Last fall, in Inroads 18, we introduced readers to a just-published manifesto, For a Clear-Eyed Vision of Quebec (Pour un Québec lucide in French), the work of 12 prominent Quebecers including former Premier Lucien Bouchard. It warned of a threat to the very survival of Quebec as a vibrant distinct society in North America as a result of an aging population, mounting Asian competition in the global market and growing public debt. At the time we concluded, “In the short run, the manifesto changes little. But given its timing, its eloquence and the stature of its authors, its contentions are not likely to fade away.”
Developments since have certainly shown this to be the case. The manifesto has given rise to a profound public debate, and its most prominent signatory, Lucien Bouchard, topped a Léger Marketing poll published in Le Devoir in early May that asked Quebecers whom they would most like to see as their premier – even though he had been out of politics for five years. Clearly, being identified with the positions expressed in the manifesto is, at the very least, not a deterrent to political popularity.
Opposition to the “Lucides” centred on the Manifesto for a Quebec Based on Solidarity, signed by 36 left-wing intellectuals and activists who “challenge the premises and reject the conclusions” of For a Clear-Eyed Vision of Quebec. As they put it, “Poor people are even poorer than they were ten years ago, and the rich are even richer. This is a real problem, one that has been partly created through tax reductions that benefit high-income taxpayers more, while the poor have to make do with poor wages or inadequate employment insurance or social assistance benefits.”
To follow these developments, we are publishing a shortened version of the countermanifesto in this issue. In addition, we hear from two prominent authors of For a Clear-Eyed Vision of Quebec.
André Pratte is editor of La Presse and a leading federalist spokesperson in Quebec, while Joseph Facal is a former Parti Québécois cabinet member under Premiers Bouchard and Bernard Landry. Pratte gives us insight into how the group was formed, why it chose to draft the manifesto and how it reconciled the varying concerns of its members. Facal takes on the critics of the “Lucides,” accusing them of distorting or papering over realities that do not fit the cherished “Quebec model,” and issues a challenge to the new PQ leader, André Boisclair.
What comes through most eloquently in the words of these two public intellectuals – one federalist, the other sovereigntist – is their sense that over and above the content of their statement, the driving force uniting them was, as Pratte puts it, the “frustration at the difficulty of raising these issues publicly without being branded ‘neoliberals’ or ‘enemies of the Quebec model.’” Observing the sad paralysis of France, one can only agree with Pratte’s conclusion that Québec will go nowhere “if every common sense idea met with thousands of people protesting in the streets.”