Brexit is a poor model for the West

Brexit is a poor model for the West

It was former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard who coined the expression “winning conditions” after the 1995 referendum to describe what it would take for his Parti Quebecois government to again test the will of Quebecers to leave the federation.

Bouchard never actually spelled out what the list entailed.

But control of both the national assembly and the provincial levers of power, along with a strong contingent of like-minded Bloc Quebecois MPs on Parliament Hill and, from poll to poll, the steady support of more than 40 per cent of Quebecers for independence did not, in Bouchard’s book, add up to a strong enough pro-sovereigntist combination to chance another referendum.

By the time he retired from active politics in 2001, the man who had been sovereignty’s leading referendum champion no longer believed he or anyone of his generation was likely to see the day when Quebec became an independent country.

In the aftermath of last month’s federal election, talk of secession is more prevalent in the Prairies than in Quebec. But from the distance of the province that has been the ground zero of a significant sovereignty movement for half a century, that talk seems grounded in a very selective reading of current and recently past political realities.

Take Wexit, the word that has become popular to describe the movement to take Alberta and Saskatchewan out of the federation. A group purporting to become Alberta’s version of the Bloc Quebecois seems intent on using it as its party label.

And yet the term draws its inspiration from a political mess that most serious secessionist movements have come to see as a deterrent to their own independence ambitions.

When a slim majority of voters opted to have the United Kingdom pull out of the European Union in 2016, there were those in the ranks of Quebec’s independence movement who saw Brexit as a development that would reflect well on their cause.

But three years later, few leading Quebec sovereigntists would be caught dead using the U.K.’s ongoing political adventure as proof of the feasibility of separation, let alone its economic benefits.

Watching Great Britain’s divided political class as it struggles to arrive at a consensus on a road map to an orderly exit from the EU, it is harder than ever to argue that there would be a smooth path to separation from the Canadian federation.

Closer to home, the Bloc is the other main source of inspiration for Wexit promoters and their Prairie supporters. But when it comes to leveraging gains for a region or a province, there is less than meets the eye to the usefulness of a permanent opposition berth.

On the week after the federal election, Premier Francois Legault took a pass on a meeting with Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet.

The premier wanted to make it clear he did not need a Bloc intermediary to deal with Justin Trudeau’s re-elected Liberals.

Going forward, Legault fully intends Quebec’s relationship with Ottawa to be based on direct, government-to-government dealings.

And while the Bloc will echo the province’s concerns in the House of Commons, its return to strength only makes it harder for a rival national party such as the Conservatives or the New Democrats to pry power out of the hands of Trudeau’s Liberals.

Looking at the Oct. 21 results, a successful western-based separatist party would achieve gains almost exclusively at the expense of the federal Conservatives.

The latter, and not the Liberals or the New Democrats, would bleed support — and if not fatally, at least enough to be drained of the political energy required to come back to government.

Voters in the Prairies would be trading a party vying to form a non-Liberal federal government for an opposition rump in the House of Commons. The net result would be to increase the Liberal hold on federal power.

The Bloc would not have lifted off the ground as impressively as it did were it not for Lucien Bouchard’s charisma and popularity.

But even in the heady pre-referendum days, when support for secession was running at over 60 per cent in the polls, Bouchard kept insisting that the Bloc should not become a permanent fixture on Parliament Hill.

If Quebecers opted to remain in the federation in the referendum, he believed, they should not consign themselves to the opposition sidelines in the House of Commons.

Those words, of course, fell mostly on deaf ears.

Almost three decades on, the Bloc is still alive and kicking, but Bouchard has remained steadfast in his opinion.

Asked to comment on the resurgence of the party he founded, the former premier said he would rather have three ministers at the federal government’s table than 30 Bloc MPs.

Chantal Hebert is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Regional Airport CEO Graham Ingham has ambitious plans for the airport. (Advocate file photo).
Red Deer Regional Airport revenues climb in 2020

Bringing in more business is the 2021 goal, says director

City council will have to wait longer to hear back from administration on possible alternative sites — if the homeless shelter is moved from Red Deer downtown. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).
Alternative sites for homeless shelter will be explored by the City of Red Deer

Council gave administration more time to return with a report

Quentin Lee Strawberry was found not guilty of second-degree murder in connection with stabbing death of Joseph Gallant in March 2019. (Photo from RCMP)
Updated: O’Chiese man found not guilty of 2019 stabbing death of Red Deer man

Quentin Strawberry found guilty of assaulting murdered man’s common-law partner

(Advocate file photo).
City of Red Deer property tax bills are in the mail

Red Deer 2021 tax notices are on their way. Red Deer property… Continue reading

Vancouver Canucks’ Nils Hoglander (36) scores on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Laurent Brossoit (30) during first-period NHL action in Winnipeg on Monday May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
Hoglander scores twice as Vancouver Canucks dump slumping Winnipeg Jets 3-1

Hoglander scores twice as Vancouver Canucks dump slumping Winnipeg Jets 3-1

Edmonton Oilers' Dominik Kahun (21) celebrates with teammate Connor McDavid (97) after scoring the third goal against Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jake Allen (34) during second-period NHL hockey action in Montreal, Monday, May 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canadiens clinch playoff spot with single point, fall to McDavid and Oilers in OT

Canadiens clinch playoff spot with single point, fall to McDavid and Oilers in OT

Rory McIlroy tees off on the fourth hole during the fourth round of the Wells Fargo Championship golf tournament at Quail Hollow on Sunday, May 9, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)
McIlroy ends 18 months without winning at Quail Hollow

McIlroy ends 18 months without winning at Quail Hollow

Canada , left to right, lead Briane Meilleur, third Val Sweeting, skip Kerri Einarson, and second Shannon Birchard discuss strategy against Sweden in a qualification game at the Women's World Curling Championship in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, May 8, 2021. Both of Canada's teams were shut out of the medals, marking the first time ever that Canada did not reach the podium at either the men's or women's worlds in the same season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Bubble Wrap: Fresh questions for Canada after medal shutout at curling worlds

Bubble Wrap: Fresh questions for Canada after medal shutout at curling worlds

Edmonton Oilers' Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Oilers plan to keep playing McDavid, Draisaitl as NHL regular season winds down

Oilers plan to keep playing McDavid, Draisaitl as NHL regular season winds down

Canada's Tyler Ardron, right, tries to block the kick by Italy's Callum Braley during the Rugby World Cup Pool B match in Fukuoka, western Japan, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kyodo News via AP
Canadian men to face Wales and England in July rugby test matches

Canadian men to face Wales and England in July rugby test matches

John Velazquez, right, rides Medina Spirit ahead of Florent Geroux aboard Mandaloun to win the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, Saturday, May 1, 2021, in Louisville, Ky. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Darron Cummings
Casse believes colleague Baffert deserves “due process” folowing positive test

Casse believes colleague Baffert deserves “due process” folowing positive test

Canada forward Liam Millar (23) moves the ball past Bermuda defender Eusebio Blankendal (2) during the second half of a World Cup 2022 Group B qualifying soccer match Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-John Raoux
Canadian men to play next two World Cup qualifying matches in the U.S.

Canadian men to play next two World Cup qualifying matches in the U.S.

Most Read