Supriya Dwivedi is a consultant at Crestview Strategy and a contributor to CJAD 800 in Montreal. You can follow her on Twitter @supriyadwivedi
On April 7, Quebeckers came to the conclusion that 18 months of a Parti Québécois regime was plenty, and voted in the Quebec Liberal Party with a strong mandate to govern. With it, came two ridiculous assertions: That the sovereignty movement is now dead; and that Quebeckers rejected the PQ on the basis of the divisive Charter of Values.
Claiming that sovereignty is dead is not a novel assertion within the Canadian political context. Pierre Trudeau very famously proclaimed the end of separatism six months before the PQ first came to power in the province. It was a mistake to declare the secessionist movement dead in 1976, and it would be a mistake to claim the same in 2014.
As much as the rest of the country would like to tell themselves that the 70 seat majority of the only clear federalist political party in the province is a victory for national unity, it is a false narrative. First and foremost, regardless of where the province may stand at any given moment on the issue of separatism, the reality is that the population as a whole is unlikely to become suddenly enamored with Confederation. Anglophones, allophones and francophones all fancy themselves to be part of Quebec’s distinct society, irrespective of the varying political ideologies within.
The actual numbers behind the votes seem to tell a different tale as well. Support for explicitly sovereigntist parties this time around was at 33 per cent, as support for the PQ and Québec Solidaire, were 25.4 per cent and 7.6 per cent respectively. So while support for explicitly sovereigntist parties is down from 40 per cent in 2012, it remains comparable to levels seen in recent past, specifically, 2003 and 2007. Additionally, if one factors in the share of votes that went to the CAQ – a party that consistently manages to straddle the fence on the issue of separation – you have an additional 23.1 per cent of the population who would hardly classify themselves as staunch federalists.
There is also plenty of rhetoric emanating from the chattering classes that the rejection of the PQ was somehow indicative of a causal denunciation of the Charter of Values. Once again, this is a patently false generalization that English Canada has been quick to make. A majority of Quebeckers still approve of the Charter, and anybody who paid even the slightest bit of attention to the campaign would know that Francois Legault and the CAQ used the Charter to paint themselves as the fiscally responsible party who would also stand up and defend “Quebec values”. A perfect example of this was seen during the last televised leader’s debate wherein Mr. Legault attempted to portray Mr. Couillard as a gateway to unreasonable accommodation.
It should also be highlighted that Philippe Couillard himself has committed to tabling a bill early on in his mandate that would ensure equality of the sexes, (a principle that is already enshrined in the quasi-constitutional Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms), the neutrality of the state, as well as the banning of the niqab, burqa and chador from public institutions (something that the Charest Liberals had proposed but failed to pass in 2010).
Quebec is a province that is bogged down in debt, its people are among the poorest in the country, and incomes are rising slower in Quebec than in the rest of Canada. The PQ’s mistake was in thinking that favourable opinion of the Charter would somehow trump the issues of crumbling infrastructure, a health care system in shambles, or an economy that has been hemorrhaging jobs. In other words, voters cared more about what was in their wallets than the ostentatious religious symbols on their neighbours.
The sad reality is that identity politics have been a part of Quebec’s political discourse for my entire adult life. The sovereignty movement has been more or less openly hostile to immigrants and visible minorities since the 1995 referendum loss. Accordingly, I remain dejectedly pragmatic about the future of Quebec’s political discourse.