For nearly 45 years, the current ruling provincial political Parti Québécois (PQ) has touted separatism. During this time, it held two provincial referendums on sovereignty, to separate from the rest of Canada. The first vote was in 1980. In the second vote in 1995, independence was rejected by just a narrow margin. Young people living in Quebec today, however, are more confident and open than in previous years. They represent a historic change – proud of being Québécois and speaking French, but having no difficulty with being integrated with the rest of Canada. This cultural change, in contrast to the ruling party’s outspoken desire for separation, may cause PQ’s own loss in today’s National Assembly election.
Since 2012, the Quebec Premier Pauline Marois has led the minority government. Feeling buoyed by top poll ratings, the Premier called for elections, to be held April 7th. As part of the PQ’s campaign to focus on the economy, Marois invited candidate media mogul Pierre-Karl Peladeau (PKP) to join her as running mate in the PQ party. On March 9th, PKP made a passionate statement that he was committed to making Quebec its own country. One month later, as Quebec is ready to vote in the ruling party, the PQ is slumping in poll ratings. Marois attributes this to Peladeau’s statement in early March.
When PKP issued his commitment about sovereignty, PQ Leader Marois had mused aloud about a future Québec that would be separate from the rest of Canada, but with open borders and sharing a common currency. Now, she remarks that discussion of separatism was the worst campaign move. During the past month, she showed regret, saying that the resultant drastic slide in support may have made the Parti Québécois incapable of mounting a recovery. She fears that the statement may have caused the PQ’s own election loss. And, she acknowledges that the PQ’s cause may have been “set back” at least four years. She voiced that the choice in party should have been about government.
In recent days, she lifted her party above earlier regret, saying that the PQ is a “dream team” and that she is confident that they can win re-election. However, in the words of some Québécois, this team’s concept is a “dying dream”: most Québécois voters want nothing to do with sovereignty. The factors which have come to the forefront in opinion polls are first, the economy and jobs, a values charter, and matters of integrity. The values charter is another platform of the Parti Québécois, which many voters feel is controversial.
The contentious “charter of values” bans employees from wearing religious headgear, including Jewish men wearing yarmulkes (prayer caps) and Moslem women wearing hijab (headscarves). The “state secularism” charter has been popular among Français Canadiens (French Canadians). The PQ had hoped that by promoting the charter, they would be pushed towards a majority. The expectation was that the charter could help them to lay the groundwork to possibly put forth a third referendum for sovereignty.
By some accounts, this will be a tight election, with a three-way battle. The other parties vying for leadership in today’s National Assembly election are Québec Liberals (the frontrunner at 38 percent, led by Philippe Couillard, staunch supporter of Canadian unity and focused on stopping a potential separatist referendum), Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ, at 21 percent, led by François Legault, in favor of the secular charter), and Québec Solidaire (a smaller party, at 17 percent, led by Françoise David, setting aside the sovereignty debate to focus on the economy). The Parti Québécois (PQ) is currently at 24 percent in opinion polls. It should be noted that the Liberals were in power for nine years, and have been out of power for the past 18 months.
In the words of a Quebec history professor at the University of British Columbia, this campaign has proven that there is very little current support for a separate Quebec. The Liberals’ Couillard declared that a vote for the CAQ would likely hand the PQ the reins, and he promised to “jumpstart Québec’s economy within hours of the election.” Unless Premier Pauline Marois can pull out a victory for separatists, the Parti Québécois will have likely caused its own election loss and Marois will probably face calls for her resignation, just 18 months after she began.
By Fern Remedi-Brown