It’s important to understand the scale of the calamity that has befallen the Parti Québécois.
Its share of the popular vote, as I write this, is solidly below the 28% the party won in 2007 when André Boisclair was its leader. This is, in fact, the PQ’s worst election result, in share of popular vote, in 44 years. The only time it ever did worse was in 1970, the first campaign the party ever fought.
Philippe Couillard did not have a flawless campaign but he has a full majority term to get the hang of premiering. And Quebec usually re-elects incumbent governments once. In fact, Pauline Marois becomes the first Quebec premier to fail to be re-elected since the 1920s.
But these are garden-variety problems. The PQ’s woes go much deeper still. It is now 15 years since the party won more than 40% of the popular vote; the Liberals did so in 2008 and again tonight. This is because the PQ sits on a policy it cannot sell: secession from Canada. But now it has added a second unsellable policy to its kit bag: a plan to fire librarians and emergency-room physicians if it is possible to tell by looking at them which religious faith they practise.
It would be all right if the PQ could simply abandon its charter of values, perhaps in favour of a milder policy of more limited punishments for departure from the state religion of atheism, or of a simple rhetorical preference that provincial employees dress without kippahs and hijabs. But it is not that easy. I hope soon to link to the weekend poll I saw that showed which issues were important to supporters of which party. The charter was not top-of-mind for supporters of any party—except the PQ. The PQ’s shrunken voter base now encompasses just about every Quebecer who insists the full force of provincial coercion intervene if he cannot spot a clerk’s ears at the licence bureau.
We can, in fact, add a third policy lemon to the PQ’s pantry: frozen university tuition. The two young PQ candidates who ran on nostalgia for 2012′s summer-long tuition protests were defeated tonight, too. So PQ supporters will not give up on tuition freezes, but the broader population supports the notion that students should contribute to the increased cost of their ever-more-expensive educations.
On all three policies—secession, coercive state atheism, and university tuition—the PQ is stuck between an electorate that doesn’t agree, and a party base that will not retreat. Compounding the near-guarantee of further PQ grief still further is its insufferable belief in its own infallible mind meld with the Québécois collective conscience. The PQ knows better than anyone on sovereignty, secularism and higher education. Or so its members tell themselves. So it will not abandon policies the broader Quebec population, including much of the francophone majority, finds risible.
The PQ is in clear danger of becoming Quebec’s Tea Party: a fringe movement in thrall to esoteric mail-order theorists and proud of it, ensuring continued defeat and resistant to any attempts to fix it. I won’t be predicting the death of separatism; that’s a cliché. But I do predict an extended purgatory for a PQ that will wonder, for a very long time to come, why everyone points and giggles when its leaders proclaim the things they believe most profoundly.