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THE GOMERY REPORT AND SEPARATISM

John Chuckman

Following the Gomery Commission Report, the question often is asked, “What do the Liberals have to do to be thrown out of office?”

But the question is politically naïve. Let’s be clear just what the scandal Justice Gomery investigated involves. Except for a limited number of individuals who took advantage and who should be prosecuted, the scheme was not about the Liberal Party enriching itself. However inappropriate the method, it was an effort to fund the fight against separatism.

I believe most Canadians understand this, and they have pretty much understood from the first revelations by the Auditor General. Many who have treated the scandal as almost an apocalyptic development were those already opposed to the Liberals, often either separatists or new Conservatives. The sense of grievance does cut more deeply in Quebec, but this has a great deal to do with embarrassment at national exposure of the way things traditionally were done in Quebec politics. Quebeckers see their politics having risen above the days of Maurice Duplessis, but there remains a long history in the province of similar schemes by politicians, and not all with any worthy intent.

The kind of choices we are required to make when voting in elections are described by economists as bundled choices, the take-it-or-leave-it of a whole bundle of goods rather than a set of individual choices. You can’t pick and choose policies in any party, you must accept the whole bundle when you vote. The Liberal bundle comes with this scandal, but what does the new Conservative party’s bundle include? It includes a leader, Stephen Harper, who has said many times Canada should have joined the illegal invasion of Iraq, an invasion that killed a hundred thousand innocent civilians, destroyed the economy of the country, and now has precipitated a hopeless civil war.

In advocating this course of action, Harper ignored huge ethical issues, to say nothing of international law. Some judgment, some ethics. This fact alone for many Canadians is reason enough to vote Liberal while holding their noses, seeing the party punished with a continued minority. More broadly, the new Conservative party shows signs of being influenced by American neo-cons, making it no longer the traditional Canadian Conservative party but something of a minor branch of America’s ugliest, most extreme political thought.

The Conservative bundle also includes Peter MacKay who set the ethical example of being a senior executive having an affair with a subordinate. After Belinda Stronach left his party, MacKay went on a round of interviews, casting himself as poor, broken-hearted lover and his ex-lover as ruthless, unfeeling person. That’s an uninspiring set of behaviors from the second-in-command of a party trying to position itself as an ethical alternative. Of course, we still all remember MacKay’s breaking his very publicly-given word when assuming leadership of the former Progressive Conservative Party.

The tenth anniversary of the second Quebec referendum was recently celebrated with many discussions of how close the vote had been, but it always seems to me that this perspective is false. Go back and read the question that was printed on referendum ballots. Had the proposition passed, there would have been no mandate for the Parti Quebecois to do anything. The question was a textbook example of political obfuscation, difficult even to read and with many possible interpretations.

Of course, the nation wanted to avoid the political paralysis that surely would have followed a victory for yes, and that is precisely the danger the separatist movement represents. There has never been a majority, not even close to a majority, in Quebec ready to say yes to a clear question of separation, but the genuine threat of an unclear, politically-charged yes vote is years of national political instability.

I believe that with the recent statements by Lucien Bouchard concerning Quebec’s future, we may have reached the beginning of the end of the separatist movement. It will not go away quickly, and perhaps it will always have some adherents, but its ultimate decline is a matter both of demographics and economics. In a sense, too, separatism has become something of an outdated issue as Canada has become a home for people from many lands with bilingualism an established policy.

I would like to think, too, recognition of what a wonderful country Canada is has slowly been taking root. I know of no minority anywhere that is today treated so generously as French-speakers are today in Canada. You cannot rise in the civil service of this country without being bilingual. French-speakers have been elected to, or appointed to, all the country’s most important posts, indeed often out of proportion to their numbers. Quebec today is a considerable success story, not a tragedy.

You have only to compare it to the story of various minority groups in the United States. French-speakers in Louisiana and Maine have all but disappeared. They no longer even pronounce their French names the correct way. Blacks, while finally getting the right to vote after nearly two centuries, still today form a huge underclass in the United States.

The book, “White Niggers of North America” had a catchy title, but it was exaggerated when published, and it is completely inaccurate today.

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