It’s been a few months now that François Legault, a former secessionist cabinet minister in the PQ government in Québec, and a certain Mr.Charles Sirois, a corporate executive, launched a new civil society movement called the CAQ, or ‘Coalition avenir Québec’. In English, this means simply, ‘Coalition for the Future of Québec’.

What is new and exciting about this organization is that it has the potential to depolarize, so to speak, the longstanding political cleavage in our province, which, for the last 50 years or so, has pretty much been split along what we call in our province and country ‘sovereignist’ and ‘federalist’ lines.

The sovereignists are essentially those Québecers, mostly native French-speakers, who advocate for some sort of secessionist option for our province from Canada, usually while maintaining some sort of European Union-style economic and customs union, even sometimes advocating for the maintenance of the existing monetary union. Some are hardcore secessionists, accounting for about 20% of the total population, who think we should make a clean break, with no association of any sort, while others advocate for some sort of squishy kind of special status clause being inserted into the Canadian constitution to enshrine Québec’s language rights as being collectively construed and put forth, and therefore capable of trumping the supremacy of the Canadian constitution, which in the past has been rejected, and led to the then secessionist government of René Lévesque to not ratify the federal government’s constitutional amendment package in 1982, which brought into law a Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This Charter had what became known as a ‘notwithstanding clause’ put into it, which gave the power to a province or the feds to over ride a piece of each other’s legislation if they felt that it encroached unduly on their rights.

Mr. Lévesque had wanted a ‘clause dérogatoire’, a sort of ‘get out of jail free’ card, whereby the government of Québec could’ve trumped the federal government’s constitutional authority, especially in matters of protecting and promoting the French language in Québec, thereby enshrining for itself what would’ve amounted to a collective right for the province, which was not seen as being in the best interests of Canada, especially the English-speaking minority within Québec.

The federalists, on the other hand, are mostly an eclectic group of mostly bilingual French and English –speaking Québecers, with some unilingual English and French-speakers mixed in, as well as a large cohort of non-native English and French-speakers who originate from many other countries, mostly centred in and around Montréal,Sherbrooke, and Québec city. These people are for the most part pro-business, either liberal or conservative, with a few social-democrats mixed in. They firmly believe, for the most part, in Official Bilingualism and Multiculturalism (our national policies on language and ethno-culturalism in Canada brought in during the reign of Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal administrations in the late 1960s and early 70s).

Federalists for the most part see a varying role to play for government in society, with liberals being more interventionist and conservatives less so. They all believe in a united Canada from coast to coast to coast, and believe that English and French-speaking people should cooperate as much as possible and make a concerted effort to learn each other’s other Official Language. In fact, many Federalists are often of mixed French-Canadian, Irish, English, Scottish, and increasingly, Italian, Polish, and a whole host of other ethnicities. Federalists see the benefit of an overarching political union such as Canada, which transcends the old parochial boundaries and debates of French-English colonial struggles, arguments over the Conquest during the Seven Years War (French and Indian War), and the seemingly never-endingly simmering resentment and feeling of bitterness of some secessionists over the status of their language and culture, and what appears to be a vacillating inferiority/superiority complex which has yet to fully fledge itself out.

Where the CAQ comes in is that they are essentially a Post-Modern rendition of the pre-Quiet Revolution-type of right wing nationalism which used to pervade this province from about the arrival of Maurice Dupplessis’ Union Nationale government in 1936, to its demise in 1959, and the ushering in of the now ubiquitous state-building, tax and spend-like reforms of the Quiet Revolution, which rapidly played a game of catch up for Québecers by bringing into being most if not all of the secular reforms of modern welfare-state democracy in health, education and social services in just over a decade.

This form of state-centred nationalism has now pretty much run its course, and began losing steam in the mid- 1980s, when the Liberal party of Robert Bourassa was re-elected after two terms of PQ secessionist Social-Democratically-driven rule. By then, Ronald Reagan had been in The White House for five years, and Brian Mulroney, the Canadian PM, for about one, who was also a Conservative. By then the economy of the west had also run out of steam from its initial post-WWII boom, and deficit-financing and economic stagnation and foreign competition were forcing all state actors to rethink their entitlement-driven agendas, which, after all had been predicated upon a steady and seemingly never-ending stream of linear economic and demographic growth.

