Everyone in Québec will be willing to eat their shirt on August 1 if Premier Jean Charest doesn’t call a general election for September 4. All the tell-tale signs are there and, as bad as it is, it’s probably the best the political climate will be for his governing Liberals.
That’s not saying much, though. Charest in particular and the Liberals in general have been extremely unpopular since their majority re-election in December 2008. The government finally gave in to a public inquiry to look into allegations of corruption in the construction industry, and while its handling of the on-going student protests has been largely criticized, it probably believes that the findings of the Charbonneau commission will have the same effect as the Gomery inquiry had on the federal Liberals back in 2006. So, next week, the Liberals will be betting that they will somehow manage to form their fourth consecutive government by calling an election sooner than later, even if it’ll likely be with minority status in the National Assembly (that’s what Québec calls its provincial legislature).
Because I moved to Québec in April 2008, I didn’t manage to get on the voters’ list for the December 2008 election, making it the first election I ever sat out. So, for this election, I need to get on the voters’ list, no fail. However, this is the first election that I’ll be entering as a categorically undecided voter. Here’s why.
Québec Liberal Party (QLP)
Provincial Liberal parties have no formal association with their federal counterpart. Therefore, while the federal Liberals are essentially centrist, often campaigning from the left-of-centre but governing from the right-of-centre, the Liberals in each province vary from centre-left, centre, and centre-right. And, although the political spectrum in Québec is more left-leaning than in the rest of Canada, the Québec Liberals under Charest, a former Progressive Conservative at the federal level, are generally viewed as more centre-right …but certainly not as much as those in British Columbia.
Right there, that should make the QLP a non-option for me, and the corruption allegations against it and the student protest debacle provide me further reason not to vote for it. The only thing that could draw me to it is that it is the only provincial party with an unambiguous non-sovereignist stance. That’s not much.
Parti Québecois (PQ)
The Parti Québécois is obviously the main sovereignist party. It is traditionally a left-leaning or centre-left party and still officially declares itself as adhering to social-democratic principles, but it has had forays on the centre-right with leaders (and Premiers) like Lucien Bouchard, Bernard Landry and, I’d argue, Jacques Parizeau.
The problem for me and the PQ is its main plank: Québec sovereignty. However, my discomfort with sovereignty has less to do with a pro-Canada stance and more to do with a feeling that Québec would be far worse off economically as an independant nation. I think I feel more that way now in view of how this place has managed to succumb to corruption scandals after cleaning up its act in the early 1970s. What’s more, as a result of neglect and lack of maintenance, practically all our infrastructure is literally falling apart, and I find it hard to conceive that a province currently on the “have-not” side of the ledger among provinces could manage to fix this problem without mass infusions of cash from a higher, federal level.
However, even if PQ leader Pauline Marois were able to stay off the hardline sovereignists in her ranks if she did form the next government, the PQ in general has consistently managed to annoy me with its constant cheap shots against federal Canada and its tendency, despite itself, to lapse into low-grade xenophobic rhetoric. But if I were to ignore this (very significant) problem, I’d have to admit that, otherwise, the PQ should be my natural political home for being essentially left-of-centre under Marois.
Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ)
Recently founded by former PQ heavyweight François Legault, the CAQ is pledging to put the sovereignty debate on the back burner for at least the next 10 years in order to concentrate on cleaning up the province’s public administration. Fundamentally on the centre-right (not to say the outright right), the CAQ has absorbed the right-wing Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ) and has also drawn former members of both the Liberals and Parti Québécois. Toward its end, the ADQ had evolved into an “autonomist” party, meaning it wanted Québec to remain in Canada but with more autonomy in managing its affairs.
It’s not just the right/centre-right aspect of the CAQ that turns me off; it’s Legault himself. Despite claiming having a plan to “fix” Québec, he remains far too uncommittal with all his “On verra” (“We’ll see”). Plus, I still remember Harper’s 2006 federal pledge for more transparency in government, and here we are, six years later, with the most secretive, non-transparent and frankly unilateral federal government this country has ever seen. Hence, I just can’t trust the right.
Québec Solidaire (QC)
I used to love Québec Solidaire until co-leader Amir Khadir got elected to the Assembly in 2008. QS is the hard left, but it’s also staunchly sovereignist. But as I’ve aged, I’ve come to view hard ideologies on either the left or the right to be utopic and unachievable: it’s all too black-and-white for my liking. Khadir, for instance, shows zero subtlety with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian question, choosing to protest in front of a small shop in Montréal that has the audacity of selling a brand (among others) of shoes made in Israel. Just like G.W. Bush’s legendary “You’re either with us or the terrorists” statement, with which many Americans didn’t agree, this simplistic stance has an anti-semitic tone that denies that many Isrealis do not support their current government’s position on Palestine just like many Palestinians aren’t against the idea of a peaceful co-existance.
And while I’m by no means a monarchist, I do recognize that the monarchy is a part of our history and, over the centuries, it has evolved into a mere benign symbol; therefore, I found it distasteful when Khadir publicly ridiculed the monarchy as “parasites” during last year’s visit by Kate and Will. As a lefty, I understand how it’s fundamentally wrong to have people in positions based solely on heredity, but since good ol’ Liz ain’t exactly a blood-sucking tyrant, I do still hold some respect for the position of head of state she occupies.
Option Nationale (ON)
Founded last year by former hardline PQ MNA Jean-Martin Aussant when it looked at though the PQ was imploding, Option Nationale is a centre-left party that states that a vote for it is an electoral mandate for de facto sovereignty, to be followed by a referendum to bring de jure sovereignty.
‘Nuff said. I won’t be voting ON (assuming it will have a candidate running in my Outremont riding — a Liberal bastion provincially — currently held by Finance Minister Raymond Bachand).
Québec Green Party (QGP)
I don’t know what to say about this party. Given that the upcoming election is going to be a three-way race among the Liberals, the PQ and the CAQ (although the latter is trailing at about 20% and is the least likely of the three to form a government …although last year’s Orange Crush in Québec should swear one off dismissing a dark horse), it seems like voting Green, under our current voting system, is the epitome of throwing away one’s vote. Besides, the Greens are unlikely to make any headway outside the Island of Montréal, which is also the most fertile ground for Québec Solidaire which, with a sitting MNA, stands a better chance of picking up another seat or two.
Like I said, assuming I manage to get on the voters’ list, I have no idea where I’m going to put my X in this election, and it doesn’t help that I’ll be voting in a riding where the result is a foregone conclusion. So far, the options I have categorically dismissed are CAQ and ON, and I’m 99 percent certain I’ll pass on voting Green for the first time on this go. So…
Charest has become annoying arrogant, and I can’t see myself pinching my nose and voting Liberal despite all the corruption just because it’s anti-sovereignty.
Marois has tons of bad history from the days she was a high-profile PQ cabinet minister, plus the PQ manages too often to piss me off. But, otherwise, it’s closest to the NDP that Québec doesn’t have at the provincial level.
Québec Solidaire has shown itself to be too far left even for me; however, since it won’t form a government, perhaps positioning it so that it holds the balance of power in the opposition wouldn’t be so bad.
I never before felt so much like I was stuck for voting for the “least bad,” not to mention in a riding where my vote is the least likely to have any impact.
Despite my scathing remarks on Amir Khadir, though, I think I just talked myself into voting Québec Solidaire.