When the Parti Québécois examines what went wrong in the election campaign, several insiders will point to the timing of the vote itself. A handful of senior party members would have preferred the election to be called once the Charbonneau Commission into corruption and collusion in the awarding of government contracts had heard testimony involving former Liberal cabinet ministers. “That would have been a real game changer,” one party insider said.
Instead, the commission decided to postpone hearings until after the election. In the vaccuum, both parties engaged in personal attacks and mudslinging that contributed to derailing the PQ game plan.
Instead of waiting for revelations at the commission that could have embarrassed former Liberal ministers, Pauline Marois wanted to run immediately on the adoption of a secular charter, which was part of her identity politics agenda.
PQ strategists believed that the debate over the charter, deliberately stoked last fall to boost party support, would attract nationalists from across the political spectrum. The proposed ban on certain religious symbols in the public sector was particularly divisive and harmful to the sovereignty movement. And while the majority of Quebeckers supported key elements of the charter, few believed it was urgently needed. Monday’s result was an unequivocal rejection of the identity politics Ms. Marois initiated seven years ago when she first became PQ leader.
But the disastrous PQ showing will be viewed by others, such as former leader Jacques Parizeau, as a fundamental problem of not being unable to mobilize voters to the sovereignty cause. Not since the 1995 referendum on sovereignty has a PQ leader firmly committed his party to achieving sovereignty. Nearly 20 years of ambivalence and confusion has pushed almost an entire generation to examine other options, including the conservative nationalist Coalition Avenir Quebec party or the more progressive pro-sovereignty Quebec Solidaire party.
The road to Monday’s crushing PQ defeat began several years ago. The party’s future may hinge on its ability to find a new bolder path toward pursuing its goal.