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 city council gave initial approval for more mixed-use developments in Riverside Light Industrial Park. (File photo by Advocate staff)
More industrial landowners in Red Deer are pursuing mixed-use zoning

A third of Riverside Light could become a commercial/industrial district

Central Alberta man facing second-degree murder in connection with December death.
Advocate file photo
Central Alberta man facing second-degree murder in connection with December death

Maskwacis RCMP said female found dead in Ermineskin Cree Nation residence last December

Red Deer College has been working towards obtaining university status for a couple of years. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer College’s university status back in question

Red Deer College should be worried that its university dreams could be… Continue reading

The Mountain Cree Traditional Band headquarters in Mirror, Alta. has been the target of theft and vandalism. (Photo submitted)
Vandals strike: Artifacts worth $1M gone from central Alberta museum

AWNTB says not enough been done to deter crime in Mirror, Alta.

Justin Kripps of Summerland and his team have competed in Olympic action and World Cup competitions in bobsleigh. (Jason Ransom-Canadian Olympic Comittee).
QUIZ: Are you ready for some winter sports?

It’s cold outside, but there are plenty of recreation opportunities in the winter months

Montreal Canadiens down Edmonton Oilers 3-1, sweep series

Montreal Canadiens down Edmonton Oilers 3-1, sweep series

Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) loses the basketball as he tries to drive around Dallas Mavericks center Willie Cauley-Stein (33) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 18, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Chris O'Meara
Lowry leads the way as Raptors down the Mavericks for their third straight win

Lowry leads the way as Raptors down the Mavericks for their third straight win

Johnny Gaudreau’s goal and assist paces Flames to 5-2 victory over Canucks

Johnny Gaudreau’s goal and assist paces Flames to 5-2 victory over Canucks

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, on Dec. 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Tory MP Sloan accuses party of hypocrisy over efforts to have him expelled

Tory MP Sloan accuses party of hypocrisy over efforts to have him expelled

FILE - In this Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019 file photo Britain's Andy Murray reacts during a press conference following his first round loss to Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia. Former world number one Murray's participation at the upcoming Australian Open is in doubt after the Briton tested positive for COVID-19. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)
Australian Open arrivals hit by 3 COVID-19 positive tests

Australian Open arrivals hit by 3 COVID-19 positive tests

Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Mitchell Marner (16) scores on an empty net and takes a hit from Winnipeg Jets defenceman Neal Pionk (4) during third period of action in Toronto on Monday, January 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Toronto Maple Leafs ride dominant second period to down Winnipeg Jets 3-1

Toronto Maple Leafs ride dominant second period to down Winnipeg Jets 3-1

Roman Sadovsky wins the Challenge, his only event of the figure skating season

Roman Sadovsky wins the Challenge, his only event of the figure skating season

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, left, speaks with International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel during their meeting in Minsk, Belarus, Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. (Nikolai Petrov/BelTA Pool Photo via AP)
IIHF pulls hockey worlds from Belarus, seeks new host

IIHF pulls hockey worlds from Belarus, seeks new host

Most Read