Do not mistake Quebeckers' sudden attraction to the NDP for a radical change in the way they see Canada and their place in it, André Pratte wrote in Saturday's Globe and Mail.
The rise in popularity of the federal NDP in Quebec - the party won almost 60 of the province's 75 seats in Monday's federal election, compared to only a handful each for the Conservatives, Liberals and Bloc Québécois - doesn't mean that the desire for sovereignty has disappeared.
Even before the extent of the sweep was known, journalists and political scientists had already started to reflect on the meaning of the apparent sea change in Quebeckers' federal voting preferences, he wrote.
Now that the long-invincible Bloc Québécois has fallen from its pedestal, will the hydra of separatism be mortally wounded? Will Quebec at last become a less turbulent and exacting member of the federation?
Mr. Pratte says the answer to both questions is an emphatic "no."
Mr. Pratte joined the Globe for a live discussion on the subject Tuesday afternoon. Below is an edited transcript of that discussion.
Ann Hui: Hi everyone. I'm an online editor at globeandmail.com and I'll be moderating today's live discussion. Joining us soon will be La Presse editorial writer André Pratte, who will take reader questions on the rise of the NDP in Quebec.
The chat will begin soon, but in the meantime, feel free to leave your questions for André.
Let's jump right into the first question. André, in Saturday's Globe and Mail, you argued that "whatever happens to the Bloc, the provincial Parti Québécois will remain a powerful political force." After seeing last night's results, do you still feel the same way?
[Comment From Andre Pratte Andre Pratte: ]I'm ready to start.
[Comment From André Pratte André Pratte: ]/b>
Absolutely. Polls show that support for separation is still around 40%. And the PQ would be elected if a provincial election was held today. Quebecers decided yesterday to put the separation issue on the backburner as far as federal politics are concerned. It doesn't necessarily transfer to provincial politics.
Ann Hui: Click here, by the way, for full election results, including a breakdown by province.
Ann Hui: You wrote that a weakened Bloc and a triumphant NDP in Quebec could help "launch a dialogue between the province and the rest of Canada."
Can you elaborate on that?
André Pratte: By massively rejecting the Bloc, Quebecers have chosen to come back to a national (pan-Canadian) party. They are now, apparently, willing to be part of the public debate on issues that concern all Canadians. This presents the whole country with an opportunity to begin a new dialogue between ourselves, a dialogue that the Bloc domination had rendered difficult, if not impossible. That doesn't mean Quebecers are less nationalist than before. But they have chosen to express who they are and their view of Canada through national parties rather than a separatist one.
Ann Hui: Here's a reader question:
[Comment From Benoit Benoit: ]So Quebec voters said "enough" we want back in the (federal) BBQ, how do you see the NDP defending the interest of Québec whithin a national party for the first time in a while - not that the Bloc is ...dead. thanks
André Pratte: To me, the key here is to understand what asymmetrical federalism is. Ugly word, but essential, as the NDP has understood with the help of Thomas Mulcair. Quebecers share the same preoccupations as other Canadians. But, for historical and cultural reasons, they sometimes don't chose the same solutions, or would rather have their provincial goverement deal with the problem rather than the federal government. That does not change any thing for the other provinces, and in fact they can also use this same autonomy. As long as this does not prevent all Canadians from receiving an equivalent service, there is no problem in that. It it typical federalism, period. That's the view of the NDP, I understand, and they will therefore be able both to advance their social agenda and defend «Quebec's interests».
André Pratte: Sorry Benoit, a long and complicated answer...
[Comment From Keith Pedersen Keith Pedersen: ]As an expat Canadian raised in Alberta but living in San Diego, I have sent my two sons to a French Immersion public school as a way of connecting them to their Canadian heritage. I have taken them to Ontario and Quebec (Montreal, Quebec City, Beaupre) so they know more of this country than my western roots. What will it take to help Quebecois feel they are better off in Canada than out, and that they are as much a part of Canada as anyone else, especially now that they have no major representation in the government?
André Pratte: Since Quebecers have twice rejected separation and have now tossed out the Bloc, I guess you could say that in fact, they do feel part of Canada. However, it is asking too much to ask that they share the same level of enthusiasm for Canada than other Canadians. There first sentiment is for Quebec; it's been like that for ever, even in Laurier's days. M. Ignatieff understood it well: we live in a world of multiple identities. Some may feel Newfoundlanders first, Canadian second. Others muslim first, Canadian second. There is nothing wrong in Quebecers feeling Quebecers first and Canadian second. However, French speaking Quebecers have felt at times rejected by the rest of the country and, even though it's not a constant preoccupation, the injury is still there and some days hurts more than others.