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Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois speaks to reporters during a Quebec provincial election campaign stop at Alstom Grid in La Prairie, Que., on March 28, 2014. (GRAHAM HUGHES/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois speaks to reporters during a Quebec provincial election campaign stop at Alstom Grid in La Prairie, Que., on March 28, 2014. (GRAHAM HUGHES/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Globe editorial

The PQ promises no referendum ... yet Add to ...

As the Parti Québécois grows more desperate, its appeals to voters become stranger and more tortured. The PQ is ever more vigorously trying to distance itself from the obvious truth that, if re-elected, it hopes to be able to unleash another referendum on sovereignty. Why? Because polls show that the vast majority of Quebeckers don’t want another referendum. Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard has surged in the polls, in large part by reminding voters that the best way to stop the PQ from living up to its foundational principle – the party’s website helpfully explains that its “number-one goal” is “to make of Quebec a country” – is to prevent it from forming the next government. In an attempt to avoid losing the election, the PQ is now trying to perform an impossible juggling act: insisting that it doesn’t plan to hold a new referendum, while categorically refusing to rule it out.

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On Friday, PQ MNA Jean-François Lisée, whose portfolio includes responsibility for “relations with anglo-Quebeckers,” used a confessional approach to try to win over anti-sovereignists. He told reporters that he has “rarely been as pessimistic” about the possibility of another referendum, given that Quebeckers have made it clear that they “are not ready.”

“I have been very struck by the signal sent by Quebeckers at the start of this campaign. Very struck.” He said that “the message” sent to his party “must be respected.”

Of course, he added, “if Quebeckers within the next four years decide that they have the desire” for a referendum, “the future is always open.” In other words, we promise not to hold a referendum until you are “ready”; we also promise to work ceaselessly to generate imaginary conflicts and stir up irrational resentments in the hope of getting you, the francophone Quebec voter, “ready.”

How to get voters ready? On Friday, after months of harping on the need to pass a law to discriminate against religious minorities – the so-called Charter of Values – PQ Leader Pauline Marois announced that, if re-elected, her party will also pass a new Charter of the French Language, to strengthen the fight against English. Mr. Couillard accurately describes the PQ’s fear-mongering as an attempt to create “a siege mentality.”

This is what the PQ has been reduced too. Appeals to discrimination, induced paranoia about linguistic threats, and slippery falsehoods about the party’s intentions. After the first leaders’ debate, Ms. Marois was asked by reporters why she had failed to present the separatist case with sufficient vigour. “Does anyone think that I’m not a sovereignist?” she angrily responded. “I don’t think there can be any doubt about it.” Voters have taken note.

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