Separatist Revives Movement in Quebec

New York Times
June 25 2004

Separatist Revives Movement in Quebec

MONTREAL, June 24 – Until a few months ago, Gilles Duceppe was a shaky
leader of the fading separatist movement in Quebec, seemingly
destined to be an odd footnote in Canadian history.

But in an turn of fortunes that has more to do with the collapse of
the governing Liberal Party than his own skills, Mr. Duceppe is
emerging as the big winner of the parliamentary election campaign
that will choose a new prime minister on Monday.

Mr. Duceppe has no chance of replacing Prime Minister Paul Martin,
because his party is competing just in Quebec. Because of widespread
disgust in the second most populous Canadian province over Liberals’
scandals, Mr. Duceppe’s Bloc Québécois is poised to sweep Quebec and
carry a large delegation to the next House of Commons. If recent
polls hold, the bloc will emerge for the first time as a vital power
broker in Ottawa whose support may well be necessary for the next
federal Liberal or Conservative government to survive in power.

The son of a famous actor, Mr. Duceppe was a Maoist union organizer
in his youth and appears an unlikely politician to become a leading
national force. His generally stiff speaking style makes him anything
but an inspiring political leader. He was the laughingstock of a
campaign seven years ago, when he was photographed wearing a hygienic
hairnet at a cheese factory that made him look like he was coming out
of the bath wearing a shower cap.

For a rebel leader, Mr. Duceppe appears to be a portrait of caution
and paradox. At age 56, he campaigns without a tie in a charcoal-gray
suit held up over his slight frame by a belt and suspenders. On his
campaign bus, he relaxes with high-volume Janis Joplin and Maria

A year ago, Mr. Duceppe’s Bloc Québécois and the entire separatist
movement were waning into the fringes of politics. The bloc’s
provincial cousins, the Parti Québécois, lost control of the
provincial legislature and government in a landslide defeat in April
2003 to the Liberal Party led by Jean Charest, a passionate advocate
for a united Canada.

Since that vote, Mr. Charest has fallen quickly in the polls after
unfulfilled promises to cut taxes and improve health care and day

A government audit found that the federal government had furtively
passed out tens of millions of dollars to friendly advertising
companies involved in antiseparatist publicity efforts deeply
offended Quebecers.

“The Liberals tried to buy Quebecers, and there is a lot of
indignation about that,” Mr. Duceppe said in an interview. He
modestly noted that a recent poll by Leger Marketing showed that
roughly half the people who planned to vote for the bloc’s
parliamentary candidates were not trying to win sovereignty but
merely trying to punish Mr. Martin and the governing party.

“Duceppe is riding the biggest surfing wave of his life,” Michel C.
Auger, political columnist of the Journal de Montréal, said. “He
didn’t create the wave, but he saw it and knew what to do with it.”

Mr. Duceppe’s campaign is tightly controlled to avoid any more
hairnet incidents. A day of campaigning in and around Montreal this
week was carefully choreographed to make him appear as liberal and
unthreatening as possible to fence-sitting voters, especially ethnic
minorities who usually vote Liberal and oppose separation from

While appearing on a youth music television station to discuss his
support for environmental protection and the need to clean up
politics, he spoke of the importance of Black History Month and
Jackie Robinson’s playing for a minor league team here as a sign that
he is receptive to minorities. At a news conference, he courted
minority votes by speaking of the Jewish Holocaust and Armenian

He attended a barbecue here for an underdog bloc candidate, Maria
Mourani, who is of Lebanese descent, where he was filmed and
photographed surrounded by Muslim, Chinese and Russian voters.

“There’s no difference between Quebecers who are immigrants and
Québécois de souche,” he said sitting beside Ms. Mourani, referring
to Quebecers whose ancestors were French settlers before the
18th-century British conquest.

It was a pitch before the cameras with future elections in mind.

Although Liberal candidates in some Quebec districts have thrown in
the towel and halted campaigning, separatist leaders around the
province plan to build on the expected victory to retake the
provincial government in 2007. Mr. Duceppe may well use his campaign
this year to set up a campaign as leader of the Parti Québécois
against Mr. Charest, followed by a push for a referendum a year or
two after that.

The separatist forces lost two referendums, in 1980 and 1995, the
second defeat by an extremely narrow margin. Polls show support for
sovereignty at 40 to 45 percent.

Mr. Duceppe is careful to repeat at almost every campaign stop that
the election on Monday is not about sovereignty and that he is ready
to work in Ottawa to influence policies like opposing any missile
defense agreement with the United States and pressing for more
federal money for health care and unemployment insurance.

In two television debates, Mr. Duceppe projected the most poise of
the four major party leaders, surpassing expectations.

At the same time, he makes no effort to hide his long-term

“Quebec is a nation that will someday be a country,” he said at a
press conference on Tuesday. “I want to create a new society with
social justice, without racism or sexism.”

Prime Minister Martin, who represents a Montreal district in the
House of Commons, had hoped to appeal to Quebec nationalists by
appointing Jean Lapierre, a former founder of the Bloc Québécois, to
be his chief Quebec spokesman. But Mr. Lapierre proved to be a clumsy
advocate, leading Mr. Martin in the last week to turn to Liberal
hard-line antiseparatists to shore up the traditional Liberal base.

“Let’s not play with fire,” Health Minister Pierre Pettigrew warned
this week. “By voting for the bloc, you give them momentum. You give
them the taste of victory that they had lost recently.”

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS