Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'Stay cool' on Quebec good advice

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Quebec Premier Pauline Marois and her star Parti Québécois candidate Pierre Karl Péladeau are refusing to answer questions about a possible future referendum on separation. They said Thursday they would answer only questions about the PQ platform for the snap provincial election Ms. Marois called for April 6, which was rich given it was Mr. Péladeau himself who ignited the incendiary issue five days earlier by saying he was not seeking election to govern Quebec, but rather "to make Quebec a country."

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As rich as the about-face was, more importantly it was telling. It signalled there is no stomach for a separation debate in Quebec, as there is not in the rest of the country, and Ms. Marois knows it even if Mr. Péladeau does not. She knows raising the sovereignty issue could cost her the majority government she covets and, with it, the slim hope the levers of power could provide to restart a sovereignty fight in the future.

It is ironic, no doubt, but Quebecers and all other Canadians should be grateful to Mr. Péladeau for his big mouth. With a single blurt he has driven a wedge between Ms. Marois and the radical wings of the PQ, while energizing federalists, in particular Quebec Liberals and their leader Philippe Couillard.

Mr. Couillard, whose campaign appeared to be going nowhere, has been transformed overnight into a man with a mission to expose PQ "illusions" separation could be painless for Quebec -- that it somehow could be more advantageous to be Quebecers rather than Canadians.

No doubt Mr. Péladeau's utterances and Ms. Marois's strategic mistake in being drawn out of her cocoon play well with the 40 per cent of Quebecers who polls find support sovereigntist aspirations, more or less. Some union leaders, for example, held their noses and welcomed the media mogul despite his union-busting record. Quebec's largest union, however, the FTQ, immediately dismissed Mr. Péladeau as "one of the worst employers Quebec has ever known."

André Pratt, the federalist editor of the influential daily La Presse, says he was happy the sovereignty issue has been brought into the open and expects the media will continue to pursue it no matter how much anxiety it creates. The reason? It forces the PQ "to be honest" about their true intentions. The more sovereignty is the issue, the less credible the PQ's new-found fiscally responsible platform appears.

He sees the PQ is desperate to win a majority because its stalwarts are aging and their numbers relatively are shrinking because of demographic and immigration pressures. Talk about separation now threatens that chance and increases the odds of another minority government or even defeat, either of which would spell disaster for the fantasies of Ms. Marois and her fellow travellers.

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(WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES)

In fact, as seen from Montreal, breaking the sovereigntist silence could be the kind of game-changer that confounded prognosticators in recent Alberta and British Columbia elections, and which, in the last federal election, caused an NDP breakthrough in Quebec.

Mr. Pratt senses, however, there is a growing impatience in the rest of the country with separatists. He cautions Canadians against becoming emotional, of saying or doing things the PQ can twist into evidence the rest of Canada rejects the distinct society Quebec has been recognized as being. "Stay cool and be factual, not emotional," he advises.

That is excellent advice Canadians watching the election, and who clearly value Quebec's place in Canada, should embrace. Quebec separatists are not going away any time soon. But they need power to pursue their dreams. To achieve that, they need to keep a lid on the separatist threat.

So it would seem wise to remember most Quebecers reject separatism, which is all the more reason to stay cool and talk about it openly in factual, not emotional, terms.

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 March 15, 2014 A16

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