Premier Pauline Marois's favourable electoral prospects, in the campaign that began officially on Wednesday, are bad prospects for Quebec and for Canada. Rather than trying to tackle Quebec's real problems, the Parti Québécois government, since it came to power in 2012, has occupied itself not only with stirring up familiar language quarrels, but also with trying to invent new conflicts over religion, and what people wear on their heads. Culture war is the PQ's new strategy. And it appears to be working.
Worse yet, if the PQ wins the election because of the Charter of Values and the tightening of the language law, that may encourage the party to unleash a third referendum on sovereignty. Ms. Marois said on Thursday that she was open to another referendum, and would not rule it out.
The PQ platform does not represent the real concerns of most Quebeckers, but it does help to energize and mobilize intense feelings of nationalism.
So far, Philippe Couillard, the Liberal Leader, has not fared very well since he took his seat in the National Assembly. But his election slogan, "Ensemble, on s'occupe des vraies affaires" (Together, we will deal with real issues), at least expresses the right theme.
Wedge issues are a distraction from the serious challenges that Quebec faces. In the past quarter-century, Quebec's share of the Canadian population has steadily fallen. With an aging workforce and a growing number of retirees, it will be harder to pay for health care and other public services. The government of Quebec should be trying to attract and keep immigrants, rather than making them feel like unwelcome aliens. Opinion surveys suggest that a large number of non-francophone Quebeckers are thinking about leaving.
Last month, Jacques Parizeau, a former Parti Québécois premier, wrote in Le Journal de Québec that, for the first time in 30 years, he was worried about Quebec's economic future. A January study from Hautes études commerciales at the University of Montreal had convinced him that Quebeckers are living beyond their means. The province's trade deficit, weak exports and the uncompetitiveness of small and medium-sized enterprises all troubled him.
The campaign is only beginning. It may yet concentrate the minds of the voters on basic, practical issues. The PQ, however, will do everything it can to play up the culture war.