Quebec, Ink: And the winner is…

What if you held an election and nobody won? That’s pretty much what happened last week.

What if you held an election and nobody won?

That’s pretty much what happened last week.

The Liberals were hoping for re-election, Jean Charest had his sights on a fourth consecutive mandate and … splat. The Liberals were narrowly nudged from power and Charest lost his own seat, his first personal loss in 28 years of federal and provincial elections.

It was a night where losers made all the headlines.

The Parti Québécois had their eyes on a majority government but barely managed enough seats to earn Pauline Marois the Queen’s approval as the province’s next premier.

The Coalition Avenir Québec was hoping to sweep the Quebec electorate with its call for change. But the population wasn’t ready to buy in bulk — a smaller package of change was all it could manage.

And Option Nationale, the new nationalist party started by PQ defector Jean-Martin Aussant, failed to achieve the most modest of its goals — re-electing Aussant in his Nicolet-Yamaska riding.

Of the major political parties, only Québec Solidaire came close to claiming victory, electing co-spokesperson Françoise David to join Amir Khadir in the National Assembly, but failing to elect Manon Massé in Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques. Massé trailed the PQ’s Daniel Breton by almost 3,000 votes but beat the Liberals by almost as wide a margin. Pretty amazing, though, for a candidate who refused to shave her moustache for her campaign poster as a sign of transgender solidarity and who was running for a left-nationalist party in a downtown Montreal riding.

Another loser, yet again, were electors whose choices were distorted by the traditional electoral system. Quebec and Canada have been reluctant to embrace any form of proportional representation because the parties in power often got there thanks to a winner-take-all system that ignores significant support for less popular parties.

So even though fewer than five percentage points separated the popular support for the Liberals, PQ and CAQ, the difference between winner and loser was 35 seats!

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Photo by Tracey Lindeman

But there had to be some winners, right?

To start, we have our first female premier!

It would be more exciting if it wasn’t Marois. Louise Beaudoin? Well, that would have been quite the ride!

A voter turnout of nearly 75 per cent was also good news for democracy.

And voters who wanted change — but not radical change — are probably pretty happy with the results. People who find the Liberals and CAQ too right wing are likely cheering a return of the PQ to power. After all, the PQ has a legacy of reform (though, honestly, it’s hard to remember much in the way of progressive legislation from PQ premiers since René Lévesque).

Coalition Avenir supporters are happy their team will have the opportunity to show what the party is all about. Former Montreal police chief Jacques Duchesneau will have a chance to prove whether there’s any meat behind his smoke, while party leader François Legault can demonstrate the difference between Liberal Pepsi and CAQ Coke.

Jean Charest , who resigned as Liberal leader the day following the election, actually appeared to be relieved his 28 years of public service were over. So did his wife, Michèle Dionne. At 54 years old, Charest has some pretty generous pensions from both Ottawa and Quebec, and he has his pick of Montreal law firms he can work for, so don’t shed any tears for the outgoing premier. He is glad to be rid of us, and don’t doubt it for a second.

Liberals tired of the Charest leadership (okay, that’s mostly Liberals looking to replace him) are no doubt looking at the race as an opportunity to rebrand the party. Maybe call it neo-federalist. Or post-federalist. Or simply non-referendumist.

Two potential candidates were eliminated before the campaign even started: Line Beauchamp quit the education portfolio (and government) in the wake of the student strike and her replacement, deputy premier Michelle Courchesne, decided not to run in the 2012 election after her resounding failure in dealing with students and allegations of corruption.

Wait. Come to think of it, there was one clear winner in the election: the Quebec CEGEP and university students whose six-month protest pushed Charest to call the premature election in the first place.

Marois has already committed to do the three major things the student movement called for:

1. The tuition increase will be cancelled (since tuition is set by cabinet decree, it doesn’t require a majority).

2. Bill 78, the student equivalent of a back-to-work law, will be repealed.

3. The government will host a summit on the future of higher education.

The students are, quite rightly, claiming victory. Charest tried to end the strike with the force of law, but all it took was an election.

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist and stand-up comic. His (usually) satirical observations about the city and province appear at least once a week in this space. You can follow him on Twitter @quebecink.

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