National News

Fete nationale 'isn't what it once was'

By Benjamin Shingler, The Canadian Press

MONTREAL - Quebec's annual holiday is often a chance for the province's pro-independence politicians to drum up support for the cause, but heavy rains weren't the only thing dampening Fete nationale celebrations on Tuesday.

With interest in sovereignty slumping and the Parti Quebecois suffering a historic defeat earlier this year, even organizers conceded Tuesday's festivities had a different feel.

Politically speaking, the holiday "isn't what it once was," said Gilles Grondin, director of the Mouvement national des Quebecois, which has organized the holiday's festivities for the past 30 years.

"In terms of nationalism, people don't express themselves in the same way," Grondin said.

"There isn't the same collective movement that we saw in the 1960s, for example. Life in general is more individualistic. We see it with social media."

Grondin conceded there may have been a smaller turnout than usual at Monday's concert bash on the historic Plains of Abraham in Quebec City.

He said part of the reason is the explosion of smaller events — there were more than 1,100 planned across the province on Tuesday, according to organizers — and an increased number of competing music and arts festivals throughout the summer.

Deeper issues are also at play.

Mathieu Bock-Cote, a well-known sovereigntist and columnist for Le Journal de Montreal, summed up the sombre mood in a piece Tuesday lamenting the decline in nationalist pride over the past 20 years.

He wrote that he wasn't feeling the "spirit" of the Fete nationale this year.

The Quebec Liberals scored a majority government in the April 7 election as the PQ suffered its worst popular vote result in more than 40 years.

And opinion polls show support has dropped even further since.

The PQ now ranks third behind the Liberals and Francois Legault's Coalition party. It's also showing signs of division as it looks for a leader to replace Pauline Marois.

At the federal level, meanwhile, the Bloc Quebecois continues to flounder.

The party has only four seats in Parliament and its leader, the hardline sovereigntist Mario Beaulieau, has already seen resignations and anger over his victory speech which included a chant formerly used by the terrorist Front de liberation du Quebec.

"This year's edition of Fete nationale is clearly not what I think some organizers would have hoped for," said Jack Jedwab, executive vice-president of the Association for Canadian Studies.

"There would have been sort of a sovereigntist spin on it, even though they say it's not partisan."

For many, though, it wasn't a political event — just a chance to have fun.

Despite the rain, Montreal's annual Fete nationale parade drew a diverse crowd as it snaked through downtown to Maisonneuve Park in the east end for an evening concert.

Maria-Theresa Sarmento, who moved from Portugal to Montreal 34 years ago, said she attends every year, even if it means getting wet.

"My three children were born here. This is home," explained Sarmento, who wore a blue-and-white headband with the words, "It's now the time to celebrate."

She said she holds no dreams of Quebec becoming a country.

As it stands, many feel the same way.

A recent Leger Marketing poll, commissioned by the Association for Canadian Studies, found that 61 per cent of respondents agreed that "Quebec will never separate from Canada." Another 27 per cent disagreed, while 12 per cent didn't know or didn't answer.

The poll, conducted between June 17-19, had a sample size of 1,000 respondents and a margin of error of plus or minus 2.9 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Along with the Bloc's Beaulieu, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair was the only other federal leader spotted at the Montreal parade, where he praised Quebec's cultural diversity.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper celebrated at a community centre in Saint-Lazare-de-Bellechasse, outside Quebec City.

In a statement, Harper said Tuesday's festivities "allow us to appreciate how Quebecois and Francophone heritage have contributed to building a united and prosperous Canada."

Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau also issued statements marking the holiday.

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