This is the separatist election victory that didn’t say “boo.”
In 1976 and 1994, foreign capitals, markets and commentators worried that the election of the Parti Québécois would break Canada in two. This time, the world is betting that Quebec sovereignty is not going to happen any time soon.
The separatists threaten, and foreign governments, and markets, yawn.
In Ottawa, embassies were sending notes telling their capitals not to worry. On Wall Street, analysts advised clients to buy the Canadian dollar if it fell after a PQ victory.
The terrible election-night shooting during Pauline Marois’s victory speech attracted international media attention, yes, but in itself, the return of the Pequistes to power did not make big headlines.
In part, it’s because the PQ taking power is now old hat. And it’s also because Ms. Marois will be handcuffed as Premier. One diplomat noted that she will have to form a minority government and won’t find a stable coalition partner. “That means that they can’t take any bold policies,” the diplomat noted. “It won’t have any dramatic effect.”
Another diplomat said his country is watching closely, but is certainly not pressing panic buttons. They don’t expect threats to Canadian unity, just more tensions between Ottawa and Quebec City.
Some European diplomats noted they’ll be watching to see whether Ms. Marois’s election will have any impact on Canada-European Union free-trade negotiations – the run-of-the-mill concerns they’d have about a change of government in almost any large province.
In the United States, the political class was unperturbed, said David Biette, the director of the Canada Institute at the Wilson Center. The low support for separation in opinion polls, and what seems to be a long-term generational decline for the sovereignty movement, means U.S. leaders don’t have to spend time worrying about a weak PQ win, he said.
This election seemed to be just an election, a vote to change governments, Mr. Biette said. “Looking at it from the outside, it’s all domestic.”
On Wall Street, it was also taken that way. There was, according to some in the industry, some trading-floor chatter about a PQ win, then a shrug. There was little nervousness for the Canadian dollar – even though it fell a bit, that was attributed to other factors. On election day, Citibank’s foreign-exchange analysts sent out a note advising traders to buy the Canadian dollar if its value dipped because of fears of separation. In other words, they suggested the best strategy is to profit from unrealistic fears of Quebec secession. The PQ’s push for separation, the note said, “is not a serious concept at this stage.”
Aside from the shooting, the arrival of separatists in power didn’t make big headlines in the U.S., and often was ignored completely. Gerd Braune, an Ottawa-based journalist who writes for a dozen German-language papers, said six picked up his weekend story reporting that the PQ was headed for a win. Quebec separation is the only Canadian political issue Germans really know, he said, but he thinks “nobody really expects that Canada will break up.”
There was more fascination in France, where the pot-banging student protests of the spring attracted extensive media attention and some stylized reports on the angst of Quebec’s youth. Stories on the Quebec election were among the most popular on websites of papers lsuch as Le Monde, which declared the “independantistes” had retaken power. But even so, the tone of most of the coverage was touched by ennui: This election left a government with no clear mandate, a political landscape divided in three, and a Quebec that hadn’t made up its mind.