Jacques Parizeau provides an example for nationalists around the world.

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.

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  • Gerry Lynch

    And all his work undone by a colleague’s bitter little “money and the ethnic vote” comment after the result, which in a place with rapidly changing demographics killed Quebec independence off for at least a generation. Maybe forever.

  • David McCann

    That was a mistake but interestingly he opposed the last PQ govts “charter of values” as it alienated migrants.

  • Mike the First

    A colleague’s comment or Parizeau’s own (as the OP has it)?

  • smeeho

    I’ve a fair few friends in Montreal who stayed home for a couple of days after the ref result, due directly to Parizeau’s words.

  • Cavignac

    Parizeau made the comment himself. It was misconstrued to be racist after the fact. In fact, it was bang on the money. The Canadian government illegally (as it later turned out) funnelled millions of dollars to the No side and sped up citizenship applications to unprecedented rates in order to register as many immigrants as possible before the vote. This is because new immigrants opposed independence by a 2 to 1 margin or more.

    French Canadians voted by a 60 to 40 margin for independence. I don’t know what demographics you are referencing. French Canadians are still overwhelmingly dominant in Quebec. In fact, the proportion of English-speaking Quebeckers has been dropping since 1995.

    The Canadian government wisely decided to recognize Quebec as a distinct society/nation in 2006 and basically lets them rule themselves on everything except foreign affairs. As French is now the sole official language in Quebec at the provincial level, the independence push has been waning. Let’s face it, Quebec gets all the benefits of being within Canada (including transfer payments) and can dictate its own language and cultural policies up and including discriminating against non-French speakers. It doesn’t need sovereignty.

  • Cavignac

    On the article, Parizeau was an important leader, but the leader of the Bloc Quebecois, Lucien Bouchard (who headed the 1995 campaign) was an even more critical figure.

    Parizeau was never particularly popular among the grass roots and I’m not sure he ever convinced the masses in the way Levesque, Bouchard and even arch-federalist Pierre Trudeau did.

    With Pierre-Karl Peladeau now at the head of the PQ and declaring to all and sundry that independence is a must, interesting times may be on the horizon.

  • chrisjones2

    Shocking. A republican leader who lost the argument, lost the vote and remained with his state stuck inside a country that he wished to sever from

    Bit of a parallel there innit

  • Starviking

    Need a bit more information at the end of the first sentence: “…died this.”

  • Gerry Lynch

    His own – my mistake.