By Yvonne Sam
Political and Social Commentator
QUEBEC October 10, 2018 — October 1 came and went, and saw Quebec voters change-bent. Whether or not the electorate is pleased with the final results, there is no refuting that it is one for the history books. Voters sent a crystal clear message to the province’s two deep-rooted political parties — the Liberals and the Parti Quebecois — that they wanted a change; old parties should go and allow new blood to flow.
A constitutional shift took place, the effects of which would not be fully apparent, until possibly the next election. One can only conjecture the significance of all this for Quebec, as the pollsters and the populace fluctuate between triumph, frustration, dissatisfaction, confusion and ultimate fear. A record 41 percent of women candidates were elected and will sit in the national Assembly.
The Coalition Avenir Quebec (pronounced caq), a never-before-formed-government political party, certainly came out on the winning end of the fatigue and disgruntlement of the Quebec voters, with the Quebec Solidaire piggy-backing along. Put in politically-correct terms, the CAQ was what remained, after you’ve had it up to the wazoo, with the other evils.
In her victory statement, Manon Masse, co-spokesperson for the Quebec Solidaire, said, “The political landscape in Quebec has changed for the good.” This is somewhat of an ill-considered and impolitical statement, although understandable, given the moment of triumph she was experiencing.
Granted, change has certainly come to Québec, but it has come at the expense of a clearly-polarized Quebec, and with the utter decimation of the Parti Quebecois — a diminished presence of left-of-centre progressive politics.
The Quebec Solidaire tripled its seats, and for the very first time, acquired support and recognition, outside the island of Montreal, in a dramatic showing that surpassed partisan expectations, with 10 elected members. Next to the rising Quebec Solidaire, the Parti Quebecois that used to be the traditional choice for Quebec separatists, appeared debilitated, as it lost official party status, winning just nine seats.
Despite the fact that the leader of CAQ, Francois Legault, ran a blundering campaign, was visibly incapable of satisfactorily explaining his immigration plan, and was forced to deal with various political, micro scandals, his majority win is a sure confirmation of Quebec’s conservative, protectionist instincts, when it comes to language, immigration and culture.
No doubt or uncertainty exists that Legault’s language test proposal for immigrants and tough talk of likely exclusion (even if outside of his provincial powers), appealed to many Quebecers, who frustratingly continue to regard immigrants as a threat to their way of life, instead of a lifeline for the province’s future economic growth.
While the CAQ’s victory can unequivocally be due to several factors — the need for change being one of them — it is also a dismal testament to the fact that tribalism or sectarianism, xenophobia and fear mongering served as compelling driving forces to get enough people to cast their vote for Legault.
It is vitally important that Quebecers are clear about who is saying what, particularly when the federalist Liberals and the CAQ have been the most recent purveyors of division in Quebec politics. Systemic racism is not the realm of sovereignists alone.
According to Elections Quebec, voter attendance was 66.44 percent, which is unremarkable for Quebec, considering that the turnout was 71.44 percent in 2014 and 74.6 percent in 2012. It was blatantly apparent that many embittered Anglophones and Allophones did not feel specifically obliged to cast their vote, hence, contributing to the annihilation of the Liberals, while ensuring a CAQ majority, with only 38 percent of the popular vote.
This election marked, for the first time since the 1970’s, that the issue of Quebec’s independence was not raised. In fact it was hardly a second thought. The CAQ leader has renounced sovereignty.
A recent Angus Reid Institute Survey, in conjunction with the CBC, also found that the desire of Quebecers to separate from Canada is on the decline. While this does not infer that the issue cannot be revived, at the flick of a finger, it is currently on the back burner. However, it permitted Quebecers to vote, based on other priority issues, and, in so doing, freeing them of any need for strategic voting.
The votes have already been cast, although, historically, it will be the last of the first-past-the-post system, as CAQ’s leader, Francois Legault, has pledged, that within the first year, his party would table a bill to change Quebec’s electoral system to a mixed proportional system. To be fair one thing is clear; the political landscape has been permanently changed.
In their undying quest for change many Quebecers paid little, if any, attention to the major controversies of our era: the growth of populism and prejudice; climate crisis; and heightened protectionism, that time and time again, translates into across the board immigrant and diversity bashing.
The question is, were the voters paying attention to what they voted for? And then again if they did, did they not care because it did not, directly or immediately, affect them?
Unquestionably, the triumph speech of Legault was appeasing and unifying, promising that his government will be everyone’s government and that Quebecers share much more than what separates them. Although spoken and spelt out in perfect English, one cannot help but be perturbed as to the meaning of such a statement, when it was anteceded by months of fear mongering and an “us” versus “them” oratory that played immigrants as a problem that needed a resolution, in addition to the steadfast emphasis on removing religious symbols from public office.
While there may be a lot to be excited about in the recent election results, there is, correspondingly, an equal lot to be concerned about. Change, merely for the sake of change, is not always a good thing.
Viewed from a different perspective, sometimes when you have got what you wanted, you may not want what you have got.
Aleuta — the struggle continues.
Yvonne Sam, a retired Head Nurse and Secondary School Teacher, is Vice-president of the Guyana Cultural Association of Montreal. A regular columnist for over two decades with the Montreal Community Contact, her insightful and incursive articles on topics ranging from politics, human rights and immigration, to education and parenting have also appeared in the Huffington Post, Montreal Gazette, XPressbogg and Guyanese OnLine. She is also the recipient of the Governor General of Canada Caring Canadian Citizen Award.