Quebec Votes: Depends what you mean by ‘Quebec’

The dispute over who gets to vote is a dispute over who’s a real Quebecer

PQ leader Pauline Marois arrives for a meeting Wednesday, March 19, 2014 in Montreal with counselors to prepare for the leaders' debate Thursday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

PQ leader Pauline Marois arrives for a meeting Wednesday, March 19, 2014 in Montreal with counselors to prepare for the leaders’ debate Thursday. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

One way to consider the scope of the Parti Québécois’s reaction to news that large numbers of anglophone and allophone voter registration attempts are being rejected is to count how many of the party’s personalities have reacted. Pauline Marois commented in her daily campaign scrum. Pierre Duchesne, the minister of higher education, and Bernard Drainville, the guy with the Charter of Values, fretted on Twitter. Léo Bureau-Blouin, the former student protester turned PQ MNA, gave a news conference with Families Minister Nicole Léger and Justice Minister Bertrand St. Arnaud; at least two of them said they were afraid the election will be “stolen” by fraudulent voters. And Jean-François Lisée, the bard of the entire movement, wrote a blog post explaining why “we have reasons to be worried. Very good reasons.”

So that’s seven candidates, six of them ministers in the former government’s cabinet, and since that’s just the Péquistes I pay attention to, the real number must be far higher. Plainly the PQ views this as a crisis comparable to the Night of the Long Knives. Which is odd because the DGE, the office that runs Quebec’s elections, told Le Devoir yesterday that “this is not about any strategy of registering ineligible voters. ‘We don’t think there is any organization,’ he told Le Devoir.” It is, rather, what it looks like: “people — often anglophone students — who discover a sudden interest in Quebec politics.” As if a billionaire media baron had announced his intention to help the separatist movement, or the government had introduced a bill banning religious headgear in the civil service, or something.

Lisée’s blog post, as always, is required reading. His facts seem accurate to me, and suggest that if the federalist political parties in Quebec have credibility problems, it’s often been their fault. But what is the relevance of the infractions and police investigations Lisée lists to the story at hand? What Lisée seems concretely to be suggesting is that the Quebec Liberals are using mob money to finance a system of payoffs to McGill students to steal this election. And he’s doing it a day after the province’s elections office said there is no evidence of any organization.

So if you’re a McGill student who hasn’t been receiving secret cash payments from mobbed-up Quebec Liberal Party reps, you are free to note that the PQ’s minister for relations with the anglophone community believes himself justified in doubting you.

The controversy over voter registration in Quebec contains an irreducible quantum of genuine disagreement: the vote is available to any Canadian citizen “domiciled” in Quebec for a sufficient amount of time. And this has long been interpreted — since before I was voting in Quebec in the early and mid-90s — as meaning not only that you’ve had Quebec as your place of ordinary residence for a sufficient amount of time, but that you intend to stay. How can a returning officer read the honesty of your “intention” to stay? That’s the problem. It will always be a judgment call. When a lot of students, as well as any number of other Canadians residing in Quebec who have not established long records as voters, decide they want to vote this time, there will be inevitable tension.

And it’s possible to imagine scenarios that would roughly mirror the one the PQ insists, in the face of the available evidence, on conjuring in its most prominent members’ fevered imaginations. What if the difference between a Liberal and Conservative victory in an Ontario election was made by transfer students from the University of Calgary who planned to go right back home as soon as Tim Hudak was safely ensconced in the premier’s office? What if students from Quebec elected a Newfoundland government that would sign a second Churchill Falls Agreement, then went back home to benefit from it?

But here I am twisting the facts in an attempt to be fair. My theories imagine a massive fifth column that would move from one province to another for the unique purpose of upsetting that province’s politics. Whereas what has obviously happened here is that some students came to Quebec because they were excited about being educated in Quebec, and while here, they are eager to vote in an historic election. Some will be eligible. Others won’t. There will be dispute about how many in both cases. That’s all. And of course, some number of the people signing up to vote and running into residency requirements are not even students, and not even from outside Quebec.

None of this explains the PQ’s weekend-long all-hands-on-deck in defiance of the public statements of the public agency charged with ensuring the integrity of the province’s elections. It continues the Marois-Lisée party’s ironclad record of being most fascinated by what divides Quebecers or what can be seen as a threat to the interests of right-thinking francophone Quebecers. So there’s the Charter, which seeks to ban religious garb in the public service. There’s the astonishing story of the party’s candidate Louise Mailloux, who still has not removed a blog post suggesting Israel’s policy in the West Bank is financed by levies on kosher food in Quebec. There’s Lisée’s 2012 comment that Quebec should prefer an immigrant from Bordeaux to one from Shanghai who speaks French, because the one from Bordeaux will speak French at home. It’s what led Duchesne — the minister for universities! — to wonder “what the Quebec nation has to gainfrom McGill University.

This election is turning into a referendum, not on Quebec’s constitutional status, but on its mindset. Is the world basically a threat to Quebec, or is it basically not a threat to Quebec? The Marois-Lisée PQ is the party of the siege mentality. Increasingly it is proud of that identity. Fair enough.



Quebec Votes: Depends what you mean by ‘Quebec’

  1. And yet, for some, residency is not a requirement. If you work for the Québec or Canadian government and are posted outside the province of Québec, i.e. in any other Canadian province of territory, and are Québécois, you still have a right to vote, using a mail-in ballot, two or more years after leaving the province, provided it is your intension to return someday. Go figure.

