ON Sept. 12 the Parti Qucois (PQ), a party dedicated to
dismembering Canada, won a smashing victory in Quebec's provincial
election. Federalist forces surveyed the electoral damage, breathed
a sigh of relief, and began to toast their own success.
On Sept. 13 savvy traders on international money markets were so
impressed by the election result that they gave the Canadian dollar
the best one-day ride against other currencies it's had in years.
So, what's wrong with this picture?
Nothing. This is Canada, home of counterintuitive politics,
where things are not quite what they seem.
Agitation for political independence in Quebec has been the norm
since the 1960s' great push to modernization. As French-speaking
Quebeckers altered the domination of the English-Canadian business
class and the Roman Catholic Church, the dream of separation
gripped the intelligentsia and the young.
In 1976, Rene Levesque and his separatist PQ took power and
tried to lead the province out of Canada. After years of agonizing
debate, Quebeckers rejected separation by a 60-to-40 margin in a
1980 referendum. Still, Quebeckers liked Premier Levesque's honest
government and reelected the PQ in 1981. The 1980 referendum had
dampened enthusiasm for independence; but it did not kill the
spirit of dissent in Quebec.
The stakes of unity
When attempts by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in 1992 to change
Canada's constitution in Quebec's favor failed, separatist
sentiment exploded. In 1980, Canadians met Quebeckers' plea for
autonomy with sympathy, and their demands for independence with
anxiety and sadness.
Today many Canadians, especially Westerners, think Quebeckers
should either stop demanding special privileges - or leave. More
English Canadians are saying the national preoccupation with Quebec
is stunting Canada's economic growth and political evolution.
Canadian unity stakes rose again in the federal election of
1993. Quebeckers sent a majority of separatist representatives to
the federal Parliament in Ottowa. Only a handful of Liberals -
including Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien - survived this
separatist onslaught. The Bloc Qucois (BQ), led by the charismatic
Lucien Bouchard, sits in Ottowa's House of Commons with the express
purpose of tearing the country apart. Last week's vote was supposed
to produce a second great shock wave to batter Canada's
foundations. The finishing blow, according to the separatists'
calendar, was planned for eight to 12 months from now, when PQ
Premier Jacques Parizeau and BQ leader Mr. Bouchard together were
to convince more than 50 percent of Quebeckers to vote for
independence in a referendum.
But the separatist scenario has gone slightly awry. …