Almost a decade ago, I was charged at the last minute with taking two Bloc Quebecois parliamentarians to a series of meetings in Moscow. They were more or less an afterthought, which is why they were assigned to me — the MPs from other parties were taken around, to many more meetings, by senior embassy officials. It was only as I was going to greet them that someone thought to ascertain that I, in fact, spoke French.
On the list of scheduled visits was one to the Russian Duma, where the two BQ MPs were to meet their Science and Technology Committee counterparts. The three Duma members, it turned out, were Communists, and hosted us in an office with a fresh and colourful print of Lenin on the wall. After some chit chat about research and development in their respective countries, and a video show by the Duma reps of their appearance at the launch of a rocket (fast-forwarded and rewound so we could see just how comically the beret one of them was wearing flew off his head), the conversation turned to the second Chechen war, recently begun, and Quebec’s own desire to separate.
“But you do want to separate,” pressed one of the Russians, after the BQ representative had tried to steer off the topic.
“We would like to be sovereign, it’s true. We love Quebec, we represent Quebec, but it’s not that we want to hurt Canada — we are really just only interested in Quebec.”
The Duma trio tried to get the Bloc MPs to go further into details on their sovereignty plans. Would they bear arms? Would they have another referendum? The BQ wouldn’t go there, and said, “We’re here today as part of a delegation of the Canadian parliament. It wouldn’t show respect to our hosts to talk about separatism.”
The BQers and I had some empty time on the schedule later — for some reason, there wasn’t a great deal of excitement about meeting Bloc MPs — and sat in a pastry shop continuing, tentatively, the conversation. My conclusion, right or wrong: the Bloc Quebecois, by that point at least, was (and is) not out to destroy Canada. It’s interested in making Quebec a great and prosperous place, and if there is ever a moment in which most Quebecois agree, in making Quebec a more independent nation with continued strong ties to Canada.
I know that from a certain kneejerk English Canadian perspective, this is supposed to make me break out in hives. It does not. And after spending the afternoon with my two intelligent, thoughtful, and well-spoken Bloc MPs, I gained new respect for them and the way they conduct themselves as parliamentarians. They may be guilty of not caring about issues that don’t affect Quebec, but they’re not out to harm the rest of Canada either. They work together with MPs from other parties on committees, they formed the Official Opposition for years, and while many think the seats they use up are a gaping chasm in the House, I’m doubtful the constituents who elect them — still, as of now, Canadian citizens — share the sentiment. There’s no reason for the Governor-General to consider their support for the coalition an impediment to its legitimacy, and there’s no reason for the fearmongering that has, so tiresomely, begun all over again.
…but feel free to disagree.