Quebec politics amid strife: Charest, undead, lives on?!

As dark as things are for the Premier, he can take comfort in this: his opponents aren’t faring much better than him


The PQ, neck and neck with the Zombies Liberals. Courtesy Léger Marketing

Riddle me this: if, as a majority of Quebecers believe, the Quebec government’s special law regarding protests goes to far; and if, as the same Léger Marketing poll suggests, an overwhelming majority of Quebecers believe that the government should lay off the obstinacy and return to the bargaining table with the students; and if the recent 100,000-strong protest in the streets of Montreal was less about tuition fees than almighty rage against the Charest government, then why, pray tell, is the Parti Québécois still only neck and neck with with the big, bad Liberals, at 32 per cent a piece?

And why, despite having wholeheartedly embraced the student movement’s position to the point of wearing its red square on her lapel everyday, is Pauline Marois only just as popular as Jean Charest? The numbers speak for themselves: when Léger asked, “In the context of the ongoing conflict, do you have a good or a bad impression of the following people?”, Jean Charest ranked at 30 per cent good, 59 per cent bad. Marois, meanwhile, scored an equally paltry 31 per cent good, and only a mildly better 54 per cent bad. In short, despite having radically different and conflicting takes on the student movement, Jean Charest and Pauline Marois are basically within the margin of error with each other. This, after more than three months of headline-grabbing stalemate between the students and the government. What gives?

Jacques Boissinot/CP Images

The answer, if not quite blowing in the wind, at least lies in the between Montreal and the rest of the province. For instance, 47 per cent of Montrealers are for Bill 78; In Quebec City, meanwhile, 54 percent of residents say they are for it. And while 75 per cent of Montrealers are for the City of Montreal’s ban on masks, the support is even higher in Quebec City and what is quaintly referred to as les régions: 80 per cent in both. (These numbers are from the detailed Léger that I can’t seem to find online.)

The numbers are even more stark when you consider how a large western chunk of the island of Montreal has always been staunchly Liberal. As Léger V-P Christian Bourque told me, “Provincially speaking, the west of Montreal is still very Liberal red.” Discount these Liberal red-or-die types (and they include French and English), and you have a real difference between Montreal and the rest of the province. “We’re seeing how opinions in Montreal and the rest of Quebec is getting and further apart. Montreal is more left and open, while the rest of the province is more conservative.”

The split between Montreal and the rest of the (Quebec) world is nothing new. As long ago as 2006, the Bloc Québécois commissioned a report on the phenomenon after a light electoral spanking in the Quebec City region at the hands of The Conservatives. The ensuing “Alarie Report” noted the following: “The Bloc, its leader [Gilles Duceppe], its organization, its program, the colour and scent it puts off is too Montreal.” One anonymous Bloc candidate, quoted anonymously in the report, was quite succinct. “Our platform was too lefty, too Montreal.”

For the PQ, there is an odd disconnect in this. By tilting her party to the right of the Bloc’s traditional lefty perch—and by the virtue of largely not being implicated in the plethora of scandals wafting around the Liberals—Pauline Marois has made inroads within the province, and rightly so—though, it must be said, she was only briefly ahead of Charest in the polls even before the current brouhaha. The caveat: this support has come mostly from les regions—where antagonism against the student movement is at its highest. “The PQ is ahead in the regions where the support for the government and tuition hikes is higher,” Bourque says. “By wearing the red square, the party has painted itself into a corner a little bit.” If the current protest had taken place in Quebec City rather than Montreal, Bourque says, “It would have been over a long time ago, and people would have been cheering the police.”

Certainly, the Charest government remains in crisis mode. Today, the Premier brought back Dan Gagnier as his chief of staff. He was Charest’s C-o-S in 2007, and managed to steady the Premier’s nosedive in the polls before resigning in 2009. Charest says Gagnier’s return has nothing to to with the student strike, which I believe about as much as his line about not paying attention to polls. And anything can happen in the coming days, weeks, and (oof) months with people and police frequently clashing in the street. And Charest will have to call an election before December 2013, when the collective memory of tear gas, strife and ugly laws (and alleged party finance skullduggery, and construction industry misery, and more mafia ties) will in all likelihood be stuck in Quebec’s collective memory.

