Here’s why a provincial election is nigh

Pauline Marois may call it conjecture, but all signs point to a provincial election this December.

Pauline Marois
The Parti Québécois needs a majority government to fulfill the promises it made during the last election. Photo via Flickr

Whatever you were hoping to get for Christmas*, I bet this isn’t it:

According to the Quebec City newspaper Le Soleil, the Parti Québécois is gearing up for an election on Dec. 9. Among the indicators the newspaper cites are delays in calling by-elections in the vacant Montreal ridings of Viau and Outremont and an election-style spate of policy announcements the PQ is planning in the coming weeks.

Although Premier Pauline Marois dismissed the conjecture on Tuesday — saying she was “too busy” to think about calling an election — when has a politician ever been too busy to call an election when they think they can win it?

Remember, the PQ is the party that practically invented the term “winning conditions,” a reference to the strategy of not calling another referendum on independence until polls indicate the Yes side can win it.

Le Soleil cited several conditions that could derail the plans, which they say have been confirmed by highly placed PQ insiders. Among those is the fear that upcoming testimony at the Charbonneau inquiry into corruption could hurt the PQ’s reputation (although the Liberals are more likely to be hurt by any new revelations, since they were the party in power for the previous nine years).

More important, of course, is whether the next few polls continue to show the PQ narrowing the gap in popular support between it and Philippe Couillard’s Liberal party. Since June, that gap has shrunk from 11 per cent to five per cent, getting the PQ within the window where it could win another minority government. The next few surveys should show whether recent events have pushed it into majority government territory, in which case Marois will change her tune faster than a Catholic in confession.

(*I apologize if anyone takes offence at my use of the expression “Christmas.” I of course use it in its non-religious, commercial retail-shopping-boom-heritage sense, not as a reference to any mythological Christian deities.)


Q: How can you tell when you’re being served by a Quebec government employee who grew up Catholic? A: They work for the Quebec government.

The cornerstone of the PQ election strategy is, of course, the Charter of Quebec Values. It’s the perfect wedge issue, since the proposal to crack down on visible religious expression is much more popular among francophones than anglos and rural voters than city dwellers. That’s fertile territory for the PQ, since it’s the predominantly francophone rural ridings that determine which party gets into power.

(The Liberal vote tends to be highly concentrated in urban ridings, especially where there are a significant number of non-francophones. So although the Charter of Values may boost support for the Liberals in those ridings, that’s a little like pouring more water into an overflowing vase. The PQ, on the other hand, doesn’t need to boost its voter base by much to start winning ridings that it lost by a few thousand votes in the 2012 election.)

Other indicators of a looming election are a series of major policy announcements the government has scheduled in the coming weeks. We’ve already seen the unveiling of a plan to begin planning (yes, you read right) an extension of the metro’s blue line. The plan planners will get $38.8-million over the next two years, which will create dozens of high-paying jobs for engineers, lawyers, bureaucrats and government appointees — and lots of hope for franco voters in East-End Montreal.

Another $35-million in possibly pre-electoral goodies was announced in four separate news conferences on Monday, and in the coming weeks PQ ministers are slated to unveil three major economic policies as well as a comprehensive “solidarity plan” from Employment and Social Solidarity Minister Agnès Maltais.

Another signal of a possible winter election is that the normally chatty Marois and her ministers have stuck to tightly scripted announcements in recent days, refusing to answer journalists’ questions on other issues. The shift in policy has been so pronounced that the National Assembly press gallery has asked for a meeting with Marois’s media handlers to discuss the Harper-esque silence, and the provincial association of journalists has also expressed concern.

If it feels like we just had an election, that’s because we just had an election. Slightly more than a year ago, premier Jean Charest lost his bet that he could win a fourth mandate based on a single issue: his battle with the students over proposed tuition fee hikes. Marois, you can be sure, won’t repeat that error. She’s loading the deck as much as she can and turning to her election-poll card-counters for the signal that a majority is within reach.

The key to her strategy is, ironically, her party’s failure to get much done since coming to power. Like Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2011, she will turn to electors and say: “See, you have to give us a majority if we are to fulfill our promises.”

And didn’t THAT turn out well.


The second Montreal protest against the PQ’s Charter of Values is slated for Sunday at 1 p.m., starting at the Place des Festivals (beside Place des Arts). The event was initiated by four young Quebecers, which will hopefully help it avoid the controversy over the organizers that marred mobilization for the previous march on Sept. 14. This one has been endorsed by Québec Inclusif, an organization that has been circulating an anti-Charter manifesto signed by (as of Wednesday morning) over 23,000 people.

Peter Wheeland is a Montreal journalist and stand-up comic. His sardonic observations about the city and province appear every Wednesday. Follow him on Twitter, or find out about his upcoming stand-up performances here.

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