OTTAWA (Reuters) - The son of one of the greatest defenders of Canadian unity, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, has stirred up a hornets’ nest by speculating about backing Quebec separatism if the country moves too far right.
Trudeau’s 40-year-old son, Justin, now a Liberal member of Parliament, said in an interview with the French-language service of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp on Sunday that he was enormously saddened by the direction of the country under Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
He said that at some point he might even back independence for his home province, French-speaking Quebec. Referendums in Quebec on independence in 1980 and 1995 both failed, the last one by a mere 1.2 percentage points.
“I always say, if at a certain point I thought that Canada was really the Canada of Stephen Harper - that we were going against abortion, and we were going against gay marriage and we were going backwards in 10,000 different ways - maybe I would think about wanting to make Quebec a country,” he said.
That statement caught the CBC interviewer off guard, and he asked him to verify what he had just said.
“Yes, yes, absolutely. If I no longer recognized Canada, I know my values very well,” he said, and then added: “But I believe deeply in Canada.”
His father was Liberal prime minister of Canada from 1968 to 1979 and again from 1980 to 1984, and he fiercely defended a united Canada that included his native Quebec.
It took a little time for Justin Trudeau’s remarks to be noticed broadly but they exploded on the Internet on Tuesday and his name was trending on Twitter, drawing him into the fray with a Tweet of his own.
A fellow Canadian asked him on Twitter, “Please reassure me you are not OK with Quebec separating.”
He responded: “Don’t worry...: exactly the opposite: Canada needs Qc to balance out Harper’s vision that I (and many) just don’t support.”
He did not respond to queries from Reuters.
Even 17 years after the last Quebec referendum, the topic is still raw with emotion among Canadians who fretted about the Alaska-sized province being torn out of their country, and among the separatists who came within a whisker of winning in 1995.
Those pushing for Quebec independence are currently in some disarray but vow to press ahead with another try when the conditions are right.
Harper’s Conservatives were reelected last May with a majority in the House of Commons, reducing the once-mighty Liberals to third-party status.
Harper has pledged not to reopen debate on abortion or gay marriage, both of which are legal in Canada.
Pierre Trudeau died in 2000.
Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Peter Galloway