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Two choices, both bad

It isn’t news that the Bloc Quebecois will sweep Quebec January 23, it’s a question of how decisively. Polls suggest they could win 64 of 75 Quebec seats and, with the Liberal Montreal vote diminished by 15% thanks to Adscam, over 50% of the popular vote for the first time.

Gilles Duceppe retreated from his earlier triumphalist boast that the BQ would make the Liberals “disappear,” but not from his less publicized declaration last Thursday that Conservatives were “in the process of disappearing in Quebec.” Duceppe is no model of tact, but he isn’t far off the mark on either pronouncement. Federally, Quebec could conceivably become a virtually one-party state with a few token Liberal ridings graciously allotted to its demographically huddled anglophone dhimmis.

The substantive policy issues in this election—taxes, health, child care, etc.—offer lively fare for the ROC, where the BQ is merely a blip on the radar screen. All the more reason to spare a moment’s meditation on Quebec anglos, whose situation vis a vis the Bloc effectively smothers any motivation for engagement in the political process.

A federal election to a Montreal anglo is as Christmas Day to an orphan. While the English media sparkle with daily bulletins of the three pan-Canadian leaders’ policy bids, blunders and recoveries, CSI-level poll dissections and non-stop commentary by a fleet of embedded pundits—the newsy equivalent of tree baubles, cheery hearth fires and groaning buffet—we’re outside peering in at a family reunion from which we’re pointedly excluded.

We’re politically isolated from our fellow Quebecers as well at election time. Disgruntled francophone federalists don’t feel existentially threatened by the Bloc. With sanguine pragmatism they’ll use the BQ as a kind of lobbying firm to extract concessions or special privileges for Quebec. But we anglos, understandably ignored as a lost cause by the BQ because we consider separatist parties taboo on principle, have only one choice.

Anglos’ fear of federal abandonment, which overrides all other considerations, keeps us in thrall to the Liberals, the devil we know. Our ridings are the safest in Canada for Liberal “stars” like Irwin Cotler or stalwarts like Lucienne Robillard. The Conservatives and NDP can’t spare candidates of stature to challenge such hopeless odds, so often field any masochistic warm bodies available to fall on their swords: For example, in this election the Conservative candidate for heavily anglo Notre-Dame-de-Grace-Lachine riding is the founder of the Natural Law Party and a veteran “Yogic flyer.”

Canada has legitimated a lot of dumb ideas in the name of tolerance, but validating the BQ as a “national” party surely has to rank highest. Its Quebec-only presence reinforces the message that “national” and “Quebec” are synonymous. We expect Liberals to appease Quebec; it’s their tradition. But Conservatives, formerly tough lovers on Quebec, are proving equally supine. Their campaign posters say “Stand up for Canada” in English; in Quebec, it’s Changeons pour vrai. An unintended irony, that could be the BQ slogan—let’s “change for real” what our rivals’ behaviour symbolically concedes: Quebec is a separate country.

However willingly, a house continuously divided against itself cannot long endure. The BQ, with neither the desire nor the capacity to form a national government, openly seeks to “disappear” the federation it nominally serves. This fact was once the focus of intense public anguish. But over time our famous Canadian “tolerance” has blunted the BQ’s spiky image from the permanent eclipse of national unity it actually represents into a merely irksome blot on the political landscape. Nevertheless, we will endure a second minority government on its account, and a likely third in prospect within two years. The BQ may achieve by attrition a mandate it cannot fulfill outright.

Governed by our siege mentality, anglo Quebecers are the only Canadians forced to vote for survival rather than principle. I’ll be one of the few in my riding of Westmount-Ville Marie to vote PC in a probably futile gesture (for an interesting candidate, of which more in January). I can’t remember a single worthy initiative in which my apparently life-tenured Liberal MP, Ms. Robillard has distinguished herself. But I also can’t remember the last political discussion with a fellow anglo Westmounter that didn’t end in a plaintive, “But what other choice do we have?”

Contact the Editor: Joel Johannesen
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