Pierre Karl Péladeau, the Opposition Leader of Quebec, must be regretting having invited Ghislain Picard, the regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations for Quebec and Labrador, to last weekend's meeting of the Parti Québécois' national council.
Mr. Picard made a speech saying he is a sovereigntist (to much applause), but that indigenous peoples also have a right to self-determination, which could result in their separation from an independent Quebec.
The "territorial integrity" of Quebec is an infallible PQ dogma, whose catechism goes something like this: Canada is absolutely divisible; Quebec is absolutely not. Quebec has a right to independence from Canada; no part of Quebec has a right to independence from Quebec. That is the profession of faith.
Questioned about Mr. Picard's heretical comments, Mr. Péladeau only made things worse. Instead of outright rejecting the idea of dividing up the province, as the party faithful expected of him, the PQ leader said, "People will make arguments, people will have demands, but it's open to dialogue." Egads.
Some hours later, the PQ issued a press release approving "nation-to-nation" dialogue, but inside of Quebec's territory – in other words, reasserting the eternal indivisibility of Quebec.
The American journalist Michael Kinsley once said, "A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth – some obvious truth he isn't supposed to say." In this instance, Mr. Péladeau deserves some sympathy. He was thinking vaguely, but sincerely, in the aftermath of Mr. Picard's speech. Because if Canada is divisible, then so is Quebec. Sovereigntists can't reasonably argue that sovereignty is for them and them alone.
All of which is one more reason why breaking up Canada has always been such a bad idea. Despite what the PQ has long tried to assert, the dynamic of separation, if it is ever unleashed, will not stop at the Canada-Quebec border. But the Quebec sovereigntist establishment does not want to hear such uncomfortable truths. They prefer to believe the fantasy that Confederation's membership and borders are always amendable, while Quebec's territorial integrity is magically immutable.
As a media tycoon, Mr. Péladeau felt free to say pretty much whatever came into his head. No longer. He has had many missteps as PQ leader, and this latest, showing an innocent lack of knowledge of his own party's illogic, was one of his best.