Tuesday, May 3, 2011

And Quebec?

It is strange to watch my lefty Anglophone friends despair at the election results and suggest that they might support separation rather than be in a Conservative-majority run Canada.  This was the reaction I was least expecting, but, as always, things are funky here in Quebec.

My first reaction to this claim is to stress that democracy means winning AND losing.  The key way to measure whether a country has democratized is whether a country has gone through two changes in power.  That is, elections are not the real measure of a democracy, but the willingness to accept losing and waiting until the next one (or the one after that) to come back into power.  The hallmark of the Quebec separatists has been not to accept the verdicts of the past--losing two referenda.  Indeed, the striking thing about Duceppe's statement after losing his supposedly safe seat (while his party got crushed) was his saying that he knows to accept the verdict here, unlike 1980/1995.  Anyhow, I say to my Conservative-fearing Quebec friends that they can stomach the bad times.  After all, the only way to win all the time is if one games the system.  Not a good thing.  So, you take the bad with the good.  Having a Conservative majority means that Harper will have to be accountable the next time around. 

My second reaction is to remember a conversation with Jacob Levy about the Bloc--that it assured Quebeckers that they had some voice in Ottawa.  Now that voice is gone.  Ooops.  So, this election produces mixed signals and results for the cause of separation.  The Bloc was obliterated so that suggests that enthusiasm for sovereignty and referenda is, um, down, right?  Quebeckers supported a national party that pandered to them--the NDP.    So, the NDP could be a long-standing replacement for Quebec nationalism?  Um, no.  I am not sure if the NDP will dry up and blow away like the ADQ did, but relying on McGill undergrads (pretty cool, right!) is perhaps not a sign of a strong bench.  So, will a new or old Quebec separatist party emerge to compete for seats at the Federal level?  Absolutement (that would be yes).  This leads to the next issue.

The bigger question is: will Harper act in ways that antagonize Quebec nationalists and fuel the fire of the secessionist movement?  Um, don't know yet.  He may be less defensive and more accommodating without having to worry about no confidence votes or he may become more aggressive and push policies that antagonize Quebec folks.   Don't know yet. 

My third reaction is actually my first one--schadenfreude.  Any separatist energy has temporarily been sucked out the window.  It will come back, but winning conditions for a refenendum?  Not in sight.

More jumbled thoughts to come as my mind jumps back and forth from Canada to a Mc-Mansion in Pakistan.


Anonymous said...

Strategically, it would make sense for Harper to antagonize the nationalists. A revived BQ further splinters the vote in Quebec, damaging the NDP and Liberals. And westerners always enjoy a little Quebec-bashing. The only real fear would be scaring off the Red Tories in Southern Ontario. He probably won't do it because he has bigger fish to fry, but it would probably be electorally advantageous.

Anonymous said...

"The hallmark of the Quebec separatists has been not to accept the verdicts of the past--losing two referenda."

A little bait-and-switch there, don't you think? When we speak of democratisation, we mean that losers accept the verdict of the electorate without taking up arms against the government. By that standard, the separatists have absolutely accepted the verdict, though they have railed against it on both occasions. In fact, even Parizeau's repellant post-referendum comments did not lead to any sort of mass uprising. The separatists are, whatever else you think of them, democrats, and it is unfair to suggest otherwise.

Surely, you are not suggesting that adherence to the verdict of the electorate somehow prevents Quebec nationalists to try their hand at referendum as often as they can get away with it. That, too, is democracy.

Steve Saideman said...

Both anonymous points are well taken.

First, Harper can play it either way. I was making the point (perhaps implicitly) that Quebec is still a rich basket of votes, and I doubt that Harper can count on doing so well in Ontario next time that he can afford to rule out QC as a place to compete. Think of the Republicans in the US. Yes, they can win nationally without winning in California, but it sure is far harder.

Regarding the second point, I guess you are right--that the separatists still use democratic means (the FLQ option is not on the table for nearly anyone). But their rhetoric is often that the second referendum was stolen/cheated away from them, rather than a product of democratic processes.

Still, I see the point--democracy allows revisiting the same decisions over and over again if one wants.

Anonymous said...

"But their rhetoric is often that the second referendum was stolen/cheated away from them, rather than a product of democratic processes."

Well, if that sort of rhetoric suggests an anti-democratic bent, then U.S. democracy has been imperiled in every presidential election since 1992. :)

Cameron Campbell said...

The FLQ option was NEVER one supported by anyone who wasn't insane, so to that extent it was never on the table.

If you hang out with any mainstream PQ folk from that era the worst (the absolute worst) you'll hear from them is "I can understand how if you're an idiot you could get frustrated and believe that violence might solve something". Consistently, from Lévesque through to Bouchard, Marois and Duceppe the BQ/PQ have always respected democracy.

As for the rhetoric from the second referendum: there appears to be little in the way of doubt that Canadian electoral law, if not broken, was stretched right out to the limit..

I stood in Place du Canada that day and wondered how all these people could have magically shown up for free... and I'm a (soft) federalist. I can't imagine how someone who is a hard separatist felt.

Steve Saideman said...

Cameron, that the violence option is off the table is something that should always be noted and appreciated. It separates this case from nearly any other major secessionist effort. I am not saying it will be on the table at all. The stakes are simply too low (Quebeckers are not oppressed and their rule is not as oppressive as often feared).
And, as I remember, both sides broke the rules. Two wrongs don't make a right, but they do make a 50% plus one standard much more dangerous to democracy, rule of law and all of that. If they used EU standards for Montenegro--55%, I would not worry so much about the drunk frat boys tipping the vote. Or hell, use 60% to show that real political change has real support. But that is a rant for another day.

I was not here in 1995 so I appreciate your perspective.

Again, my basic inclination right now is that we should not over-react to this election. There are many ways for it to play out and expecting the worst may not be the most productive way to go. That is my main punchline--I am sorry if my various ramblings around it distract from that core message.