Montréal, le 6 juin 1998
Numéro 13
(page 2) 
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     Le QUÉBÉCOIS LIBRE est publié sur la Toile depuis le 21 février 1998.   
     Il  défend la liberté individuelle, l'économie de marché et la coopération volontaire comme fondement des relations sociales.   
     Il  s'oppose à l'interventionnisme étatique et aux idéologies collectivistes, de gauche comme de droite, qui visent à enrégimenter les individus.      
     Les articles publiés  partagent cette philosophie générale mais les opinions spécifiques qui y sont exprimées n'engagent que  leurs auteurs.     
by Martin Masse
Version française      
          Last week at their assembly in London, Reform Party delegates approved their leader’s plan to hold a convention next year where representatives of various political movements sharing some common ground with them will be invited. The goal is to create what Mr. Manning calls a « United Alternative », some kind of national coalition that could really compete with the Liberals and take power at the next election. With the PC party in disarray and looking for a new leader, the timing is certainly good to try to occupy all the space on the right of the political spectrum.  

          However, commentators across the country did not fail to notice that if Reformers are not ready to change their leader, their name or their program, there won’t be much point in this whole manoeuvre to build a coalition. Why would Canadians who have still not been convinced to join the party change their minds now? And if Reform has trouble breaking through in the English-speaking regions east of Manitoba, the task appears impossible in Quebec. But to be credible as a national party, it must have more than a symbolic presence in this province. Not only because a federal party can hardly reach power without any representation in the country’s second most populous province, but also because the anti-Quebec and anti-French image that Reform hasn’t managed so far to shed has negative repercussions elsewhere. In Ontario and the Atlantic provinces, people are more sensitive about that sort of negative image than in the West. If the notorious ads against Quebec politicians probably allowed Reform to « consolidate » its vote, as they say, in the West, it surely cost it many in the East.  

Breaking in Quebec? 
          Reading the news and listening to the pronouncements by these Quebec politicians in recent days, one could get the impression that Reform has managed to soften its image and is on the verge of a breakthrough in the province. Two debates held in Quebec City and Edmonton between Reformer Rahim Jaffer and Bloquiste Pierre Brien received a lot of media attention. Some Bloc MPs say they are ready to pursue the dialogue with these people, the same they were vilifying not so long ago. The leader of the small Action Démocratique, Mario Dumont (a party that shares many small-c conservative ideas with Reform) has noted that Manning’s party has put on the table a proposal to decentralize powers that is worth studying. Even premier Bouchard congratulated Reformers for their « open mind », and said that these proposals « go further than what we’re used to hear from federalist proponents in Ottawa and Quebec City ». 

          This comment by Lucien Bouchard betrays the real strategy of the separatists who – no need to get excited – are not about to embrace Preston Manning’s view of federalism. The goal is clearly to embarrass Jean Charest, who still has not clarified his vision of federalism as Liberal leader and doesn’t have much to put on the table. It is revealing that in the provincial legislature, Quebec Liberals refused to give their consent to a motion from Mario Dumont supported by the PQ, that proposed to invite Reform spokespeople to the phony parliamentary commission studying the Calgary Declaration. Jean Charest as well as most prominent federalists in the province are boycotting these hearings. 

          With this suspicious patting on the back of Reform, the péquistes and bloquistes are also trying to show Quebecers that they can have a civilized discussion with our future « partners » after a yes vote. The idea of a partnership between a separate Quebec and the rest of Canada is not exactly the most credible part of the separatist plan and any sign of « open-mindedness » from English Canada will serve their propaganda. As the Bloc’s former leader Michel Gauthier says, the whole exercise serves the Bloc much more than Reform, who will not get one more vote in Quebec after that. 
Ignorance, negativism, insensibility 
          There is indeed very little chance that this little fifteen minutes of fame will translate into real support for the Reform Party in Quebec. The party never made much effort to put down roots in the province. Not because it is « anti-Quebec » as many believe, although the party surely has its fair share of members and sympathizers in the West who are not exactly well disposed towards Quebec and bilingualism. Having worked two years as a Reform organizer, I can attest that it doesn’t have more intolerant red necks than the separatist movement in Quebec has anti-English xenophobes. Most Reformers would be delighted to see more Quebecers join their ranks. 

          The problem is elsewhere, firstly due I believe to ignorance. For most of these unilingual Westerners, Quebec is a vast mystery and the political demands of Quebecers are as impenetrable as God’s will. People complain a lot in the West, often with good reasons, about what they see as political favours by Ottawa to Quebec in general, or to groups and companies like Bombardier. The result is that we constantly hear Reform MPs attacking the Chrétien government on issues where Quebec is supposed to have received undue benefits, but we never see anybody take up an issue on behalf of Quebecers, defend Quebec’s interests, as Reformers do on a regular basis for the western provinces and Ontario. After all these years, the only example that comes to my mind is when Bob Ringma – one of the rare MPs who ever showed any interest in Quebec – denounced Health Canada’s silly plan to ban raw milk cheese. No wonder, then, that the party is perceived as anti-Quebec. 

