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Bouchard says sovereignty is unattainable

While most eyes look westward to Vancouver, back at home, Quebec is in a tizzy over former PQ leader Lucien Bouchard’s public comments against his old party, accusing them of narrow-mindedness and saying that sovereignty is no longer achievable:

M. Bouchard est persuadé qu’il ne verra pas un autre référendum sur la souveraineté de son vivant. L’ancien chef péquiste est toujours souverainiste, mais la souveraineté est devenue une question hypothétique; elle n’est donc pas une solution aux problèmes du Québec.

Bouchard also blasted the PQ for intolerance towards religious minorities, claiming that they were fishing for votes among former ADQ supporters and that the debate around reasonable accommodation was really nothing more than thinly-disguised racism.

Predictably, Bouchard’s comments have caused a stir. Gilles Duceppe is playing spin doctor. Jean Charest is cozying up to his former rival and colleague. And Pauline Marois reacted to Bouchard’s racism charges by opposing a Liberal plan to allow Jewish schools to teach on Sundays. Way to prove Bouchard’s point for him nicely, there, Pauline.

Even in the worst divisive moments of the lead-up to the 1995 referendum, Bouchard still commanded respect among federalists, in a way that the bumbling buffoonery of the Jacques Parizeau set never did. I can’t and won’t ever agree with Lucien Bouchard on his politics. However, since leaving political life, he has shown that he isn’t afraid to speak the unpopular truths, whether it was speaking out for Israel at the 2003 Yom Ha’atzmaut rally (to a staunchly federalist crowd, no less), or calling for a “Québec lucide” in 2005. It’s ironic, perhaps, that the man responsible for bringing Canada to the brink of breakup has somehow emerged as something of a voice of conscience of the sovereignty movement.

With the PQ in opposition and sovereignty off the radar of most Quebecers, Bouchard’s comments may actually have an opposite effect, stirring the pot and re-igniting a dormant debate. And he’s shrewd enough that you have to wonder if that was his intent. Although, I’m more inclined to believe that he meant what he said, and that he’s calling for some soul-searching in a movement where intolerance has always been one of the dirty little secrets. When Bouchard speaks, people still listen, though what difference it will make is anyone’s guess.

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