The Parti Québécois has now been sworn into office, officially taking the helm of Quebec’s government for an indefinite period. For the majority of Quebeckers who did not vote for the party, we must prepare ourselves for what are likely to be trying times ahead under a government whose ultimate raison d’être is the division of its own people from one another and from Canada.
Pauline Marois’ election is likely to usher in a tumultuous era of change to Quebec’s democratic, economic, linguistic and religious makeup as the party charts a drastically different course than that of its Liberal predecessors. I say this not as one who fears for the protection of my language and culture from what is almost certain to be an onslaught of attempts to suppress the English language in Quebec; but rather as one who fears for the sanctity of a free and open society for all Quebeckers.
In what appears to be the party’s modus operandi, we have already seen proposals that seek to curtail the ability of our young people to choose what language they are educated in and what schools they can attend. The new government also plans to pass into law what can only be described as a caste system of religious hierarchy based on Quebeckers’ religious heritage with Catholicism being held superior to all other creeds.
These measures come from a party that derisively referred to outgoing Premier Jean Charest by his given English name “John,” as though this was something to be ashamed of, and that proposed to create a Quebec citizenship that would effectively label non-native Quebeckers as second-class citizens in their adoptive home and limit them from running for public office.
Having been shut out of power for nearly a decade, now will be the time for the Parti Quebecois to settle old scores and to avenge past wrongs as we can expect a bloodletting of many policies and government institutions that are cherished by federalists.
The removal of the Maple Leaf from the National Assembly during the PQ’s swearing-in ceremony in an effort to appease the “pur et dur” sovereigntists that are the party’s base was demonstrative of the style of governance we can expect from this party. However, the PQ should recognize that, although their goal is Quebec’s independence, they still govern for all Quebeckers, regardless of their political leanings.
Unjustly or not, the PQ has long been viewed as hostile towards Quebec’s business community. And with a plan to challenge Canada’s free trade negotiations with the European Union, from which Quebec stood to be a major beneficiary, the province’s economy is almost guaranteed to suffer further emasculation that it can scant afford.
With a crushing provincial debt load, an aging workforce, low rates of university enrolment and worker productivity, Quebec’s economy faces enormous challenges. For the PQ, however, the economy may take a back seat under a government whose front bench is short on financial expertise and appears more interested in petty nationalistic squabbles and identity politics.
In a surprisingly public display of the tail wagging the dog, Ms. Marois has openly stated that a key pillar in her governing agenda will be to fabricate a series of conflicts with the federal government in order to gain more power for Quebec in areas that are currently federal jurisdiction. If Ottawa does not accede to their demands, the PQ aims to use this as a pretext for a potential referendum as it will demonstrate, in the PQ’s eyes at least, that Quebec has no place in Canada.
Therefore, with plans to go to battle with the rest of the country; to disrupt critical foreign trade agreements; impose tougher operating restrictions and higher taxes on businesses and retroactive tax hikes on high-income Quebeckers; to limit the use of other languages in the province; to curtail religious and academic freedoms; and having capitulated to the whims of a violent and anti-democratic student movement, Quebec under the Parti Québécois may be facing a bleak future.
Having only won less than 33 per cent of the popular vote, Ms. Marois’ tepid minority mandate forms perhaps the weakest government in Quebec’s history as it is expected to be held in check by both the Coalition Avenir Québec and the Liberals. But with the hard line element of the PQ in control of the party, and with Quebeckers in no mood for another election, we may be faced with one of the most divisive governments the province has ever seen.
Sandy White is studying law at Laval University in Quebec City.