Saturday, 23 June 2012

Does victory for the PQ signal the return of the Independence question for Quebec?

It's not been widely reported in Scotland but the Parti Quebecois won a spectacular by election victory in the past week which looks set to reignite the whole Quebec sovereignty debate. Referendum anyone?

The by election win in a Montreal seat held by the provincial Liberals for nearly 50 years has sent a warning to both  Provincial Premier Jean Charest and to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Charest's Liberals have been dogged by corruption issues and student unrest. Harpers Tories are a rump in Quebec. Not a good place for either of the big Canadian parties to be in if there is a surge in the Parti Quebecois vote and moves to call a fresh vote on Quebec sovereignty.

The federalists won the last referendum in 1995 by a narrow and disputed margin. Neither Liberals of Tories look to be in good shape to see off a resurgent sovereignty movement. That puts the Parti Quebecois in a strong position to win back power in the provincial assembly and then mount a fresh referendum on Quebec sovereignty. Was it significant that supporters of the victorious PQ candidate Roland Richer chanted 'we want a country'?

PQ Leader Pauline Marois said of the electors 'They said no to corruption, no to Liberal cynicism. They said yes to change, yes to hope. We will change the government, we will change direction - and we will change countries'.

The seriousness of the situation may be indicated by news the Prime Minister Stephen Harper has had meetings with both exPM Brian Mulroney and Quebec premier Jean Charest. Mulroney was PM during the ill-fated Meech Lake Agreement period which saw the Bloc Quebecois formed largely by disaffected Quebec tory MPs and the build up to the last referendum. As mentioned before Charest's Liberals run the province of Quebec and are currently mired in a construction contracts scandal that threatens their grasp of power. Interesting aside, Charest was Conservative MP, former Deputy Prime Minster of Canada in 1993 until the Tory meltdown in the General Election that year and then Leader of the rump Conservative party of Canada  until 1998 when he switched to the Quebec Liberals becoming their Leader and subsequently Premier of Quebec in 2003. Mulroney and Charest have plenty of experience of taking on the PQ and of the  last referendum - Mulroney represented a Quebec riding - and their views will no doubt be invaluable to Harper in his fight to keep Canada together.

With provincial elections due in 2013 the PQ can scent victory, a return to power and a mandate for sovereignty. The last referendum was contentious and close and it looks like the federalists are preparing to face up to a further test of Canada's unity.

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