2019年11月2日 星期六

Canada Letter: The Reawakening of Quebec’s Nationalism

A form of nationalism that has been dormant for decades is coming back.

Hi, this is Dan Bilefsky, the Canada correspondent for The Times, based in Montreal. I am standing in for Ian Austen, who is smartly recovering from elections overload at his cottage near Algonquin Park.

One of the biggest surprises of the recent Canadian elections was the resurgence of the Bloc Québécois, a nationalist party that advocates Quebec's independence. It won 32 seats, making it the third largest party in the House of Commons. It has also revived a question: Is Quebec's secessionist movement experiencing a comeback?

At the beginning of the year, the bloc was in such disarray that Yves-François Blanchet, 54, a fiery former television commentator known as the Goon, became the leader of the party simply by virtue of being the only applicant. The bloc seemed once again destined for the political wilderness.

The Bloc Québécois leader, Yves-François Blanchet, reacted after the Oct. 21 federal election.Andrej Ivanov/Reuters

So how did the party have such a renaissance? And what does it mean for the future of Canada?

On the Saturday before the Oct. 21 elections, Mr. Blanchet, a former environment minister in a Parti Québécois government, made what appeared to be a rallying cry for Quebec's independence, telling his supporters, "We can once again tell our Scottish and Catalan friends that in the struggle for self-determination, Quebec is back on Monday." Meanwhile, both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Conservative rival, Andrew Scheer, warned of the dire consequences to Canada if the bloc were to be emboldened and the old ghosts of separation reawakened.


But the drive for independence isn't what won the day. Quebec's leading political analysts say Mr. Blanchet succeeded precisely because he put Quebec's sovereignty on the back burner at a time when a younger generation of Quebecers aspires to be the next Québécois Bill Gates — not to foment revolution. Quebec's secession is supported by about 30 percent of Quebecers, and he focused instead on safeguarding Quebec's identity.

While secessionist movements percolate around the world, from Catalonia to Kashmir, the independence issue was also sidelined in last year's provincial elections in Quebec for the first time in four decades. Instead, the right-leaning Coalition Avenir Québec — led by François Legault, a businessman and once ardent champion of independence — won by focusing on upholding Quebec's values, including pledging to impose a "values test" on newcomers.

Taking a page from Mr. Legault's playbook, Mr. Blanchet adroitly homed in on the insecurities of a majority French-speaking province surrounded by English-speaking North America. Concerns about protecting language and identity in an age of English-dominated Facebook and Netflix continue to exert a powerful hold on the Quebec psyche.

During the Canadian election campaign, my Montreal neighborhood — Plateau Mont-Royal, a bourgeois-bohemian area peppered with hipster cafes and graffiti — was plastered with Bloc Québécois signs trumpeting populist slogans such as "Quebec is us" and "French is us." Mr. Blanchet was also the only leader of a federal party to pledge to support Quebec's controversial law barring teachers, judges and police officers from wearing religious symbols such as head scarves and turbans while at work.


The religious symbol ban has been rebuked as an affront to Canadian values by many Canadians, and this week Toronto's City Council followed Calgary's example by calling for a national campaign to denounce the law. In Quebec, however, the law has become a powerful emblem of the province's sovereignty over its own destiny. It is supported by about 66 percent of Quebecers.

Gérard Bouchard, a historian and sociologist with the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi, observed that the Bloc Québécois's election success had laid bare that, while the Quebec independence movement was flagging, the nationalism of the past was not. Professor Bouchard knows a thing or two about the bloc, as his brother Lucien Bouchard founded the party in June 1991, before becoming premier of Quebec.

Professor Bouchard said that after the "non" camp won the referendums on Quebec's separation in 1980 and 1995, English Canada had deluded itself into thinking that the challenge of a plucky, independent-minded Quebec was solved. The resurgence of the CAQ and the Bloc Quebecois, he said, showed otherwise.

"Both Blanchet and Legault are reaffirming a type of nationalism that had been dormant for decades but is coming back," he said.

Even with the remarkable success of the bloc, Jean-Marc Léger, the chief executive of the Léger polling firm, said that its power was likely to be circumscribed in Ottawa, because Mr. Trudeau's minority government would be able to get the 170 votes it needed to pass legislation by teaming up with the left-leaning New Democratic Party of Jagmeet Singh. That outcome, he said, would deprive Mr. Blanchet of holding the balance of power.

Nevertheless, Mr. Léger said the bloc's surge reflected the extent to which Quebecers recoil when the rest of Canada tries to tell them what to do.

"Identity politics are still fertile ground in Quebec," he said. "A majority of Quebecers aren't satisfied with Quebec's constitutional relationship with Canada and they want more economic and provincial powers. But they don't want independence."

Trans Canada

Plans to overhaul Toronto's eastern waterfront have envisioned automatic awnings, sidewalks that melt snow and sensors that track people's movements.Chris Helgren/Reuters
  • Sidewalks automatically melting snow and cameras tracking pedestrians were part of plans for the redevelopment of Toronto's eastern waterfront by Google's sibling company, Sidewalk Labs. But following an outcry about privacy concerns, I wrote this week about how the plan has been scaled back sharply.
  • Is Canada the multicultural paradise it likes to imagine it is? In a recent searing opinion piece, Cheryl Thompson, an assistant professor at Ryerson University, argues emphatically that the answer is no. Canadians, she writes, confront the issue of racism under a cloak of "nice," "polite" and "sugarcoated" responses. She argues that the election, buffeted by revelations that Justin Trudeau dressed in blackface two decades ago, has revealed the extent to which the country needs a national reckoning on race and discrimination.
  • Pipelines are a polarizing issue in Canada, and this week, the Keystone pipeline system leaked about 383,000 gallons of crude oil in North Dakota, fewer than 50 miles from the Canadian border. The pipeline has generated protests for years amid concerns about its environmental implications.

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How are we doing?

We're eager to have your thoughts about this newsletter and events in Canada in general. Please send them to nytcanada@nytimes.com.

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