The Day After

In English Canada and partly in Quebec support for Trudeau’s use of the War Measures act was very high. In some cities, towns and boroughs it was even enthusiastic.

Many believed the October crisis marked the effective end of the Parti Quebecois, Rene Levesque and his supporters, and the people would wake up to the folly of the separation. For these believers being partisan of PQ amounted to be partisan of FLQ, thus these partisans ought to be treated as such.  The whole repressive episode (as long as it remained confined to Quebec and didn’t touch Rockford Street anywhere in Ontario) was a necessary and long overdue tonic or a medicinal shock, necessary to deflect the sick from their separatist course.

These people failed to understand that advocating separation by democratic means was no treason. In fact, Rene Levesque emerged from the crisis looking good. He had tried to save lives calling for negotiations; he had denounced Bourassa’s weakness vis-à-vis Ottawa; he had warned Elliott Trudeau not to try to turn Quebec into a prison by imposing collective repression.

Yes, he declared that the PQ would fight if Trudeau tried to “tie up Quebec in impotence”, but he had repeatedly denounced terrorism in every turn. The WMA and the troops, though provoking temporary fear and hesitation, could not hope, in the long run, to win the hearts and minds. In February 1971 by-election to fill Laporte’s set, the PQ vote held at the level of April 1970. En the provincial election of 1973, its vote grew to 30% (though it still wan only 6 of 110 seats).

In 1976 election the PQ finally won. The Quebecers had to decide: continue in a satisfactorily reformed Canadian federation or embark on the path to sovereignty. The former path required structural concessions from English Canada, sufficient to satisfy Quebec’s sense of injustice from the past and anxieties about the future. The latter path required the consent of a majority, a consent Quebec’s nation is reluctant to grant.

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