But as dark as things are for the Premier, he can take comfort in this: his opponents aren’t fairing much better than him.


Quebec politics amid strife: Charest, undead, lives on?!

  1. That being a first, I give macleans a bullseye on this one.

  2. Part of the answer to your ‘riddle’ is that a) people might want new faces in Qc politic: Marois and Charest both have been around for the last 30 years, and b) if PQ/PLQ are close in the polls for the whole of Québec, the PQ is far ahead almost anywhere outside Montréal & Qc City. That gives a majority of MPs to PQ if elections are to be held soon.

    Not that much of a riddle, eh?

    • the PQ has 26% support in montreal, 21% support in qubec city, and 24% support in “the rest of quebec” so you are definitely wrong sir, way off really, the PQ is NOT far head almost anywhere outside montreal and quebec..do your homework sir, the liberal party holds a slight advantage in “the rest of quebec” 26% for PLQ and 24% PQ..you have no idea what you’re talking about

  3. Whoever wrote ‘his opponents aren’t faring much better than him’ – do you mean ‘faring much better than him is’? When you’re talking do you say ‘I speak better than her does’? Or ‘We live in a bigger city than them do’?

    • There’s nothing wrong with ‘faring much better than him.’ That’s proper English.
      “Him” is an object pronoun, used as a grammatical object.

  4. It time for Charest to go and never come back.

  5. AS with the RoC, rural Quebecers are more conservative than urban dwellers (this is news?) – Marois is not inspiring and cannot win an election – she nearly got turfed about a year ago as her party recognizes her “non-electability” and no, it is not because she is a woman, it is because she is “depasse” – (the old guard) – Charest same thing – what a lot of people do not seem to remember is that Charest (as Lucien Bouchard) were conservatives and although one is now a Liberal and the other was a Bloc and then PQ, they are STILL first and foremost CONSERVATIVE.

    Quebec has an outstanding debate that the political leaders DO NOT want to talk about and this is about the “project of a society” – is Quebec going to continue to build a society of what is best for the society at large (as begun by the quiet revolution) OR are we going to follow the Western Canada, USA capitalist approach, which is “it’s all about me- all about the individual” .. so I don’t have kids, I don’t fund daycare, you want an education, you fund it yourself, that sort of thinking …. OR no, as a society we all benefit from kids, and so we collectively fund daycare, we all benefit from a healthy society and therefore we collectively fund health care ..

    Because quite frankly, I am healthy, and I do not use healthcare dollars, I am over 50, I have an annual checkup – I take no meds, I eat well, I exercise and I don’t want to pay for people getting sick and ESPECIALLY if you smoke, and don’t exercise and are fat (die as the Americans have stated clearly during Republican primaries debates) because i don’t want to pay for you …. if that is the attitude, then I would prefer to bang pots and be in the street. This is NOT my Quebec. My Quebec is a society of compassion and solidarity.

    PS – I have worked since age 12 (when I created my first job tutoring children during the summer) – I have been working full time since I am 17 – I have been on EI for maternity for 17 weeks with the birth of my daughter and 5 weeks for the birth of my son – never unemployed and been working 35 years. I earn big bucks and pay big taxes. And I am happy to do it because I invest in my children, I invest in my society. I do no need a Jaguar but I need an well fed 6 yr old going to school and so I put my money to breakfast programs and NOT to car dealers. Choices …

  6. The PQ can still win a majority government if they tie the Liberals. The Liberal vote is very inefficient, being concentrated in Anglo Montreal, while the CAQ vote (assuming it is similar to that of the ADQ) is spread out (they have a regional base in and around Quebec city, but that’s about it).

  7. Quebecers are still choosing the PLQ because it is the ONLY federalist party. Give us somebody else who isn’t separatist and we’re gone.

    • Francois Legault, and the CAQ…unless of course you believe in conspiracies

  8. Too bad Mario Dumont of the Action Democratique Party which merged with the CAQ is no longer around. He has common sense and can relate to young people.

    Meanwhile the students aren’t respecting the results of the last election since tuition hikes were in the Liberal platform and the Liberals got a majority. So why would they respect a new election or even referendum?

