mercredi 8 août 2012

This time, Anglos do have a choice

Article paru dans The Gazette, le 8 août 2012, page 21.

On September 4th, are Anglo-Quebecers again going to sleepwalk their way to the ballot box and automatically vote Liberal?

Up till now, that is usually what we’ve done, but perhaps without excess enthusiasm. With the PQ bent on separation, the inner debate for many of us began with “Do I have a choice?” ‑ and ended straight after. Of course: there was no serious alternative to the Liberals. Granted, some of us fled to Equality in 1989, only to return to the Liberals in 1994. Lesson learned: Anglo-Quebec is better off taking part in government than sidelining itself.

This time around, Anglos do have a real choice. Mr. Legault has made it clear that a referendum is off the table for ten years. His Coalition Avenir Québec promises to devote its efforts to other issues crying out for attention: ending corruption, improving public schools, getting everyone a family physician, and others.

Last week in The Gazette, Mr. Charest warned us that Legault “has been a sovereignist all his life, and is still a sovereignist”. In his view, that means game over with the Anglo crowd. I’m sorry, but Anglo-Quebecers need to see beyond this fearmongering.

Let me share an insight. During the run-up to the 1995 referendum, I was asked by the “No” campaign to draft the manifesto that the federalist forces would pitch to the people. As it turned out, I wrote the piece that summer while vacationing with my family in one of those quaint Lower Saint-Lawrence villages, that one founded by French settlers in the seventeenth century. Our cottage overlooked the majestic Saint-Lawrence, about 20 km wide at that point. It was there, even as I was appealing to my fellow Quebecers to reject separation and build Canada, that I had my epiphany. To many Francophones, the great river is the cradle of the Quebecois nation; and as much as it is eternal, so is the recourse option of a sovereign Quebec.

There, I understood that we federalists should not demand that our fellow citizens of the other persuasion renounce their option forever, whatever the future may hold. That is simply too much to ask, even of reasonable people. Some 40% of Quebecers believe in sovereignty. If we wish to work with at least some of them ‑ those who are as keen as we are on making Quebec a better place here and now‑, then we need to build bridges to the other camp’s hill. That is what Mr. Legault, a successful entrepreneur and a seasoned cabinet minister, has accomplished. His Coalition has enabled former Péquiste and Liberal adversaries to set aside their differences and work together on key everyday problems. It now stands as a solid alternative to the Liberals and the PQ.

In the years following the Second World War, visionary French and German leaders overcame decades of enmity to establish the core institutions of what would become the European Union. Closer to home but a century earlier, Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine and Robert Baldwin summoned their contemporaries in Canada East and West to achieve responsible government. These and other examples of statesmanship might enlighten us today.

When Mr. Charest stigmatizes the CAQ as a bunch of closet separatists, he is in fact perpetuating the divide that has bogged Quebec for 40 years. A divide that has stymied Quebec’s progress, but that has also conveniently kept the Anglo crowd in the Liberal corral. That leaves Mr. Charest on the wrong side of history. The way ahead, now as in other times and places, is to reach out to former adversaries and find common ground on which to build.

Some of us may support some planks in the CAQ platform and reject others, just as we might approve or disapprove of some aspects of Mr. Charest’s tenure. That is normal. But in the greater scheme of things, Anglo-Quebecers might consider the opportunity that is now ours to seize: to break loose from the sleeper hold the Quebec Liberal Party has on our community. To have two major parties chasing the Anglo vote instead of one taking it for granted. And going forward, to realign Quebec politics for a generation.