It's time for a Bloc Montreal (National Post, Dec. 15, 1998)
It's time for a Bloc Montreal
By Barbara Kay
Can you imagine an Ontario provincial election campaign in
which none of the leadership candidates raise issues concerning
Toronto? Unthinkable. And yet the November battle of the ``titans''
in Quebec failed to elicit more than a sound bite, let alone a
debate, on the many woes afflicting Montreal.
Montreal accounts for one-third of Quebec's voters, 55% of the
province's economic output, both of its major research universities,
almost all of the province's knowledge-based industries, and a full
75% of its exports. Yet, due to Quebec's skewed electoral system,
the city controls only one-quarter of the seats in the province's
Moreover, since most of Montreal's ridings go to the Liberals by
wide margins, both Jean Charest and Lucien Bouchard ignored the city
during the November campaign in favour of hamlets like St.
Agathe-des-monts and Jonquiere.
So, while Montrealers were able to contribute to the vote count
that handed Mr. Charest his ``moral victory,'' they once again find
themselves politically neutered, abandoned as irrelevant by both
major parties. Montreal's municipal government is an administrative
bureaucracy with almost no independent fiscal or policy-making
power. La metropole faces a classic colonial predicament: taxed
without adequate representation, and economically and politically
beholden to leaders who don't need or solicit its support.
Special-interest groups, from Positive Action to Renaissance
Montreal to Alliance Quebec have achieved modest gains in the
prevention of linguistic and political depredations by the
provincial government, but the lack of any real political power has
hamstrung their efforts. Moreover, these organizations are widely
perceived as mere anglophone-support groups in disguise, and they
have failed to generate much interest or collaboration among
What can Montrealers do? Throwing computer software and
pharmaceuticals (instead of tea) into Montreal harbour won't do much
good. Perhaps it is time to borrow a page from the separatists'
playbook. Just as Bouchard conceived the Bloc Quebecois to represent
the interests of Quebec's ``distinct society'' in Ottawa,
* Montrealers would be well served by a Bloc Montreal to represent
their equally distinct interests in Quebec City.
The analogy is a fair one. It is more than fair, in fact, because
Montreal has a greater need for increased representation in Quebec
City than Quebec has in Ottawa. While every economic statistic
demonstrates Quebec profits handsomely from its affiliation with the
rest of Canada, the exact opposite is true of Montreal vis-a-vis
Quebec. As sovereigntists and federalists alike agree, the city is a
modern, bilingual, multicultural island in a province otherwise
composed almost entirely of monolingual, monocultural rural
* Although the primary mandate of the Bloc Montreal would be to fight
for Montreal's best economic interests, the party would also be able
to represent Montrealers' federalist majority in the ongoing
sovereignty debate. Just as the BQ claims that any important
unilateral decisions undertaken by the rest of Canada would not bind
Quebec, so too would the Bloc Montreal fight for the proposition that
Montrealers should not be bound by referenda decided by the
province's electorate at large. If Quebec is judged to have a
society distinct from the rest of a divisible Canada, an equally
compelling claim may be made for Montreal regarding the rest of a
* Since the Bloc Montreal could never expect to form a provincial
government on its own, it would aspire to a coalition with the
Liberals or the Action Democratique, even the PQ -- whichever party
* would protect Montreal's interests best. The Bloc Montreal would
recruit its candidates from Montreal's cultural community leaders,
business heavyweights, and municipally engaged activists: Serge
Savard, former hockey champ-turned-entrepreneur, Liza Frulla, former
Liberal MNA and feisty NON frontliner in the 1995 referendum, and
Jacques Duscheneau, ex-police chief and the sole openly federalist
mayoral candidate in the last Montreal election spring to mind for
starters. The ranks of Quebec's disgruntled entrepreneurs
(francophone, anglophone, any-phone) would also provide many willing
candidates. A Leger and Leger poll taken early in November indicates
most Quebec businesspeople oppose sovereignty. A full 18%, in fact,
(including 11% of francophones), went so far as to say they would
leave Quebec in the event of separation. If these entrepreneurs felt
they had a party that permitted them to promote their business
interests, many would eagerly commit their energy and resources.
George Orwell drew inspiration for Animal Farm from watching a
small boy whipping a huge draft horse forward through the mud.
Labouring to haul its heavy cargo, the horse flinched under the
whip. If only the great beast were conscious of its own strength and
the puniness of its driver, Orwell mused, how quickly the balance of
power would change. Pushed on one side by separatist nationalists,
on the other by federalist nationalists, the barn doors are creaking
closed in Quebec. Isn't it time Montreal kicked over its crippling
traces and made a run for it?
Barbara Kay is a member of Cite Libre's board of directors
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