It was fascinating to be in Montreal for the Quebec elections. I am no student of Quebec politics so the following reflections are based on watching the election night TV coverage and reading the anglophone and francophone press. Plus discussion with a very odd taxi driver and observation of a fierce bilingual argument between waitresses in a bar (one argued in English and the other argued back in French). Apart from a few election posters there was actually little sign of an election in downtown Montreal.
The headlines were that the Parti Quebecois won a very tight three way fight and will form a minority Government. They received 54 seats on 32% of the vote. The (Canadian) federalist Liberal Party of Quebec lost power but beat expectations to hold 50 seats with 31% of the vote. The new Coalition for the Future of Quebec (CAQ) did not match its early poll lead and finished with a disappointing 19 seats on 27% of the vote. The independentist-green Quebec Solidarity gained a second seat.
And the election night was marred by a gunman called Richard Bain who killed one and wounded another as he seemingly tried to storm the Parti Quebecois victory party. Newspaper reports suggested the death toll might have been higher if his automatic weapon had not jammed. Denis Blanchette died a hero as he blocked the gunman’s entry and forced shut a back door to the venue. As Bain was led to a police car he shouted, “the English are waking up, it’s going to be fucking payback.” The initial consensus seems to be that Bain had probably mental health issues rather than a political agenda, although there was some discussion about whether the poisoned rhetoric of the electoral campaign had inflamed tensions. From a Scottish perspective the bizarre factoid was that Bain, the putative English avenger, apparently liked to wear the kilt.
Political analysis the day after focused more on the end of the career of the Liberal Premier Jean Charest who lost his seat as well as office. Charest had become recruited from the Federal Conservatives in 1998 to become leader of the Quebec Liberals specifically to lead the fight against the sovereigntists. He called elections on the 1st of August this summer after months of student protests against a sharp increase in tuition fees. The Liberal Government had even brought in a law much criticised by human rights groups which placed restrictions on protests. Apparently he calculated he would have better chances calling an early election than holding on into the autumn when his Government was likely to be further mired in corruption allegations. Although he lost he was being credited with having saved some of his colleagues.
One of the student leaders, Leo Bureau-Blouin, aged 19, was elected on behalf of the Parti Quebecois and the students were reportedly celebrating their role in the downfall of Charest. There was also much comment on how Pauline Marois of the Parti Quebec was becoming Quebec’s first woman Prime Minister.
It seems that with a fairly weak minority government the Parti Quebecois will make little progress towards holding a third referendum on independence. Before the gunman interrupted the victory celebrations Pauline Marois had reaffirmed her commitment to Quebec becoming a sovereign country. The pundits seem to be expecting new elections in 18-24 months. Much may depend on whether the Parti Quebecois can emulate the SNP and run a competent minority Government that builds confidence. And the rogue element may continue to be the CAQ which is led by Francois Legault, an ex-Parti Quebecois deputy, who has said there should be no referendum for 10 years whilst the economy is sorted out.
Interesting times though for Quebec. Maybe Scotland can provide a good example.