Thursday, September 06, 2012

History of Quebec elections

I'm not sure why that shooting outside the PQ rally on Tuesday night deterred me from posting on the election yesterday.  But it did.

That certain lack of concern across Canada about the results of the Quebec election?  It's the subject of my forthcoming column in Canada's History, actually. (I think of that column as a history column, but whenever Mark the editor cajoles me into trying a historical angle on current news, I end up glad he did.)

Watching the coverage of the campaign and the results,  I could not help thinking again that while the sovereignty movement may remain a political reality, it has long since ceased to be an intellectual or moral challenge to the rest of us.  When you see Jean-François Lisée declaring that if Quebec does not become independent the French language will be extinct in Quebec in ten years (okay, I'm paraphrasing),  well, some of the urgency of engaging with such nasty nonsense goes away.  There has been some PQ hack trying such alarmist nonsense since about 1960. One used to take it seriously....

Election night coverage really reinforced how completely Quebec has come to share the Canadian habit of neglecting the most basic precepts of parliamentary democracy.  When it was likely that the PQ would have a few seats more than any other party, the tv "Decision Desks" flashed that "PQ Minority Government" sign with a sense of absolute certainty.  (I know you know, chers lecteurs, that there still is a government, and that if Premier Charest thought he might be able to cobble together 63 votes, he was perfectly entitled to remain in power and meet the legislature.)

On all the news channels the announcers and the expert commentators declared with the same certainty that it was, if not illegal, at least absolutely unacceptable that, say, the second and third parties, both federalist, might agree to put together a working majority.  One expert panelist even blithely declared that under the British parliamentary system we have inherited, the lieutenant-governor was obliged to to give Pauline Marois, as the leader of the party with the most seats, first choice in forming a government.

I don't mean that some government other than a PQ minority was particularly likely to emerge. Both the Liberals and the CAQ had good reasons not to work together, even though working together would put them in power.  But it was striking how all the commentators I saw agreed such an eventuality was absolutely unacceptable and next to illegal. Quebec's legislature now has a four-party system that may last a while -- but the conviction that the parties are not allowed to deal with that situation seemed to be unanimously held.

I was going to call this the Harperization of Quebec politics, but Prime Minister Harper's claim that only the largest party can form a government was not really his own invention.  Everyone seems to believe it most of the time.  Certainly the tv networks base their coverage on it.

Finally, I never before noticed there is a Quebec constituency called "Robert-Baldwin."  Nice.  I like that habit in Quebec of naming constituencies for politicians and public figures.  How about a riding called LaFontaine in one of the new federal ridings in the Toronto suburbs -- where indeed Louis-Hypolite once held a seat?  Better than "Markham-Stouffville-part of East Garafraxa-and over toward King City," which is roughly what they are going to be called.

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