Jacques Parizeau, the former Premier of Quebec and the man who came within just one percent of creating a sovereign Quebec nation died this. Any nationalist around the world worth their salt watched the trail that figures like Levesque, Bouchard and Parizeau blazed throughout their careers.
That a self-identified “technocrat” could win such a huge majority in 1994 and have the sense of leadership to create the conditions for such a narrow referendum loss in 1995 is an example for sovereigntists (nationalists) around the world.
Parizeau had a quality that all great leaders must possess, a sense of vision but also the willingness to pivot and compromise. Throughout his political life he held the idea of Quebec as a nation as a core value that could not be broken. However, this desire did not stop Parizeau from compromising on the type of question that was on the ballot or who led the campaign during the sovereignty referendum in 1995.
His willingness to, at least in public, play a secondary role to the popular, Lucien Bouchard is indicative of his general approach that the cause of Quebec independence was bigger than his personal ambitions.
The fact that he was able to see the bigger picture helped keep sovereignty relevant in Quebec at a time when polls indicated that the public’s interests lay elsewhere and a general atmosphere of apathy seemed to dominate.
The referendum which began as a rather dull and timid affair burst into life and engaged Quebecers about the future of their province.
The campaign that Parizeau did so much to shape and bring about saw over 90% of registered voters in Quebec cast a ballot. That is higher than the 84% turnout in Scotland’s independence referendum and 85% achieved in the 1980 sovereignty referendum.
Whilst often criticised as a divisive campaign, the high turnout and the closeness of the end result proves that Parizeau was hardly a leader without any followers on this issue. Nor can it be said that after the failure of Meech Lake, Quebecers did not hunger for a debate on this issue and some form of new relationship with Canada.
His time as Premier was not without blemishes. The concession speech on the night of referendum where he blamed the Yes sides defeat on “money and ethnic vote” will always be remembered as striking the wrong tone and creating barriers where none needed to exist.
However, we should not boil a long career down to just one line, in one speech.
Parizeau was a leader who had a vision and fought for it.
He continued to influence and shape the sovereigntist movement long after he stepped down. His opposition to the misguided Charter of Values gave voice to those within Quebec nationalism who were hugely uncomfortable with such a narrow policy.
Had his warnings been heeded, perhaps Pauline Marois may still be Premier today.
For any nationalist around the world who is attempting to develop a strategy for victory, I would urge them to look at the vision and policies espoused by Jacques Parizeau.
His example of an independent Quebec is something for others around the world to look towards.
The Quebec sovereignty movement has lost a giant and Canada has lost a major political figure. Rarely do Premier’s leave such a mark on their provinces and the whole country and it will be a long time before Canada sees the like of Jacques Parizeau again.
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs