Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday November 26, 1999
Chretien’s gunslinger act is getting old; UNITY: Questions of style and timing
It is a sad critique of Jean Chretien’s leadership that his announcement on the rules of disengagement for Quebec has been greeted with suspicion of his motives, mystification over his timing and general dismay that the dozing baby of Quebec separatism is about to howl again.
When Chretien said this week Quebec would have to (a) have a clear question and (b) have significantly more than 50 per cent plus one to declare independence, it was widely seen as fanning the dimmed embers of Quebec nationalism. Why now? Why give such a gift to the opportunistic but increasingly lame-duck Lucien Bouchard?
It’s hard to argue with the substance of Chretien’s comments. Indeed, his suggestion that any future Quebec referendum should be on a question as simple as “Do you want Quebec to be a country” is the kind of clear declaration most Canadians want. Too, there’s little wrong with his suggestion that a negotiated split would require 60 per cent or more support in Quebec. It’s disingenuous for Bouchard to thump the tabletop and insist that 50+1 is the sole requirement of a democracy. To argue a country could be shattered on the strength of a single vote is absurdly arrogant.
But Chretien muddies his own waters. There is his own arrogance: “Quebec is my business, sir, ” he pontificated, “and this is the future of Canada.” The Prime Minister would be well-advised to remember that Quebec has been every Canadian’s business for too long. Canadians are suffering from separatism fatigue and Chretien setting himself apart will not rally us to his side. Then there is his unnecessary combativeness. Much of Quebec is accepting, if not embracing, the concept of a united Canada. He must have known his announcement would spark new anger.
Is this a case of building a patriotic legacy before his time as Prime Minister ends? Is this guilt over his “sleepwalking” performance in the last referendum?
Yes, when one spouse is talking divorce, the other spouse has to deal with it. There is never a good time to open an uncomfortable discussion. But we wish our Prime Minister had shown that this is not just another of his odd impulses, like wrestling with protesters and handing out peacekeepers. It’s hard to attribute this sudden burst of patriotic fervour to Chretien’s vision of 21st-century Canada when he has so far shown little sign of having any such vision. (Hamilton Spectator Editorial, A14, 11/26/1999)