Saturday, March 22, 2014

Marois and the PQ: Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory in Québec

I freely admit to being a Francophile. In junior high school, when many of my friends were taking Spanish as their “foreign” language (a decision that makes a lot of sense in New York), I enrolled in French, and continued taking it through high school. Two years ago I took an intensive conversation-immersion class at the college where I teach in January, just to brush up on my skills, skills that come in handy on my annual March vacation in Québec. And in fact, in five days, I will once again be travelling to Montréal, proudly sporting a fleur-de-lis tattoo on my left shoulder, diving into mounds of Poutine and eating myself silly at a Sugar Shack.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I am following the upcoming Provincial elections in Québec with some fascination and interest. Just two years ago, on this blog, I chronicled (and predicted) the rise to power of Pauline Marois and le Parti Québécois, with their vision of an independent Québec (Separatists Poised for Québec Election) And I must admit, whether we are discussing Scotland, Kurdistan, or the Tuaregs of Mali, I sympathize with people-groups seeking their right to self-determination. As the largest and most significant French-speaking and French-cultured people in the entire western hemisphere, Québec sovereignty is something I can support – at least theoretically.

But, with the elections only 16 days away (April 7), it appears that Marois and the PQ will suffer a deserved defeat.
If it is possible to go overboard on a principle, the PQ has found a way to do it.

In their efforts to preserve what is unique about Québec, the Province has won concessions from the rest of Canada on a variety of issues, most notably immigration. Canada scores and rates potential immigrants based on a number of factors, including job skills, education, etc. Québec won a concession that permits that province to give “extra points” to would-be immigrants for whom French is their mother tongue.

One unforeseen consequence of this (being that there are so few places where French is spoken as the primary language) is that Québec has seen an increase in immigrants from places like Algeria, Morocco, and Lebanon, all places where French colonialism’s tentacles established French as the national language.

But, from at least one perspective, that creates an entirely new set of “Un-Québec” problems: these immigrants and students are Muslim. Some were burkas or other religious head gear. And if there is any way to bring out an ugly xenophobia or a parochial mindset, it is to drop immigrant Muslims into the midst of a French culture that already sees itself as “under siege” by a dominant English-speaking Canada.

And so, Marois unveiled the party’s “Charter of Values,” which purports to codify in law the values that identify Québec’s uniqueness. Within that Charter are provisions that make it illegal to wear conspicuous religious symbols (Jewish yarmulkes, Muslim burkas, and Sikh headgear) in government offices or as government employees. In Québec, that means not only the huge government sector, but schools and hospitals as well. In a well-publicized (and ridiculous) exercise in linguistic zealotry, the province’s Language Police went after a Montréal restaurant for printing the word “pasta” on a menu (“pasta” is Italian, and not French, and therefore a violation of new requirements mandating business be conducted in French.) Other PQ candidates have pushed the sovereignty issue way too hard, forcing Marois to concede that the borders would remain open, promising continued use of Canadian currency, and insisting that a Québecker would continue to sit on the governing board of the Bank of Canada, none of which are credible promises that an independent Québec could guarantee.

To be fair, the majority of Francophones support the Charter of Values. However, minorities, Anglophones, civil libertarians, and younger people have begun to roll their eyes at the intolerance coming from the PQ. Protests have sprung up, especially in Montréal. On Tuesday, The Mohawk Council of Akwesasne released a public statement saying Quebec sovereignty would create "very real concerns" for the First Nations community. “If Quebec ultimately chooses to separate, I would advise our Council and community to hold our own vote in order to determine whether we would stay within the borders of Quebec or separate ourselves,” said Chief Mike Kanentakeron Mitchell.

Having defeated all other parties just two years ago, the PQ appears to be heading for crushing defeat in just two weeks. The most recent polls are in significant agreement:

45 per cent of likely voters currently intend to vote for the opposition Liberal Party, compared to just 32 per cent for Pauline Marois’ PQ. A third party, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) was in third place with 13 per cent, though it is likely that the Liberals and the CAQ would form a coalition together to keep the PQ out of power altogether.

Some of the strongest opposition to the PQ is coming from Montréal, long a cosmopolitan crossroads in Québec, and the center of a student uprising against tuition hikes that help defeat the Liberal Party two years ago and catapult the PQ to power (Montréal Students, Labor, Citizens ). It would appear that the PQ has lost this group of voters. In fact, within moments after completing this post, the following news item came across my feed:

"...Some 75.7% of voters in the riding of Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques, in downtown Montreal is French. However, since last Monday, more than half of the people who have to get the right to vote for the first time are English or allophones. This is a demographic phenomenon observed in several districts of the metropolis, and a concern at the highest levels for electoral authorities..." (Original: Quelque 75,7 % de l’électorat de la circonscription de Sainte-Marie–Saint-Jacques, au centre-ville de Montréal, est francophone. Pourtant, depuis lundi dernier, plus de la moitié des personnes qui se présentent pour obtenir le droit de voter pour la première fois sont anglophones ou allophones. Un phénomène démographique observé dans plusieurs circonscriptions de la métropole, et qui inquiète au plus haut point les autorités électorales. - Le Devoir: libre de penser)

It will be an interesting visit this year. I expect to be welcoming Liberal Party Leader Philippe Couillard as the next Premier in Québec.


No comments: