Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Thoughts on QC Election

Lots to chew over from the various surprises produced by the Quebec provincial election.

First, the big story is the guy who killed one person and injured another at the PQ victory party.  We have no real news about him.  I would caution folks against reading too much into this one guy.  Political violence in Quebec is astonishingly rare--separatism has been peaceful for more than 40 years precisely because when there was a terrorist movement that used violence, it became most unpopular.  I would probably put this guy (yes, some ruthless speculation on my part) in same category as other lone nuts, like the guy who flew the plane into the Austin IRS office. A crazy way to pursue a political grievance.

Second, this burst of violence is most ironic because of the results of the election.  The PQ is going to be in power, but quite constrained.  It failed to get a majority and even failed to get that close.  The Liberals won nearly as many seats despite a lackluster campaign and a very poor context--years of corruption, disintegrating infrastructure and exhaustion after nine or so years in office.  That the PQ did so poorly--doing worse than the last campaign--shows that it has a very limited appeal.  That it could not even sell "we are the alternatives to the Liberals" much.  The CAQ did pretty well for the first time out, just enough to prevent the Liberals from gaining a plurality in seats and votes.  So, spoil it did.

Third, the future of Quebec separatism is, well, bleak for the separatists.  Two third's or so voted for parties that either said never or not now to a referendum.  The CAQ's stance is a bit uncertain in the long run but really is aimed at the middle of the Quebec public--independence might be interesting but is not worth the hassle now or in the near to medium future.  The nationalists won most of what they wanted, so the fire is nearly out.  People are not burning to be free because, well, they are free.  Quebec has gotten much of what it wanted.  What did the PQ promise?  Extending the language rules to the CEGEPs (free junior-esque colleges that replace 12th grade and the first year of university).  Who wanted that?  Just the extreme wing of the PQ.  It obviously did not play well.  How about more language laws and more language police?  A bit of a mix on this since the CAQ pandered a bit in this direction, but not a heap of enthusiasm for this either.  Quebec Solidaire (QS), the small, more sincerely separatist party, is already making noises about moderation over the medium term (which means I pushed the panic button too soon).  Very striking indeed.

The core lesson here is the Quebec public is sick and tired of the nationalist politics, they are tired of it serving as distraction sauce from the big problems of the day: the tired and broken infrastructure of the province, the poorly managed health care system, the institutionalized corruption that answers the big puzzle of Quebec--highest taxes in North America, worst services in Canada.

So, maybe, just maybe the PQ can make some headway if it focuses on good governance rather than independence.  That would be a stance that could get enough support from the CAQ to pass legislation.  Focusing on the demands of the extreme wing of the PQ would mean only one thing--a short time in office.  Minority government requires agile politicians who can get stuff through.  It will be interesting to see if the new Premier, Pauline Marois, can be that agile.  I would doubt it except that she has managed to stay as leader of a very divided party that likes to eat its own.

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