The Quebec sovereignty movement got a shot in the arm when President Charles de Gaulle of France undiplomatically uttered “Vive le Québec libre !” The controversial speech was delivered on July 24, 1967, during an official visit to Canada under the pretext of attending Expo 67 in Montreal, Quebec. During his address to a large crowd from a balcony at Montreal City Hall, he proclaimed “Vive Montréal; Vive le Québec !” followed by “Vive le Québec libre!” with undiplomatic emphasis on the word “libre”.
I was born and raised in Chicoutimi, the bastion of Quebec sovereignty that provided Lucien Bouchard with his keen understanding of the body politic. It is not an accident of geography that Chicoutimi is within a few hours driving to Beaupre, Pauline Marois’ riding which shunned her.
I was taught at school that Quebecers needed to separate from Canada, a point that was made abundantly clear during the October crisis 1970 when government officials were kidnapped by Front de liberation du Québec (FLQ). Then 10 years old, I was too young to understand the broader ideological implications of constitutional separation. But in Chicoutimi and the broader region of Saguenay, French was the only language ever spoken except in Arvida where the cadres in the Alcan aluminum plant spoke English and in some of the papermills where the managers were also anglos from New Brunswick or Ontario. My friends were Tremblays, Simards, Cotes, Bouchards, Gaudreault, all of whom could trace their ancestry to the founding families of the province.
To us it was evident that to succeed in life we needed to separate from the English cadres. That outsiders had control over our resources rubbed us true Pure Laine Quebecers the wrong way, affronted our sense of fairness. As Robert Charlebois rimed in his song “Les Negres blancs d’Amerique”. It did not dawn on us that Charlebois’ song were a gross insult to those African Americans whose ancestors lived through slavery, rape and whipping. We were Quebecers and had the right to feel wronged by the bourgeois oppressors. Pierre Karl Peladeau joined those oppressing ranks at one point in time.
Like most of my contemporary Quebecers in their twenties, at the 1980 referendum I voted “Yes” toward the separation of Quebec from Canada.
And then my studies took me outside of Quebec where it became evident that cultural diversity was indeed the norm. When after the 1995 referendum Premier Jacques Parizeau proclaimed that the “Yes” side had lost to ethnic voters it became evident that Quebec’s sovereignty movement was deeply rooted in ethnic nationalism, a pleasant euphemism for racism. When Pauline Marois came up with her Charter of Values she supported my recollections of Quebec’s pathos: those who aren’t us are bad people who should not work for us. She suffered a theoretical meltdown when she picked Mr Peladeau.
And when Mr Peladeau, pretending to be Charles de Gaulle, pumped his fist in the air and proclaimed “Vive le Quebec Libre” he reminded Quebecers that they were at risk to suffer another five decades of anxiety and neverendums.
Mr Peladeau is an anachronism, albeit probably motivated by narcissism but he didn’t kill the Quebec sovereignty movement: it already had a foot in the grave with Madame Marois’ Charter of Values.
We should be thankful to Mr Peladeau for his narcissism and to Madame Marois for choosing him as a star candidate!