Mr. Bourassa took his party a bit further to the right and governed for two terms until the PQ came back to power in the wake of some failed constitutional talks at the federal level, aimed mostly at accommodating Québec’s growing nationalist aspirations, and to placate hardliners who felt that the failed special status situation of 1982 should be remediated, which had led to two failed constitutional amendment processes, including one national referendum. The end result was that the PQ held another vote on secession, which was staved off by only 0, 4% against secession. The PQ governed for another term, having to tackle tough budget deficit and budget cutting issues for the rest of its term, and was soundly defeated in 2003, with the Liberals getting back in.

However, the Liberals have grown to be perceived, and somewhat rightly so, as a somewhat corrupt and boondoggling party, with increasingly uneasy and embarrassing links to construction companies, corrupt union bosses, union capital investment funds such as the Solidarity Fund, (which blends union activism, taking union dues and investing them in keeping Québec-based companies operating, so as to protect local jobs, with capitalism, a nice conflict of interest, or hybridization of ideologies, whichever way you want to slice it), conflicts over the impartiality of the judiciary, and so on.

Not to mention the Liberals’ slippery pas de deux with Québec nationalism, lobbying for a seat for Québec at UNESCO, and Premier Jean Charest sounding more and more like a ‘national’ leader when he speaks to the people of the province, having bought into the whole nomenclatural agenda of renaming all of our provincial institutions as being ‘national’ ones. They haven’t been able to adequately deal with the deficit and debt situation either, much less give Québecers a reality check on the necessity of paring down the size of the provincial government, and creating more wealth through greater private sector activity so as to finance a more viable state sector such as they do in Scandinavia.

So the CAQ is a breath of fresh air on the Québec political scene. It just goes to show you that what is old is new again. Right wing ideology had fallen out of favour for over fifty years in this province due to our desire to raise ourselves out of poverty through government intervention in the economy by giving ourselves better access to education and health care, and a public power grid. Especially since French-Canadians in Québec had traditionally been excluded from the wealth-creating process, it being the almost exclusive purvey of mostly English-speaking Protestants in this province up until only about forty years ago, there being small and medium sized French-speaking entrepreneurs, but very few big time operators on the French side. So we naturally gravitated towards building up the government, which we controlled, whereas the business world we didn’t.

Now, however, we find ourselves to be  the somewhat happy victims of our own success. Our tax and spend statism has created a new class of wealthy and prosperous educated French-speaking upper-echelon corporate managers, executives, and business owners, but it has also left us with a legacy of an over-built and cumbersome state sector which has outlived some of its usefulness, and needs to be pared down somewhat. Some Québecers when we embarked on this venture back in 1960, thought that state-building was going to be a permanent solution, an end unto itself, but it has turned out to be more of a means to an end. Many thought we’d copy the French model of state-building and we’d live happily ever after. Well even the French are starting to reassess their situation in that regard.

Where I see the CAQ coming in is that they’re proposing such innovative things as a return to reinvesting in education, making our public schools more competitive, and using our public pension fund management organization, the Caisse de Dépôt et Placement, as a renewed instrument of home-grown economic nationalism. Any way you slice it, they’re going to have to play the nationalist card, if not politically, then at least economically. Many observers are postulating that as they move closer and closer to becoming a full-fledged political party by the next provincial general election, probably sometime in 2012, they will most likely formally renounce the ‘sovereignist’ option of secessionism, and advocate for some sort of nebulous form of economic nationalist autonomism, focused on greater control of natural resources and development of the far north. One of their proposals is a 5 billion dollar natural resources fund which would be managed by the Caisse de Dépôt, and whose investments would be eligible for RRSP tax deductions.

