Twenty years ago today (on October 30th, 1995) Canada came close to a messy divorce: the final count was No: 50.6% vs. Yes: 49.4%. Like many progressive anglophones, I voted “OUI” in the 1995 referendum. Laugh if you must, laugh if you will, but those were the days when separatism still looked like a left-wing enterprise—to a young and extremely naïve voter like me. I believed, as did many of my friends, that if the separatists won they’d create a northern-European-style social democracy—a sweet little Sweden right here in North America. This prospect was especially attractive to me at 21, because North America seemed to be veering further and further rightward, into shockingly heartless neoliberal territory.
But those days are long gone, and no one, not even the most naïve new voter, believes that a separatist victory would lead to a socially-democratic Quebec. We might as well face up to it: the separatist movement has lost its soul, as has the Parti-Québécois. They no longer even try to appeal to the better angels of our nature. The PQ now appeals to all that is worst in the Quebec psyche: our fear of difference, our fear of change, and our irrational sense of victimhood. Look, every party has its dark side, but there’s nothing left of the progressivism that once kept the PQ’s demons in check.
When I was a kid, growing up here in Quebec, the Parti-Québécois was a party of idealists. Sure, many thought they were misguided idealists, but few doubted that their hearts swelled with noble intentions. Where did that Parti-Québécois go, the Parti-Québécois of René Lévesque?
—John Faithful Hamer, Montréalais de souche (2017)
“I believe that as Nature has given men different faces,so she has given them different temperaments.”—Niccolò Machiavelli to Piero Soderini (January 1513)
Saying that an activist has a big ego is like saying that a professor (like me) loves to talk (I do), is long-winded (I am), and loves the sound of his own voice (I do). All these things are true. But aren’t they also sort of like job requirements? The activist’s intensity, moral clarity, teflon temperament—and ego—are, to my mind, extremely well suited to what they do. After all, neurotic Woody Allen types make terrible activists, just as the excessively squeamish make terrible surgeons. If you’re going to be effective at something in life, your temperament has to be well suited to whatever it is that you set your mind to do (e.g., job, profession, calling, cause). And, though it’s sometimes hard to face up to this, some things (hard as you try) just won’t be for you. For instance, if you’re deathly afraid of heights, your dream of joining the Cirque de Soleil probably isn’t going to work out. Likewise, if you’re super social and can’t stand to be alone for long stretches of time, the life of an accountant probably isn’t for you. Just as there are temperaments well suited to the life of an accountant or an acrobat, there are also temperaments that are well suited to the life of a muckraking journalist, a political strategist, and an activist. If you often lack confidence, if you’re exceptionally humble, if you’re continuously second-guessing yourself, you really shouldn’t go into politics. Seriously, public life isn’t for you. But don’t get me wrong, you’ll probably make a stellar spouse, an excellent parent, and, for what it’s worth, an exceptionally conscientious roommate. That being said, you really shouldn’t attempt to change the world. The activist’s life is a hard life, a warrior’s life. And it’s not for you. You just don’t have the temperament for it.
—John Faithful Hamer, The Village Explainer (2016)