On Tuesday, Premier Pauline Marois said that the reason the Parti Québécois suddenly finds itself trailing badly in the polls is because voters are being “misled or manipulated” by Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard’s campaign of fear. “I believe that we are victims of the head of one party, Mr. Couillard, who, having nothing new or daring to propose, has fallen back on arguments of fear.”
Oh, irony. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. The PQ Leader’s pitch to voters in this election, to a degree unprecedented for her party, has been an appeal to intolerance, paranoia and fear – fear of immigrants, minorities, English and other imaginary threats from a foreign “them.” The main plank of Ms. Marois’s platform is the Charter of Quebec Values, which would ban the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols by anyone working in the broad public sector. Doctors wearing a kippah, nurses who wear a hijab, a hospital administrator in a turban – all would have to quit their jobs, or their faith.
The Liberal Party, in contrast, has been steadily advancing in the polls in part thanks to a well-founded fear: that a party dedicated to taking Quebec out of Canada will attempt to do so. A strong majority of Quebeckers consistently tell pollsters that they do not want to separate, and do not want another referendum. The PQ could try to put their fears to rest by agreeing to a moratorium on referendums until at least after the next scheduled election date, in 2019. Instead, the party has done the opposite, from star candidate Pierre Karl Péladeau’s proclamation that he is running to create a new country, to Ms. Marois’s own refusal to swear off a sovereignty vote. The PQ has made the elastic committment to hold off on a referendum until Quebeckers are “ready,” which is widely understood for what it is: a pledge to hold a referendum, if it feels it can win. If elected, a PQ government will have every incentive to sow discord with the rest of Canada and with minorities in Quebec, as a means of creating those winning conditions.
The PQ has built its election campaign on fear – the fear of headscarves, turbans, kosher food and the English language. But the PQ has also created the most compelling campaign against itself, since the party’s raison d’être remains the holding of another referendum. On April 7, Quebeckers get to decide which they fear more.