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As I write this, voters in Quebec - where I was born and raised - are casting ballots in the provincial election that, in all likelihood, will spell the end of the rule of the Liberal Party and its leader, Jean Charest, after 9 years. If you don't live there, I know what it means to you: meh. If you're Canadian, however, it could mean the beginning of yet another chapter of game-playing with our country's future.
I'm going to way-oversimplify this, so forgive me in advance. Here goes: Quebec is the only province in Canada where the majority of residents speak French as a first language. Long-festering feelings that the rest of primarily-English Canada treated them like second-class citizens gave rise to the separatist movement, spearheaded largely by the Parti Quebecois political party. They first came to power in 1976, under leader Rene Levesque, on a platform of separating the province from Canada, their way of preserving the French language and culture in a North American milieu.
Yes or No
The PQ has held two referendums on sovereignty since then - in 1980 and in 1995 - and in both cases voters said, no, they wanted to remain in Canada. They've voted the PQ and Liberals into office sequentially since 1976, and every time the PQ takes over, fears of yet another run at leaving Canada surface.
Throughout the current campaign, PQ leader Pauline Marois hasn't exactly endeared herself to members of minority groups, and has made it fairly clear that the French majority makes the rules. To wit, here's a fairly typical gem of hers:
"It is the responsibility of everyone that wishes to call Quebec their home to learn and assimilate the local culture, not replace it with their own."Lovely. And this in a province where the schools your children may attend are determined by what language the parents were educated in, and where they are from. And stores are only allowed to post signs in the official language of French (Canada's bilingual, remember) and, if they violate the language laws, the so-called Language Police swoop down and charge them. Where a province crippled like all others with the modern vices of too much demand and too few resources spends billions on legislating language and prosecuting violators.
The exodus continues
My wife and I - both fluently bilingual, and she's a French teacher - eventually grew tired of the cultural, language and borderline-xenophobic games, and finally left soon after the 1995 referendum. Of my high school class, the vast majority have left, as well. Montreal was once a city of boundless opportunity, a cosmopolitan city of the future. After the PQ swept to power, waves of well educated anglophones headed west, primarily to Toronto. Head offices of major corporations and the country's top banks soon followed. If you ever wonder why Toronto became the business hub of the country, now you know. I'm not sure they ever sent a thank you card, though.
We decided we wanted to live in a place where the priority was building businesses, building communities, and raising families. The endless political, language and cultural wars became tiresome for us. And I suspect another generation of folks just like us is already getting ready to call the real estate agent, book the moving van and get the hell out of Dodge. Or whatever the Pequistes choose to call it from here on out.
Unfortunately for those who escape, Quebec's inability to get with the program - or to willingly work with the rest of Canada to address its persistent feelings of being left out - sucks the life out of the rest of the country, too. Political uncertainty destabilizes not just the Quebec economy, but the national one. It discourages foreign investment and diverts resources away from the issues and projects that will benefit citizens the most. Many Canadians, fed up with Quebec's generational tantrums, have stated publicly they'd like to be rid of the province entirely. Unfortunately, separation would throw the entire economy into a tailspin - as if it isn't there, already.
Back to the brink
Anyway, apologies for the ramble. Tonight, the PQ stands poised to kick the Liberals out of office. Mind you, the Liberals, dogged by persistent corruption scandals and a grinding protest by students against tuition hikes, didn't do themselves any favours. Like the good politicians they were and are, the pig-at-the-trough mentality eventually caught up with them. But as we once again listen to voters justify their choice by saying they didn't vote FOR the PQ as much as they voted AGAINST the Liberals, I can't help but think that the subtlety of democracy is completely lost on them. After all, what you're thinking matters little once you've let the wolf in the door. The wolf doesn't much care why you let him in, and will proceed to happily do whatever it is that wolves do best.
Vive le Quebec libre, indeed. What an unbelievable waste of political capital. And what a sad comment on an entire society's inability to do what it needs to do to keep pace with the rest of the continent. While they bicker over perceived slights to their beloved language and culture, Rome - or in this case, Montreal, or Quebec City, or virtually any other city in a place that could have and should have had it all - burns.
Your turn: Thoughts?
Update, 9:06 p.m. ET: The PQ has been declared the winner of today's election. CTV story here.
Update 2: ...and some nutjob opened fire backstage in the theatre where the premier-elect was giving her victory speech. One man is dead, while another is in critical condition. Story here. Beyond sad.