Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Putting It All Together

Since I'm outside of Quebec, some might find it odd that my evening consisted of sitting down in front of the TV and watching the provincial election results. After all, as an outsider to the province, I'm not familiar with every constituency and candidate, nor every issue of importance in the election.

However, given the opportunity for history in this election: The potential return of the Parti Qubecois, the first woman Premier in Quebec history, and the potential end of Jean Charest, it seemed like something a political junkie needed to watch.

For those of you who didn't, the result was both a hit and miss of what was expected. The CAQ, under former PQ Minister Francois Legault, underperformed in some regards but still managed to finish respectfully considering the age of the party. The Liberals staved off annihilation, surprising many, and remained a strong opposition party. And as of writing this, Jean Charest has been defeated in his own home riding of Sherbrooke.

Meanwhile, to some, the Parti Quebecois has also underperformed in this election. Considering the tainted record of the Charest Liberals, many expected the PQ to cruise to an easy victory regardless of the election timing. However, the election results remained close throughout the night and in the end it looks as though the PQ will only be governing Quebec with a minority government.

This has a few implications outside of Quebec that we will talk about in a moment.

Firstly, I'd like to focus on Mr. Charest. Like his Federal Party namesake, Charest found himself embroiled in a massive corruption scandal. There's a number of things politicians can do that ensures difficulty in future elections, and corruption is one of the bigger ones. As such, many people were expecting the Liberals (and Charest) to be on a major losing end in this election.

However, it seems that only Mr. Charest and a select few cabinet ministers were on the receiving end of the public's boot. Now, there will be a lot of political punditry over the coming weeks about why this was. The simple answer is that Anglophones in the province had no choice but to support the Liberals, yet there was still a desire to punish those near the top of the party.

As such, Charest's defeat in his own riding is seen more clearly through the scope of understanding that the public are directly punishing Charest, not the Liberal Party, for their corruption. Since the Liberals remain the only 'viable' option for federalist Anglophones, the party was likely never in the dangerous ground of being decimated in the province; but it seems that the people were unwilling to 'hold their nose and vote' for many in leadership positions.

In many ways, this will likely end up being a good thing for the party. Charest will step down as leader, allowing the party to find new directions and footing under a new leader; and provided that the leader is someone without direct ties to the Charest era, the corruption scandal that weighed down his final tenure as Premier should be put to rest.

That way, people can feel that the Liberals have been punished and they can perhaps see them as a viable option in future elections.

That brings us to the PQ win and the question of what this means for sovereignty.

As of writing this post, the PQ had around 32% of the popular vote in Quebec. This is well below some of the PQ's previous support numbers that led them into government; not to mention well short of the clear majority mandated by the Clarity Act for a future referendum.

Furthermore, the fact that a minority government was elected is also interesting in and of itself. I mentioned before in discussing Mr. Charest, on how voters were unwilling to hold their nose and vote for a party embroiled in scandal. But that raises the question on whether voters were willing to hold their nose and vote for the PQ as a means of pushing out/punishing the Liberals.

After all, there wasn't a majority PQ government; despite some polls suggesting that it was a strong possibility. Furthermore, with a minority, the PQ is going to find it hard to undertake actions moving towards another referendum. After all, the Liberals and the CAQ can outvote the PQ and the two Quebec Solidare members in the National Assembly, if they can work together on the issues.

As such, it would seem that a new referendum (and perhaps even the PQ's plans to strengthen Bill 101 and other actions) might be forced into the background until the PQ thinks they can have a new election and gain a majority. So, it would seem possible that we will see a PQ government that will have its hands tied and be unable to focus on sovereignty for a good chunk of their first term as government.

Now, I said that this election has some implications outside of Quebec, so let's talk about those.

In 2011, when the 'Orange Crush' threw the bulk of the Bloc Quebecois from Ottawa, there was a question about the future of Quebec sovereignty and whether or not we were on the verge of a more 'integrated' Quebec.

Obviously, some are going to say that tonight's election result shows that sovereignty in the province is alive and well.

However, there are some problems with this assumption. Firstly, we need to keep in mind the role the Liberals played in their own downfall. As noted, when embroiled in accusations of corruption, it is hard for a government to plead for another term. As such, with the CAQ being a 'light' separatist party, people were presented with few options for a Federalist, not quite Anglophobe party.

The fact that the Liberals weren't decimated and reduced to third party status behind the CAQ, which the PQ suffered under Andre Bosclair and the then ADQ in the last election, suggests that those with pro-federalist leanings are at least alive and well; and also willing to vote for a party that is less than perfect simply because they have no other option.

Secondly, the PQ minority elected with only 32% of the vote shows that people don't seem to be too much behind the PQ. There are two factors that lead to an advantage of the PQ over the Liberals and they are as follows:

The Liberals had to be punished in the mind of the electorate for their ties to corruption; and we can see that punishment through the defeat of Charest and senior cabinet members. Secondly, the PQ is able to court voters from the left of the political spectrum.

For the most part, the Liberals and the CAQ are entrenched firmly in the centre to centre-right political spectrum. So, people looking for left-leaning ideologies can really only look to the PQ as their political option during an election. As such, the question of how many left-leaning voters supported the PQ because of their approach to social issues (such as addressing tuition costs) as opposed to their hardline on separation is worth noting.

As such, in my mind at least and from looking at the results, I would not say that this is proof that separatist sentiment is doing well in Quebec. From what I can gather from the results, it would seem that this outcome is more about turfing the Liberals for their misdeeds.

This is further supported by the fact that the CAQ underperformed in this election. As noted, the CAQ is a 'separatist' party, but takes a slower approach than the PQ. Given that they languished in 3rd place behind the Liberals, it seems safe to say that separatism was not a guiding factor in the PQ victory.

While many will suggest that this could be the start of a new separatist movement in Quebec; and don't get me wrong, depending on what Marois does with the time she is given and who the Liberals select as a new leader, it is possible that this could GROW into a new separatist movement; as of this moment, this election was more about the need for change and accountability in government than it was about the desire of Quebec to leave Canada.

Locally; the Saskatchewan NDP has kicked off its leadership race and the expected candidates should be stepping forward shortly. As an 'undecided' NDP member, I'm going to try and cover the candidates as best as possible; some of which I have already explored in previous posts. So, hopefully that will become a useful tool for my fellow undecided people out there.

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