In Quebec, 2011 was a strange political year – a year when voters abruptly turned their coats, leaving party activists terrified and pundits confused. A year that saw an uncharismatic former businessman without a party become the most popular politician in Quebec, not to mention the sudden collapse of the sovereigntist movement, which had dominated the province’s politics for half a century.
In the federal election, people flocked to the polls to vote for candidates they didn’t know anything about, which resulted in the election of 59 Dippers who were the first to be startled by a victory they didn’t foresee and had not planned for, since most of them were just stand-ins filling the NDP’s candidacy slots. Some of the instant MPs now bestowed with a salary of $157,000 a year were still students. And some didn’t even speak French.
The Bloc Québécois’s Gilles Duceppe, who seemed to be a permanent fixture in Parliament and liked by the voters, was sent packing. He spent the following months at home, dourly contemplating the desolation: His party, the dominant federal force in Quebec since 1993, was devastated by the “orange wave” and left with just four seats.
Now, though, the NDP’s popularity has sharply declined, while, as in a game of see-saw, the Bloc is regaining some support.
Then there is the bizarre story of what happened to the Parti Québécois. For the first half of the year, the PQ was poised to form the next provincial government, although leader Pauline Marois was little more popular than Premier Jean Charest. At the party convention in April, Ms. Marois won a confidence vote with a resounding 93.1 per cent of the vote. But then, all hell broke loose, and by June, the Péquistes, including many MNAs and party officials, were openly grumbling about the leader they had so enthusiastically supported two months earlier.
Four PQ MNAs resigned, triggering several other defections and an uninterrupted period of infighting that is widely expected to resume after the holiday truce. Unsurprisingly, the PQ started to go down in the polls. Who wants to vote for a leader contested by her own troops? Were the Péquistes trying to commit political suicide? The only rational explanation is that after the Bloc’s unexpected rout, panic settled within the PQ ranks.
Meantime, François Legault, the head of a virtual party that had no formal existence until last December, no high-profile supporters and a half-baked platform heavy with clichés, was climbing in the polls, his main strength being that he promised to stop talking about sovereignty for at least a decade.
In the 1960s, Quebeckers had their Quiet Revolution. Now, they were quietly burying the ideal of sovereignty. First they killed the Bloc, then they started to turn against the PQ. Mr. Legault is reaping the benefit of this shift.
So here are the questions for 2012. Will Pauline Marois be able to hold on to her position? If not, will Gilles Duceppe succeed her? How long will Mr. Legault live up to his standing in the polls now that he’s heading a real rather than a virtual party and has become a real rather than a hypothetical party leader? Will Jack Layton’s successor be able to revive the NDP’s fortunes in Quebec? If not, will the Bloc re-emerge from its ashes?
After the tumultuous events of 2011, only a fool would dare predict what’s in store for 2012.