They seem to advocate for secularization without openly advocating for secularism, which is a relief, because many of our previous generation of social-democratic secularist elites of the Quiet Revolution period, were rabid atheistic lapsed Catholic anti-clerical types who couldn’t wait to just throw away the baby with the bath water when it came time to divest the Church of her temporal power and authority. The CAQ has so far remained silent on matters of spirituality, only to say that in matters of education, that we’ve exchanged the power of clericalism for the power of technocracy, dumbing down our schooling to a mediocre level of averageness, and calling for a return to excellence in public education.

The only impediment that I see to a François Legault-led government by some sort of newly rebaptized and renamed CAQ is Gerard Deltell and the ADQ Party. The Action Démocratique du Québec party was originally an offshoot of the youth wing of the Québec Liberal party, founded by Mario Dumont in the early 1990s, in protest to then Premier Robert Bourassa’s waffling position on constitutional matters.

Dumont and other disaffected Liberals of a more soft-nationalist, quasi-secessionist bent, founded the ADQ, and pitched it as a sort of ‘autonomist’-type party, referring to its ‘in-between’-type position between federalists and sovereignists, and became known for its somewhat kooky regional discontent-type policies in the 1990s and 2000s, such as abolishing school boards to save money, and other policies in which the electorate never were able to fully have confidence as to their credibility.

Mr. Dumont did get his party elected to official opposition status in one election in the early part of the 2000s, but soon lost public appeal. He never was able to make it past the gate keepers of the left-wing artistic and intellectual elites of Montréal who control the popular talk shows on TV and radio, and he certainly didn’t make nice with the financial establishment of Montréal, being relegated to the status of a wannabe Maurice Duplessis Union Nationale type, and resembling more of a glorified Créditiste (Social Credit Party, another right wing, populist, small town regional discontent party of the 1960s which had sprung up and died  some years after).

After getting wiped out at the poles a couple of years ago, Mr. Dumont retired from politics and hit the talk show circuit as a political commentator on the radio, leaving a power vacuum in his party. A man called Gérard Deltell eventually made it to the top of the heap, and now shows signs of wanting to be top dog of the right in Québec. However, if the right is to unite in Québec, one thing and one thing only has to happen: ADQ has to let itself be taken over by CAO, and to do it gracefully, making it look like a duly consummated marriage, somewhat like the Reform-Alliance Party took over the rump of the PC Party of Canada, allowing the right to unite at the federal level, and eventually get a majority government.

Someone is going to have to sit Gérard Delltell down and ‘Tell’ him something like the following: ‘Look buddy, you’re never going to be premier of Québec, you don’t have the smarts, or the required level of bilingualism, or the ability to bring all of the various stakeholders together, nor do you have a sufficiently coherent vision for where you want to go with this province. François Legault, on the other hand, does. He’s better educated, better looking (that counts in the media age), he’s more suave and eloquent, he’s more well-connected in the business community, and he’s got better ideas. So either you step aside and we do this in a civilized fashion, and you join our team, or we crush you, or we remain divided and the Liberals, or worse yet Pauline Marois and the PQ get in next time, and we’re stuck with another vote on secession.

So when it comes to the ‘future of Québec’, I think a true ‘coalition’ of new people putting forth new and updated versions of old ideas is better than falling back on a couple of old warhorses with their masters whipping the crap out of them and all of their old ideas.

Let’s see where Messrs. Legault and Sirois take this thing. All the ‘sovereignists’ and ‘federalist’ and just plain old ‘ists’ are waiting with bated breath for Godot to appear and play his magic flute and lead all those rats into the drink. Or was that the Pied Piper? Personally, I’m a little ‘pie eyed’ myself, so I’ll go to bed now, it’s late. The ‘future of Québec’ awaits me at Church tomorrow, and I wouldn’t want to disappoint the ‘coalition’ of faithful parishioners who’ve gathered there by showing up grumpy and dishevelled.

Amen to that, brother. Bonne nuit.

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  1. “So when it comes to the ‘future of Québec’, I think a true ‘coalition’ of new people putting forth new and updated versions of old ideas is better than falling back on a couple of old warhorses with their masters whipping the crap out of them and all of their old ideas.”
    Class of 1983, the first generation of “liberated” Canadians. The charter? Well if I was free, I would have given them the finger too eh!…
    Sea to shining sea mon ami.


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