April 8, 2014 § 1 Comment
Last night’s Québec election was about the worst outcome imaginable, as far as I’m concerned. The Parti libéral du Québec won a majority, with 70 seats in the National Assembly. The PLQ also took 42% of the popular vote. The Parti québécois got the clock cleaning it deserved, reduced to 30 seats and a scant 25% of the popular vote. Pauline Marois also lost her seat. The third place finisher was the Coalition pour l’avenir du Québec, with 22 seats and 23% of the popular vote. And finally, Québec solidaire is bringing up the rear with 3 seats and 8% of the popular vote.
The upside is the contemptible Marois is out of office and out of the National Assembly. But that’s about as far as it goes for me. Two years ago, Montréal streets were full of hundreds of thousands of protesters. The protests began when then-PLQ Premier Jean Charest declared he would lift the tuition freeze in Québec and let tuition rise. Students protested. I felt, as a professor, it was my duty to join them, to ensure that they would continue to enjoy first class education at an affordable price. A generation ago, it was my generation fighting for the right to an affordable education, this was their turn. But they needed help. But then Charest went whole hog on the protesters, and began denying their civil rights, declaring it illegal for protesters to cover their faces, amongst other things. And the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal weren’t exactly excited about allowing citizens their right to protest, quickly declaring protests illegal as an excuse to kettle, arrest, and otherwise abuse protesters. This was the tipping point, however. This is when something beautiful happened in Québec: the people came out to join the students. Not just professors, but the average Quebecer was out there, appalled at M. Charest for denying the students their rights.
This movement got dubbed the Printemps erable, a play on the Arab Spring across the world. There are all kinds of problems with this appellation, of course. Quebecers weren’t getting shot in the streets, our lives were not in danger, we were not a stifled populace under a brutal dictatorship, as in Egypt and other places.
There was a provincial election campaign in the midst of all of this. Pauline Marois got out there on the streets, wearing the carré rouge, the sign of protest, promising to undo Charest’s sins. One of the students’ leaders, Léo Bureau-Blouin, ran for the PQ in a Montréal area riding. Marois rode the tide of protest to office, though with a minority government. And almost immediately, she changed her tone. Amongst her greatest sins was the Charte des valeurs, which was to impose la laïcité on Québec, which, as I noted yesterday, in and of itself is not a bad thing. But when it’s used to target Jews and Muslims, well, then there is a problem. And in the wake of Marois’ declaration of the charte, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim activity increased in Québec, especially in and around Montréal. Ugly times had returned.
Marois staked her case for re-election on the charte. She thought that by denigrating every single Quebecer, by appealing to the lowest common denominator, by loudly declaring that Québec is an intolerant society, she could win a majority. Happily her cynical move failed. And now she is just another failed politician. I hope she loses sleep over this.
What many Québec Anglophones fail to recognise is a degree of difference in the sovereignty movement. Thus, the PLQ can rely upon Anglo votes. For example, in the Wesmount-Saint Louis riding of Montréal, which is a predominately Anglophone riding, the PLQ member, Jacques Chagnon, was re-elected was 83.2% of the vote. The sovereignty movement has never been built on a push to get rid of Anglos, or to otherwise strip them of their rights. René Lévesque, the founder of the PQ and the modern sovereignty movement, was always clear on that, as has been pretty much every leader of the PQ, with the exceptions of the noted Anglophile Jacques Parizeau and Marois. In the 2000s, the sovereignty movement attempted to move more explicitly to a civic nationalism, one that was meant to include all Quebecers, irrespective of skin colour, mother tongue, or religion. But it failed.
It failed because of small-minded provincialists of the likes of Marois, Mathieu Bock-Côté, and opportunists like Bureau-Blouin. They thought they could fall back on exclusionary politics to achieve their goal of an independent Québec. Happily, they failed miserably.
But the outcome might be even worse. With Marois gone, candidates for leadership of the PQ have emerged, the early frontrunners are the detestable Pierre-Karl Péledeau and Jean-François Lisée. Péladeau is filthy stinking rich, a member of the 1% if ever there was one. Before entering politics last month, he ran Quebecor, one of the world’s largest printers, which had recently branched into media. It publishes the vile Sun chain of newspapers across Canada, as well as owning Sun TV. In Québec, he owned about 2/3 of the private broadcasters, as well as the Journal newspaper chain. Lysée is a small-minded academic.
And then there’s the CAQ. A right-wing sovereigntist party. Frankly, given the current situation, the only way I see forward is for the CAQ and the PQ to merge. The CAQ and its leader, François Legault, are mostly former PQ members anyway. And if Péledeau or Lysée are going to continue to push the PQ further to the right, there is no difference between the two parties.
In other words, the sovereigntist movement, which has long been based on a model of social justice, has abandoned that in recent years. It is this belief in social justice which led me to support sovereigntist parties in Québec more than anything. The PLQ isn’t exactly noted for its progressivism. In short, the PLQ is just another right-wing, pro-business, anti-labour, anti-social justice party. So now Québec will have three of those, which together garnered 90% of the vote last night.
And that, frankly, depresses me. And I see Pauline Marois as at the fault of this.