          This total lack of sensitivity for Quebecers’ viewpoint on the part of MPs and the organization could have been attenuated by a systematic effort on the part of the leader to pay more attention to Quebec in a positive way. But Preston Manning still does not speak French after heading a supposedly « national » party for eleven years. He took some courses, made some efforts, sometimes managed to read bits of speeches in French in his rare visits here. But one must conclude that not only does he show little aptitude for languages, but the interest and the will are not there either. How else can you explain that on elections night last year, speaking on TV after Gilles Duceppe had given part of his speech in English, the Reform leader did not care enough to say one sentence in French, not even a little « Merci » to the 10,000 voters who had just supported him in Quebec? You cannot impute this to embarrassment or difficulty of pronunciation, especially at such a crucial moment when he had just become leader of the Official Opposition for the whole country; the reason for it was simply the total absence of preoccupation for Quebec and francophones on the part of Mr. Manning and the people around him. 
Family values 
          Reform’s problems in Quebec do not stop here. When it comes to the organization on the ground, the situation is as disastrous as ever. Two years ago, at the Vancouver Assembly, Quebec sent at least ten delegates; in London, there were eight. 

          It is no coincidence that this is happening fifteen months after a nationalist lawyer from Quebec City, Gilles St-Laurent, took over the reins and convinced the leadership to move the provincial office of the party from Montreal to his home town. From the moment that office had been opened in Montreal two years earlier, the few hundred members in the province had been clearly divided into two wings, one from Montreal’s West Island composed mainly of anglophone supporters of partition, and another more centred in the regions made up of conservative and nationalist francophones attracted by the decentralization program. The explicit reason for the transfer of the office, Mr. St-Laurent told me at the time, was to get rid of the embarrassing partitionist Anglos and to concentrate efforts on developing support among moderate nationalists. The recent flirting with the Bloc is only a continuation of this strategy. 

          As a result, the provincial organization is more deficient than ever and has become something like a family business. Mr. St-Laurent’s son, Pierre, manned the Quebec City office until recently. The two have, we are told, now moved to Ottawa, and the « provincial office » – that is, the secretary at the lawyers’ office of the St-Laurents – simply forwards the calls. Gilles St-Laurent has become « special adviser » to Preston Manning for Quebec in the capital. But that’s not all. Mr. St-Laurent’s wife, Michelyne Chénard-St-Laurent, was designated in London as one of three Quebec representatives to the party’s Executive Council, a crucial job in the organization. And the person in charge of these elections for councillors in Quebec was, surprise surprise, another St-Laurent son, Sébastien. We knew that Reformers cared very much for family values, but to that extent? The only open question now is if the family dog is also in charge of recruitment. 
A real national leader 
          The recourse to such pathetic strategies – flushing the Montreal organization, flirting with separatists, letting one family take control of the organization – is not really surprising, considering the ignorance and lack of interest on the part of the leader and most of the party for what is going on in Quebec. There won’t be any real organization, any significant support for the Reform Party in this province, as long as this situation will last. The United Alternative project will of course bring nothing new here, since the local organizers seem more preoccupied to root out those who don’t fit in their nationalist plans than to have the membership grow. If Reform is unwilling to welcome federalists from various backgrounds in its ranks in Quebec and is left with the strategy of stupidly courting the separatists, it’s hard to see what role it will ever be able to play in trying to keep the country united. 

          There is frankly only one solution: the arrival of a bilingual leader who will be able to address himself directly to Quebecers, in the language of the majority, to convince them of the soundness of Reform’s program; a leader with a national vision, who will know how to surround himself with people who have this same broad understanding of the whole country; a leader who will take time to clean up the organization in Quebec and devote as much attention to it as he does to other regions of the country. 

          Preston Manning has done an enormous job in laying the foundations of his party and taking it to the status of Official Opposition. He should realize now that he is not fit for the next step of leading it to power, and let a real national leader take his place. 
Le Québec libre des 
          « Après avoir pris ainsi tour à tour dans ses puissantes mains chaque individu, et l'avoir pétri à sa guise, le souverain étend ses bras sur la société tout entière; il en couvre la surface d'un réseau de petites règles compliquées, minutieuses et uniformes, à travers lesquelles les esprits les plus originaux et les âmes les plus vigoureuses ne sauraient faire jour pour dépasser la foule; il ne brise pas les volontés, mais il les amollit, les plie et les dirige; il force rarement d'agir, mais il s'oppose sans cesse à ce qu'on agisse; il ne détruit point, il empêche de naître; il ne tyrannise point, il gêne, il comprime, il énerve, il éteint, il hébète, et il réduit enfin chaque nation à n'être plus qu'un troupeau d'animaux timides et industrieux, dont le gouvernement est le berger. »  

Alexis de Tocqueville 


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