an insurmountable challenge.
With each passing year, the revolutionary, separatist ideologies of the 1960s and 1970s fade into obscurity as a new Quebec emerges. This new Quebec is united by its differences and is facing the 21st century as a cosmopolitan, multi-lingual international actor. While rural life remains rooted in traditional values, in my opinion it is next to impossible to argue that a Quebec independent of Canada would be more economically, culturally or linguistically free.
In speaking of the Separatist movement itself, the fact that its most ardent militants have retired on pensions that would have made their younger selves fume is fairly indicative of its demise. At this point, I believe that only one questions remains. Just how many more nails can this coffin take?
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