Although the separatist Parti Quebecois led by Jacques Parizeau emerged victorious in last week’s widely watched provincial elections here, the Jewish community expressed little worry that the vote would lead to Quebec’s secession from the rest of Canada.
When the PQ first won a Quebec provincial election in 1976, panic over a possible secession abounded, prompting a mass exodus of Jews from the capital of Quebec.
Many Jews here feel that the separatist movement promotes a nationalist agenda that would work against the interest of the Jews.
As a result of that exodus, Toronto surpassed Montreal as the nation’s major Jewish population center.
But the Sept. 12 election prompted little, if any, such concern, primarily because of the optimism among English-speaking Quebecers that any future referendum on separation from Canada would fail.
Premier-elect Parizeau is expected to hold such a referendum within the next year.
The PQ previously governed the province from 1976 to 1985, but a similar referendum on Quebec independence held by the government of Rene Levesque in 1980 was defeated by close to 60 percent.
Jack Jedwab, interim director of the Quebec region of the Canadian Jewish Congress, attributed the Jewish community’s calm this time around to advance warning.
In 1976, he said, “people were surprised at the strength of a new PQ party. This time around, the PQ victory is no surprise, thanks to the many polls.
“And, as we were in 1976, we can be vehemently opposed to the separatist platform of the PQ while still working with them at the business of the day as it concerns our community,” Jedwab said.
In this latest election, the PQ took 77 seats in the Quebec National Assembly, while the Liberal Party of defeated Premier Daniel Johnson received 47 seats.
OFFENDED JEWS BY REFUSING TO SPEAK ENGLISH
But in the popular vote — closely watched for how it might portend sentiment in the upcoming referendum — the PQ narrowly beat the Liberals 44.7 percent to 44.3 percent.
The voting confirmed recent polls that said Quebecers wanted a change in government — the Liberals had governed for two consecutive terms — but that more than 60 percent of the voters want to remain a part of Canada.
Several months ago at a Canadian Jewish Congress plenary, Parizeau, then the leader of the opposition, offended Jewish community members by refusing to speak any English to a mainly English-speaking audience during his address.
Asked whether he felt this represents Parizeau’s stance toward the Jewish community, Jedwab said he did not feel it would be a problem.
“We will continue to meet with the leadership of the government, with the PQ, as we did with the Liberals. Our position is to better inform Mr. Parizeau and his team of the perceptions of the Jewish community and of our concerns,” he said.
In a statement, the Canadian Jewish Congress congratulated Parizeau for his victory, but urged members of the new government to “direct their energies to the pressing economic and social challenges currently confronting all Quebecers.”
The group’s regional chairman, Manual Schacter, also invited members of the National Assembly to promote a Quebec which is “open, pluralistic, tolerant and respectful of fundamental rights and freedoms.”
B’nai Brith Canada also indicated its eagerness to establish good relations with the PQ, but stressed that separation was not an option of the community.