Quebec replaces one fear for another
In 1970, Quebec held an election in which getting out of Canada was on the table, even if a remote possibility. In 2018, the province will, for the first time in 48 years, vote in an election in which staying put is a given.
This is very good news. For nearly half a century, Quebec politics has been a zero-sum game between those who wish to stay in Canada and those who wish to leave.
The political culture has atrophied as a result. Having governed for all but 18 months of the last 15 years, the Quebec Liberal Party is bloated with self-entitlement and the Parti Québécois has become a refuge for baby boomer nativism as support for its raison d’être has subsided.
By creating a mostly centrist party whose nationalist-not-separatist stance reflects the delightfully ambiguous thinking of many Quebecers, Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault presents the province with a viable third option, even if unfortunately it would, like the PQ’s failed Charter of Quebec Values, prohibit the wearing of religious symbols by judges, prison guards, police officers and teachers, effectively barring certain practising members of religious minorities from these positions.
The CAQ’s mere presence has laid waste to familiar clichés. Parti Québécois Leader Jean-François Lisée officially put sovereign- ty on the back burner for the first term of a PQ government. The fear-mongering rhetoric about a referendum, once a staple of Quebec elections, is practically non-existent.
The Liberals have also been forced to change tack. In 2014, Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard regularly portrayed Legault, a former Péquiste, as a cryptosovereignist. In 2018, Couillard has mostly attacked Legault for being a terrible wouldbe premier. This is progress.
Yet while Legault has divorced himself of sovereignty, he has nonetheless adopted the fear-mongering aspect of the movement’s modern incarnation. Legault said he would reduce the number of immigrants by 20 per cent — which, in an aging population such as Quebec’s, constitutes demographic suicide.
Worse still, he has tied immigration to the supposed decline of French. This is absurd. A 2016 Office québécois de la langue française report says the use of French in the workplace actually increased among anglophones and allophones between 1997 and 2016.
Legault continues to appeal to Quebec’s collective and understandable fear of the decline of French, then pins this supposed decline on immigrants to Quebec. Why? Because it’s easy, and it works. In ridding this campaign of one fear — of sovereignty — Legault has replaced it with another.