In recent months, divisions became visible within the Quebec separatist family. The time is over when nationalist militants and leaders have to remain silent for the good of the cause. Disagreements within the separatist movement finally led to the resignation of MP Ghislain Lebel from the Bloc Quebecois at the end of August. He will stay on as an independent until the end of his term at the House of Commons.
For Lebel, the betrayal of the separatist movement, particularly the separatist parties (BQ and PQ), is not against Canada or the English Canadians – he remains an ardent separatist – but it is a betrayal against the principles and the militants of the separatist movement.
In December 2000, the “Michaud affair” burst on to the Quebec political landscape and led to the resignation of then-premier Lucien Bouchard in January 2001. It created a new division between the so-called “ethnic nationalists” and the “civic nationalists.” Yves Michaud, PQ militant and ex-Liberal MNA, attacked the ethnic communities, including the Montreal Jewish community, for having voted monolithically against Quebec independence in 1995. The “ethnic nationalists” tend to identify with the fight for an independent Quebec composed of French-Canadians, whereas the “civic nationalists” think that all Quebecers should be part of that struggle. In reality, only a tiny percentage of non-French Canadians voted “yes” in the 1980 and 1995 referenda. This is why Jacques Parizeau, then-Quebec premier, declared after the 1995 referendum that the separatists lost for two reasons: “Money and ethnic votes.”
To distance themselves from that declaration, which was seen as racist, Quebec separatist intellectuals like Gerard Bouchard tried to invent and impose a new concept of the Quebecer: anybody who lives in Quebec and speaks French, regardless of his ethnic origin. With this concept, the survival of the French-Canadian identity becomes secondary in the separatist project. Many, like Yves Michaud and Ghislain Lebel, refused that new amnesiac nationalism and felt betrayed by the separatist parties that wanted to impose it in the name of political correctness. This was the first betrayal for Lebel: what does it mean to have an independent Quebec without a French Canadian population? In 2001, Lebel was almost excommunicated by his leader Gilles Duceppe because he defended the manifesto of the BQ youth section. which was promoting an organic nationalism in the line of Father Lionel Groulx and Charles Maurras.
In the middle of last August, Lebel again attacked his separatist brothers of the PQ when he strongly opposed a general agreement contracted between the Quebec government and the Inuit population of Northern Quebec that was known as the “Peace of the Braves.” Lebel thinks that this peace is based on cowardice and fear – fear of a new Oka and of a bad international reputation.
This agreement could affect 300,000 square kilometres over which the Inuit population would have a kind of sovereignty. For Lebel, this is alienation of Quebec territory and is unacceptable. There is also the danger of claims by numerous other aboriginal communities of Quebec that would share almost the totality of Quebec’s territory.
Furthermore, it is well known that aboriginal communities are radically opposed to Quebec separation. What would happen with all those territories after a “yes” vote in a Quebec referendum on separation? Quebec’s sovereignty would be seriously threatened. Even the “pope of separatists,” Jacques Parizeau, came out of retirement after the “Lebel affair” to condemn the general agreement with the Inuit communities, which is for him “potential dynamite.”
Premier Landry, the master of the agreement, called a commission to study it more carefully. Even that was not enough for Lebel, who thinks that this commission is just a manoeuvre. He wants complete freedom to defend the fundamental rights of Quebecers. Quebec independence without French Canadians and without territory does not mean anything for him.