A generational shift had a great deal to do with the relegation of the Parti Quebecois to the opposition benches in Monday’s Quebec election.
Normally, elections in other provinces are of little interest to B.C. residents. But the PQ mused about separatism (including passports and borders) and campaigned openly on a Charter of Quebec Values that was one of the most discriminatory documents in recent Canadian history. This captured a lot of attention nationally, and caused a large majority of younger voters to flee.
Some went to the Liberals, who won 41.5 per cent of the vote, 70 seats and a majority government. A significant number went to the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), which promised not to focus on separatism, but rather on the economy, and some went to the left-wing Quebec Solidaire separatist party which, significantly, opposed the charter.
Premier Pauline Marois borrowed a page from Adrian Dix’s unsuccessful campaign in B.C. a year ago. She went off script part way through the campaign, bringing up separatism and a referendum after her star candidate Pierre-Karl Peladeau raised his fist in the air and proclaimed the need for independence. It was her “Kinder Morgan” moment, damage she could not repair. Even though some of those who voted against her support separatism, very few want a referendum any time soon.
Her lack of focus on jobs and the economy was also a crucial error. Quebec has one of the weakest economies in the country, the highest debt and a poor job creation record. Any talk of separatism causes investors to give it the cold shoulder. Marois seemed unperturbed by all this.
The charter captured the most attention outside Quebec. While it was supported by a significant number of Quebeckers, it was anathema to many younger, urban residents. They are as comfortable with multiculturalism as younger people in other urban parts of Canada. Montreal is a very cosmopolitan city, and the charter, with Marois’ pledges to fire doctors, nurses, daycare workers and teachers who wear religious symbols, angered many.
The charter would not pass muster when challenged in court, so in the last week of the campaign, Marois stated that she would use the notwithstanding clause to ensure that it took effect. While some undoubtedly cheered, that was another reminder to many voters just how off course the PQ was.
New premier Philippe Couillard has a lot of promise. He is a former cabinet minister, has international experience as a surgeon, is an unconditional federalist, and stated that Canada is a great country to be part of. At the same time, he plans to vigorously defend the French language for, as he said, Quebec is the only place in North America where French is the majority language. However, he extended an olive branch to other Quebeckers in his victory speech, which is a good omen.
Couillard has promised to tackle some of the province’s economic issues, and CAQ leader Francois Legault will continually remind him of the urgency of doing so. Meanwhile, the PQ is now leaderless, with Marois having resigned on Monday night. Perhaps its days are numbered.