Professor Henry Srebrnik

Professor Henry Srebrnik

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

End of Trudeauism

Henry Srebrnik, [Charlottetown, PEI] Guardian

The 10th anniversary of Pierre Trudeau’s death on September 28 passed almost unnoticed in this country. That’s because the pan-Canadian ideology of Trudeauism, which destroyed the Meech Lake (1987-1990) and Charlottetown (1992) Accords, is now only a memory, as is the former prime minister himself.

Had they become part of the Canadian Constitution, the proposed amendments would have recognized Quebec as a “distinct society.” This was, for Trudeau, anathema, and he became their chief critic and opponent, along with Preston Manning’s old Reform Party. The accords went down to defeat, the second time in a national plebiscite.

Even the Ignatieff Liberals today barely mention Trudeau as a “role model.” After all, they’ve themselves signed on to the idea of the Québécois being a nation, as has Stephen Harper, himself another former opponent of Meech Lake and Charlottetown.

Since 1984, when Trudeau left office, his Liberal Party, which used to “own” Quebec, has not won a majority of seats in that province, despite having had two French Canadian leaders in Jean Chrétien and Stéphane Dion.

In fact, following its formation in 1990 -- a consequence of the failure to pass Meech -- the separatist Bloc Québécois has won a majority of Quebec’s 75 federal ridings in six straight elections. Polls indicate that they are on track to do so again the next time Canadians go to the polls.

Francophone nationalists refuse to support a Liberal Party that, under Trudeau, thwarted their collective aspirations. And, while they may no longer be religious in the old Roman Catholic sense of the word, they also won’t give their votes to a Conservative Party which feels too “English” for their tastes.

Stephen Harper is not only an Albertan by residence, but a Protestant evangelical. He’s the first prime minister since Lester Pearson to be neither Catholic – as were Trudeau, Joe Clark, John Turner, Brian Mulroney, Chrétien and Paul Martin -- nor Anglican (Kim Campbell).

Do memories of the old anti-Catholic Orange Order still lurk in the subconscious minds of many in Quebec?

Old antagonisms seem to have been in play in the recent New Brunswick provincial election as well, where the Liberals were turfed out after one term in office, something unprecedented in the electoral history of the province.

The underlying reason? Their abortive attempt to sell New Brunswick Power Corp. to Hydro-Québec.

For many anglophones in the province, ethnic descendants of the United Empire Loyalists and political descendants of the anti-francophone Confederation of Regions Party, which had its brief period of fame as the official opposition between 1991 and 1995, this smacked of letting a Québécois stalking horse into their collective homes. They voted for the Progressive Conservatives.

New Brunswick’s ethnic and linguistic cleavages run deep, nor have they been papered over by the province being officially bilingual – another legacy, by the way, of Trudeau’s.   

On the federal level, thanks to the Bloc, Canada seems to have settled into a pattern of perpetual minority government. The Conservatives win seats in the “old,” especially rural, English Canada, while the Liberals are a permanent majority in the multicultural big cities (along with the non-francophone parts of Montreal).

The New Democrats chip away at the strongholds of both these parties, but are never able to break down the ideological barriers that keep them a minority party.

As Quebec and the rest of the country drift apart, emotionally and politically, is Canada on the road to becoming another Belgium, a country whose two component parts, Flanders and Wallonia, have become virtual nations, leaving the central state institutions a hollowed-out shell?