Quebec’s Messy Election: The results could determine if we are really a sea to sea country.

Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

April 2, 2014


It is a messy business – the election in Quebec.  The Parti Québécois (PQ) is a separatist party, bent on splitting up Canada, but ever since RenéLévesque founded the PQ it has been a pro-labour socialist party as well.  So you can imagine the jaws dropping at the press conference where leader Pauline Marois introduced her star candidate, former Quebecor newspaper oligarch, Pierre Karl Péladeau.  PKP, as he is known, was a sworn enemy of trade unions everywhere, from the press/printing rooms to the ink drying between the pages of the newspapers in his media empire.

Marois called the election less than two years into her minority government because the polls were in her favour.  And she needed a majority government to run her partys third (and presumably last) referendum on sovereignty.  Strategically she would want to do that while Stephen Harper is still PM, given his low standing among Quebecers of all stripes – so before the 2015 election to be safe.  That she has been organizing the next referendum is the worst-kept secret in Canada.

As PKP took the podium, there was this rush of wind as Quebecs union leaders, always a backbone of the party, headed for the door and into the waiting arms of the opposition Liberals.  Then to add insult to injury, PKP, the neophyte politician, blurted out that he wanted to make Quebec an independent country.  It didnt take long for the polls to register this comment and  Marois to find herself a Shakespearian tragic heroine, watching her dreams of a much coveted majority government dissipate in a whiff of smoke, as non-separatist PQ supporters went shopping for another party. 

Some people just dont know when to quit, and Marois was one of those, picking up the separatist theme, speculating on how an independent Quebec would use the Canadian dollar and be invited to sit on the board of the Bank of Canada.  Eventually she realized shed gone too far and slipped the muzzle over the too-enthusiastic PKP and herself.

The truth is that most Quebecers are weary of all this referenda nonsense.  Independence referenda are the flavour of the year it seems – Scotland, Venice and Ukrainian Crimea, of course.  But it takes a lot of energy and emotion to get your interest up for something that has failed the last two times they tried it – and that the polls show would fail again.  And if not lucky the third time, does this make it conclusive – Quebec is in Canada to stay?  That prospect must be as discomforting to hardened separatists as it would be pleasing to the ears of federalists.

And then there is the economic reality.  Quebecs economy is not a happy place.  They have the lowest per capita income in the country, save that of the three maritime provinces.  On top of that Quebec is carrying the highest debt-to-GDP ratio of any of the provinces, about half of its annual GDP.  And the province is the most dependent have-notin receipt of federal equalization payments to help subsidize its government services, receiving almost half of the entire federal equalization budget of sixteen billion dollars a year. 

In the first leadersdebate Marois finally got it.  Newly minted Liberal leader Phillippe Couillard hammered her on her hidden agenda, scoring big points and good poll numbers.  So Marois relented and almost promised there would be no referendum coming from a PQ government should they get elected, just a white paper on the provinces future in Canada.

With that out of the way, the two leaders went after each other on ethics and corruption. Couillard has some questionable business linkages, and there was that Montreal corruption scandal, which made Montrealers almost wish they had Rob Ford as mayor – but not quite.  And then we find out that Maroiss partner has been accused of influence peddling, bringing the corruption issue to a draw – one as bad as the other.

As the campaign draws to a close, the Premier realizes that her big project, her highly divisive (some would say racist) Charter of Valueshardly saw any air in the debates – and like it or not nobody wanted to discuss it.  Nor is anyone taking her seriously when a desperate Marois complains about students from other provinces registering as voters in an effort to steal the election. 

Of the other parties, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), appears to have lost its lustre, as third parties often do in Quebec politics, and its voters will likely go back to the Liberals.  And the upstart Québec Solidaire, the extreme separatist and green/socialist party, may become the new home for hard core Quebec nationalists further weakening the PQ.

The candidates head to the polls this coming Monday and nothing is certain at this point.  But somebody will win and it might well be with a majority.  Interestingly  there have only been two minority governments in Quebec since confederation.  The tone of this election campaign reflects the times we live in; heated by the divisive issue of separatism; clouded by the efforts to restrict freedom of expression and; stained by the ever-present corruption.

A third of all Quebecers never wanted to be in Canada.  A third are content to be part of the great Canadian experiment.  And the remaining third are willing to be swayed by the most persuasive and seductive of national and provincial leaders.  Pauline Marois called this election in order to finish the process that Lévesque had started almost a half century ago.

If she fails to win a majority, Marois may will have to wait to another day for that big prize.  On the other hand, if the 65 year old tireless war horse loses this election to the Liberals, that job will be left to another PQ leader on another, even more distant, day.  And we can all get on with our normal lives.

Background links:

Marois Corruption Link


 Preparing for the Referendum

Historical Elections


Election Predictions


Equalization Payments

PKP Union Buster

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2 comments to Quebec’s Messy Election: The results could determine if we are really a sea to sea country.

  • Bill Statten

    A very informative, balanced, and unbiased article on the looming Quebec election. Congratulations

  • parrking

    What is PKP going to do when the PQ loses the election? What is Canada going to do if they win?