Perhaps an hour before voting for the next government of Canada ended on October 19, I called a well connected politically acquaintance here in Quebec. A member of and former candidate for the Parti Quebecois. My acquaintance remains committed to the philosophy that Quebec will fare better divorced from confederation and insists the rest of Canada will not lament Quebec’s departure. At least not for very long.
Ironically perhaps, I’m writing this column on the 20th anniversary of the 1995 Quebec referendum on sovereignty. The final ballot tally that night, as you’ll recall, saw Quebeckers, by the narrowest of possible margins, less than a percentage point, reject the sovereignist option. For better or worse and without counselling, the union of the two solitudes would continue “au prochain” (until the next time).
“Au prochain” appears to have become increasingly elusive for nationalists in here. While the Parti Quebecois was elected to govern by minority prior to the 2014 provincial election, the moment the independence option was spoken publicly by PQ star candidate and billionaire businessman Pierre Karl Peladeau, the electability of the Parti Quebecois sank precipitously and continuously, leading to a huge majority federalist Liberal Party provincial government.
So I asked my PQ acquaintance what his expectations were for the night of October 19. He suggested whatever the outcome, the field consisted of mediocrity at best. Sounded like sour grapes. “Even the Bloc?” “Oui.” In fact he wished the Bloc Quebecois would simply dissolve and stop fielding candidates in national elections because they served no purpose. “Other than,” I offered “than to distil further any attraction particularly younger Quebeckers may feel toward the province becoming sovereign.”
As irrelevant as the BQ had become in 2011 federally, with just two elected MPs, the party still represents the sovereignist ambition in votes. A poor performance with Quebeckers continuing to reject sending BQ MPs to Ottawa would inevitably impact the Parti Quebecois.
The BQ did improve its seat count from two to nine on October 19, but its leader Gilles Duceppe, instead of becoming the Phoenix rising from the ashes of the 2011 humiliation, was handed his second consecutive personal defeat and the caucus of nine continues to lack significance not only in Ottawa, but also here.
What influenced Quebec voters decision-making? There was a dislike of the Conservatives, a growing ambivalence toward a Thomas Mulcair-led NDP (nostalgia for Jack Layton remained strong) and a willingness to, previous distaste for a different and autocratic Prime Minister named Trudeau notwithstanding, park their votes if only temporarily with the Liberals.
I spoke with several Anglophone women determined to vote Liberal because they didn’t feel the NDP could win nationally and that Justin Trudeau could, as long as strategic ballot marking denied Stephen Harper’s Conservatives a return to power. That, it turns out was a view shared by many more Anglophones, particularly on the island of Montreal. This even though Mr. Harper did connect viscerally on the niqab issue, but not enough so to overcome the handicap the Conservative Party routinely encounters in Quebec
Quebeckers are political opportunists. This time they chose Mr. Trudeau and the Liberals as winners. The losers? From a provincial perspective definitely the sovereignists.
Next time? “Au prochain.”
Written by: Roy Green