Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Federalist experiment succeeding

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The loonie said it all, rising to its highest level in two months Tuesday morning, apparently in response to the results of the Quebec election, which dealt a mortal blow to separatism.

The sovereigntist threat has always made business people nervous, but there was more stomach for economic heartache among hard-core sovereigntists. For some Quebecois, even those with businesses to protect, the heart mattered more than the wallet.

For the vast majority of Quebecers today, however, it was jobs, the economy, health care and crime that mattered more. That's what the polls showed, that Quebecers have the same concerns as people everywhere.

Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois misjudged the mood of the electorate, but by the time she realized she had made a mistake, it was too late.

She had let the separatist genie out of the bottle and the election turned on whether there should be a referendum, which most voters did not want.

A PQ victory and the possibility of a referendum would have been distractions from the province's real concerns and problems. That's the message the people delivered overwhelmingly on Monday.

It certainly wasn't the personal appeal of Philippe Couillard or his tired and scandal-plagued Liberal party.

Quebecers might have preferred a better choice, but none existed.

The Parti Québécois could become a true alternative if it abandoned its sovereigntist ambitions and reconfigured itself as a Quebec nationalist party, which wouldn't make it too different than the Liberals or other minor parties.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper showed class and insight in thanking Ms. Marois for her years of public service, even though her career was dedicated to dismembering Canada.

Canadians can breathe a sigh of relief, but they should remember it was Quebecers, including a majority of francophones, who made the decision. We can be grateful and proud that the Canadian experiment in federalism has succeeded in helping a distinct society feel comfortable in a larger family with shared values, history and traditions.

A historian might say Monday's election results aren't an official certificate of death for separatism, but even the skeptics agree the sovereignty movement is comatose for the foreseeable future.

That doesn't mean Quebec's historic obsession with identity politics has come to an end. Au contraire, controversies about language protection, culture, secularism and special rights will continue to be part of Quebec's political landscape and, by extension, Canada's, too.

These issues have dominated Quebec's history since the British Conquest and there's no reason to expect they will fade completely from the public agenda.

Quebec has been very successful since the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s in leveraging power from the federal government and passing laws to ensure the primacy of the French language.

But it's not clear what more could be gained by separating from Canada. It's obvious, however, what would be lost. Not just a province, but the very idea that peoples can achieve their ambitions within a larger political context.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 9, 2014 A8

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