05/01/2012 02:22 EDT | Updated 05/01/2012 02:25 EDT

Gilles Duceppe Says Quebec At Critical Juncture In Struggle For Sovereignty


A year ago Wednesday, Canadians elected Stephen Harper to lead a majority Conservative government. The Bloc Quebecois was virtually wiped out in Quebec by the NDP, while its leader, victorious in the last five elections, was defeated in his own constituency.

A year later, the loss remains painful for Gilles Duceppe. "If you ask me if a loss is nice? No, this is unpleasant. But life goes on, we must live. "

And no, he does not know what the future holds. "A year is not long. We must give it time some time," he says.

His reading of what happened on May 2, 2011 has not changed. "Quebecers did not want Stephen Harper in power. They knew the Bloc could not win and in light of the latest polls, they believed Jack Layton could become prime minister."

The rest is history. Even without Quebec, Stephen Harper got his majority. Just over three months later, Jack Layton died of cancer.

Although he was at the centre of the upheavals that rocked the leadership of Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois last year, Duceppe has held back from re-entering active politics. Allegations he misused public funds for partisan purposes while he was leader of the Bloc Quebecois have cooled his ambitions.

He says he is "looking forward" to hear the conclusions of the MPs on the House of Commons’ Board of Internal Economy who studying the spending allegations. Meanwhile, the rules have been clarified.

The inevitability of Ignatieff

It wasn't statements from Duceppe that brought the sovereignty debate to the forefront in recent weeks, but those from former…Liberals! Starting with comments from former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, who told the BBC that Quebec's independence is inevitable.

He traced a portrait that is true to life, Duceppe says. We live in two different societies without one being better than the other. I remember in the last debate we did, where he said: Gilles, we are in 2011, sovereignty, it is no longer current. His speech has necessarily changed. I think he took a step back because he no longer has a partisan task to fulfill.

Duceppe, however, himself a former Bloc leader, casts doubt as to the eventual certainty of Quebec’s independence.

"When he says that inevitably Quebec will be sovereign, I say there is nothing that is inevitable, especially in politics. I have never believed that things happen by themselves. "

Is Duceppe more cautious on sovereignty than a federalist? Not really, he responds. He believes the current turmoil in Quebec can only foster a new thrust for independence.

"Look at what has occurred in history. When the Berlin Wall fell, it was not surprising, but it was unexpected. Who predicted the Arab Spring? Nobody expected it, but all the ingredients were there. I think all the ingredients are also there for Quebec to become a country. But when? That’s another question. And it depends primarily on the will of those who work for this option. One has to work to make it happen. "

As a provincial election looms, Duceppe is pleased to see Quebecers emerging from slumber. ""[The director] Dominic Champagne said we are at a turning point in the history of our people, where our dead past does not want to die and our budding future does not want to be born. Thus, it is conscious. And we cannot consciously stay undecided. There are decisions to make, this one is major, but we must work to convince people that this is the right decision. "

The Trudeau fallacy

What does Duceppe make of Justin Trudeau saying he would consider supporting sovereignty if Canada was remade in Stephen Harper's image?

"If Harper did not have a majority in Canada, then sovereignty is no longer needed? I think not! Because Harper and his Tea Party friends are in power sovereignty is necessary? But if it was the Liberals or the NDP it would not be necessary? You see that it does not work,” Duceppe says.

He admits that, politically, separatists must "seize opportunities," but insists sovereignty must be realized in a positive rather than a reactive way.

As he told the journalist Gilles Toupin, Duceppe thinks it is Canada that will be redefined the day after Quebec obtains independence.

"The day when we are no longer there, Canadians will be forced to live their own quiet revolution,” Duceppe suggests. "Currently, all their cultural references are American, and they are defined by the third party that is Quebec, saying ‘We have a French-speaking province.’ They will be forced to find themselves.”

The Mulcair test

On the choice of Thomas Mulcair to head the NDP, Duceppe reserved comment, calling him "someone solid," even if he does not share his opinions.

It is in its policies where the NDP is likely to stumble, Duceppe says. "They’ll have to defend their policy of respecting the choice of 50 per cent plus 1 (in a future referendum), and we'll see. And on the demand to repatriate the employment insurance fund to Quebec, requested by an organization that defends the rights of those on welfare, the NDP risks also being against that policy, in the name of national unity.”

The same goes for its promise to apply Bill 101 — the law that ensures French is the province’s dominant language at work, in business, in communications and education — to all federal institutions in Quebec.

"When we saw their bill (on extending Bill 101 to federal institutions), it was simply wrong."

Obviously, Duceppe has lost none of his enthusiasm.

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