Throughout the Quebec election, Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson and La Presse editor-in-chief André Pratte have engaged in an online discussion on the issues arising in the campaign. Today they examine the results of the election.
John Ibbitson: Hello, André. In the wake of the Quebec election, I opined that all three major party leaders were losers, in a way: Jean Charest, obviously, because he lost power and his seat, and has resigned as Liberal leader; François Legault, because his new Coalition Avenir Quebec did not make the breakthrough that he had hoped for; and Pauline Marois, because she now leads a double minority government. One, she must rely on at least one other party for support in the National Assembly, and two, she must try to control an often-mutinous Parti Quebecois caucus, many of whom will want her to proceed more emphatically than she is able to. But I'm more interested in who you think won and lost Tuesday night. What's your take?
André Pratte: Hi John! I agree. Still, let's not lose sight of the fact that Ms. Marois will become Premier. In many cases (e.g., Stephen Harper), minority governments have been stepping stones to a majority. And then the PQ will have full rein to implement its "gouvernance souverainiste" platform.
That is why, as you know, I have for many years argued that the federal government should always think of a referendum on separation as a possibility, and not wait until the last minute and then panic. That doesn't mean caving in to the provincial government's demands (nor necessarily saying no), but simply having a long term, intelligent strategy to preserve national unity.
You are right that Pauline Marois will have a tough job facing a strong opposition in the House and her party's hardliners. But don't forget she has successfully met difficult challenges before.
As for Jean Charest, his defeat was not as bad as expected, as you know. He leaves the Liberal Party in good shape, politically and financially. Historians will be kinder towards his reign than his contemporaries. However, a shadow hangs over his legacy, and that is the work of the inquiry on corruption in the awarding of public contracts. If the inquiry confirms even a few of the schemes that have been alleged by the opposition parties and the media, Mr. Charest's record will be tarnished forever.
Finally, François Legault is certainly disappointed by his new party's results. With 19 seats, the Coalition Avenir Québec is way behind the Liberals, with 50 seats. But if you take into account the fact that the CAQ did not event exist a year ago, receiving 27 per cent of the votes is quite an achievement. Mr. Legault now has the opportunity to consolidate the party's philosophy and organization. With the Liberals about to plunge into a leadership race, the CAQ will have an opening to take the lead in opposing Ms. Marois's government. Who knows what will happen 18 to 24 months from now, once new elections are called?
In short, what I'm saying is: Yes, all three leaders/partiess lost, but in those losses lie opportunities. Is that not what politics is about?
John: A fitting last word. Thank you for these exchanges, André. They greatly enriched our understanding of the province with the most fascinating political mix of all. Take care till next time – which, as you point out, could be sooner rather than later.
André: Let's keep in touch. Hopefully, Canadians from the rest of Canada and Québec will do the same.