A lot of Quebec anglos are facing a dilemma today. Like most Quebecers, we want to see change in our government, to toss the Charest Liberals out on their asses for reasons too numerous to list here. Let’s just say that the arrogance of the Charest regime has alienated people of all political stripes, even their presumably captive anglophone supporters.
Jean Charest has hardly been subtle in Liberal party ads and media interviews, saying that a vote for anyone else is a vote for another referendum, that only the Liberals can save us from that “threat.”
But is a referendum on independence really a threat? For the Parti Québécois, it’s clearly nothing but a bluff. That’s one of the reasons why former PQ MNA Jean-Martin Aussant started a new party, Option Nationale, to promote independence autrement.
Let’s be realistic. Even if the PQ forms the next government, it will never hold a referendum until it’s pretty damn sure it can win one. Nationalists cannot afford to lose three in a row. René Lévesque’s “à la prochaine fois” will sound like a ludicrous joke after three failed rolls of the dice. That’s why PQ leader Pauline Marois’s Plan No. 1 is to send a laundry list of demands to Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper, asking for powers that Ottawa is unlikely to concede. With support for sovereignty hovering at about 28 per cent these days, she needs a crise nationale to spur a rise in nationalist sentiment.
Marois’s other problem is that she isn’t Lévesque. Or Lucien Bouchard or Jacques Parizeau or even Bernard Landry, PQ leaders respected by their adversaries.
Her performance as puppet master in the adoption of Bill 204 — which protected Quebecor interests in a sweetheart deal for the construction of a Quebec City arena — caused a rift in party ranks and the defection of five MNAs. So even if she manages to spark a crisis — or has one handed to her, à la Meech Lake — there are many who would refuse to follow her to war.
There has been a lot of talk about “strategic” voting in this election. But the truth is that strategic voting is as hit-and-miss as the game Battleship. Strategic voting in Ontario in the last federal election arguably gave us the Conservative majority that it was supposed to prevent. In this election, it has spurred claims from the three leading parties that votes for opponent A will result in a win for opponent B. It is the politics of fear, and it’s the Liberals’ main weapon in the fight to keep anglo votes.
Again, let’s be realistic. The Liberals will retain most of the ridings with large proportions of anglophones and allophones. Sure, their huge margins of victory might shrink, but isn’t that a good message to send to people who think anglo voters have no real choice?
So who else is there? The Coalition Avenir Québec has been supported by several major English-language media, including the editorial board of The Gazette. Clearly, these endorsements stem from a fear of a PQ victory — but they are just as strong a repudiation of the Charest Liberals. Why else pick an acquaintance you barely know over an ally you’ve supported for decades?
The CAQ’s biggest problem is that it has no clear ideological goal beyond replacing the PQ and Liberals. It’s an animal designed by committee, neither fish nor fowl, with consequent gaffes in the campaign as candidates contradict the leader. It could jell into something coherent, but has clearly failed to do so in this campaign. Its only major asset is that it has remained free of the corruption that taints both of the traditional parties. But honestly, how long will that last, even with the election of Jacques Duchesneau, the former Montreal police chief?
For die-hard federalists, the only other option is the Green Party. But even six high-profile Quebec environmental groups gave the Greens a failing grade of 42 per cent on their environmental platform. The groups gave Québec Solidaire their top score, 83 per cent, with the PQ 10 points back. All of the other parties earned 50 per cent or less, with the Liberals dead last at 33 per cent.
If the Greens can’t even pass muster on environmental issues, it’s hard to have confidence in them for anything else.
Québec Solidaire deserves serious consideration as you decide your vote. Although QS is a sovereignist party, it does not embrace the exclusionary nationalism of the PQ. It doesn’t support the PQ’s proposed secular charter, citizenship tests or access restrictions to English CEGEPs.
It’s the only party with a track record of standing up to Quebec Inc. giants and confronting corruption. It has by far the strongest environmental platform. It has credible, rational leadership in Françoise David and Amir Khadir.
In several Montreal ridings, Québec Solidaire has a realistic chance of snatching seats from the PQ and the Liberals. But even in the safe Liberal ridings of the West Island, a strong vote for QS will help show that anglophones can see beyond the sovereignty issue.
But if you can’t support a party, pick the best person running in your riding. Without your voice, democracy is diminished, so please take the time to vote. Seriously. ■
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 at @quebecink