Pauline Marois was at the helm of the PQ's worst showing since the 1970s. Photo via Facebook.
In a bid to gain a majority government, and bolstered by the seeming popularity of a secular charter in rural Quebec, Pauline Marois gambled on an election… and lost.
The story here isn’t so much that the Parti Quebecois lost, but how badly: it wasn’t even close. In fact, Marois couldn’t even hold the seat in her own riding, eventually losing to Liberal Caroline Simard. It was a drubbing of Super Bowl proportions. By winning only 30 seats—less than half of the Liberals 70 out of the total 125 ridings—it was their worst showing since the 1970s, and so brutal that the normally-polite live CBC Radio coverage called it “humiliating.” The result: choked up with emotion, Marois stepped down as the leader of the PQ.
But if you’d asked anyone a month ago if this could have happened, they would have scoffed. The Liberals, who had been ousted during the unrest of the student protests of 2012, seemed unable to spark interest and win back the trust of Quebecers who had been burned by corruption scandals under the Jean Charest leadership. The Parti Quebecois seemed on a roll from gaining minority control, and their secular charter, while divisive, seemed to be gaining traction as incidences of religious discrimination began to rise.
But here we are with a Liberal majority. Thanks in no small part to the recent PQ snafus that cost them the election, the Liberals—led by ex-brain surgeon, and former Health Minister Philppe Couillard—campaigned on a platform of getting down to real business, hiring an Avengers-like economic team of Carlos Leitao, Martin Coiteux and Jacques Daoust; all top-notch strategists and economists for major Canadian financial institutions. The Liberals were also staunchly opposed to the charter, so that helped quite a bit.
But was the crushing defeat of the PQ, and the new reign of the Liberals truly a rejection of the charter and Marois’ exclusionism.
Recent polls showed that support for the Charter of Values had been steadily increasing, especially among francophone Quebecers, but that it wasn’t considered important in the election. In fact, in a CTV News report, Leger analyst Sebastien Dallaire said: "The Charter was kind of a false promise for the Parti Quebecois. Even though they liked the idea, and a majority of Quebecers were in favour of it, it was not a priority."
Instead, it seems that Quebec was just scared shitless of having yet another economy-killing referendum. On a CBC panel Monday night, Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hébert said that the vote was “a message [from Quebecers] to the baby boomer generation that has been leading the PQ and driving the charter, that if this [sovereignty] project ever sees the light of day, it will not see it on their terms and probably not in their lifetimes. It’s probably the most crushing blow to the sovereignty movement and the PQ since they lost the first referendum in 1980.”
Which is all to say, that while many Quebecers still might not like hijabs, they hate the idea of separation and the instability it brings even more. So is this the end of the PQ as we know it? Can it possibly survive such a clear rejection of an idea that the very party is founded upon? Is sovereignty dead?
In an interview with Global News, political scientist Jacob Levy from McGill suggested that “a generation of PQ militants are gradually aging out of politics, with no real sign that young people have the energy for it. Every year, the province becomes more immigrant heavy… and they just don’t have the passion for sovereigntists’ politics.”
But while Federalist Quebecers seem to be gleefully waving their maple leafs and chugging maple syrup at the PQ loss, the Liberals are by no means left off the hook.
While it's hard to argue that a Liberal majority will bring much needed economic stability to the province (already the dollar has risen to its highest level in two months, immediately following the election). Along with their election comes the classic Liberal baggage of corruption. Keep in mind, most of the reelected Liberals are the same from the scandal-plagued Charest government Quebecers loved to hate, and we all know that switching up your look and message doesn’t mean you don’t suck anymore.
It's also worth noting that Philippe Couillard’s seems to be BFFs with Arthur Porter, the disgraced McGill University Health Centre director, who is currently sitting in a Panamanian prison in connection to an alleged $22.5-million kickback scheme at the MUHC.
Furthermore, with a focus on building Quebec’s economy, the question becomes: at what cost? Will the Liberals end the moratorium on fracking in the St Lawrence Lowlands? And what about the Plan Nord that contentiously imposes mining and forestry on aboriginal land in the north? On top of that, in an interview with CBC last January, Couillard all but said that raising tuition is inevitable. And what will happen when the student population that once ousted the Liberals faces tuition hikes? No one wants to see a repeat of the massive student protests that rippled through the province in 2012, and reportedly cost taxpayers $90 million; but if the Liberals push the tuition issue, we just may witness history repeat itself.
With more revelations from the Charbonneau Commission sure to come, and a young population steadily taking to the streets (raised tuition or not) after a long sleepy winter, the road ahead seems anything but smooth.