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Quebec Premier Jacques Parizeau gestures during his speech to Yes supporters after losing the referendum in Montreal on Oct. 30, 1995. Parizeau's comments about "money and the ethnic vote" the night the Yes side lost the 1995 referendum never stopped haunting him and the Parti Quebecois.

RYAN REMIORZ/The Canadian Press

The death of Jacques Parizeau and the tributes to his determination and singular vision also tell another story. This one is about how low his movement has fallen and how far out of sight his dream of Quebec independence lies.

To many Canadians, Mr. Parizeau was public enemy No. 1 at the height of his powers, and for good reason: He had a plan to take Quebec out of Canada in 1995, he strategized it endlessly, executed it ruthlessly and, when things were not going well, he adjusted course and even stepped out of the spotlight to let another take the lead.

He still lost. And the stark reality for Quebec's sovereignty movement is that it has not had another leader with half his abilities.

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Last month, businessman Pierre Karl Péladeau became leader of what remains the independence movement's main political vehicle, the Parti Québécois. Many in the party believe he finally gives the PQ some of the economic credibility it last had with Mr. Parizeau, an eminent economist.

Mr. Péladeau, however, is no Jacques Parizeau. With his natty clothes and manners, Mr. Parizeau started in the trenches as a senior public servant and spent years around the cabinet table honing his craft. Only near the end of his career did he become PQ leader. Mr. Péladeau, more hot tempered and confrontational, has been in the political business for 13 months and shows few of Mr. Parizeau's talents for strategy, oratory and patient pedagogy.

Mr. Péladeau lacks a wing man named Lucien Bouchard to help give the movement a burst of charisma. And he does not have the failed constitutional accords that fuelled nationalist fervour in the 1990s.

Mr. Péladeau, who ended years of PQ ambivalence when he entered politics in 2014 by declaring his sole goal is to make Quebec a country, said on Tuesday that Mr. Parizeau was the inspiration for his opening sortie. He spoke to Mr. Parizeau before announcing his candidacy.

"I took the time to tell him where my convictions lie and the depth of my engagement. I think he was pleased with the situation," Mr. Péladeau recalled. "I would say [sovereignty] is alive and kicking. I think that there's no doubt about the sense of my political engagement, and I would follow the footsteps of Mr Parizeau."

If the former leader believed Mr. Péladeau could revive the PQ, he never shared the thought publicly. He became disillusioned with the PQ years ago and placed his hope in the upstart party Option Nationale and youngish leader Jean-Martin Aussant, who disappointed him by bolting to a banking job overseas.

Twice since Mr. Péladeau joined provincial politics, Mr. Parizeau publicly despaired at the state of the PQ. Last September, after the party's devastating defeat, he declared it stood before "a field of ruin."

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Things did not seem much better to Mr. Parizeau earlier this year during the PQ leadership campaign, when he told Radio-Canada in his last televised interview that "the party was gradually demolished and it has lost its soul."

The sovereignty movement does not just lack leadership. Mr. Parizeau considered being a pioneer of the Quiet Revolution as his proudest accomplishment. He helped modernize Quebec and built important institutions to finance businesses. Francophones, long held down on farms and in factories, suddenly had backing to rise to the top of the corporate world. Language laws protected French, and have worn off some of the resentment against the English language and the people who spoke it, according to Youri Rivest, a vice-president of the CROP polling firm.

In a poll conducted by CROP last month, sovereignty sat at 42 per cent support. The result is about as high or higher than most polls conducted a month before the 1995 referendum.

Still, the fundamentals are not strong. Support for independence languished in the 30s for much of the past year. And an in-depth survey conducted by CROP one year ago showed young people are disenchanted with the movement. Mr. Rivest said he has seen no evidence of a bounce since then, even with the PQ leadership race putting the party in the news.

"There's just a heavy trend. When people are asked about their hopes and dreams for Quebec, independence is at the bottom of a list of five," he said, adding fixing public finances, the economy, the environment and reducing poverty are given more importance.

It would be wrong to declare sovereignty dead. Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard likes to say "an idea never dies." But the giant of the movement is gone and no other colossus is on the horizon.

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Editor's note: A previous version of this story said Mr. Parizeau dropped his PQ membership. He in fact became disillusioned with the PQ, donated money to the upstart Option Nationale and spoke at a convention, but later clarified he was a PQ member for life.


Parizeau remembered

Lisette Lapointe, Jacques Parizeau's wife

"The man of my life has gone. … He was surrounded by love. After a Titanic fight, hospitalized for five months, facing challenges one after the other with extraordinary courage and determination, he passed away. … We are devastated."

Premier Philippe Couillard

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"Today, we have to rise above that level [partisanship], all of us, and remember him for what he gave: the part of his life he gave to Quebec and Quebeckers. The fact that he was one of the great builders of the Quiet Revolution [and] left behind institutions like the Caisse de dépôt benefits all Quebecers."

Parti Québécois Leader Pierre Karl Péladeau

"His achievements were numerous and propelled Quebec into the modern era. We lost a great man and a great builder of Quebec last night."

Former prime minister Jean Chrétien

"You can disagree in politics but you have to respect the people who devote their lives defending their ideas – something that he did for a long time and I did too."

Former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard

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"He didn't have much time [as premier]. In politics, you need time. That's the problem of most politicians. They don't have enough time to conceive and implement programs. He only had one year. It's much too short. It's a pity. It's something he must have been very sorry about."

Jean-François Lisée, a PQ member of the legislature and a former adviser to Mr. Parizeau

"His ideas light the way for the future."

François Legault, leader of the Coalition for Quebec's Future

"He built part of modern Quebec …We're losing a great man who brought us to where we are today. It's a sad day but we have to thank him for having served Quebec so well in all those years."

Former Quebec premier Jean Charest

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"As premier of Quebec, he showed himself to be a very determined political figure in advancing the cause of separation. He forced events, he was in the small school of people who had the ability to make things happen and showed himself to be very determined."

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