- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 18, 2001

The sudden retirement last week of Lucien Bouchard as premier of the restive Canadian province of Quebec is an important event for the United States. For it means a stable border and probably a united Canada for the foreseeable future. But for Canada it is a sad event for it means that the xenophobes will now retake Quebec's secessionist movement, with what consequences no one can yet predict.

The resignation of the charismatic Mr. Bouchard, 62, means that the movement for Quebec separatism is lifeless for the present, but hardly forgotten. However loudly they may protest such a pronouncement, the sovereigntist hard-liners in the Parti Quebecois are doomed (if that's the word) for a long time to come to live not only as part of a continent-wide Canada but also of an economically prospering Quebec. Unless, of course, they go in for violence and terrorism as they once did in 1970.

More than half the population of this French-speaking province of 7.3 million people has thrice shown its opposition to secession, twice in a plebiscite and most recently in Canadian parliamentary elections last November. The anti-secessionist Liberal Party, headed by Prime Minister Jean Chretien, 66, a Quebecker himself, won six more seats in Quebec much to the chagrin of Mr. Bouchard and the Parti Quebecois. Public opinion polls of Quebec voters show that almost two-thirds are opposed to a new referendum and to separatism.

The hard-liners and their supporters who are delighted at Mr. Bouchard's withdrawal are a motley lot, many of them anti-Semitic. And that stain of anti-Semitism may be the reason for the dramatic exit of Mr. Bouchard, a fiscal conservative who, had he not made a fatal misjudgment by deserting national for provincial politics, might have become a great North American statesman.

Mordecai Richler, the eminent Canadian novelist and a Montreal resident, once wrote about the Quebec secessionists that when they pronounce their militant slogan "maitre chez nous" (master in our own house) they don't include "the MacGregors and the Schwartzes." By the "MacGregors" Mr. Richler meant the large numbers of Protestants in Quebec and, of course, the "Schwartzes," meant the Jews. Under Mr. Bouchard's PQ leadership there seemed to be a dramatic change from the deep-rooted ethnocentricity of the past. Jewish spokesmen in Montreal whom I interviewed last summer confirmed that. While Jewish voters had not in the past supported PQ separatism nor would they in the future, the Bouchard government had nevertheless shown a friendliness they had never seen before in previous governments.

It may well be that the anti-Semitic issue and PQ xenophobia overall contributed to Mr. Bouchard's retirement. Yves Michaud, a 70-year-old hard-line sovereigntist, seeking a seat in the Quebec legislature, in a campaign speech Dec. 14, said that the Jews thought they were "the only people in the world who have suffered in the history of humanity." At another meeting he showed that the referendum results in a heavily Jewish Montreal district showed "ethnic votes against the sovereignty of the Quebec people." In Parti Quebecois argot, "ethnic" is a code-word for "Jews."

Furious at these statements, Mr. Bouchard denounced Mr. Michaud saying: "I am in complete disagreement with the remarks made yesterday by Mr. Michaud. I deplore them, condemn them and completely disassociate myself from them." The Quebec legislature then unanimously passed a resolution which attacked Mr. Michaud's "unacceptable" comments.

In defiance of Mr. Bouchard, former Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau and 30 other leading sovereigntists took out a full-page newspaper ad in support of Mr. Michaud. It was this same Jacques Parizeau who deplored the "ethnic" vote after the 1995 referendum defeat and who reluctantly resigned because of the uproar his remarks had occasioned.

Quebec nationalism has a long history of anti-Semitism. As Olivier Courteaux, a specialist in Canadian and French history, wrote in the Toronto National Post (Jan. 13), Mr. Bouchard's resignation shows that "ideas of intolerance and racial division that flourished more than 60 years ago are still a potent force in Quebec politics today. Back in the 1930s and 1940s, the Nationalists as they were called then held very similar views. Seven decades have passed but the Nationalist message is still the same."

Mr. Bouchard tried to change that message and failed. Perhaps a new Quebec generation will be able to do what Mr. Bouchard could not.

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