Montreal — To hear Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe tell it as he travels around Europe, it is only a matter of time before Quebec’s fleur-de-lys will be flying at the United Nations. Events are “accelerating” toward a third sovereignty referendum, he told an audience in Barcelona on Thursday. Some nations are satisfied with increased autonomy, while others seek full sovereignty, he said. “For Quebec, there is no other choice than to create a sovereign country.”
Back home, polls show that a solid majority of Quebecers beg to differ, and the Bloc’s provincial cousins in the Parti Québécois are keeping busy fighting among themselves. But as he continues on his 10-day European tour, which follows a visit to Washington last month, Mr. Duceppe is doing his best to portray Canada as a country on the verge of breaking up.
After four days in France, Mr. Duceppe was in the Spanish region of Catalonia on Thursday, meeting with nationalist parliamentarians and speaking at a university. “I come to meet a nation that, like Quebec, is also seeking a greater hold over its political fate,” he said in a prepared text.
Catalonians have been voting since last year in non-binding regional referendums aimed at gauging support for independence from Spain. Turnout has been less than 30%, but those voting have opted overwhelmingly for independence.
Mr. Duceppe referred to Barcelona as the capital of the “Catalonian country,” but he generally avoided wading into Spanish politics. Instead he offered a slanted primer on Quebec politics. He described a victory by the PQ’s Pauline Marois in the next Quebec election as “highly likely,” even though the vote could be three years away. He said opinion in Quebec is equally divided between federalists and sovereigntists, even though polls show support for sovereignty below 40%.
By grouping together Bloc MPs and PQ members of the provincial legislature, he exaggerated the extent of separatist politicians’ political clout. “Together, sovereigntists form the biggest political force in Quebec, with 50% of all elected members in the two legislatures,” he told his Spanish audience.
And more significantly, as he made a pitch for eventual international support of an independent Quebec, he ignored the federal Clarity Act and its requirement of a clear majority on a clear question in the event of a future referendum. “Everyone agrees,” he claimed, that a simple majority of 50% plus one would be sufficient to declare independence. After all, sovereigntists accepted the No side’s victory in the 1995 referendum, even though it was by “a very weak majority,” he said.
“Rarely has a nation been as ready as Quebec to accede to the status of a sovereign country, whether in economic, social, legal, territorial or political terms,” he said. “What we expect from European nations is that they accompany Quebec in its choices.”
Mr. Duceppe is hoping his international trips will smooth the way for formal recognition of a referendum victory. In Washington, he offered a similarly rosy picture of the prospects of sovereignty. “A sovereign Quebec will be a win-win outcome for Quebecers, Canada, the U.S. and the world,” he said, “for everyone except those who are nostalgic for a Canadian dream that no longer exists in reality.”
Mr. Duceppe said he delivered the same message in meetings with French politicians this week, asking for support when Quebecers “opt for political freedom.” Next week he will be in Scotland to meet with politicians who are hoping to hold an independence vote of their own.
But there is no evidence his efforts are rousing foreign interest in the Quebec sovereigntist cause. His trip has barely been noticed back home in the Quebec media, a far cry from the attention paid to the last Bloc Québécois leader to make an official visit to France. When Lucien Bouchard visited Paris in May 1994, he was leader of the Official Opposition in Ottawa and met with the French president. Then, a Quebec election was just months away and the PQ was poised to take power and stage a referendum.
At his various foreign stops, Mr. Duceppe sings the praises of Ms. Marois. Her leadership is strong and her commitment to achieving sovereignty unwavering, he said in Barcelona. But by assuming the role of separatist statesman, Mr. Duceppe is not helping Ms. Marois solidify her embattled leadership. She faces a leadership review next April, and there have been rumblings within the PQ that Mr. Duceppe should replace her. His European musings about a fast-approaching referendum would be music to the ears of impatient Péquistes who think Ms. Marois has gone soft.
Duceppe sells Europe on virtues of separatismIn Canada on November 12, 2010 at 09:32