Skip to main content

The message from sovereigntists in Quebec, parroted by some media in the province, is that Stéphane Dion is a political liability in the province, that francophones generally abhor him and that his election as federal Liberal leader will only advance their grand destiny. This is patent nonsense, as a survey conducted in the immediate aftermath of Mr. Dion's victory clearly illustrates. That survey, by the Strategic Counsel for The Globe and Mail and CTV, shows that in the face of the separatist spin, 62 per cent of respondents in Quebec said the Liberals had made a good choice, while only 29 per cent said it was a bad choice.

Even without the fresh polling numbers, the separatist claim that Mr. Dion is a political liability does not stand up to scrutiny.

To begin with, he is not the polarizing figure in Quebec that his opponents pretend. Nor is the Clarity Act, which established clear rules for provincial secession and was designed to subvert separatist scheming that could lead to (in Mr. Dion's words) "the breakup of Canada in confusion," the reviled piece of federal mischief-making they claim. A CROP survey conducted in November of 2000, five months after the Clarity Act received royal assent, revealed that six in 10 Quebeckers agreed with it strongly or somewhat.

Indeed, Mr. Dion's position on Quebec's status and the role of the federal government is more nuanced than those of previous francophone Liberal leaders Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien. Mr. Dion has long advocated recognition of Quebec's distinctiveness and, consistent with that, supported the "nation" motion recently approved by Parliament.

He has also declared that Canadians have "nothing to fear from decentralization. . . . A strong federal government must not be confused with a centralizing government. Restricting itself to its own role will only make it more effective." This is a much more flexible approach to federalism than Quebeckers are used to hearing from federal Liberals.

But even if Mr. Dion were a centralizer, he is also a native son, and in Quebec that counts for something. In four federal elections, the arch-federalist Mr. Trudeau never won fewer than 56 of 74 (or 75 in 1980) seats in Quebec. Mr. Chrétien, who had to contend with the Bloc Québécois and with an unflattering image in his home province, did not fare quite so well, but still managed to go from 19 seats in 1993 to 26 seats in 1997 and 36 seats in 2000 -- five months after the Clarity Act became law. He won his own riding of Saint-Maurice by 6,500 votes in that election.

Suffice it to say that the situation for Mr. Dion in Quebec is not nearly as dire as the sovereigntist elites would have you believe. If an approval rating of 62 per cent is the terminal unpopularity that Mr. Dion is purported to be suffering in Quebec, all federalist politicians should be so unpopular.

Interact with The Globe