A singing swan
Parti-québecois leader Jean-francois Lisée survived the first major challenge faced by anti PQ leader, this weekend, and emerged from a mandatory leadership review with a resounding vote of support from the 1500 or so delegates who gathered for the purpose at Montreal’s Palais des Congrès.
Lisée garnered approval from 92.8 per cent of the approximately 1400 delegates who participated in the vote. The results came as a surprise to many observers as Lisée was chosen as leader following the resignation of political hobbyist Pierrekarl Peladeau with only 50.6 per cent of the vote. Given the party’s steadily decreasing support among the population, many believed that Lisée’s ability to retain his position was in jeopardy.
The PQ is notorious for stabbing unsuccessful leaders in the back (or in the front, depending) and Lisée, a long-time backroom operator and sovereignty propagandist has never enjoyed the popular support of some former leaders and has often been accused of being ‘soft on sovereignty’ for promising not to hold a referendum during a PQ government’s first term, Instead, he has chosen to spend a potential first tem ‘laying the groundwork’ for a vote in 2022 As many diehard PQ supporters won’t be around by that time, his position raised the ire of some who believe the PQ should adopt a ‘Battle of the Light Brigade’ approach and bet all on an aggressive sovereignty stance.
The PQ has not enjoyed a political resurgence since its disastrous defeat in the last General Election, which saw the Party adopt an angry, hard-line nationalist strategy in a desperate attempt to translate the ineffective minority government of Pauline Marois. After that pounding, the party jumped on to a global trend and chose billionaire media mogul Peladeau, who quickly got bored, and resigned shortly after. Lisée was chosen to succeed him after a contentious leadership race, which did nothing to unite the traditionally fractious party and has since been spending his time trying to revive the flailing party’s status in the face of an effective challenge from the left by Québec Solidaire and from the right by the Coalition Avenir Québec’s François Legault. With the QS now being co-led by popular former student leader Gabriel Nadeau-dubois, who rose to fame during the heady days of the “Maple Spring,” it now poses an even greater threat to the PQ as the home of the Quebec independence movement and represents a more progressive, modern face to a limping option.
From the right, the CAQ appears to have usurped the party’s more ethnically intolerant position by jumping, softly, on the growing concern over immigration (legal or otherwise) and hunkering down on the identity politics that was once the PQ’S signature.
In an attempt to counter these tendencies, Lisée has promised tougher border controls, over which the government has, in fact, no authority and has suggested defunding English-language Cégeps who have seen a wave of francophone students choosing to increase their employability by learning functional English. He since walked back that proposal by suggesting instead increased funding for English-language instruction in francophone institutions.
Quebec’s Bill 101 prohibits most French Quebecers from attending English-language primary and secondary schools unless they can be ‘grandfathered’ in by genetic inheritance. As a result, increasing numbers of graduates of the French-language system are choosing to pursue their higher education English, thereby increasing their employability on the global market.
In 1976, when Bill 101 came into effect, the issue was to ensure that Frenchspeaking Quebecers can live and work in their own language and that immigrants would be absorbed into the francophone community. That project has been overwhelmingly successful, but the times have changed: Young Quebecers now assume they can become plant foremen without having to master English, but the last 40 years have seen the desire become not only employable in Rimouski, but also in Toronto, Calgary, New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and Singapore where a command of English is essential. As Cégep presents the only opportunity available to most young Quebecers to learn English, they have in effect become English-immersion institutions with an academic component.
The desire to limit English-language college admissibility in Quebec is a longstanding one for the PQ, not only because it encourages the use of French, but also because any such limitation would be of considerable benefit to one of the party’s major sources of support – Quebec teachers; unions, who would stand to benefit, as every 30 new students represents an additional teaching position for francophone teachers. Occasionally, financial self-interest and moral indignation go hand in hand.
Fortunately, for English colleges and francophone students, this short-sighted ambition has faced overwhelming opposition not from the English schools themselves (don’t make waves) but from francophone students and parents, who are unwilling to sacrifice their futures or that of their children for an out-dated and counter-productive approach.
Although the party can now prepare for the general election of 2018 with a united front, the conflicts between visions for the party persist and are likely to for some time to come. The PQ has always been a rather quarrelsome coalition of forces with markedly different agendas. It has rarely been able to combine these interests into a cohesive package and appears to have run out of new and original proposals capable of attracting new adherents to a rapidly shrinking base. Instead, the party appears to be poised to fade out slowly and painfully along with its aging baby-boomer base.
None of this is to say that the sovereignty movement is dead – although it has looked better – but it indicates the difficulty the party has had in maintaining its relevance as we approach the third decade of the 21st Century, but in the absence of some pressing issue, or action on the part of the hated federal government, it is difficult to see how an aging gang of pseudo-intellectuals with baby-boomer condescension will be able to attract a large number of a more outward-looking, cosmopolitan millennial generation which confronts the Englishlanguage on a daily basis through digital technology and no longer sees the French-fact in Quebec constantly under threat. English is not seen as the enemy, but the future, and Canada is no longer the country where francophones can’t aspire to greater abd better things. We’ve come a long way, baby, why not catch up?