Friday, March 07, 2014

Quebec: The separatist Premier who is committed and not committed

The Impartial Premier - Trust Me
Premier Pauline Marois believes she can have her cake and eat it, too. So she is sucking and blowing at the same time about whether a vote for her Parti Quebecois is really also a vote to start the journey to yet another referendum on independence for Quebec.

It seems that she believes that if she is careful with her choice of words, she can achieve two things – square the circle, blow hot and cold, turn black into white – at the same time, without anyone noticing.

Premier Marois’ Open Agenda:

In today’s Globe & Mail, Rheal Seguin and Les Perreaux neatly outline the contradictory courses that the Premier wishes to take:

In a campaign during which Pauline Marois would prefer to focus on issues such as jobs, the economy and Quebec’s cultural identity, the Parti Québécois Leader is compelled to explain her hesitation about holding another referendum on sovereignty.

Ms. Marois insisted she was not going to be rushed into holding another referendum if her party formed a majority government in the April 7 vote. But she added that she will launch public hearings on Quebec’s political future to gauge whether there is a desire for another referendum.

“We want to keep the agenda open,” Ms. Marois said when asked by reporters about her referendum strategy. “If a referendum is needed, we will take the time to stop and listen to people’s opinions. And if we find that it is not relevant to do it, we won’t.”
Tut-tutting former premiers

Premier Marois wishes to fight this election on the economy, and especially on her beloved Charter of Values ballot box question. She wants to shelve any talks about a referendum for independence during this election, because, as she puts it, she is not committed to a referendum, nor is she committed not to have one:

Ms. Marois refused to make a firm commitment to hold a referendum on sovereignty if she wins a majority government. But she quickly added she will weigh her options “at the opportune time” after holding public hearings. She refused to say at what point during a PQ mandate she would conduct the hearings.

“We aren’t going to do anything behind closed doors; we aren’t going to do it in the dark. We will need a consensus. … There is no commitment to hold a referendum but there is also no commitment not to hold one,” the PQ Leader said.

We can paraphrase her argument as: A referendum if necessary, but not necessarily a referendum. This kind of double talk worked in Canada many years ago, when the mantra was Conscription if necessary, but not necessarily conscription.

Will this double-speak work this time?

Not likely.

Her earlier statements about holding public hearings clearly indicate that she is prepared to trigger the race to a referendum if she obtains a majority. For her, the public hearings would simply be a means to an end. Consider these words she used:

In a campaign-style speech Wednesday night, Premier Pauline Marois spoke of winning a majority and rekindling the Parti Québécois goal of making Quebec a country, delivering her first election promise: “a white paper on the future of Quebec.”

“I am determined to get there,” she said at the opening of her speech to about 300 of the party faithful.

And wrapping it up she said, “We are going to win.

“We are going to make Quebec a country, our country.”

The white paper would ask which choice is more risky for Quebec? Remaining a Canadian province? Or becoming an independent, French-speaking country?

There would be a new referendum on leaving Canada, the premier added, but only when Quebecers want one.

Parti Quebecois – A party with two personalities:

Even among the leaders of the Parti Quebecois there are different interpretations of her referendum strategy. While Marois expects the white paper process to result in detailed investigations of each of the options open to Quebec, some of her ministers clearly indicated that the white paper was really an exercise to promote sovereignity.
Janus: New Parti Quebecois logo during the White Paper

The Minister of Higher Education claimed that the white paper exercise will be a year of “pedagogy”, with the subject being taught being sovereignty, and the white paper being the means to put before the citizens of Quebec plans for the country of Quebec.

Alexandre Cloutier, the Chief Intergovernmental Affairs Minister, was equally blunt: the white paper would highlight the failures of federalism.

And Premier Marois said she and her party would be playing two roles during the year-long white paper process. As head of government, her role would be to guide the debate, making sure that all assessments of the best options in the future (what was best for “Quebec” in 2014, 2015, 2016 and thereafter) were tabled.

But she expected the Parti Quebecois to actively promote sovereignty during this white paper process, and to demonstrate the relevance of this option to citizens of the province.

Clearly, the Premier expects voters in this election to buy into the idea that during the year-long white paper hearings, she will act in a neutral fashion, as premier of the province, while her party (which would, of course, include her ministers and all elected MPAs, as well as the party members and activists in all walks of life) would be diving into the fray, pushing the advantages of secession.

That sounds an awful lot to The Cat as the majority PQ government pushing secession for 12 months from day one while the premier floats above the fray, pretending to be an impartial head of state.

So much for keeping an open agenda during the white paper process.

If that is not an active campaign to promote secession, starting in about six weeks’ time, then I am a monkey’s uncle. And I have a bridge to sell to you, along with some lovely beachside swamp land in the Florida everglades.

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