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

National Assembly.

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

divisible Quebec.

* 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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