Premier Jacques Parizeau of Quebec, leader of the separatist Parti Quebecois, resigned Tuesday, raising questions about the direction of the separatist movement a day after its narrow loss in an independence referendum.
His surprise announcement - coming after an outcry about his bitter comments Monday night, blaming “money and the ethnic vote” for the loss - underscored the divisive legacy of the vote.
Instead of resolving the issue of Quebec’s future, the bare victory by those who want to preserve the Canadian union has led some separatists to vow to work all the harder for independence. But some of his own supporters attacked Parizeau for his efforts to blame immigrants and outside money for the loss.
“He clearly misrepresented what the sovereignty movement stands for,” said Alain Noel, a political scientist at the University of Montreal, who voted for separation. “The modern sovereignty movement is broad, territorial, liberal, pluralistic and multicultural. It is definitely not anti-ethnic.”
Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien now must seek ways to mollify the people of Quebec - half of whom voted for a new order - by searching for ways to give them greater autonomy that will be acceptable to the rest of the nation.
Alain Gagnon, a political scientist and director of Quebec studies at McGill University, said federalists had to take the warning of a new referendum “in a very serious way,” adding, “If they want Quebec to stay in the federation they must deliver on constitutional changes giving Quebec more autonomy.”
A number of federalist leaders Tuesday urged quick action to meet the Quebec demands.
“Canada has a chance to rebuild,” said Jean Charest, leader of the small Conservative Party, a Quebecer who played a key role in the victory.
“There is a very broad consensus in the country that we should look at how we deliver services so that they will be closer to the people,” he said. “We can move very rapidly on those things without changing the Constitution.”
Clyde Wells, the premier of Newfoundland, said it was time to re-examine the country’s institutions. “Clearly, the people of Canada indicated to the people of Quebec in the last 10 days or so that they are willing to sit down and look at changes,” he said in a television interview.
But Quebec’s demands have hinged on recognition in the Constitution of its distinct character, as a protection against efforts by English Canada to undermine its language, culture or special civil code of justice based on the French system.
It is something that many in English Canada have balked at giving because it implies a different kind of treatment for different provinces.