  2. “The controversy over voter registration in Quebec contains an irreducible quantum of genuine disagreement: the vote is available to any Canadian citizen “domiciled” in Quebec for a sufficient amount of time. And this has long been interpreted — since before I was voting in Quebec in the early and mid-90s — as meaning not only that you’ve had Quebec as your place of ordinary residence for a sufficient amount of time, but that you intend to stay.”

    It is amazing to me that you people find Pierre Poilievre the greatest threat to Canadian democracy.

    • The difference is Federal vs Provincial. On the federal level, the Fair Elections Act is an anti-democratic, partisan POS bill. At least the PQ are quite up front about their bigotries and anti-democratic tendencies (not that I in any way condone them, but at least they aren’t trying to dress it up as something it is not).

      • http://globalnews.ca/news/1165400/cases-of-hijabaphobia-increase-in-quebec/

        No, the difference is that one group (Ms. Marois, et al). are spewing real hatred which is causing a real threat to the citizens of the province. Then there is the other group….(Harper et al.) who is in your mind some frightening dictator who is always on the cusp of doing something absolutely horrid that just never quite materializes despite the fact that he has been in power since 2006.

    • “you people [unspecified]…”

      Love that…all finger-pointy, outraged, and indignant.

  3. Part One
    > these #%@*&^# separatists will use any scheme, real or imagined, or create any scheme to support their position. They have been blaming the “other”, >les autres>, for every ill for decades. For those living outside Quebec and reading this posting the “other” means non-French speaking persons in Quebec, or more accurately, “les maudits anglais”, the damned English, a phrase this writer still hears in the streets of Montreal.

    > never, never, never will the separatist mind-set allow that maybe, just maybe, some of the problems in Quebec have been quite simply caused by the French leaders in Quebec. Based on the protection afforded the French in early Acts, Reports and Treaties, the French language was doing fine until two things happened to change that: 1-the birth rate among the French families began to drop, significantly, after World War II, and then, 2-immigrants to Quebec, my grandparents among them, had been told by the French leaders to enroll their children in English Catholic schools because they were not “French” and the Jewish students were told to enroll in English Protestant schools because they were not Catholic. Hence, the decline in the French schools and the creation of Bill 101 with the Great Exodus, chapter 1976, verse 1;

    Part Two
    > oh, and please, don’t start about the advantage of the English in business. The French leaders, religious and political, encouraged either farming, the trades, or the professional class, such as lawyers, notaries and accountants. There was also the push to the ranks of the priesthood or nuns.

    > now, those students from elsewhere in Canada studying here are the threat. If this separatist minority ever succeeds in achieving a separate state, unlikely now, then one has to wonder who will they blame for the mess that will follow.

    > if there i s anything that is a threat it is the provincial debt reaching the size of Mount Everest but let’s not look at that, let’s look at a few students here who, by the way, had no such problem voting before. Anything to keep the focus away from that number: please go to Google – Quebec Debt Clock. Scary!

  4. > while we are on the topic of who can vote, or how an election can be distorted, even cheated, please remember this little tidbit: during the 1995 Referendum itself there were at least 50 000 ballots that were rendered “void” by the ones counting the ballots usually because the “X” was incorrectly placed;
    > it was later determined that these votes were favourable to the “Non” side, that is in favour of keeping Quebec in Canada. It was also highly suspected that those discounting these ballots were in favour of the “Oui” side, the separatists side. That referendum was won by about 50 000 votes so it could easily have been lost in the counting process alone;
    > the Parti Quebecois has no claim to the moral high ground in this business of the election. Here is a final and fine example of their reasoning: To a reporter’s question about their willingness to accept concensus a member of the Parti Quebecois leadership answered with this gem, “…we are willing to accept concensus as long as they agree with us.” This is the mindset with which we are dealing.
    > dear fellow Canadians: these separatists have been getting away with much too much for close to fifty years. We must be watchful

    • What is amazing about those 50,000 invalidated ballots is that most of them were in the riding of then provincial MP Thomas Mulcair, the same who is willing to take 50% plus one vote as an acceptable threshold to initiate secession talks.

  5. It’s all a moot point. Most out-of-town anglo students live in apartments located near the English universities (downtown Montreal). Their votes are “wasted” as Westmount-Saint-Louis is the safest Liberal seat in the province (the Libs received 68% of the vote here; the 2nd place CAQ got 13%). It’s pointless for the Libs to pay Ontario students to vote here.

    The same is true of students living in adjacent ridings: The margins of victory are so great that the Libs/PQ are generally guaranteed to take these ridings.

    (The exception might be Bishop’s university in Sherbrooke. This riding tends to be tight.)

    At the end of the day, it’s pure fear-mongering. The PQ has nothing to lose if a bunch of Ontarians register to vote in Westmount-SJ, or even in their safe SM-SJ riding. But they DO have something to gain from dividing Quebecers and fear-mongering in spite of facts.

    • That’s about what I figured – just a scare-mongering tactic to get out the “pur laine” vote.

  6. So, the leader of the most corrupt province in Confederation is concerned that corrupt organizations might derail her plans to create an independent corrupt state because those corrupt organizations fear that the hundreds of millions of dollars in off-shore taxation that fund their corruption might just disappear? Do I have that right? Pretty sure I do.

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