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)