Canada reels over Quebec revelation

A new book has rewritten the agenda for the election campaign, reports David Usborne

Montreal - "Merci Dieu pour Monsieur Parizeau," the Ottawa journalist muttered in an awful French accent. Voicing gratitude towards the former leader of the Parti Quebecois has been quite the theme here in recent days. But not for hisold comrades in the Quebec sovereigntist movement. They are cursing him.

Only the most deeply buried marmot in Canada's remotest reaches can have missed the brouhaha caused by Jacques Parizeau with leaks last week from his book on sovereignty, to be published today. In it, he appears to suggest that in 1995, when Quebec came within a few thousand votes of approving independence, he was plotting an instant unilateral declaration of independence (UDI).

Never mind that the author says the excerpts were misconstrued; his protestations have been unconvincing. All over again, Quebec is torturing itself about its fate, and the rest of Canada, bewildered and not a little irritated, finds itself once more dragged into the mire.

All this while Canada is in the midst of an election campaign - voting has been set by Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister, for 2 June - that was meant to be about everything but the status of Quebec. That was indeed the case for the first ten days. Jobs, healthcare and taxes were the issues - and the campaign was threatening to shatter even Canada's boredom barometer.

Instead, it is suddenly jammed with intrigue and unexpected volatility. The suggestion of a UDI plot has caused such a flap because, in presenting the referendum question to Quebecers in 1995, Mr Parizeau and his party partners pledged to spend many months, even a year, negotiating some kind of friendly partnership with Canada before finally casting off from the wharf. Or so everybody thought.

Now, hindsight is spotlighting other events that seem to stand up Mr Parizeau's "Great Game". Days before the October vote, for instance, the defence spokesman of the sovereigntist Bloc Quebecois sent letters to Quebec-born soldiers in the Canadian armed forces urging them to join a Quebec army once independence was declared.

It was hours before the vote, moreover, that Quebec's deputy premier, Bernard Landry, wrote to foreign ambassadors in Ottawa suggesting that their governments get ready to deal with an independent Quebec. Huge financial manoeuvres were afoot to support the Canadian dollar.

More urgently, the Parizeau affair could have far-reaching consequences. It dropped like a bomb at a time when the Bloc Quebecois, the official opposition in Ottawa that has the separation of Quebec has its sole aim, was already showing signs of vulnerability. If the Bloc loses ground on 2 June, the confidence of the sovereigntist movement could be severely sapped. A good showing, however, would probably speed the advent of another Quebec referendum in the next two years.

Partly, the Bloc is suffering because the man who led it to such success the last time, in 1993, Lucien Bouchard, has taken his skill and charisma back to Quebec City. The current Bloc leader, Gilles Duceppe, does not approach Mr Bouchard for popular appeal.

And then along came the UDI controversy. It has triggered an avalanche of comments such as this from Jean-Paul Murray, a francophone voter from Hull, just across the border from Ontario in Quebec, outside Ottawa. "It just shows you that you can never, ever believe any word that the sovereigntists tell you. In 1995, Parizeau and Bouchard lied to Quebecers, they tricked Quebecers, they duped Quebecers".

Mr Murray spat out his words after being barred from a Duceppe press conference in Hull's Maison du Citoyen. A committed federalist, he would never have voted for the Bloc, anyway. The danger for Mr Duceppe, however, is that he will lose the so-called "soft nationalists", those who may have voted for independence for Quebec in 1995 but who are still somewhat afraid of it.

Polls released this weekend showed early signs of damage. An Angus-Reid poll for CTV showed Bloc support slipping fast in Quebec to a level of 36 per cent amongst decided Quebec voters - a full 13 points beneath what it achieved in 1993. The poll had Mr Chretien's ruling Liberal Party edging past the Bloc for the first time in very many months with 38 per cent.

The affair is also good news for Mr Chretien in one very critical respect. In spite of great political risks the Prime Minister concluded after the close-shave of 1995 to forge a so-called Plan B for Quebec, one that actually dealt with the possibility of an eventual "Yes" win. Specifically, he asked the Supreme Court of Canada to rule on the legality of any UDI by a single province. Suddenly, it looks like a prescient move indeed. The ruling is expected later this year.

Today, meanwhile, is an important day. Mr Parizeau will be holding a press conference to launch his book and expound on its contents. Oh, and tonight the party leaders have their live television debate.

Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
i100(More than you think)
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey


Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game