As a Liberal and a Federalist I rejoice in Jean Charest’s decisive victory in Quebec. I have however no illusions. Separatism in Quebec will never die. It will wax and wane depending on the vagaries of politics and economics, as they buffet or bless the people north of the 49th parallel.
Jean Charest is young, bright, articulate (perfect in both official languages) and he’s something that no Quebec premier has ever fully admitted to before. He’s a Federalist committed to and familiar with the rest of the country. He’s proud to be a Federalist and moreover he knows that it does not make him less of a Quebecois. It is just these beliefs that made it such a struggle for him to win the majority government he finally achieved on April 14.
Pundits had barely let the victors’ euphoria settle before they were second guessing Charest’s and Quebec’s future. One columnist insists that Federalist governments are actually better for sovereignty because — oh never mind. It’s just too stupid to talk about!! Another suggests that to succeed, Charest must throw away his long term passion for Canada and become totally anti Ottawa. Further he must immediately subscribe to some of the most annoying tactics in the political catalogue, which is forever threatening the rest of Canada with separation if Quebec does not get this or that concession from the Federal Government.
Well I for one think Jean Charest is smarter and better than that. Canada with its 10 provinces and three territories is already far more decentralized than the United States. Our provincial governments have a huge range of power and responsibility beyond the dreams of state governments in the US. The tension between the two government levels is a constant, and I believe, healthy result of the peculiarities of our constitutional arrangement. I believe that the brains and commitment demonstrated these many years by Jean Charest may just find their destiny in his new role as Quebec’s premier. In stead of sulks and threats, Quebec will now come to the table with a leader who has a thorough knowledge of Federalism and has earned the respect of his federal counterparts. I hope that under Jean Charest, Quebec will take its rightful place in the Canadian Confederation as a counterweight to Ontario and the west, in the best possible sense. Bringing to the debate the heart, soul and spirit that is Quebec language and culture for a political process that essentially differentiates Canada from every other country on the globe. It won’t happen over night and it may never happen, but it is exciting to think that there is a chance that a significant number of Quebecoises may finally take their places as full partners in Canadian confederation.
I am not naive. Separatism is alive and well. Quebec nationalism is alive and well. But there is a guy in the driver’s seat in Quebec City and maybe – just maybe – he can begin the turnaround that will help Quebecoises see that their destiny and Canada’s are forever entwined for our mutual good.
Canadian Mary Clancy is president of Burlington College and a former member of Parliament.