Speak french? You can vote…

To be successful in politics, one must often suffer from what the American Psychiatric Association calls “Dissociative Identity Disorder,” or “split personality,” in layman’s terms. Symptoms? Well, other than amnesia, the patient must also “display two or more distinct personalities.

To be successful in politics, one must often suffer from what the American Psychiatric Association calls “Dissociative Identity Disorder,” or “split personality,” in layman’s terms. Symptoms? Well, other than amnesia, the patient must also “display two or more distinct personalities.” Seem familiar? It ought to.
The politician must not only dissociate himself from a personal life to present a media-friendly persona polished to a perfect sheen, but must also constantly shift shapes to deal with two strong and often opposing pressures: the militant base and the electorate. While the party militants are almost always extreme partisans of whatever ideology the party totes, the electorate is usually altogether more moderate. And while the former gives the politician the stepladder needed to court power, the latter must be convinced, and tamed, in order to win it. Nowhere is this more evident than in the PQ’s internal politics.
Take, for example, Pauline Marois’ proposed bill on Quebec citizenship. It not only calls for the creation of a constitution for Quebec – regardless of whether or not it is still in Canada, which it does not even mention – but also proposes to base Quebec citizenship on a knowledge of French. So, pending a successful “basic” French test, a person living in Quebec would not be allowed to vote. If that is so, will they then be exempted from paying taxes? Will they have to go to war in the event of a draft? And what about the thousands of Anglophones who have lived here for generations, will they have to pass the test as well?
Yes, Quebec is a Francophone province, and, yes, everyone living here should learn at least conversational French; to not do so is to cut one’s self off from most of the people living here and employment opportunities. But to so brashly and arbitrarily divide a population into citizens and non-citizens smacks of the ridiculous. And really, when Marois says that her proposed Bill 195 was written, “to cause a controversy,” she is being much more candid than usual.
The apparent illogic in trying to act as if Quebec is an independent country while still being a Canadian province is easy to comprehend when one understands the PQ as a political institution. Historically, it has never been an ideologically pure party. Its sole purpose is to achieve one goal – other than that, many members disagree on basic social policies.
Within the PQ exists a small but loud group of hardliners, some unhappy since the merger between René Lévesque’s more moderate Mouvement souveraineté-association, the Ralliement National and the more radical Rassemblement pour l’indépendance nationale that created the party. The former RINers want it all now; the electorate does not.
This places Marois in an awkward position, one that casts a shadow under former PQ leader André Boisclair’s political ambitions: how do you balance the militants’ clamouring for independence with the obvious reality that most Quebecers do not want a referendum right now?
Answer: cater to both. Push a doomed-to-fail hardline law into the National Assembly and then blame the other parties for its failure.
Create controversy. But do not mention the spook-word “referendum”.
In other words, throw a couple bones to the barking dogs so they won’t scare the flock.

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