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Parti Québécois leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon was uncharacteristically glum as he delivered his keynote speech at the end of his party convention on Sunday. He decided to go down the darkest path imaginable to convince Quebecers that they should be afraid, very afraid, of Ottawa’s nefarious plans for Quebec.

It would surprise no one who has followed the sovereignty movement to hear one of its former leaders invoking the separatist trinity of Domination, Despair and Disappearance. It was a shock to hear such deeply depressing views being spouted by the usually upbeat and positive St-Pierre Plamondon.

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One of PSPP’s hallmarks has always been his freshness and optimism. He’s the first PQ leader from a new generation. The Parizeaus, Marois and Lisées of the past used themes of fear as their stock in trade. PSPP has been hammering away at the need for Quebec to become independent using positive arguments. Until last weekend.

I had a front-row seat to one of his final in-depth interviews before the PQ convention on the LCN panel show Le Bilan last Friday. My exceptional colleague Emanuelle Latraverse did a lengthy Q-and-A with PSPP, toward the end of which he let fly with “I don’t want a referendum.” I nearly choked.

PSPP won his leadership contest vowing to not water down his quest for sovereignty. He promised there would be a sovereignty referendum if he were to be elected. No ifs, ands or buts. This has also become a defining aspect of PSPP; he sticks to his guns. Indeed, he showed exceptional mettle when he refused to back down on the issue of swearing an oath of loyalty to King Charles.

He went on to tell Latraverse that what he in fact wants is a country, and that a referendum is just a question of mechanics (“histoire de mécanique”). If he had been hoping to give himself a bit of wiggle room on the referendum question, it fizzled. By Sunday he was back on message, with dire warnings as to what awaits Quebecers if they didn’t separate from Canada.

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Successive Léger polls show support for sovereignty at about 35 per cent. This is consistent with internal Quebec government polling that I was privy to early in my career. In clear terms, there has never been more than roughly one-third of Quebecers who were really willing to split from Canada.

In both the 1980 and 1995 referendums, the questions contained a word salad of conditions and negotiations. There have been several other major referendums in the world since and there is now a consensus of expertise on what constitutes a clear question. Neither of those meets the test.

Sovereigntists will point out the close vote in 1995 and the 40 per cent in 1980 as proof of much higher support. In 1980, many people were expressing their strong attachment to Quebec and knew there’d have to be another vote before sovereignty. In 1995, the deep feeling of frustration after the failure of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown constitutional accords led many to want to send a strong message.

Sovereignty tomorrow and a full break from Canada? Not a chance.

So why has PSPP decided now to try to convince the herd of caribou to join him in leaping into the raging river?

His diatribe against Canadian multiculturalism in both that interview and his convention speech seems to have been stoked by the recent visit of French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal. His applause for Quebec’s discriminatory secularism law, Bill 21, seems to have formed a heady brew for PSPP. He was swinging for the fences.

The history of Quebec is one of strength, perseverance and, yes, survival. More than 400 years of it! Our collective memory includes two referendums that divided us and hurt our economy. The last thing our society needs is another one.

Tom Mulcair, a former leader of the federal NDP, served as minister of the environment in the Quebec Liberal government of Jean Charest.

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