Identity politics and secession booted out of Quebec

This week's Quebec election has dashed the dreams of the sovereigntists and unceremoniously routed the incumbent party for its disingenuous attempts to attack immigrants under the guise of equality through a strange interpretation of secularism. 

This week’s Quebec election which delivered a historic routing of the incumbent  sovereigntists with their ugly identity politics and secret plans to hold a third referendum to secede from Canada, is likely to be studied in political science classes for decades to come. 

It will qualify on a number of counts - do Independence Movements just die away after a couple of generations of trying? Do young people care about being a separate country more than they care about finding a job and/or paying off student loans? Will Quebec voters’ slap to the face of unrelenting polarizing politics impact on the likes of the upcoming Scottish Referendum to secede from the UK? 

Not the least however is the question of whether the past 33 days of dirty play in Quebec prove that there are indeed benefits to be had from election campaigns if, as was certainly the case here, they can reveal who the politicians really are.

Let’s face it, campaigns are usually a fairly predictable string of over-organised and embarrassing photo ops in silly hats delivering fuzzy commitments. They are, for those reasons, rather tedious.

Not Quebec. Well not this time anyway.

The result was a shattering of the hopes for an Independent Quebec, and an utter rejection of ethnocentric nationalism dressed up as an urgent need for secularism. Incumbent Pauline Marois and her Parti Quebecois (PQ) were rightfully shown the door.

The hubris of the petty and incompetent Premier convinced of her ability to bluff her way to an undeserved victory by calling a snap election, was stripped bare.

She chose to try for a majority after just 18 months in office, and based her campaign on what was nothing other than a full-scale attack on ethnic minorities, federalists and those who promoted the benefits of bilingualism. Her star candidate winded her by standing on stage and raising his fist to Quebec as a country for his children.

Marois spent the rest of the campaign trying to avoid questions about a referendum on secession. 

Yet what emerged was the Marois team’s thinking that ‘one language good; two language bad - or at least an undermining of the meaning of being a true Quebecker, and a well founded suspicion that a referendum would be pursued, just not talked about during this campaign. 

Add to that, and without going over all the details which have been discussed before, the essence of the yet-to-be-introduced-and-now-dead-in-the-water ‘Quebec Charter of Values’ was to ban conspicuous religious dress or symbols in public sector jobs - hijabs, kippas, turbans and the like.

The huge crucifix hanging in the Quebec Legislature was deemed OK because it was apparently part of Quebec’s Catholic heritage.

The charter which targeted immigrant communities was denounced as unconstitutional by the Quebec Bar Association, the Human Rights Commission was no fan given the appeals that would arise, and as the Centre for Jewish Affairs in the province noted it was a ‘false solution to a nonexistent problem’. 

All polling pointed to the charter as a naked political appeal to the PQ base of older, rural, lesser educated francophones. 

It’s impact on the likes of Muslim women working in kindergartens and daycares or in hospitals was going to be extreme.

Instead it all proved extreme for Maoris who lost her riding, and her party posted its worst election result since the 1970s.

But wait, there’s more.

Marois lost to a party that she ousted only 18 months ago because it was so mired in  corruption that it could no longer splutter on, the mud was so thick and flying so fast.

The Liberals were completely embroiled in rumours and allegations of back room deals, dubious campaign donations and a commission into corruption - the Charbonneau Commission - televised tales that the Sporanos could only dream of.

Invariably a Liberal politician or bureaucrat was tarred with at least guilt by association, and it really became all too much for the province to stomach.

Drive on Quebec ‘roads’ and you would be quick to understand how peeved voters became when they learned of fixed contracts and skimming to such a degree some bureaucrats were known by the percentage they took - Mr 5% and his colleagues of more or lesser degrees.

The irony for the incoming premier, Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard, is the Charbonneau Commission has just resumed hearings, and he has already been put on the spot in terms of what he would do should any of his cabinet nominations find themselves hauled before Madame Charbonneau to give account of their actions.


So, given all that does not smell of roses with the incoming Liberals brand, it’s pertinent to ask how Marois could blow it all in such a short time? (Couillard took 70 of the National Assembly’s 125 seats).

The Marois budget was not credible, she was heading for a no-confidence vote, she was either disingenuous or actually convinced her Values Charter was popular enough to get her a majority. I suspect the first.

Then she had to go through the motions of a pesky election campaign which immediately unsettled her and revealed  loud and clear that most Quebeckers can tell the difference between populism and principle, and on the latter, the Lady was found wanting.

She will not be missed, but given relatively recent Liberals' form, Marois' misfortune does not necessarily translate into a long honeymoon for Mr Couillard - brain surgeon that he actually is!