The Parti Québécois needs to prepare a blueprint for governing an independent country even before it fights the next election, former leader Jacques Parizeau says.
The need for sovereignty, he argues, is as strong as ever. And if the PQ truly wants to achieve it, the party must "develop programs for governing an independent Quebec" even before it goes to the polls. The former premier says this hasn't been done largely because too many sovereigntists are obsessed with governing rather than preparing for independence.
"If you want people to follow a sort of ideal, some would say a dream, you must define an objective and the ways to get there," Mr. Parizeau said during an exclusive interview at his Montreal home. "You can't replace clear ideas. And at the present time I suppose that quite a few things have to be clarified."
His comments come on the eve of a PQ meeting on Saturday, when the party will unveil a new platform. It will be debated in the coming months at the local riding association level before being adopted at next year's convention. That's when the opposing forces in the party will lock horns in what may turn into a divisive debate.
"Those who have a clear idea of what their objective is [sovereignty]and want to prepare for it. And those who would be happy to take power and then have a look at the possibilities. They are still sovereigntists but first and foremost they want to offer good government," Mr. Parizeau said.
So far, PQ Leader Pauline Marois has refused to commit to holding a referendum if she wins the next election.
Weakened somewhat by an illness this past spring, Mr. Parizeau, who turns 80 next August, appeared thinner but his intellect remains as sharp as ever. Living in his comfortable apartment overlooking the St. Lawrence River with his wife, PQ MNA Lisette Lapointe, Mr. Parizeau remains an influential figure in the sovereignty movement. He is not someone Ms. Marois will want to ignore.
His latest book on Quebec independence, released last fall, has become a bestseller and has been embraced within the separatist movement as a road map to achieving sovereignty. The recently released English version, An Independent Quebec: The past, the present and the future, offers the clearest argument yet why Quebec should become sovereign within the modern era of globalization.
"No country is too small to prosper and to enjoy an acceptable growth rate as long as two conditions are met," Mr. Parizeau maintains in his book. "It must have access to a large market and its businesses must be competitive."
That's why sovereigntists embraced the North American free-trade agreement with such enthusiasm, Mr. Parizeau explained. It remains one of two pivotal economic requirements for an independent state, he said. The other is keeping the Canadian dollar. "No one can prevent us from keeping it," he argued during the interview, stating that a new currency in today's hostile financial environment "wouldn't last 48 hours."
Political independence won't cure all of Quebec's problems, he acknowledged, but if governed wisely its French-speaking society will emerge much stronger. "Quebec independence is not a miracle cure; it will not automatically make Quebeckers more intelligent," he said. "But it won't make them dumber either."
The separatist movement came so close, within 52,000 votes, of winning the last referendum in 1995, and it still puzzles Mr. Parizeau why his successor, Lucien Bouchard, refused to take up the mantle and hold a third referendum shortly afterward. Especially when it would later be argued that voting irregularities may have caused the defeat.
"Here was a man [Mr. Bouchard]who had played a central role in the referendum campaign. He was the most popular politician. We had lost by a few votes. And if I had known about all the irregularities we discovered after … I would never have resigned," Mr. Parizeau said. "It is a mystery for me to see a party withdraw as it did just after the referendum."
Mr. Parizeau said there is no question there will be a third referendum and independence is inevitable. He pointed to a public-opinion poll conducted last month by the Bloc Québécois showing that while the vast majority of Quebeckers - more than 70 per cent - want a new political arrangement with the rest of Canada, an equal number in the rest of the country refuse to bow to Quebec's wishes.
"This poll is a bombshell," Mr. Parizeau said. "The door is shut. Reforming federalism is gone."