  9. Can’t find Amiel’s article here to comment on it. Please, STOP the Black/Amiel schtick. Do they own a part of Maclean’s? Why are you subjecting your readers to their drivel? STOP.

  10. Bill
    There is an easy solution to the demands for entitlements by Quebecers who expect the lowest college tuition fees, day-care costs, etc. in North America. Simply eliminate the approximately 8 billion dollars in equalization payments that they receive from the wealthier provinces. When Quebec taxes, presently among the highest in North America, are raised even further to pay for these entitlements, I think that the people of Quebec will demand an end to the free ride that some of its citizens expect.

    • That is not based in anything related to reality. The transfer payments are not going to stop; they are part of the current economic fabric of Canada. Quebec is free to spend its budgetary dollars as it pleases, just like all other provinces.

      That said, if it continues to run up spending deficits as it has, then the chickens will come home to roost at some point, and then the provincial gov. will have to make some hard and unpopular choices.

  11. Charest is tarred by corruption allegations while Marois is nothing but a screaming banshee ready to profit from any opportunity to criticize the government while giving nothing in terms of governance proposals.
    That in a logical world would mean that a third or forth candidate would stand a very good chance of winning the PM seat, right?
    Defying this logic is the fact that Charest and Marois are the strongest ones when it comes to having the money to run a campaign. Media time is expensive and other prospective candidates haven’t already amassed much in terms of campaign donations (or, in other words, haven’t sold their soul and their principles to big potential donors).
    True democracy in Quebec?
    What a big joke!

  12. Louise, your post is interesting and full of detail, but you strike out badly on one major point. You believe the “quiet revolution” of the 1960s was a “project of a society” and full of collectivist ideals. Totally wrong. The Quiet Revolution broke Quebec out of Collectivism (The State-Church Alliance) and introduced the enlightenment and individualism to Québécois.
    Whether or not that individualism has stuck is debatable; however, let’s not claim that the death of Duplessis was followed by a socialist or even Mussolinian revolution.
    Of course, Charest’s government is all over the social map, since its aim is to cling to power. However, it so happens that it was the LIBERALS who introduced each major social and nationalistic innnovation in Quebec in the past 40 years. The goal was to remake Quebec into a modern, educated society full of autonomous people, not herd-followers.

  13. Not everything is about party lines. It is usually about working as a society. Though I think you have done a great job writing this piece, I think it is appalling that any discussion of political parties is occurring. When this many people call their right to democracy, it should be met with honesty and pride in your community, not foolishly dangerous dividing rhetoric.

  14. I wonder if the statistical information is more accurate than it was for the Alberta election.

  15. Perhaps mdm Marois should read the history of Quebec, upon learning from that, she should be able to note , that the rights she wants to take away, are the exact rights that were given , that freedom of Education, religion and culture, when Quebec was one over by the English in the wars of Quebec. She tries to convince my fellow French speaking Quebecers that she represents them, they lost their right to choose which ever education they wanted. Now she is starting on religion related issues. It would not take much research to show that her positions on issues, are continually changing depending on the situation she is in. I suggest that you look at her and what she claims to represent and some of the positions that she has taken in the past, even she, has not been able to convince herself of what she intends to do. VERY DANGEROUS situation to put your selves in. F. Legault (also trying to take away some of the same rights to choose, he once was responsible Quebece’s education reforms , his suggestions/reforms certainly DID NOT IMPROVE THINGS, now, he wants the school students finishing school an hour later, j…ust imagine all school busses and students on the road at the same time, that there is already a heavy burden of traffic on the roads, his suggestion certainly would increase the risk of the children being in accidents. As it is some students (because of distance being travelled) already spend expectionally long hours on the bus, he wants to make it worse. Of course according to him he would have no problem finding more money to pay the teachers for the extra hours. (He like Mdme Marois must believe that our climate/temperature must be ideal for the growing of money trees, they both seem to believe that financing just about any wild scheme would be no problem. In my opinion, Charest and his government, certainly have screwed up many files, however, voting for his government is STILL THE SAFER WAY to go. I think most of us feel, if we had our rathers, we would have someone else to vote for. but certainly none of those others presenting themselves at this election.

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