Quebec Election 2014: Reading the tea leaves

Quebec Election 2014: Reading the tea leaves

When Pauline Marois called this provincial election, it looked as though the PQ would easily capture the majority they had coveted, and steamroll over the opposition on a platform emphasizing Bill 60, the Charter of “Values”. However; the campaign changed focus soon after, leaving the PQ struggling to re-assert the agenda they had perceived as a winning formula. What happened?

1. BOTCHED POLITICAL MESSAGING AND COMMUNICATION: The Charter of “Values” finally got the PQ and Mme Marois the debate they wanted: nearly all Quebecers had strong opinions of the Charter, were divided on the issue, and it re-affirmed the PQ’s connect to their base of semi-urban and rural francophone voters. However, the original message of the campaign was distorted by the introduction of Pierre-Karl Peladeau as a PQ candidate, the Quebecor media scion, who emphasized his vision for an independent Quebec. The first half of the election, and remained a salient issue throughout, then focused on the possibility of a referendum on independence. The PQ could not repudiate their core reason for being (Quebec independence) and could not promise a referendum given the public outcry against it. It left Mme Marois ambiguous and non-committal, promising to not hold a referendum until Quebecers were ready. A ‘winning’ issue for the PQ was transformed into a referendum election that proved controversial with the electorate.

2. RENEWED LIBERAL PARTY OF QUEBEC (PLQ): Philippe Couillard had stumbled in his tenure as PLQ leader, and had earned the moniker “Philippe flop.” The PLQ had struggled for almost six months to craft a coherent response to the Charter of “Values,” which was only coherent in that entrenched their confusion over whether to stand by human dignity or acquiesce to majority opinion on the subject (the PLQ endorsed no face coverings and no tchadors which do have uncovered faces). Dr. Couillard has come alive on the campaign trail and effectively blends the personal stories of people he has met across Quebec with smart public policy solutions. After eighteen months in purgatory, the PLQ has effectively left much of its tarnished image in the past, while keeping their core organizational strengths, their monopoly on the federalist cause, and renewing their political brand.

3. FRANCOPHONE ELECTORAL VOLATILITY: Francophone Quebecers are key to electoral victory in Quebec, with over 80 per cent of the population and located in rural ridings that are overrepresented in the Assembly. And, non-francophone voters tend to vote overwhelmingly for the PLQ, and to a much lesser extent in 2012, the CAQ. Recent polls indicate nearly a three-way split among francophones in off-island Montreal areas. How these voters trend will determine this elections outcome.

4. FUTURE OF THE CAQ: The rise of the ADQ, now the CAQ, was thought to signal a break from the old federalist-separatist divide. While the CAQ pledged to leave identity issues behind, their support of large parts of Bill 14 and the Charter of “Values” have alienated many non-francophones and minorities from the party and firmly retrenched their support for the PLQ. The future of the CAQ hangs on the outcome of the 2014 election, as their relevance in an electorate polarized around independence issues (they pledge to not talk about sovereignty for a decade) has been questioned, low initial poll numbers and a sudden rise at the campaigns end will make the CAQ’s results one to watch.

5. MONOPOLY ON SOVEREIGNTY ISSUE OVER FOR PQ: The PQ can no longer count on all independence-minded voters. Separatist Option nationale and the Quebec Solidaire (QS) captured 10 per cent of the votes in 2012, and may strip away more support of hardline sovereignty supporters from the PQ. The independence issue has railroaded the PQ’s campaign in two ways: their implied referendum talk has alienated voters who do not want one, and their non-committal stance on the issue could hurt them at the polls with resolutely separatist voters. The QS under spokesperson Francoise David has been perceived as a legitimate party in this election. The QS is firmly socialist and separatist, and would appeal to voters who are looking for an alternative to the PQ which has shifted to the centre-right with their recent budget, cuts to social services, and has spun in circles on sovereignty. The QS could keep on peeling off leftist and hard nationalist supporters from the PQ, denying them a new mandate.

6. DISCONNECT FROM REAL ISSUES: Despite the official rhetoric from most parties that Quebec must focus on “real issues”, the campaign has focused on identity issues, a hypothetical referendum, student voting rights, and the personal integrity of the party leaders. While the economy of Quebec has faltered significantly, with ballooning deficits and job losses (though the employment numbers are debated and debatable), crumbling infrastructure and social services in need of renewal. This election was renowned for “mud slinging” and personal attacks – with Mme Marois’ husband taking hits and Dr. Couillard answering questions about his overseas bank accounts. Taxation is based on residency, not citizenship, in Canada. An eye-rolling moment in the second debate occurred when Mme. David chastised Couillard for not depositing his earnings in a Caisse populaire for moral reasons. The question of a police officer in a hijab was raised in the debates – about as far removed from a real issue as one can imagine Quebec confronts at this point in time.

IN CONCLUSION: A genuine and thoughtful discussion of problems confronting Quebecers, regardless of their linguistic or ethnic origins and political affiliations, was largely lacking in this election. Let us hope the next government will tackle the issues that hinder all Quebecers in their self-advancement.

Editorials and opinion pieces represent the opinions of their authors. maintains a socially and politically neutral ground for exchange of ideas.

Follow our complete series on the 2014 Québec Election here

Categories: News, Opinion, Politics

About Author

Colin Standish

Colin Standish has a law degree from Université Laval in Quebec City and a history and politics degree from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Colin was born and raised in the Eastern Townships of Quebec and is currently a candidate for the Liberal Party of Canada nomination in Compton-Stanstead. He has learnt French in order to be able to study his chosen degree subject in the language.

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