Before the Parti Québécois imploded, Pauline Marois danced. On a chilly April night just over a week before the election, the PQ leader was in her element: on a stage, on her 65th birthday, in the arms of Jean-Pierre Ferland. Her favourite singer, Ferland crooned the words to his song T’es belle (“You’re beautiful”) in her ear and through a microphone to the roughly 2,000 PQ faithful swooning along in front of her. Members of Marois’s family, including her 88-year-old mother, watched as the pair sashayed back and forth in the blue light of Montreal’s Théâtre Telus.
“T’es belle,” whispered Ferland to Marois at the end of the song. Outside, well-wishers lined up in vain around the corner for a chance to get in. Inside, there was barely enough room to dance. Sweaty and festive, it was less political rally than fervent love-in for Quebec’s first female premier. “What a present,” Marois said afterward, her eyes rimmed with tears.
It might as well have been her swan song. Nine days later, the Quebec electorate handed the Parti Québécois its largest electoral defeat, in terms of the popular vote, in 44 years. It is arguably the largest moral defeat in the party’s history. Losing to the dreaded Liberal Party of Quebec, which was chest-deep in political scandal hardly 18 months ago, is difficult enough; losing to rookie leader and unalloyed federalist Philippe Couillard is that much worse. And losing an election that the PQ itself framed as a treatise on secularism and the survival of the French language is, quite frankly, catastrophic.
Sovereignty isn’t dead, but the movement is in serious trouble. In this week’s issue, Quebec bureau chief Martin Patriquin looks at the future of sovereignty in Quebec and where the PQ goes next after such a dismal failure. Look for this week’s issue on newsstands, or on your tablet.