Sunday, August 12, 2012

Running Against the Wind

The PQ has a great chance to gain power again with an exhausted set of incumbents who inevitably presided over a heap of corruption scandals (not that the PQ would be any less corrupt).  But, imitating perhaps the Republicans to the south, the focus ends up being on symbolic politics rather than substance.  The PQ is promising a harsher version of Bill 101, the law that regulates languages.  Not satisfied with denying immigrants and Francophones access to English K-11 (there is no 12th grade in Quebec), the proposal aims to restrict CEGEPs (the semi-junior colleges between high school and university) along the same lines. 

This law is clearly aimed at the nationalist base. In a three-way battle (or five way with two other separatist parties in the mix as well, this makes more sense than the GOP shifting even further rightward since there is less of a need to get any votes in the center and more of a need to cement the base.

The announcements always aim at the shocking disuse of French in Montreal, where the vast majority of the population do speak French.  However, the challenge is that Montreal is chock full of people for whom French is their second language, that their mother tongue is something else.  This allows the PQ to focus its ire on two targets in one shot: Montreal and immigrants.  Running against Montreal is a grand tradition, as it presents the "other" to the rest of Quebec, whether that other is urban, Anglophone, immigrant, gay, educated, or whatever.  Montreal is the economic engine for the province, but the disproportionate distribution of seats (Montreal is under-represented) combined with the usually politicially irrelevant Anglophone community means that it is politically rational to run against the city.  The realities of underinvestment in infrastructure and social services emanate from this--why send resources to Montreal when voters elsewhere matter more?  Why not blast the city for its cosmopolitan-ness even if it does not threaten the rest of Quebec and might even be good as it helps to feed the economy?

The immigrants are the second target.  The PQ has learned some lessons:
  1. appealing to immigrants allows other parties to be better xenophobes (ADQ a few years ago);
  2. immigrants will learn French (so many speak three or more languages) but learning French does not convert them into either PQ voters or separatists.  So, some proposals of Quebec citizenship are explictly aimed now at immigrants.
  3. xenophobia plays well outside of Montreal.
So, what the PQ does makes sense, but once again, what is good for electoral politics in the short-run is bad for Quebec in the long run.  This election can still be about corruption and good governance, but the more the PQ plays up the language stuff, the more Anglophones and Allophones will vote for the corrupt Liberals.  They fear more the certain consequences of an anti-Anglophone/anti-immigrant government and the disruptions that another referendum would bring than the uneven impact of corruption.  Hence Charest's instance that the PQ will hold a referendum and that the new party, the CAQ, may be closet separatists.

Heaps of distraction sauce abound for the Liberals with the PQ playing to its base.  We shall see if corruption becomes the key issue or not of this election.  If the PQ wins because corruption harmed the Liberals, we might not see any improvement in good governance.  Why? Because the PQ does not really care about it.

Yes, I am so very glad I am out out of Quebec.  Ontario may not be paradise, but at least the parties do not seem focused on the threat I pose as an Anglophone and as an immigrant.

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