Monday, September 10, 2012

Quebec Election II

The Quebec election results were a bit different the I expected but potentially important for those of us interested in Canada and Canadian Studies. I posted a "before" the election post, suggesting some things we might look for -- things that would be interesting to find out -- in this election. This is my "after" post. I won't address every issue I raised in the before post. This is, after all, a blog. Rather, I will try to address a couple of matters and tie them into the wider dynamics of Canada. In this regard, there seems to me to be several points that we might note.

First, the media coverage was an odd mixture of good and bad. There were the usual "we don't care about Quebec anymore" comments but one really has to wonder about them. Were they made by people who did, once, care about Quebec and no longer do, as if there was now something wrong with Quebec? That is the tenor of some articles but there is, I think, good reason to wonder about this. First, there have always been anti-Quebec individuals outside of Quebec and, if given a microphone, they simply adapt to the latest discourse, whether it is "equality of provinces" or "we don't care anymore." We'd need to know more about who was making these comments and why. If, for instance, the people saying "we don't care" are the same people who ignore politics in their own provinces (say, don't vote, don't really know much about government, etc.), then the comment is not surprising and nothing to be concerned about.

Well ... OK, that's wrong.  The fact that there are a sizeable chunk of Canadians who don't know a lot about public life is something to be concerned about. My point is that it does not necessarily indicate an anti-Quebec feeling. Instead, it indicates a general alienation from public and political life. That is a matter of concern but the concerns are different then if there is animosity toward people in one particular province.

I was, however, pleasantly surprised by a number of thoughtful media comments. This bodes well. Let's see if this carries over into other elections that are on the horizon but perhaps the quality of public commentary in Canada is on the rise?

Second, the election results did indicate that the Liberals again benefitted from ... what to call it ... polling misrepresentation. The Libs did better the expected (close to the margin of error in terms of popular vote but better) and the PQ did worse (again, it was close to the margin of error). In other words, there were no polling guffaws as with the Alberta election but there was some inaccuracy. That inaccuracy, however, was close to the traditional inaccuracy of polling in Quebec which underestimates federalist/Liberal support and overestimates sovereigntist/PQ support. In short, the problems of public opinion polling were there but were more the common/traditional problems then the breakdown we saw in Alberta.

Third, CAQ support was right on target. This bodes well for a couple of different groups. First, it continues to suggest (as did surprising CPC support federally in the 2006 federal election and ADQ support a couple of provincial elections ago in Quebec. This suggests that there is a body of Quebecers who are conservative in their approach to public life and who are looking to have their voices heard by committing themselves to voting for a conservative party. To date, they have not been able to find a viable one (which, I am sure, they view as a drag) as neither the Harper Conservative at the federal level nor the ADQ proved viable. Will the ADQ?

This is an interesting question because both the PQ and the QLP have flirted with conservative policies over the years. The absence of a conservative voice in Quebec has allowed both parties to adopt conservative policies (get tough on students, law and order, debt reduction, etc.) without having to actually be conservative. As a result, both the QLP and the PQ have been able to maintain their progressive image despite what they are actually doing in power. Will the development of a viable conservative party in the CAQ change this? Will it force the other parties to differentiate themselves more clearly and either accept or disavow conservative policies. If so, it would bode well for both democracy and honesty in advertising in Quebec.

The other group might be called "third wayers": individuals looking for an alternative to the PQ/Lib independence/federalism ideologically charged stand off. I've argued before that the result of this stand off has been a "no win" for anyone. To what degree does support for CAQ mean that these Quebecers -- those looking for an alternative to the divisive politics of federalism in Quebec -- have found home and what will this mean? The CAQ mobilized a language of normalization -- ignore the issue and get to work on other things. IOW, a CAQ government will function like a government in any other province, addressing concerns on bread and butter issues. This might sound appealing. Heck, it does to me but is this view compatible with conservatism?  Said differently, are those interested in finding a third way also conservative in inclination? If not, this does not bode well for the CAQ.  The ADQ, as it turned out, mobilized many of the same policies and ideas and language but could not hold their party together. Will the CAQ, which contains some more politically seasoned individuals, be able to do what the ADQ could not: create a viable third way conservative party?

This election, then, and as a final word, did not decide very much. It made a possible future -- a normalization of Quebec provincial politics -- a bit more of a possibility but it leaves us with interesting and important questions for the future, for Quebec, and for Canada.
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