Talking Politics With the Self-Styled Bernie Sanders of Quebec

Dan Bilefsky interviewing Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, a proponent of Quebec’s independence from Canada.

MONTREAL — Since arriving back in Montreal after nearly three decades abroad, one of the most striking changes I’ve noticed has been the seeming retreat of the separatist movement here. The younger generation seems far more focused on becoming the Quebecois Steve Jobs than in fomenting revolution.

So as I began my Quebec road trip this week in my hometown, I sought out Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, a charismatic young proponent of Quebec’s independence from Canada. My aim was to try and understand how the movement has evolved since the culture wars of the 1980s, when the province was buffeted by the aftermath of a referendum on independence.

Mr. Nadeau-Dubois is a proud left-winger, who compares his politics to that of Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn or Jean-Luc Mélenchon. He was one of the leaders of the 2012 “Maple Spring,” huge student protests against an increase in university tuition fees that galvanized a generation of young Quebecois. He is also unrepentant about Quebec pursuing its national sovereignty.

“Quebec needs to change the rules of the game, and that is not possible when Canada is based on a system in which Queen Elizabeth is the head of state and the constitutional system is centuries old,” he told me on Monday over a coffee in Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie, a gentrifying working-class neighborhood. It is part of the district he represents in the province’s National Assembly as one of three members from his left-wing party, Quebec Solidaire.

While he acknowledged that the separatist movement was “not at its peak,” he stressed that about 30 percent to 40 percent of Quebecois supported an independent Quebec, according to recent polls.

Moreover, he argued that Quebec’s independence would help neutralize the province’s simmering far right by expunging easy nationalism and xenophobia in favor of cultural affirmation and human rights. Having an independent country, Mr. Nadeau-Dubois said, would mitigate against fear of the other.

I’d be interested to hear what younger Canadians think of the separatist movement today. Please share your thoughts with me here, as well other ideas you might have for people I should meet and places I should visit to gain a richer sense of Quebec’s identity today.

Mr. Nadeau-Dubois embodies a new strain in Quebecois politics, seeking to tap into…

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