Broad results of Monday’s provincial election in Quebec are quite clear: the Liberal Party, lead by neurosurgeon Philippe Couillard, has won a solid majority government. The Parti Québécois, now reduced to the role of official opposition, has suffered a major defeat. And the rest of Canada gets to heave a sigh of relief.
We are already into hindsight territory where it can be said ousted Premier Pauline Marois made a bad bet at the outset and reaped a whirlwind of rejection. Last night Marois lost her own riding and announced she would step down as party leader, 18 months after she became Quebec’s first female premier.
The timing of this election was largely hers to control. The Parti Québécois chose the wrong campaign wedge issue – a controversial and divisive secular values charter. Most importantly, if accidentally, the PQ opened the door for the campaign to be about the exhausting issue of national sovereignty. That proved to be a decidedly unattractive prospect, for now at least, according to a majority of Quebec voters.
Few would have predicted this outcome going into the election. Many thought voters had yet to completely forget and forgive past sins laid at the feet of the previous Liberal government, after a tide of corruption scandals.
Quebec Liberals may have won fewer seats if the other flavors of nationalist parties in Quebec could successfully merge. It’s often observed that the so-called left on Canada’s national scene could likely replace Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party if the Federal Liberals and the NDP ever become one. Indeed, a main reason conservatives run Canada now is because the Progressive Conservative Party and the Canadian Alliance swallowed their divisions and merged a little over ten years ago.
But back to Quebec. What voters there really seem to want is fewer side-shows about religious symbols and bad-mouthing bilingualism and more focus on “real issues” like the economy and health care.
Here’s how the CBC’s Michelle Gagnon put that in this analysis: “Quebec election 2014: Philippe Couillard’s mandate – to be anything but the PQ”
For an election that many called rough and nasty, it was uplifting to hear some words of praise for the political process. Even before Monday’s vote, Michael Den Tandt wrote in Postmedia News that despite sharp pushing and yelling, the campaign still represented something healthy:
The cut and thrust of debate and reportage in Quebec media over the past month has been a sight to behold. Investigative reporting by journalists such as Radio Canada’s Alain Gravel, and independent commentary by columnists such as La Presse’s Vincent Marissal, set a high standard indeed. So did the four main party leaders themselves, in two televised contests; these were among the most hard-fought, intelligently gruelling political debates I have seen.
Not only did yesterday’s election say a lot about Quebec voters, Den Tandt thinks a similar story could be waiting in the wings outside of Quebec:
Since the 2008-09 recession, Canadians — including Quebecers this spring — have shown steadily declining patience with any program of government, or pattern of behaviour by a politician, that does not constitute a laser focus on value for taxpayers’ money, and simple economic pragmatism. The PQ bet the farm on the notion that Quebecers could be persuaded to coalesce around a philosophical, theoretical concept — the so-called charter of Quebec values — with economic management more or less taken for granted. It was a critical miscalculation, and holds lessons for federal politics — where the Harper government is busily shoring up its credentials as the cautious economic steward of choice — and the Ontario election in the offing.
I find it a bit audacious to write about politics in Quebec without understanding French and being able to follow the debate as it actually happens there. So it would be especially nice to hear comments from Quebec residents about what they think this election means, and what they’d like to see next.