Canada may be stalled at a constitutional crossroads to many, but the estimated 5,000 people who turned out for an "independence feast" here Sunday were not -- it looked like a Stanley Cup victory parade.
Sunday's parade and gala evening concert marking Quebec's national holiday, St. Jean Baptiste Day, was postponed 24 hours after forecasts of rain. But when the sun came out, so did the people.
The 1990 theme, "A parade to make you dream," was a long-planned celebration of the rebirth of Quebec's independence movement by those who expected the death of the Meech Lake Accord. When the parade was canceled, "we held our own feast," said Jean Pierre Cote.
Cars and people mobbed St. Denis, a cafe-studded street in Montreal's East End, waving the blue and white provincial flag, honking car horns, singing, waving banners proclaiming "Quebec, it's my country," and cheering wildly.
Street vendors hawked T-shirts reading, "At last, yes, Rene," a reference to the late separatist leader Rene Levesque. Sovereignty buttons, licence plates and even a vial of "Meech Lake Water," filled with separate red and blue liquids, all found eager buyers.
"Something has happened and there's something new. We don't know what yet, but we can feel it already," said Robert Loiselle. It's no longer 1980, when the separatist referendum was defeated, he added. "We feel more confident, more powerful and proud."
"The squabble is over. We'll go our own way. That's for sure. Independence? That might happen," said Paul Larochelle.
After the Meech Lake Accord failed Saturday, Quebec Premier Robert Bourassa said in a televised address: "I took a risk with history in coming with the most moderate demands. It failed. Don't ask me now to go back to the bargaining table."
Bourassa has ruled out negotiating on the constitution, saying discussing Senate reform and changes for native peoples was now out of the question.
"We have nothing against the other provinces. We're proud of Ontario because the premier (David Peterson) was working for us (in support of the accord)," said Lyne Cormier. "We would like to stay good friends with Ontario and the rest of the country. Although we probably won't visit Newfoundland next year," referring to Newfoundland's Premier Clyde Wells, who canceled a vote, scuttling the accord.
Unlike the anti-English fury of the late 1970s and early '80s, this march was rowdy but celebratory, reflecting the new confidence and self-determination.
That Quebec nationalists are now more entrepreneurial than radical was evident when an English-speaking Canadian, asking a street vendor about nationalist banners for sale, was spoken to in English and even given a cut-rate price to encourage the sale.
Marla Rapoport, a bilingual physiotherapist living in Montreal, said French Canadians are generally more secure in their identity. "They're happy as long as we don't get pushy about language rights," she said.
Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, spending Sunday in the Quebec town of Baie St. Paul, said he would accept bilateral talks with Bourassa. "I have no doubt that justice will eventually be done to Quebec, and Canada will regain its unity," Mulroney said.
In the meantime, Quebec will try to gain from Ottawa some of what it could not get in the Meech Lake Accord. Control over immigration would allow Quebec to raise its immigrant totals independent of federal limits. Quebec has to rely heavily on immigration to keep its population from falling.
Allan Gregg, president of the polling firm Decima Research, expects today's parade to be "the first blush of a perverse jubilation that precedes radical change. Quebeckers have said if push comes to shove, we can make it on our own. We'll see that confidence on St. Jean Baptiste Day."