Plus ça change? Sort of. - Macleans.ca

Plus ça change? Sort of.

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Yes, this woman is smiling. Again. (Photo Le Devoir)

Funny things happen when you ignore your blog for forever. When we last checked into Quebec’s political scene, Pauline Marois was armpits-deep in the quicksand that seems to occupy the office of every PQ leader save for Jacques Parizeau. The Coalition Avenir Quebec, the not-really-a-coalition coalition of sovereignists, federalists and a gaggle of right-y types who don’t seem to give a damn either way (just cut my taxes already), was blowing up the polls, with Quebecers seeing a distinct Premier-like gleam coming off François Legault. As per usual, Jean Charest’s Liberals were governing from somewhere in the cellar of public opinion, content that PQ caucus members were too busy gouging each other’s eyes out to make any gain on the its three-year status quo cornucopia of corruption allegations, collapsing infrastructure and restive student groups.

What a difference forever makes. The PQ, to paraphrase the great Chuck D, has managed to get its shit correct, with Pauline Marois having convinced/coerced the usual dissidents to sheath the knives that, if PQ history is any indication, were destined for her back. In so doing, Marois last week overtook Charest in personal popularity for practically the first time in, oh, about four years—the first time an established party has been able thoroughly capitalize on the chronic nosebleed that is the Liberal government. “The PQ in Majority Territory” was the triumphant headline of the day in Le Devoir yesterday. It’s about time, frankly, because Marois was becoming something of a running joke: what would Jean Charest have to do to be less popular than Marois? Kill and eat a baby seal on live television? Buy a Hummer? Promote an Anglo? Because two year’s worth of bad headlines certainly didn’t work.

Legault, meanwhile, has come crashing back to earth by alienated many of those who were meant to coalesce: the right-y types are mad because he absorbed the ADQ and yanked its old platform to the centre; the federalists are mad because that’s what happens when your right hand man says a CAQ government would “give us confidence… to subsequently become a country.” Whoops!

So yeah, as Quebec heads towards an election—which must happen with then next 21 months—it’s good to see that democracy is alive, well, and as schizophrenic as usual in this bizarre corner of the earth. And as La Presse’s Denis Lessard points out today, it’s a remarkably similar climate to the lead-up to the 2003 election. All the factors are there: a wildly popular right-of-centre upstart, then played by Mario Dumont, who at the time of the election was on a now-familiar down swing in the polls; a defiant PQ leader (Bernard Landry) punching his way out of a slump; and Jean Charest, the establishment candidate, chronically incapable of warming the francophone  vote’s collective cockles. And yet Jean Charest won, beating back the separatist scourge. Yay Canada, and all that.

Plus ça change for the next go around, right? Sure, except for this: in 2003, Jean Chrétien led a Liberal government that, as many Quebec nationalists would care to forget, was basking in post-referendal, pre-AdScam popularity, buoyed by Chrétien’s decision to stay out of Iraq. The federal Liberals had nearly as many seats as the Bloc. “National unity”, that nebulous term used to gauge how much traction the Quebec sovereignty movement has at any moment, was strong.

It’s a different story now. The Conservatives are about as popular as syphilis and bad breath in Quebec, and become all the more so as they introduce (or attempt to introduce) laws and what not that are acutely unpopular here. Take your pick: Bill c-10, a national securities regulator, the abolition of the long gun registry, the promotion of the Alberta oil sands, the anti-abortion murmurs from the Conservative backbench, etc. Harper’s image, meanwhile, is just as awful. As Peter White told me in January, “I’ve had Francophones say to me publicly that they think he’s got ears and a tail, and he eats babies. And these are conservatives.”

And who traditionally gains the most from the collective ire towards the federal government? The Parti Québécois.

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