Who’s afraid of Bill 101?
Now that Labour Day has come and gone, the political season is back in full swing and the separatists are in free-fall.
The outstanding commentator Lysiane Gagnon writes in her Globe and Mail column: “The sovereignist movement is dead, at least as a major political force, and the first to admit it are the sovereignists themselves. The PQ remains a sovereignist party on paper, but will not call for a referendum and will stop its aggressive promotion of the sovereignist option. ”
For openers, the reduction of the PQ to third party status under the hapless Andr é Boisclair was a disaster for a party that is now beginning to unravel. When the PQ house leader, the acerbic Diane Lemieux, was recently demoted by PQ leader Pauline Marois, Lemieux promptly announced she was resigning from the party. Already, Rosaire Bertrand has gone, having resigned his seat so Marois could enter the National Assembly in a bi-election.
In the broader context of its raison d’être – an independent Quebec – the separatists are in even more disastrous shape. A series of polls in early summer give a snap-shot of just how disastrous. Support for sovereignty in the province is down to 32%. 68% of Quebeckers want the PQ to relinquish its sovereigntist option. More remarkable still, 48% of PQ voters want to abandon the primary aim of the party, independence from Canada. No less than 83% of Quebeckers think Quebec will still be part of Canada in 10 years.
This does not mean, of course, that the desire for more powers within Canada is dead. It is not. This is clear from the results of the last election.
Mario Dumont and the ADQ replaced the PQ as the official opposition on a platform of more “autonomy” for Quebec. This perennial desire for more “autonomy” is likely to grow as separatism itself declines even further.
So, irony of ironies, 30 years after the passage of the Charter of the French Language (Bill 101), 87.5% of Quebeckers say they are “proud to be Canadian.” Even the language bill’s major proponent, Dr. Camil Laurin, realized before his death that the strengthening of the French language in the Charter, had weakened the PQ ’s drive for an independent country. After all, if you could pass such sweeping legislation within the federal system, why separate.
Why indeed? When Bill 101 became law in 1977, I was hosting a phone-in program at CJAD. The Bill caused enormous turmoil in the English community. There was intense pressure to condemn the entire Bill and protest publicly against it. I rejected this pressure. Although I recognized injustices in the Bill (most of them subsequently rectified by the courts) it seemed to me at the time that the Bill ’s major thrust — increased respect for French Quebeckers — was sound.
For this stance I was excoriated, particularly by elements of the English community media, as a quasi-separatist, ex-Jesuit from Toronto who didn ’t know what he was talking about. Now, there is very little agitation in any part of Quebec for substantially changing the language law.
Many of you will remember that, at the time, a great deal of ink was spilled on those who fled the province along the 401 to Toronto. Perhaps now, three decades later, with the language law generally recognized as a bulwark that helped keep Quebec in Canada and helped weaken separatism, we should salute those who stayed.
Check out Neil McKenty’s blog at: www.neilmckenty.wordpress.com