Most of North America counts down to New Year’s through images from Times Square in New York. For most Quebeckers, however, the holiday tradition is an annual Bye-Bye comedy revue. From Bye-bye Jean Charest to Bonjour Charbonneau commission, 2012 served up plenty of political fodder. The new year in Quebec promises to be just as interesting. Here are five things to watch for.
A woman’s place, at the top: Quebec enters 2013 under its first female premier, Pauline Marois, and with Madam Justice France Charbonneau at the helm of perhaps the most far-reaching corruption inquiry in the province’s history. While both women will shape the political headlines, Ms. Marois’s hold on power will remain tenuous: She heads a minority government that has yet to shake its growing pains, a divided party still not in sync over socio-economic and constitutional platforms, and a public that remains uncertain about her leadership.
An education minefield: The new year brings the unresolved issue of university finances and student fees, with university administrations up in arms over the government’s drastic cuts to funding, and students rumbling over proposals for indexing fees. We may not see a repeat of the Maple Spring, but the summit on higher education is likely to be raucous, indeed.
A Liberal saviour, Part I: For the Quebec Liberal Party, it’s all about redemption. Mr. Charest is gone, with a mixed record and an uncertain legacy, but the party’s strong second-place showing in September’s election has led to a competitive leadership race. The good news is that the front-runners are considered competent candidates and seasoned politicians; the bad news is that their careers were forged as cabinet ministers in one of the most unpopular administrations in Quebec’s political history.
Raymond Bachand, well-tuned in the world of Quebec Inc., provides a bland if reassuring mastery of economic issues. Philippe Couillard is more of a maverick, with plenty of popular support, but he also has a bit more of a checkered past as health minister and private entrepreneur.
A Liberal saviour, Part II: For the Liberal Party of Canada, the leadership contest is about one thing only in Quebec – survival. And so far, the survivors have yet to make their mark. Marc Garneau may be one of the best-known Quebeckers, but that’s unlikely to win popular support. Although much ink has been spilled over Justin Trudeau, the best-known Liberal in Quebec, it’s not enough to help him capture hearts and minds in the province.
This should be the best of times for Liberals, with the Bloc Québécois a political footnote, the NDP incapable of sprouting stronger roots, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper seen as a caricature cowboy. But even with homegrown front-runners, the Liberal Party has yet to find its place in Quebec’s political landscape.
An election, or not: Whether or not Quebeckers are called back to the voting booth, 2013 promises to be a year of reckoning. Any pretext would be sufficient to bring down the minority Marois government, but that’s unlikely before next fall. The Liberals need to get their bearings with a new leader, and have damage control ready if the Charbonneau inquiry unearths more connections to the construction industry.
The electorate, of course, remains the biggest wild card of all. Still volatile and unsettled, yet without visible signs of change in the polling numbers, Quebeckers seem to be playing a waiting game with their political future.
Antonia Maioni is an associate professor of political science at McGill University.