Pauline and her merry band of PQ supporters have had a terrible month. via WikiCommons.
Parti Québécois operatives probably woke up this morning feeling pretty queasy, because their latest numbers are not good.
A recent Léger-Journal de Montréal poll has Philippe Couillard’s Liberal Party of Quebec enjoying a hefty lead over the PQ: 40 percent of respondents prefer the Liberals and only 33 prefer the PQ. This isn’t a fluke. As far as sample sizes go, this one, with over 3,600 respondents, is pretty big.
So how did the PQ get here? Just a few short weeks ago they thought they’d be cruising to a big win. There was talk of a PQ majority, there were questions about Couillard’s avowed federalist bent and charisma and the PQ’s very controversial secularism charter was, by most accounts, pretty popular.
But then it went all screwy. Or rather, the PQ went screwy with a combination of some bad hires, bizarro conspiracy theories, and relentless accusations of ignoring the principal issues (jobs, the economy) while focussing on distractions like the charter and a referendum on separating from Canada. Let’s look at these one by one to get an idea of how things went so sour for Quebec’s leading sovereignty party.
Bad Hires: Early on in the campaign, the PQ made a very big splash by announcing that local media baron and very rich guy Pierre-Karl Péladeau was joining the team. PKP (whose company, Quebecor, owned and shuttered my former employer, the Montreal Mirror) would add some economic savvy to a party accused of being composed of lightweights, artists, and intellectuals. It gave the party a jolt, but then people remembered PKP is a big-time union-buster—in 2011 he locked out unionized newsrooms at two of his biggest dailies and hired scabs. The unions, traditionally big supporters of the PQ, freaked out. And voters on the PQ’s left-wing are now eyeing Québec solidaire, a true-blue progressive lefty party with sovereignist leanings.
And then there are lower-profile, even weirder candidates. Take Jean Carrière, who was running in a Montreal riding until someone looked on his Facebook page and discovered a picture he posted of a woman flipping the bird, that was captioned: “Fuck Islam.” It was meant to be a pro-feminist statement, he said, because nothing says female freedom than slandering a religion! The PQ dropped him immediately (no big loss though: he was running in a fairly safe Liberal riding).
Then there's Louise Mailloux, a CEGEP professor who compared circumcision and baptism to rape, and repeated the absurd theory that the kosher food industry is a conspiracy created to make rabbis money. PQ leader Pauline Marois said she made those comments in the past and is now currently down with the party’s platform, which for all its talk of secularism does not read like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Mailloux is running against Québec solidaire’s leader in a gentrified Montreal riding and will likely lose. With Mailloux on our minds, we move on to…
Bizarro conspiracy theories: This weekend the PQ was in a tizzy because they thought students from Ontario and the rest of Canada are trying to “steal this election from Quebecers.” That’s a direct quote. Their fears stem from an election worker in a downtown Montreal riding who resigned last week, because he said there were too many anglophones and allophones (that’s people who speak neither English or French at home) registering to vote. So the PQ went on the offensive, until the theory was debunked by Elections Quebec on Sunday afternoon. Amid much confusion and accusations that students who are in fact eligible to vote are being denied their rights, things seem to have settled down, but not before the PQ was made to look paranoid, foolish, and cynical. (And not to sound conspiracy-minded myself, but the story was given a huge amount of play on Sunday by the Journal de Montréal—a daily newspaper jewel in Quebecor’s crown).
Losing the issues battle: The PQ’s raison d’être is an independent Quebec. That’s no secret. But support for a referendum on the issue is low, and the PQ's opponents, especially Couillard, know it. During last week’s televised debate, Couillard hammered home his accusation that Marois was preparing to launch Quebec into another referendum on sovereignty, while ignoring issues like jobs (Quebec lost 26,000 of them in February alone) and debt (at $175.5-billion, it’s the highest by far per capita in the country). Marois didn’t help her cause by equivocating on the issue, saying that a PQ government would only hold a referendum if the Quebec population was ready for one.
With less than two weeks to go before Election Day, it would be a mistake to write the PQ off completely. Strange things can happen in a very short time. But, it's certainly beginning to look as if Pauline Marois has suffered a stunning collapse in political fortunes, in the span of just over a month.