Like the U.S. Republican Party, then, the PQ has chosen to double down a dwindling base (in the PQ’s case, of hard and soft francophone nationalists), in the conviction it can secure a few more electoral victories before the demographic tides turn against it. Once the party of young Quebeckers, it now polls highest among voters over 55. Similarly, the Charter has the support of 66 per cent of Quebeckers over 55, but fewer than half of those under 35, according to a CROP poll released this week. The Charter debate has allowed the PQ to eat the CAQ’s lunch.
Marianne set for a majority
But winning a majority may be the easy part. Victory will expose the tensions between aging Péquistes raring for a final stab at sovereignty before they die, pragmatists terrified by the fallout of a third losing referendum and a broader electorate that considers sovereignty yesterday’s cause.
“There is a sense of urgency among sovereigntists,” notes Université de Montréal political scientist Denis Saint-Martin. “Young people aren’t as attracted to the project as their grandparents ... It’s their last chance. They have demography on their side – but not for much longer.”
On the campaign trail, Ms. Marois has played coy, trying to reassure Caquistes cool to the idea of separatism that she won’t plunge headfirst into a referendum, without discouraging Péquiste stalwarts. “There is no promise to hold a referendum,” she said Thursday, “but neither is there a promise to not hold one.”
But if the PQ wins, expect open discussion of referendum strategy to flow like maple syrup. The discussion will largely centre on how to prepare the public for a vote, especially since Quebeckers under 35 have never seriously debated the “national question.”
“The difference between 1994-95 and 2014-15 is the degree of public consciousness regarding sovereignty,” says Michel Sarra-Bournet, who teaches political science at two Montreal universities. “In 1995, it had been at least 10 years since Quebec’s political status had been the first, second and third subject in the news. But in the last 10 years, no one has been talking about it at all.”
At the centre of it all is Ms. Marois, the unlikely Marianne leading her people to liberty. The PQ has sought to play up her perseverance by slapping a giant “determined” next to her face on her campaign bus. How determined? If she gets her majority, Quebec and Canada will likely find out soon enough.
Konrad Yakabuski is a columnist with The Globe and Mail.