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With Duceppe in Toronto

October 4, 2008 Leave a comment

The Economics Club of Toronto attracts the heavyweight speakers from politics and business, and so when I heard Gilles Duceppe would be speaking there, I was glad to go along to yesterday’s luncheon.

I had a chance to chat with Mr. Duceppe after his talk. He was warm, persuasive, and friendly. I joked that if he were a federalist, we’d all want to vote for him. His response: “Maybe I should open a franchise in Ontario.”

About 250 people were  at the Sheraton Centre to hear him. He said he hadn’t come to tell Canadians how to vote, but then made it clear that he was preaching to both Quebeckers and other Canadians that the Bloc represents the best opportunity to prevent Stephen Harper from getting a majority.

Our outstanding lady of letters, Margaret Atwood, was a guest at the head table and afterwards, told reporters that if she lived in Quebec she’d vote for the Bloc.

 “I’m here because Mr. Duceppe understands the contribution that culture makes to our economy. He understands $84-billion, and he understands 1.1 million jobs,” she said.

Duceppe received standing ovations both before and after he spoke, although a few remained in their seats at the end of his talk.

“Quebec is the only place in Canada that can still stop Stephen Harper,” Duceppe declared.

He stressed that the election wasn’t about sovereignty, but added:

“One day or another this problem must be solved. I’m more confident than ever that sovereignty is the best answer for Quebec and for Canada. Then, we’ll be able to go forward as two countries together.”

Duceppe reminded us of Pierre Trudeau’s declaration in 1976 that “separatism is dead.” Two months later, the PQ won its first term of office.

Duceppe talked a lot about culture, recognizing Margaret Atwood’s presence in the room.

“Not only is culture tremendously important to our national identity, but also a huge part of our economy — it’s worth $84 billion to Canada and gives jobs to a million people.” He slammed Stephen Harper’s recent remarks that “ordinary Canadians” aren’t interested in the arts.

“I’m here to defend both Quebec and Canadian cultures,” he said. “We don’t want to live on Planet Hollywood.”

I saw a few notables aorund the room, and had a chance to visit a bit with Judy Rebick, the left-wing activist and feminist who has a new book coming out soon.

In the event that the Conservatives are returned with another minority, she’d like to see an NDP-Liberal-Bloc accord that would keep Harper from forming a government. She points to the NDP-Liberal accord engineered between Bob Rae and David Peterson in Ontario in 1985 that let the Liberals govern even though the Conservatives had won the most seats in that election.

This may sound like grasping at straws, but Mackenzie King used the same tactic once federally. He governed successfully with Progressive party support when the Tories had won the most seats.

I’ll ponder Judy’s idea and maybe write about it next week.