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Edition 99-February 1, 2013
The Parti Quebecois legacy
Toronto was banal before the separatists
By Thomas Terrio

The other day I was reminiscing about my hometown Montréal. The Parti Quebecois was re-elected in Quebec last September; this time with a women premier and a minority government. Indeed, things never change. When II first came to Vancouver 17 years ago with a plan to move West, I was amazed at how small the city was in comparison to Montreal and Toronto. I also realized the City of Vancouver had potential. The first thing was the construction cranes towering over the city. I hadn’t seen a construction crane in Montreal since the building of Centre Guy Favreau circa 1985.

Vancouver was not like Montréal at all. Vancouver had no elevated expressways, or miles of highways connecting every part of town. Vancouver had no underground Metro system. Furthermore, rents were very high in Vancouver and the city had the most expensive real estate prices in Canada. But there was an upside to beautiful British Columbia. There were no indépendantistes attempting to separate from Canada. And of course, not enough snow to worry about, or sub-zero temperatures with eight months of winter attached to it. Summers were long, and the physical beauty of the city simply overwhelmed me. It was a no brainer, Vancouver was where I wanted to be.

My catalyst for leaving Quebec was the 1995 referendum on sovereignty. What I saw and heard during the referendum campaign in Quebec changed the way I thought about democracy in Canada, and where I would live in the near future. Here are a few examples of what disturbed me the most, aside from the fact Canada might break apart: Many people who went to vote were intimidated by separatist supporters. People whose names were seen as English or of an ethnic background, were sent to the wrong polling stations to vote, or forced to wait longer in line for no reason.

At some polls, war veterans were asked to remove their poppies, because according to the separtists, the poppy represented an affiliation to Canada. Later that same week, news reports revealed a scandal involving 15,000 votes which were not counted due to such foolish details as the X not being in the exact center of the voting circle, or the X being too small.

I spoke with a young woman who worked at one of the polling stations. When she demonstrated what types of ballots had been disqualified, I could'nt believe such a calamity could exist in Canada. This wasn’t democracy, it was a clear attempt to force the outcome of the referendum in favour of the Parti Quebecois, and circumvent the voting process.

The economy had been suffering in Quebec since the Parti Quebecois was first elected in 1976. I remember the night of November 15, 1976. The Paul Sauvé Arena in Montréal was packed to the rafters with PQ supporters. While on my way home from a girlfriend’s house after watching the election results, I witnessed crowds of drunken and rowdy people who failed to pay their transit fares, and simply jumped the Metro turnstiles in waves. Store windows were smashed, and sirens were heard throughout the night. Politics in Quebec was not new to me, I remember in elementary school seeing the Canadian army in the streets of Montréal during the October Crisis of 1970.

It’s not hard to figure out what happened to the economy in Montréal and how the city lost its status to Toronto as Canada’s largest metropolis. The Montréal Olympic bid came after the success of Expo 67. Much like in Vancouver with Expo 86 and its winter Olympic bid, which ended in the most successful Winter Olympic Games in history in 2010.

The Montréal summer Olympics cost the city dearly, and everything soon began to crumble. It all started at the opening ceremonies in July, when the majority of fans at the Olympic Stadium rudely booed Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The uneasiness of the moment lingered. But more importantly, the Olympic debt was massive, a whopping 1.5 billion, which took the next 30 years to pay.

In the following November of 1976, Rene Levesque and the Parti Quebecois were elected for the first time with a clear mandate to negotiate sovereignty. It was like a one-two-knock-out punch. First, the untertaking of a massive Olympic debt, and then the election of the separatists.The Parti Quebecois owes its whole existence to the idea Quebec will one day separate from Canada and become a sovereign independent state.

In Montréal, within the next few years, many people and companies would leave Quebec region to re-establish themselves in Toronto. Indeed, Toronto’s economy immensly benefited from the so-called English exodus, quickly making it Canada’s largest city. Remember, Toronto was relatively banal before the Parti Quebecois was elected in 1976.

This re-distribution of wealth hurt Montréal right in the pocketbook. With its tax base depleting, what was the municipal government of Jean Drapeau to do with the massive Olympic debt? Parking meters soon began popping-up everywhere; the Green Onions were formed to better police the meters, and the Denver boot suddenly appeared. Taxes increased pushing the cost of living higher.

As disposable income vanished, local businesses began to struggle—many declared bankruptcy. At the time in Montréal, “A Louer” for rent signs were seen in the majority everywhere in commercial and residential properties across the island. The subsequent 1980 independance referendum simply made the exodus worse.

Indeed, Vancouver was an oasis far away from the separatists and their selfish dreams of independence. It was the end of the line, as far away as I could get from Quebec. After all, who could forget Jacques Parizeau’s speech on how the PQ separatists lost the referendum because of “money and ethnic votes.” How crass, my family descendants originally came from France and have lived in North America since 1632.

In the end, harassing war veterans, immigrants, and English voters at the polls never achieved the desired effect. It was close enough though, 50.38 percent to 49.42 percent, just shy of 50 percent plus one, with 60 percent of Francophones voting "Yes."

Personally, I wanted to be part of something greater than myself, part of Canada. I voted "No" in the referendum, and the following May moved to Vancouver. If the truth were known, I have no regrets; The City of Vancouver has been very good to me. The West is Canada’s new economic engine. The East is either drowning in debt or dying from politics. What the separatists and people like Jacques Parizeau fail to understand is that all those businesses and people who left Quebec are not coming back, they’re gone. Gone to work and build in another province, gone to pay taxes in another city, gone to boost the economy elsewhere.

Without question, the dire socio-economic reality of Montréal helped me to easily adapt and live in a better place; something the separatists should consider themselves by abandoning their selfish egos. One can never truly forget their hometown and all those memories which go along with them, like friends and family.

Vancouver is my home now and true reminiscing is to indulge in the enjoyable recollection of the past, not the distasteful vernacular of a seasoned political hack like Jacques Parizeau. The truth is, I don’t really miss Montréal with the exception of friends, family, and every now and then visiting Schwartz’s Deli on the Main, for some “lean old fashion” smoked meat and a cherry cola. Damn!

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Thomas Terrio's View from the West Online Magazine Past Edition 99-February 2013