In the frenzy that was whipped up in the past couple of weeks over the opposition’s attempts to defeat the government, much was said about how it was unacceptable for the Liberals and NDP to cut a deal with the Bloc Québécois. How, essentially, consorting with separatists was somehow treasonous.
There has always been a certain, McCarthyite, corner of conservative Canada who cannot, for the life of them, understand why no one has rounded up all the separatists and charged them with treason. We saw it in Ottawa during the David Levine controversy, when deranged Lowell Green fans were convinced that since Levine had been affiliated with the Parti Québécois, he would therefore administer the Ottawa Hospital towards his nefarious separatist ends — treating francophones preferentially, serving poutine and crétons, and drinking the blood of anglo babies.
Whatever. The point is that for this lot, separatists are the new Communists, with whom there can be no truck nor trade, and any association with whom leaves you irredeemably tainted.
Let’s talk about the facts on the ground, brought to you by me, a Trudeau federalist anglo Quebecker.
First, separatism isn’t treason. Arguing for the breakup of a country by democratic means is not by itself an act of treason. It is not an armed insurrection. It does not involve passing state secrets to a foreign enemy. It does not put citizens in harm’s way. It may not be loyal, but treason isn’t the antonym of loyal. Not, at least, since we did away with lèse majesté as a capital offence.
Second, we’ve been “consorting” with separatists for some time. The Bloc has been in Ottawa for 18 years. They have sat with federalist members of Parliament on committees for years without spreading their separatist cooties. Government ministers have answered their questions rather than shunning them JW-style.
Not only that, but the PQ has been in provincial politics for 40 years, winning majority governments four times in that period. Federal-provincial relations continued even when the PQ was in power in Québec City. They still did business with the feds and with the other provinces, even if, as a result of them being, well, separatists, relations were a little dicier than they might otherwise have been. (But you don’t have to be a separatist to be difficult. Two words: Danny Williams.)
And third, democratic separatist parties keep me safe. People who equate separatism with treason generally think that separatist politicians should be charged with treason. The logical gap between that point of view and internment camps for doubleplus ungood crimethinkers is, shall we say, not large. But I am happy — as a federalist anglophone living in Quebec — that the BQ and PQ exist. Because allowing a democratic separatist option prevents terrorism. I would much rather deal with the jackassery of the BQ or PQ — argue against them in the political sphere — than have to worry about whether the FLQ has planted a bomb in my mailbox. (Ask me some time about the time Raymond Villeneuve tried to visit Shawville.) It’s easy for you guys to fulminate against separatist traitors; I have to live in this province.
When has making a separatist movement illegal ever made it go away? Ask someone in Belfast or Bilbao, Grozny or Lhasa, whether that worked for them. If anything, banning a secessionist movement merely provides legitimacy for their arguments.
Do I like the BQ or PQ? Will I ever vote for them? Hell no. But they’re a damn sight better than the alternative in this imperfect country. Reality check, people.