Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What Happened in Quebec and Why I Care

Ian MacDonald of the Montreal Gazette has a pretty good analysis of what happened--why the Bloc got crushed. That Duceppe could not use Quebec grievances effectively.  That he tried to play up the difference between the Bloc and NDP at the end--that a referendum and separation were priorities with the ushering out of Jacques Parizeau, the old nationalist diehard--just told people that the Bloc didn't have much of a message.

Why? Because Quebec's grievances are largely those of any federal unit.  The big grievances that distinguish the distinct society of Quebec from the rest of Canada have been addressed: Quebec controls its own immigration process, it controls education, it enforces language laws to preserve the superiority of French, it now gets significant subsidies from the federal government, and Quebec is now much better off economically and politically than it was twenty or thirty years ago.  The nationalist movement won nearly all of its objectives, so Duceppe as leader of the Bloc could not really articulate a party platform to attract votes.

The only thing left is secession--which Quebeckers mostly do not want.  How do we know this?  Because the Bloc got thrashed when it became the big difference between the Bloc and the NDP.  The NDP pandered like no one's business, as I tweeted and blogged about.  The promises were mostly permissive not active--that they would recognize a referendum result pretty easily, not that they would be part of a separatist campaign. So, the more desperate the Bloc became (bring out the old dinosaurs), the more folks voted for others.  It was not just that the NDP did very well, but that less than a quarter of Quebeckers voters for the Bloc.  Wow.

Why am I opposed to Quebec separatists or sovereigntists?  Why do I care about these results?  Yes, I am anglophone American who teaches at McGill.  I don't actually think a referendum in the near to medium term would be successful so I am not worried about a McGill in the independent country of Quebec.  No, what worries me is that the nationalist competition (the competition between the sovereigntists and everyone else) does great damage to Quebec, especially when it intensifies.  During a referendum campaign, the economy gets sucked into the vortex as property values go down, people flee, investment declines with all of the uncertainty.  In normal times, the nationalist discourse serves to distract the population from quality governance.  Occasionally, the Parti Quebecois says it needs to consider good government (after it became a third party for a few years), but how well the PQ would govern is not the priority.

The problems of Quebec day are not in Ottawa--they are in Quebec City and they are in Montreal.  We here suffer from incredibly poor governance and steep corruption--much more money comes into the governments here than we get out of it in the way of good public services.  The roads and bridges are the most obvious indicator of all of this.  But we fail to hold the politicians accountable because we get distracted by who takes what stands on the nationalist issue.  The current mayor won re-election because, in part, the major opposition party was led by a separatist who had run and legislated against Montreal.  If there was no nationalist obsession, perhaps Montreal could get a decent mayor rather than one who only notices corruption when he only gets a third of the vote.  And then actively spikes efforts to deal with it anyway.

So, yes, I am pretty stirred up.  It is only party because I speak English.  It is only partly because I am a scholar of separatism and I know that Quebec's grievances are nothing compared to those of separatists elsewhere.  But it is mostly because the politics of nationalism do not do the Quebeckers any favors any more.  Yes, it used to do so, but not now.  They won.  Declare victory and move on to focus on providing good government.  Please!  My car's shock absorbers are begging for it.

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