Too Comfortable in Canada?
In the 1981 movie Le confort et l’Indiférence, Denis Arcand tried to explain Québec’s 1980 independence referendum defeat by arguing that, once the smoke had cleared, what had really mattered in the end was that Quebecers were both too comfortable with the relationship with Canada to make significant changes as well as indifferent to the benefits that would come from this change.
In 1993, after the Meech Lake Accord went sour, Quebecers felt threatened and elected its first Bloc Quebecois MPs. Last May they lost all but 4 of its 70+ seats.
For eighteen years after its first victory (I’m pretty sure the internet didn’t exist then), and 15 years after the 1995 referendum’s near victory,the Bloc defended Quebec’s interests at the Parliament (to simplify, the equivalent of Westminster.) It made deals with minority governments, influenced the agenda by speaking out on issues and at the very least expressed a perspective that was wholly absent in Ottawa. This, it seems, made Quebecers feel safe again.
And for all those 18 years, little change occurred. For all the talk, no constitutional change was in sight.
May second’s election results changed all that. That’s when something like a perfect storm happened. Fatigued Québec voters meet Jack Layton leader of the NDP, the “guy next door”, who speaks French with a wonderful English accent (promising!) who vows to change the way things are done from now on and not to talk of anything related to Quebec, independence, constitutional status, the whole bit.
Diagnosed with cancer before the campaign started, everyone understands it will be his last. With little to offer and a lot of chutzpa, Quebecers, who need a break and frantically looking anything new, massively vote for Jack. And so, just as Bloc leader Duceppe had warned during the campaign , unsmilingly it must be said, the Conservatives finally obtained the majority they had been denied by the Bloc for years. And the highest score for the NDP in its history.
When Layton succumbed to his cancer August 22, it came as a shock. Especially to the newly stranded 102 Mps, 58 of whom where from Québec, whose political experience range from the seasoned (few) to the completely inexperienced (many). In fact some Mps hadn’t even been in their riding during their campaign, others in more rural regions had never even visited their constituency, or could not speak their language(French.)
May second also marked the quasi annihilation of another party… the Liberal Party of Canada. The Party of Trudeau and Chretien and Lester B. Pearson. The corruption scandals that had been a hallmark of recent years eventually left their mark on the branding so-to-speak. Not to be deterred, many Liberals hope, as a way of joining experience with dynamism, to merge with the NDP in order to create something like… a Canadian “Liberal Democrat” party.
The problem with that scenario of course is that the 58 Quebec MP’s who may come from different political horizons, they largely vote strongly against anything Liberals. Add to this strange brew the fact that 90% of registered NDP members are not from Québec and that the majority of elected members are from Québec, it would be interesting to see how they can decide on the most basic of issues. Hence the Tories may be in power, and as a majority for a long time still.
The Scottish Spring SNP landslide, sadly, in spite of its dramatic outcome, has gone largely unnoticed in the Canadian press, at least on this side of the Ottawa River.
This week the Tories hinted at not keeping their promise of paying compensation to Quebec for harmonizing their provincial sales tax with the federal government. Then they hinted they would indeed but a negotiated settlement. The NDP MP’s, most of whom had never heard of this debate singlehandedly carried by the Bloc for years, and worth billions to Québec, were largely stunned, surprised and ineffective. Nycole Turmel, recently a former Bloc member herself and now newly designated interim chief of the NDP (how long can this last!) commented she hoped Quebec wasn’t being punished by the Conservatives for electing few Tories. Alone on the playing field, with no one minding the goals, the Conservatives are in a very comfortable position.
Sooner rather than later, elections in Quebec will be called. The situation on independence is… in flux. The PQ, the party of René Lévesque is abandoned by voters who are likely going to do a repeat of May Second. Polls show most voters feel sovereignty is desirable but unachievable. Might it just be a case of the jitters? The PQ, since May second has not made any significant changes in its strategy and is duely being punished in the polls. Things are moving though! The as-of-yet-not-an-offical-party “Coalition pour le Québec “ promises not to talk of independence, promises not to be re-elected (if elected!), and are surfing on between 33% of the vote in June 2011, to 40% in August.
In the meantime, sovereignists who believe the PQ under its current leadership is all talk and no action have begun to leave. Besides, they argue, since the PQ is not taking its fill of its traditional base, it makes sense to offer something else besides Legaults CAQ.
Did I mention that the most popular politician in Quebec is Amir Khadir of Québec Solidaire. I guess I hadn’t time to get to that yet…
So… to recap: At the Federal level Quebecers, right now, vote hard left for an unexperienced pan-Canada party (most of the Mps are from Québec, over 90% of the party members are not!) whose leader has just died and has no clear successor, on the provincial level support a smooth right party that doesn’t exist and the most popular leader is the harder left one single elected AM of Quebec Solidaire (joint leadership party with two people co-presiding!) fhew! I feel for the poor souls who should try to understand all this from a distance…
One thing is clear in all this… before May second… independence, the PQ and the Bloc were all losing ground and people were fatigued, discouraged and disheartened. Now people are talking again, new alliances are being made, old ones cast aside, hundreds of people are showing up at rallies and even if the vote is split between numerous factions one thing is for sure : the situation now is becoming less and less comfortable and whether people continue to remain indifferent to it seems unlikely.