Yesterday’s provincial elections in Quebec resulted in a majority for the pro-federal, leftish Liberal Party, known colloquially as The Grits. Of the 125 total seats in the provincial parliament, the Liberals took 70. Parti Quebecois, which had been the minority government for the last 19 months, won only 30 seats. The Coalition Avenir Quebec (sort of conservative on money, liberal on lifestyle with federalist and separatist wings) won 22 seats, and Quebec Solidaire (a leftwing sovereigntist party) earned 3 seats. The long and short of it is that secession is off the table for the next several years.
The PQ result is nothing short of a disaster. Pauline Marois, who had been the premier of the province for the PQ, lost her seat. She has resigned the party leadership (quite rightly), and the party will need a new boss. Media mogul Pierre Karl Peladeau, who started waving his fist about another referendum on sovereignty during the campaign, is in the running. However Bernard Drainville, the former minister responsible for the secular charter, and Jean-Francois Lisee, former international relations minister, have solid bases with the PQ. A messy fight lies ahead, and it could be that the result is a further divided party.
For the Liberals, the win has not completely wiped the slate clean after losing power in a corruption scandal. They now have a new man in charge Philippe Couillard, a former neurosurgeon, who is largely untested. His in-tray is daunting. As Michelle Gagnon at the CBC explained, he inherits “an economy hobbled by slow growth and an aging population, a society divided over the province’s controversial charter of values, and a history of political corruption that will continue to nag the province and the Liberals themselves.”
Nevertheless, he has such an overwhelming majority that he can afford a few mistakes in the next few years. While there isn’t much to be done about the aging population, he will find that the global economic environment will help put Quebec’s economy on a growth track. At very least, the headwinds are abating.
At the national level, this settles the relationship of Quebec and the rest of Canada for a decade or so, The issue is probably not going to die entirely within this or the next generation. Pierre Trudeau declared the matter settled in 1980, and a generation later, the possibility of a third referendum featured in this campaign. Too many PQ politicians (and QS for that matter) have a personal interest in keeping the matter alive. Nevertheless, the sovereignty crew has taken a bad beating, and if the Liberals perform and get re-elected, the purpose of the PQ becomes questionable.
Given the emergence of QS and CAQ, PQ may not be the default Francophone party at the next election in four years’ time. A difficult leadership fight, the rise of the culturally French but federalist CAQ faction, and the possible loss of votes to QS on the left could leave PQ as an also ran next time. The Bloc Quebecois is a shadow of its former self in Ottawa, and it may be that that decline was a hint of PQ’s future.