CALGARY --Many media commentators have responded to the possibility of a Parti Québécois victory on April 7 with heartfelt ambivalence bordering on indifference. Rex Murphy, for instance, observed separatism "has lost its driving power in many Canadian hearts." Citizens "no longer see it as their responsibility to placate Quebec." The anxieties of Quebec have become a bit of a bore.
A little over 20 years ago, David Bercuson and I wrote a book, Deconfederation: Canada without Quebec. It sold rather well. We looked at all the phony grievances and all the preposterous demands.
We looked at the separation costs to Quebec -- no more supply management and price supports for cheese; mindless transfer payments replaced with foreign aid targeted to serve Canada's interests, and so on.
We looked especially hard at the question of pre-Clarity Act negotiations. The last words in our book summed it up: Bon voyage et bonne chance.
Lately, our arguments and conclusions have reappeared, most recently by Conrad Black in the National Post. If Quebec can leave Canada, he wrote, then federalist parts can leave Quebec. As Black wrote, correctly, "Canada would be better off" without the hard-core separatists, around three or four million persons huddled along the St. Lawrence. Who needs them?
So when Quebec Premier Pauline Marois tried to soothe Canadians by telling us, "don't be afraid" of Quebec sovereignty, she simply showed how out of touch Quebec politicians have become. Separation without tears and without borders? What planet does she live on?
Yet, the PQ does have a strategy. It even makes sense if you live in a world where things like debt-to-GDP ratios don't exist and Canadian fears do.
Go back to 1995. After barely losing the referendum, Jacques Parizeau blamed the loss on "the ethnic vote and money." The ethnics he had in mind were everyone but the "old-stock" French Quebecers. And "money" referred to big business, of course, but it was also taken to be code for the Jewish vote.
Marois recently maintained the PQ was not anti-Semitic. Good to know. Now Jewish voters are assimilated into "ethnics," which brings us to the Quebec Charter of Values.
In light of Parizeau's vision, the charter is designed to marginalize "ethnics" and thereby consolidate "us," as Parizeau called old-stock Quebecers. So much for the pretense of "civic nationalism" in the province. The PQ appeal is as tribal as that of any imaginary ethnics.
When the charter is passed, it will be challenged in the courts and eventually struck down, which is why the PQ designed it that way. Once again, Canadian institutions will have thwarted Quebec aspirations. Here is the dream of "winning conditions."
That takes care of the ethnic problem. Now about the money.
Enter Pierre Karl Péladeau, who both "wants Quebec to become a country" and bragged "several entrepreneurs are proud of my candidacy." But as columnist Andrew Coyne pointed out, PKP practises the crony capitalism characteristic of Quebec Inc., which is supported by the genuinely productive parts of the country.
He is less an entrepreneur than a Russian-style oligarch.
For Canadians who have long since lost interest in the petty problems of Quebec politicians, the whole sovereignty issue is one of pathological evasion and malingering.
Separatists are akin to superficial lovers who constantly invent obstacles because they know the moment they are temporarily overcome they have no idea what to do next.
All that remains of a sadly neglected idealism is their bad manners. Today separatism is without substance, a mere pretext to avoid reality.
Barry Cooper is a professor of political science at the University of Calgary.