Bernard Descoteaux writes a column in Le Devoir confirming, in a different sense, my intuitions regarding the two options for Quebec, given his observations of both debates.
Le Devoir: Rien à offrir: La vision qu'entretient maintenant Paul Martin de la place du Québec au Canada est claire. Le fédéralisme asymétrique n'est pas une notion extensible, comme on l'a vu avec le refus de reconnaître au gouvernement québécois la capacité d'intervenir sur le plan international sur les questions qui relèvent de ses compétences constitutionnelles. Il reviendra au Québec de s'adapter au Canada et non l'inverse. La chose est encore plus claire lorsqu'on le voit décréter que les élections en cours sont, en ce qui concerne le Québec, de nature référendaire. Si tel est bien le cas, il faut comprendre que les Québécois ont le choix entre la séparation et le statu quo qui les laissera encore longtemps en marge de la Constitution.
According the Descoteaux, the responses of the three Canada-wide party leaders to a question on Quebec's constitutional status offers little hope for any resolution on a file that has been left open for nearly a quarter of a century. In fact, they hid behind public opinion: they wanted to talk about files of "real" importance like health and employment, as though Quebec's constitutional exclusion were unimportant. This suggests to him that Quebec has two options: status quo or separation. I agree, for the reasons I already wrote about, and for other reasons that I will write about.
But Descoteaux is rather weak on his analysis as to why this is the case. He notes that Mulroney had, apparently, a courage that Martin lacks, even though Martin falsely advertised himself as the anti-Chrétien. But he fails to note that Mulroney failed spectacularly, and, more importantly, why Mulroney failed spectacularly.
One reason for Mulroney's failure is that, of course, the entire country took it to be an expression of his arrogance rather than his courage. But another reason is revealed by an interesting turn of phrase that Descoteaux uses at the end of his piece: that Quebec is condemned to the "margins of the constitution."
This turn of phrase reveals a standard way of thinking of most Quebec nationalists on the matter of the Constitution: that representing Quebec as an equal province in the Constitution is equivalent to marginalizing it. The content of this claim is very important to the failure of all attempts at solving it, and this is something that I will write about in the next few days, so stay tuned. But equally important are the things surrounding this claim.
In many senses, Quebec is not at the margins of the constitution as it was written. In fact, the whole history of the ideas and ideologies behind it emerge from from discussions in Quebec itself far more profoundly than they emerge from the ROC. That the ROC provinces would sign such a constitution was actually progress in the ROC.
But Quebec nationalists, in using this formulation, are able to avoid discussion of the actual content of the constitution. I have had repeated discussions with Quebec nationalists on this matter, and it is very difficult for them, in many cases, to make the problems explicit. By saying that Quebec is marginalized in the constitutional order, Descoteaux, as many columnists like him, avoid holding a discussion on constitutional practicalities---and in fact, Descoteaux scorns the domain of the practical for the abstract symbolism of a marginalization whose outward characteristics were devised in ultimately Quebec itself, from the very constitution to Quebec's refusal to sign it.