Parizeau is racist

Late in the evening of October 30, 1995, Jacques Parizeau states: "True, we've been defeated... at the very heart of it, by what? By money... and ethnic votes... essentially." National newspapers in Canada are not going to let anyone forget these words.

The "Yes" side started strong that evening and kept the lead for quite a while. It took some time before results from Montreal's West Island started to hurt that lead, more time than most Canadians from other provinces felt comfortable with. Before there was any sign of relief for the "No" side, commentators on both the CBC and CTV were openly hoping that the ethnic vote would save the day. They used the word "ethnic" candidly.

During the last US presidential campaign, political analysts used the expression "ethnic vote" to explain different demographic patterns and their impact. There was no significant difference in the use of the expression among Canadian and American political commentators.

In contrast, Parizeau's words provoked an important reaction. Both English and French media responded with similar disbelief. Why this uproar? Why this outrage? It's no secret that spending for the "No" side exceeded the amount permitted by law. It's no secret that Québec's sovereignty is less appealing to Anglophones and Allophones. Is anyone disputing these facts?

In his bitterness, Parizeau suggested that sovereignty could eventually be achieved without the new-stock Québécois. That was unfair to those who supported the sovereigntist option, but most and for all, it was misguided. Many Westerners displayed similar feelings toward the Québécois when Harper was stopped short of majority in 2008, but such behavior is unacceptable from a political figure of Parizeau's stature. His words hinted at alienating an important part of the province's population. Great politicians bring people together.

The 1995 speech aside, Parizeau hasn't done much to be labeled as a racist. His political actions don't concur with such a label, his personal life even less. He was married to Alice Parizeau (née Alicja Poznańska). Of Polish origin, she worked with the resistance movement of Poland during World War II and was made prisoner in the Bergen-Belsen war camp in Germany. The couple raised two children and spent 34 years together until she died of cancer in 1990.


The Bloc Québécois is useless

The last 50 years have been good for Québec politicians in Ottawa. The House of Commons staged many Québécois Prime Ministers. Many cabinet members ensured appropriate Québécois representation in most governments.

2006 marked a brutal shift. In both the 2006 and 2008 federal elections, Québec sent only ten members of the governing party to Ottawa. This sudden turn of event deprived the party at helm of a majority and it drastically reduced Québec's weight in the government's mix.

Many observers on the Canadian political scene questioned Québec voters' political acumen. Cabinet representation, they argued, is important to ensure proper leverage; lack of it will contribute to isolating the province. Recent history somewhat disagrees with this statement.

The 60s saw the rise of Québec nationalism, culminating to the institution of martial law. The 70s saw the election of the PQ and the creation of the Charter of the French Language (a.k.a. Bill 101). A referendum for sovereignty was held in 1980. The "No" side's victory led to the patriation of the Constitution in 1982 without Québec's support.

In 1984, René Lévesque helped Mulroney's Conservatives win the federal elections and took what he called "le beau risque". The Meech Lake Accord was drafted in 1987 to reintegrate Québec in the Canadian constitution "in honor and dignity". Unable to meet the final ratification date, the Accord unraveled in 1990. Mulroney tried a second time in 1992 with the Charlottetown Accord. Both Québec and the rest of the country rejected it for opposite reasons.

This constitutional drama took place while there was appropriate Québec representation in the federal cabinet. It paved the way for the Bloc Québécois, a sovereigntist party that managed to grab official opposition status in its first election in 1993. Since then, the Bloc has held the majority of the province's 75 seats.

Over the years, Gilles Duceppe has proven to be a formidable politician. His inability to become prime minister gives him great latitude and contributes to his integrity in representing the population who elected him. Oddly enough, it allows him to do the job he is supposed to do, i.e. defend the interest of those he represents. His stance is obviously very egotistical for Canadians in other provinces, but many still recognize his qualities as a politician.

"We are different," says Duceppe. "Everyone in Québec knows that Québec is quite different from the rest of Canada. Not better, not worse, plain different." With its significant deputation, the Bloc in Ottawa is a constant reminder of this inevitable reality.

Since the 1995 referendum, the Bloc has mostly been surfing on Ottawa's faux pas (e.g. the adscam). In 2003, the Liberals took the helm in Québec. And, notwithstanding sovereignty, the Bloc has been remarkably in synch with one of the staunchest federalist premiers the province has ever had.

Ironically, by heightening Québec's different needs on the federal radar, the Bloc is making the Canadian federation work and is depriving the sovereignty movement of important arguments.


A day in the life

My neighborhood is rather crowded and working-class, one that occasionally flirts with the underprivileged status. The majority of my neighbors are tenants. Many weren't born in Canada. Some are from South America, some are from India, some are from the Maghreb... Like the majority of Québécois, some are nice, but some aren't.

Last summer, one of the kids with whom my children share the alley as their playground spent a few weeks in Congo visiting his grandparents. "How was it?" I asked. "Dirty!" he replied candidly. Well, I thought... the young North American experienced a culture clash.

He's the oldest of three being raised by a single Mom in a basement apartment. He's one year younger than my son. They both attend the same music-oriented public school.

Preparing for back to school, his mother stopped by our house. She wanted our son to introduce her boy to public commuting, the norm when entering grade five. We informed her of the school's policy on transportation courtesy passes. Soon after, both our sons were riding the yellow bus.

It's winter now. I'm watching my young neighbor play hockey with his siblings and cousins through my kitchen window. I can't help but smile, a candid smile... a smile that betrays the homogeneity of the world in which I was brought up.

I hear all these exotic names when my children refer to their friends in school. My son and my daughter are natives of this diversified society. My family lives in the forefront of tomorrow's Québec. I accept it and I envy my children's natural.