“Are you telling me that you think you can hold a winning referendum before the pandemic ends?” I don’t think so. “
It is in these terms that the Premier of Quebec reacted when asked if his federalist convictions were shaken by his recent criticisms of Justin Trudeau. Recurring since the start of the pandemic, the expression of François Legault’s annoyance towards his counterpart is more vocal.
Quebec is responsible for managing the health crisis on the front line. However, it does not control who leaves and enters its territory. He cannot buy his own vaccines to immunize his population.
Worse still, the government, which has all these powers and which drags its feet when it comes to implementing them, is teaching Quebec a lesson in the way it manages its CHSLDs. The pandemic allows François Legault to live the experience of federalism in its extreme version.
And he doesn’t seem to like it.
Broken nationalist renewal
At the start of the pandemic, it was believed that Quebec would experience a nationalist revival where “Things will go well” would replace “I remember” on the car plates. It was the dream of the PQ members of the CAQ for whom François Legault will one day reveal that he hides under his full autonomist the tracksuit of a hurried sovereignist he wore when he wanted to become leader of the Parti Quebecois.
These hopes were however shattered on five letters: CHSLD. From anticipated champions of the pandemic, we present the federation’s worst death and contagion figures. When the mothers and fathers of the nation die of dehydration, it does not give confidence to make a country.
In short, it is difficult to say that Quebec would have done better if it had been independent. However, it is at least as difficult to demonstrate that he could have done worse.
François Legault undoubtedly wonders it during his sleepless hours. Where would we be if he had been able to close the borders whenever he wanted? If he could have negotiated with the pharmaceutical companies himself? What if Quebec had the federal spending capacity to support its citizens? This is the only aspect where Justin Trudeau has shown himself to be “successful” in this pandemic …
François Legault will never be a federalist in the classic sense. Its position is not based on love for Canada, but on the simple observation that Quebeckers do not want sovereignty. When he took his autonomist posture, many asked him what would happen when it was defeated by the constant refusals of Ottawa.
Will François Legault become another Robert Bourassa who, seeing the door open, will refuse to enter? Will he instead be the leader that many Quebecers see in him? The one who will take his people elsewhere rather than just follow them?
We do not yet know the answer, but perhaps it will come faster than we think.