Life of the Parti: Boisclair and the Parti Quebecois

Article excerpt

The license plate says it all: "Je me souviens." Or does it? Quebec has maintained a strong regional and cultural identity despite being under Anglophonic control for the past 250 years. While Quebecois politics has not always encouraged the defiant regionalism of the province's motto, Quebec's rising political star Andre Boisclair believes that this regionalist movement has not yet lost its momentum. Since November 2005, Boisclair has been the leader of the Parti Quebecois (PQ), a separatist and social democratic party in provincial politics. Now, this momentum has been channeled into a new separatism that returns to the so-called beau risque--late separatist leader Rene Levesque's idea of creating a more nearly sovereign Quebec. So far, the PQ has tended more toward compromise than actual independence, as Quebec vociferously maintains its cultural distinctions while hesitating to promote a much-discussed "Third Referendum." Two referendums on sovereignty have been held, and although neither has passed, a rejuvenated separatist party could make the dream of sovereignty a reality.

The Quebecois separatist movement has varied in popularity in the latter half of the twentieth century. It first gained widespread popularity as a political struggle in the 1960s, when the "Quiet Revolution" increased separatist sentiments, secularized society, and brought in welfare reforms. However, the desire for political autonomy for Quebec became notably muted in the 1980s: the 1980 Referendum on Quebec's complete independence from Canada failed with only 40 percent of Quebecois voting in favor of sovereignty. Thereafter, a strategy of compromise was introduced by Premier Rene Levesque, leader when the PQ was in power. Separatist ambitions were revived briefly, but another referendum failed in 1995 after a brutal and close contest--50.6 percent voted non and 49.4 percent oui to sovereignty for Quebec.

These gains have also been reflected in the province's legislature: in the past five years, the non-separatist Parti Liberal du Quebec won provincial assembly seats from the PQ. Indeed, political separatism has appeared increasingly irrelevant to the young generation. Paradoxically, it might have been the success of previous PQ campaigns that caused the referendum's unpopularity: as the official opposition in the 1970s, the PQ passed laws that preserved French as an official language of the government, courts, and businesses. …