A Vote for Canada? Peut-Être

The defeat of the Parti Québécois in Monday's Quebec parliamentary elections was more a vote for governmental change than a rejection of separation from Canada. Quebec voters haven't given any party a third consecutive term in office since the 1950s - and the PQ has been in power for nine years.

But Premier-elect Jean Charest of the Quebec Liberal Party, which won 76 of 125 National Assembly seats to the PQ's 45, also hammered away at the PQ's longstanding desire to take the mostly French-speaking province out of Canada. That has led many, including federal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, himself a Quebecer, to declare the separatist "threat" dead.

But it's not that simple. Polls show about 40 percent of Quebecers still favor secession. And history shows that when it's not governing the PQ can concentrate on the separatism issue, successfully stoking the passions of those who believe Quebec gets a raw deal from Canada's confederation.

In this it benefits from the provincial Liberals' traditional attempts to cover their francophone flanks by taking a hard line with Ottawa on federal-provincial relations. This builds up anger with the federal government among Quebecers and bolsters the PQ's argument that only separation will solve the problem.

Perhaps this time around the Liberals and English-speaking Canada can act with enough wisdom to keep this cycle from recurring. A united Canada in which French-speakers feel welcome is in everyone's interest.

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