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A Field Guide to the Sovereignist Movement in Quebec

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As the last two months have demonstrated in dramatic fashion, the political landscape in Quebec is not easy to predict or even understand. First, the Bloc Québécois suffered a blow in the recent federal election losing 43 of its 47 seats along with its official party status – a far cry from its heyday as the Official Opposition with 49.3% of the popular vote in Quebec.

Immediately following this stunning defeat, many pundits suggested that Quebec sovereignists had grown cynical of the BQ's continued presence in Ottawa and the lack of progress on the independence issue. It seemed, for a while at least, that the provincial Parti Québécois was now the key to a separate Quebec. Then early June brought the unexpected resignation of four PQ MNAs along with murmured doubts surrounding PQ leader Pauline Marois' commitment to the sovereignist cause.

 Considering the rapidly changing pace of Quebec politics and confusion amongst sovereignist supporters it would be foolhardy to attempt to predict what the Quebec political landscape will look like next month, to say nothing of next year. In fact, François Legault, head of think-tank Coalition pour l'avenir du Québec, was leading in polls before he even formally signalled his intent to run. Legault recently created a political party that will focus on prosperity in the province before broaching the sovereignty question again.

The sovereignist movement in Quebec is too complicated to be entirely explained here. However, a brief field guide to sovereignist parties, past and present, can at least provide a foundation for future observations.

 

Name: Parti Québécois
Ideology: Centre/centre-left, informal ties to labour movement, sovereignist
Dates: Founded in1968 (merger of Mouvement Souveraineté-Association and Ralliement National)
Current Seats in the National Assembly: 47
Noteworthy Members:

  • Pauline Marois, current leader
  • René Lévesque, founder and premier
  • Jacques Parizeau, party leader and premier during 1995 referendum
  • Lucien Bouchard, former Mulroney Cabinet Minister, leader of the opposition in the House of Commons and premier

Famous for:

  • 1980 and 1995 referendums on Quebec Sovereignty
  • Bill 101 – making French the sole official language of the province

 

Name: Québec Solidaire
Ideology: Left wing, sovereingnist
Dates: Founded in 1996
Current Seats in the National Assembly: 1
Noteworthy Members:

  • Amir Khadir, sole Québec Solidaire member in the National Assembly.

Famous for:

  • Leadership decisions are made by a co-ordinating committee, a male spokesperson and a female spokesperson.

 

Name: Bloc Québécois (Federal Party)
Ideology: Social democrats, sovereignist
Dates: Founded 1991
Current Seats in the House of Commons: 4
Noteworthy Members:

  • Vivien Barbot, interim leader
  • Leader Lucien Bouchard
  • Gilles Duceppe, former leader resigned after the 2011 election
    Louis Plamondon, ex-Progressive Conservative, longest serving member of the House of Commons

Famous for:

  • Being founded by defectors from the Progressive Conservative and Liberal Parties
  • Strong informal ties to the Parti Québécois

 

Name: Action démocratique du Québec
Ideology: Conservative, support an autonomous Quebec within Canada
Dates: Founded 1994
Noteworthy Members:

  • Gérard Deltell, current leader
  • Mario Dumont, charismatic leader from 1994 to 2009

Famous for:

  • Supporting the "Oui" side during the 1995 referendum; this has led to accusations that they are unclear on the sovereignty question.

 

Name: Rassemblement pour l'Indépendance Nationale
Ideology: Leftist, social-democrat, sovereignist
Dates: Inception: 1960; Political Party Status: 1963; Dissolution: 1968
Famous for:

  • Rowdy demonstrations notably during Queen Elizabeth II's visit to Quebec in 1964 and riot over Trudeau's presence on St Jean Baptiste Day in 1968
  • Won 8.8% of the popular vote in 1966 provincial election, never held a seat
  • Upon dissolution extremist members went on to form the FLQ while moderates joined the Parti Québécois

*While not a political party, no fulsome discussion of the sovereigntist movement in Quebec can be undertaken without recognizing the role of the FLQ.

Name: Front de Libération du Québec
Ideology: Revolutionary movement for an independent socialist Quebec, regarded by many to be a terrorist organization.
Dates: Founded March 1963, ceased activities in 1971
Noteworthy Members:

  • Pierre Vallières
  • Paul Rose (Chernier cell)
  • Jacques Lanctôt (Liberation Cell)
  • Fictional Marvel Comics superhero, Northstar, was a member in his youth

Famous for:

  • Over 200 bombings in and around Montreal between 1963 and 1970
  • Instigating the October Crisis and then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau's declaration of the War Measures Act in 1970; kidnapping of British diplomat James Cross and killing of Quebec Deputy Premier Pierre Laporte

 

Adrienne Foster

Researcher