How to Interpret the Quebec Elections

On September 4th more than 71% of eligible voters cast their ballots to elect a new government in Quebec. The result: Pauline Marois’ PQ (Parti Québécois) barely got a hold of power with 54 seats (and less than 32% of the popular vote), just in front of Jean Charest’s Liberals, who won 50 seats (Charest lost his) and a little over 31% of the popular vote.  Marois’ PQ was also victorious over François Legault’s CAQ, who won 19 seats and got 27% of the vote and was far ahead of Québec Solidaire (QS), whose two co-heads are now in the National Assembly (N.A). What to make out of this strange result?

First of all, despite increasing worry over debt and public finances, the main division among parties is whether separation is a good idea or not. Using this premise, it can be explained why there are so many parties in the N.A. and also why there is a minority government. Indeed, despite Legault’s ambivalence towards separation, the CAQ can be considered a federalist party. And in many ridings (at least 20), the division between the PLQ and the CAQ secured a seat for the PQ.  However, the division of voters is even more obvious among separatists. QS, but also Option nationale (ON), are parties that had plans to make a referendum on separation. And in many ridings, especially in and around Montreal (only in Nicolet-Bécancour for ON) this division lets the CAQ, and sometimes the PLQ, get elected.

Liberalism Is Dead

Why is this dichotomy still so strong? Because every single party present before the election had statist convictions. Some are stronger than others; QS and ON want to tax “the rich” more heavily and nationalize all natural resources in order to offer more and better public services including free education.  Some like the CAQ, despite opening the door for a little (the key word being “little”) cleaning up of the bureaucracy and for some private initiative in health care, would not have changed the structure of the ministries of Health and Education.  These party members also think that people have a “right” to public services, i.e. to others’ product. Others, like the PLQ, want to spend more than 25 G$ on Charest’s “Plan Nord” (a heavy development of Quebec’s northern part, where natural resources may be profitable) even when the profitability is quite uncertain.

However, of all the parties, the PQ’s program was probably the most nationalistic, and also the most socialistic. Socialistic, because the party’s platform suggest that “Quebeckers” (all 8M of them) own all the resources (spread over 1.6M km2); therefore it is justified that there be a 5% tax of gross production even when there are losses, a 30% tax on “overprofit” (undefined), and a 50% tax on hydrocarbon production before taxes.   Also since the market (i.e. the actions and non-actions of every people on the planet) can’t be trusted, the government has to make businesses go through hoops in order to “create” quality jobs, encourage the use of wooden products, reach energy self-sufficiency by using means that have contributed to Spain’s financial difficulties[1], increase the size of our white elephant herd by massively spending on mass transit and its electrification, and by increasing spending on various other programs such as public daycare (CPE) and social housing. And you thought Ayn Rand wrote fiction…

The PQ agenda is nationalistic, because it wants to defend “our” national identity, “our” culture and “our” language. I’m pretty sure “our” culture excludes Pascale Picard, Arcade Fire, Leonard Cohen and a great many of Céline Dion’s songs. Besides, if “our” language and “our” culture need to be protected so badly, is it not because people simply don’t care about it? Despite all that was erected against it, French has been able to survive (barely in some cases, I admit it) throughout Canada because its speakers did not abandon it. In Quebec, it seems as if it were only the State’s business. People don’t even seem to consume their culture anyway[2]

Also, even if they received public money, artists like Céline Dion, Guy Laliberté (Le Cirque du Soleil) and even Gilles Vigneault were able to remain popular for so long because the product they offer was in demand. We can’t say much of the same for most of the finalists of Star Académie (Quebec Idol), whom for the most part have been forgotten.

The PQ’s nationalism is quite obvious with its desire to firm up Bill 101; notably by barring those who don’t have the right (based on the constitution) to English post-secondary education. I myself went to an English cégep, and I haven’t assimilated. My proficiency in English during these three years had improved light-years beyond what English classes taught me in the seven preceding years. But it probably doesn’t matter for Marois; I’m one of “us” and most therefore be united to “the people”.

It is also for that reason that the PQ wants to extend language requirements for businesses with more than 10 employees (the minimum is now 50). Should this happen, we will see that businesses do indeed incorporate more French in the work environment. But we will not see businesses that have not been created or that have not expanded beyond 10 employees in order to avoid the cost of Frenchification, just like what happens in France with workers committee[3].

However, since the PQ is a minority government and the CAQ and PLQ are less nationalistic and socialistic, most of the policies are unlikely to be adopted. And it would be a good thing: Marois’ willingness to simply abolish the tuition hike with a decree would set a dangerous precedent. Indeed, student boycotters – they refused to consume the product of education and were therefore boycotting their classes –, despite all their riots, vandalism and violence, would have won a victory implying that destroying is the way to win. Well, not quite: the CLASSÉ, the most radical fringe of boycotters[4] will now be demonstrating to get free schooling[5], not just tuition freeze.

People Can’t Think for Themselves

The other marking event of September 4th was of course the (apparent) assassination attempt of Marois in the hands of Richard Bain. What he muttered, “The anglophones are waking up”, created the wildest speculations from labour unions[6], language lobbyists[7] and even fringe right-wing (for limited government) parties[8]. But this way, all these people imply that Mr Bain was a totally irrational being, and that he unconsciously obeyed various orders. Unless he was mentally ill (the judge will decide), then he was perfectly sane. Even if he did hear some hateful messages, it is of absolutely no importance. He held the gun and shot.  It was not some “trash” radio host of anglophone journalist.  Bain might get accused and jailed for what he did, but no one else should.

In conclusion, the 2012 Quebec election was a rather strange one. Despite the extreme unpopularity of the PLQ (according to surveys), the party only lost 14 seats, while the PQ only gained four more. In order words, the province’s first female Premier (if a politician’s sex is of any importance) is likely to have a very animated first term. Unless, of course, she gives up her radical economic and social ideas and finally realizes that Quebec is a province whose potential is simply chocked by too many regulations and taxes.


One Response to “How to Interpret the Quebec Elections”

  1. lemoutongris says:

    Marois' decree to abolish tuition hike (and keep the improvment in the loans and bursaries) is now effective…

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