Twenty years ago, I stood in the middle of hundreds of thousands of people in downtown Montreal, three days before the vote that almost ended the place called Canada. We didn’t know until quite a bit later that if the YES side had won, Premier Jacques Parizeau was ready to convene the National Assembly right away and make a unilateral declaration that Quebec would be a sovereign nation immediately.
When he lost the referendum by a whisker, Parizeau drowned his sorrows and publicly blamed the loss on “money and the ethnic vote”. Less than a week later this sore loser wisely chose to walk off the stage, but every now and then he would resurface and do his best to make life miserable for PQ successors like Pauline Marois.
The late Mordecai Richler denounced the politics of Parizeau and other separatists as “tribalism”. For saying that, the novelist was dismissed as a racist bigot, but in retrospect he was more ‘on the money’ than any of us realized.
Now Jacques Parizeau has died at the age of 84. Like most leaders who leave behind a mixed legacy, much of his darker side is being put away in the closet, at least until after the state funeral on Tuesday. Stephen Harper and others are remembering him as a great leader of Quebec nationalism, and a ‘builder’.
At the risk of stepping into some rather tricky ground, what’s happening is not unlike the strange ‘halo’ that has come to surround Louis Riel since he was hanged in Regina 130 years ago. Riel was a champion of the Metis people, but to call him a Father of Confederation is pushing the envelope beyond reason.
Parizeau will have streets and buildings named after him in Quebec, but hopefully those closest to him will forgive the rest of Canada if we don’t join in raising his memory to a pedestal that it simply does not deserve.
I’m Roger Currie