All the demons that ever haunted the Parti Quebecois have come back with a vengeance in l'affaire Michaud: most notoriously, the party's ambiguous relationship with immigrants to Quebec and its wariness toward even long-established ethnic communities. The schism that divides the sovereignty-at-all-costs supporters from the rest of the party has once again opened up, threatening to swallow Premier Lucien Bouchard. Will he be allowed to stay only if he takes Quebec to the promised land of independence? Or can he be the leader of all Quebecers, whatever their background and political leanings?
L'affaire Michaud is Mr. Bouchard's second chance to do things right. He didn't quite nail it last time when former premier Jacques Parizeau launched into an angry, drunken harangue on the night of the 1995 referendum, blaming money and ethnic votes for the loss. Although Mr. Bouchard urged a calm acceptance of a democratic vote, he didn't repudiate Mr. Parizeau's tirade with the same kind of energy he is bringing to Mr. Michaud's remarks. He did not spearhead a motion in the National Assembly, blasting Mr. Parizeau for his unwillingness to accept the right of all Quebecers to vote however they please.
But make no mistake. This is not solely about doing the right thing. Underneath the inflamed rhetoric about freedom of speech being trounced by the forces of political correctness lies an old-fashioned, ugly political battle. Mr. Michaud wants to run in Mercier riding in Montreal's trendy Plateau district. The riding association wants him. He and the association are a good fit, both belonging to the pur et dur faction of the Parti Quebecois. Both are thorns in Mr. Bouchard's side, prodding him to act faster and more decisively in favour of independence.
Mr. Michaud's comments about whether Jews believe they have suffered more than any other persecuted group opened a door through which Mr. Bouchard is clearly hoping to be able push Mr. Michaud and the whole Mercier crowd. He insists a party that allows the delegitimization of an entire group of voters is not a party he wants to lead.
Mr. Michaud, 70, apparently believes the only good immigrant is one who votes in favour of independence. In his estimation, immigrant is a term applicable to many people who were born in this country. He talks of the "duty" of immigrants to "accompany us on the road which leads to the mastery of all the tools of our development." Nothing in that clumsy construction hides the fact Mr. Michaud thinks the price of being accepted as a citizen in Quebec is to vote in favour of sovereignty.
This attitude - that immigrants are a different class of voter who owe it to Quebec to vote for independence - deserves to be condemned - by Premier Bouchard and by all of us.
Source: Montreal Gazette, December 22, 2000.