Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Québec votes to leave well enough alone

Yesterday, as Walt et tout le monde predicted, the voters of Québec turfed out the Parti Québecois of Pauline Marois, and gave the Liberals, led by Philippe Couillard, a solid majority in the province's Assemblée Nationale. Lifetime pct .990.

Mme Marois lost her own riding. Her star candidate, Pierre-Karl Péladeau, whose ill-judged remarks about building a "country" for his children contributed to the defeat, won his seat and may be a contender for the PQ leadership, now that Mme Marois has stepped down. The more moderate Coalition Avenir Québec held its own, while Québec Solidaire (the most leftish separatists) increased their representation by 50% -- from two seats to three.

What does all this mean? The first clue may be seen in the half-cent rise in the value of the Canadian dollar on the foreign exchange markets this morning. Québec is not going to separate. Canada is not going to break up. The rest of the world (to the extent that it cares at all) is reassured.

Canadians, including most Québecers, were never in serious doubt. The Québecois like talking about "sovereignty" -- not as strong a word as "independence" -- but when it comes down to giving up the beaverbuck, massive federal subsidies and their Canadian passports, common sense always prevails. Referenda on separation were lost in 1980 and 1995, so the issue was due to come around again, but that didn't mean the idea would fly.

This year's election was not a referendum as such, but "a referendum on a referendum". Not even the PQ's proposal to have a real referendum "when the time is right" found favour with the voters. It seems they would prefer to talking about it to doing it.

Does that mean separatism is dead? No. There will always be those in Québec who, in their wild, romantic dreams, would like to secede from Canada, just as there are closet Confederates throughout the southern USA or "splittists" in western China. But those who hold onto visions of a state of their own are getting fewer...and older.

The separatist movement in Québec was born in the hippy-dippy 60s. (The PQ itself was founded by René Levesque and others in 1970.) Polling and yesterday's results show that today's true believers are mostly over-55s, outside of Montréal. The younger generation is more interested in putting food on the table than in whether or not the packaging is in French. Pro-soverignty sentiment is not dead, but it's dying, along with the aging baby boomers who espoused it.

Does yesterday's vote signify a rejection of the PQ's proposed Charter of Québec Values? Although the anglophone media and "progressive thinkers" might wish it so, Walt thinks otherwise. When Mme Marois called the election, the Charter was supposed to be the ballot question. At the beginning of the campaign it was assumed that the PQ would win, because of majority support for the Charter in all of Québec except the parts of Montréal with large immigrant populations. It only remained to be seen whether the PQ would get a majority or not.

The now-ex-premier's big mistake was introducing P-K Péladeau as her star candidate. The idea seemed to be to bolster the PQ's shaky reputation for economic competence, and show that an independent Québec could be successful and prosperous, just like M Péladeau. Unfortunately for Mme Marois, M Péladeau took it all too seriously, and started talking about sovereignty and the R-word ("referendum"). He even spoke of a "country" for his children, while giving the now-infamous fist-pump -- a truly cringeworth moment.

A video clip that went viral showed Mme Marois literally shoving M Péladeau to the side of the platform, but the genie was out of the bottle, and the voters saw a future that they didn't like. It was all over at that very moment, with only the magnitude of the Liberal victory to be determined.

La Belle Province and all of Canada can breathe a sigh of relief. For another generation or so, Québecers (and the rest of Canada) can continue to argue about sovereignty and bilingualism and multiculturalism, but nothing will change. The Montréal Canadiens will remain Canada's team, and you'll still be able to order a hamburger -- not "un hambourgeois" -- most anywhere in what will still be a province of Canada. Une province pas comme les autres, to be sure, but a part of Canada all the same.

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