The Parti Québécois is leading in all provincial polls in Quebec and is promising to hold a third referendum on independence, but Guy Bertrand, a founding member of the party, says Quebec will never become an independent country under a PQ government. 

Bertrand, 86, is a famous Quebec City lawyer who has been debating the destiny of the province for more than six decades.  

In the 1960s, he worked alongside René Lévesque in founding the PQ. 

A few years later, he defended members of the FLQ, the Front de Libération du Quebec, a Quebec movement that used terrorism to try to achieve independence.  

Bertrand was also ultimately at the heart of the Reference on the Secession of Quebec in the 1990s, arguing that the unilateral secession of the province was illegal, both in Canadian constitutional law and in international law.  

Bertrand is a complex man. He is still a separatist, a self-proclaimed “free thinker,” a “friend of Canada,” and a controversial figure in the province. 

But he thinks the PQ model for an independent Quebec is unworkable.

”That will never happen. (Independence) is a dream. Mine and others, but it will never happen because people do not want a unitary state. They do not want to lay their eggs in a PQ unitary government. They don’t want it,” Bertrand said in an interview. 

The PQ wants a unitary system, with a strong capital in Quebec City and some input from the regions. Bertrand doesn’t think Quebecers want that.

For a decade, Bertrand has been working on a plan, a “futuristic” scheme, as he puts it, to bring Quebec to the “concert des nations.”   

It’s called the Freedom-Nation Project (“Projet Liberté-Nation” in French) and it would lead to the Quebec federal republic, a country governed by a federation of Quebec’s municipalities and local governments, not unlike the Canadian provinces.

His project is the “only way” to achieve independence, he claims — and it does not involve the PQ.  

According to multiple polls, the PQ has nearly a double-digit lead provincially even if it elected only three candidates in the 2022 elections. The party added Pascal Paradis to its caucus at the National Assembly after his byelection upset in Jean-Talon in 2023. The Quebec City riding was a Liberal stronghold before the governing Coalition Avenir Québec won it in 2018, under leader Francois Legault.  

Paradis, a former business attorney at McCarty Tetreault and president of Lawyers Without Borders, ran a campaign talking about independence when nobody seemed to care.   

“Jean-Talon … showed where we are now in Quebec, and I think people are listening more and more. People see that Canada is going in a different direction, and it’s a legitimate direction. But Quebec, maybe, wants to go elsewhere. And this is why support for independence is growing and support for federalism is diminishing,” said Paradis. 

In fact, few polls show such a phenomenon. The federalist option now sits at 53 per cent, according to Quebec125, and support for independence is at 35 per cent. Although, a Pallas Data Poll placed separatism at 41 per cent earlier this year.  

“People always want a third voice between the current Canada and separation. But this third voice doesn’t exist anymore,” said Jean-Marc Léger, the president of Léger polling. “So, if they must choose between separation and signing the Constitution, you will have that 35 to 45 per cent of people who would choose separation.” (Quebec has never officially signed the Canadian Constitution.) 

Under Paul St-Pierre Plamondon’s leadership, the PQ talks more frequently about independence and promises to hold a referendum by 2030 if it gets elected in two years.  

Last fall, the PQ unveiled a theoretical year-one budget for an independent Quebec, which stated the new country would bring in $82.3 billion in new revenues that it said are “captured by the Federal government.”

But Quebecers’ appetite for independence remains to be defined. For many, the province is already acting like a sovereign nation in regards of its relationship with Ottawa.  

“I think the important point here is this is just people looking for an alternative for the Legault government and not a gigantic resurgence (for) sovereignty,” says Charles Breton, the executive director of the Centre of Excellence on the Canadian Federation. 

Émile Simard, 22, disagrees. Now chairman of the PQ’s youth committee, Simard grew up in Saguenay Lac St-Jean, located 400 kilometres north of Quebec City, in a separatist household. The area voted at 70 per cent for the “yes” option in the 1995 referendum.  

The day he turned 16, Simard became a member of the Parti Québécois. A year later, he got involved in the party’s National Youth Committee.

“I am convinced that in the coming years, we will have a rendezvous with history and we will finally be able to give ourselves a country,” he said in an interview in French.  

“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t hear about our (PQ) leader and about sovereignty. We feel excitement within the population,” he added.  

Camille Goyette-Gingras, who is the president of Oui Québec, an association of pro-independence organizations that promotes independence in a non-partisan way, agrees with Simard. 

She says 90 per cent of their 200 activists are aged 16 to 25 years old. According to her, Oui Québec has tripled its annual fundraising since 2022. She did not say how much it raises every year.  

“The gen-Z approaches the national question as if it were a new project that no one had ever heard of before that they could truly recreate with their own hands,” says Goyette-Gingras. 

Like many separatists, Simard wants Quebec to become a country to “correct the course of history” and to give the nation control of its own future.

“I don’t feel at home in Canada. It’s not my country,” says Simard. “We are not doing independence against Canada, we are not doing it because we don’t like them, but because we are different. It is our destiny.”  

National Post
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