September 3, 2012 - MLI's Brian Lee Crowley says the "Break-up Anxiety Disorder" and the "Separatist Agitation Disorder" that come along with a Quebec election can be overcome if you first admit you have a problem. Read his remedy below (published in the Ottawa Citizen nd Calgary Herald).

PQ governments come and go

By Brian Lee Crowley, Ottawa Citizen, Calgary Herald, September 4, 2012

"Everybody take a Valium."

That was the advice famously offered by Aislin in a Montreal Gazette editorial cartoon the day after René Lévesque's PQ swept to power for the first time in 1976.

Alas, we did not take his sage advice, but it is not too late to get some help for our national Break-up Anxiety Disorder (BAD), especially given the prospect of a Parti Québécois victory in today's Quebec election.

BAD sufferers will be familiar with the symptoms: the election of a nominally separatist government triggers bouts of sweaty palms and paranoid speculation about the nefarious ways in which the PQ could engineer the break-up of the country against the will of both Canadians and Quebeckers.

BAD might not be too serious if it stopped at paranoid fantasies. Unfortunately it usually goes on to manifest itself as frightened and increasingly desperate attempts at self-harm. Examples are attempts to buy the loyalty of Quebeckers through ill-considered constitutional amendments, spending sprees, watering down of federal authority and the distortion of justified linguistic equality into abusive privilege for speakers of one official language. Of course the attempts always fail, because since loyalty by definition cannot be sold, it cannot be bought either.

But then that's part of the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.

BAD shows itself in other ways too. For example, anyone who does not share the sufferers' view that the future of the nation is being played out in Quebec, and that that province's population are always a hair's breadth away from demanding the end of Canada, is dismissed as deluded at best, bigoted at worst.

According to the latest medical research, such demonization of non-sufferers was perhaps sensible and rational back when separatist Quebec nationalism first reared its ugly head in the 1960s. Mailboxes were being blown up, the president of France was openly urging a Québec libre, a British diplomat was kidnapped and a Quebec cabinet minister assassinated. Canadians were frightened, Quebec's mood opaque. The idea that Quebeckers might be on the verge of slamming the door on the way out seemed all too credible.

Since then, however, PQ governments have come and gone, always with mandates well shy of "winning conditions." The BQ blossomed and wilted in its turn. We have been through two referenda where, despite the PQ picking the timing and ambiguous and dishonest questions, Quebeckers have consistently declined to sign up for the separatist adventure.

Now instead of the uncertainty of the febrile Sixties, we have the certainty of the Supreme Court of Canada confirming that separation can only take place by negotiation within the framework of the rule of law. That means a constitutional amendment, and that means that Quebec cannot leave unless the rest of the country agrees.

We also have the Clarity Act which requires a clear question and other conditions for a referendum to trigger negotiations.

A series of court and other decisions have confirmed Aboriginal rights that mean much of Quebec's territory may not be theirs to take.

Finally, we have the sad pass into which the Quebec economy has fallen as a result of political uncertainty, ruinous taxation, extravagant borrowing, a corrupt and bossy state and much else besides. An independent Quebec's standard of living would take a knock that would make all but the most nationalist voter think twice.

In other words, Quebec isn't going anywhere, but BAD sufferers encourage Quebeckers to act as if they were. BAD, of course, exists in a destructive co-dependency with Separatist Agitation Disorder (SAD) sufferers, who manifest a Freudian complex called Nation Envy.

SAD sufferers believe Canada is a vast conspiracy to deny them their nationhood. SAD's chief manifestation is repeated puerile attempts to act in such a disagreeable way that they don't need to leave, but will instead be shown the door. Or, failing that, they hope that by constantly upping the ante in their demands for appeasement they will create a sense among Quebeckers that their demands can never be satisfied and they should leave.

Fortunately, while there may not be a definitive cure, these disorders can be managed. Instead of showing fear in the face of threats, be calmly confident in the superiority of Canada compared to the real alternatives. Stick doggedly to the rules, treat Quebeckers with the respect due every Canadian, avoid special treatment for SAD sufferers that won't pacify them and creates resentment elsewhere. Don't be goaded into high profile, high stakes negotiations with SAD sufferers who have an interest in making them fail. Avoid the grand gesture and panicky "concessions"; focus on small incremental improvements to the country based on their merits.

The good news is that BAD/SAD co-dependency can be broken. But the indispensable first step is to admit you have a problem.

Brian Lee Crowley is the Managing Director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independent non-partisan public policy think tank in Ottawa: @MLInstitute

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