What's on the minds of Quebeckers as the campaign begins for their province's April 7 election? Many things, to be sure, but not secession from Canada.
Asked about "sovereignty" last week in a CROP online poll taken for Radio-Canada, 39 per cent said they favoured it and 61 per cent were opposed, about the same breakdown as the referendum of 1980.
CROP asked what people believe to be the most important issues. Secession didn't register. Nor did the infamous Charter of Quebec Values. Instead, 35 per cent of respondents said health care. Twenty-four per cent said the economy/jobs. Twelve per cent said public finance. Those responses would closely resemble the answers to a similar poll taken anywhere in Canada. "Quebec values"? A risible 4 per cent said this is the province's most pressing question.
A question, then: Why do you suppose Parti Québécois Premier Pauline Marois a) doesn't want to talk much about secession, b) doesn't want to talk at all about committing to a referendum, and c) bobs and weaves every time the referendum issue is raised? Answer: You would be anxious, too, if so few people outside your own party ranks agreed that a referendum was important, and three out of five Quebeckers were against secession.
In looking at any election campaign, it helps to look beneath the popularity of the parties. One indicator below the surface is the level of satisfaction with the government. The CROP poll found 37 per cent of Quebeckers satisfied, and 58 per cent dissatisfied, with the PQ's performance.
Another indicator is whether people think they are headed in the right direction. In the CROP poll, 62 per cent said Quebec was heading in a bad direction, 38 per cent in a good direction.
Still another underlying question asks who the electorate believes would make the best leader. In the CROP poll, Ms. Marois is de facto tied with Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard – 27 per cent for her, 26 per cent for him. She is much better known, having been in politics seemingly forever.
Finally, how fluid is the electorate? According to CROP, just 48 per cent of voters are committed. Twenty per cent said they could change their minds. Nineteen per cent said they don't yet know for whom they will vote. And 13 per cent have no idea (presumably about almost anything political).
What we do know, and the CROP poll confirms it, is that the PQ is more popular among francophone voters, even though the party's ultimate objective – secession followed by independence – remains a long shot.
But what about media magnate Pierre Karl Péladeau? What about his entry into politics for the PQ?
Mr. Péladeau is a powerful, good-looking businessman, there is no doubt. That he is used to getting his own way is universally confirmed, which is a polite way of saying he has a reputation for being arrogant and a bully. That he would join the PQ shows how elastic, to the point of unprincipled, the PQ has become.
Mr. Péladeau, who brought English-Canadian viewers the amusement channel Sun News, is so far to the right of the political spectrum that he sometimes risks being lost from view. Unions, who are supposed to be friends of the PQ, call him the "lockout king of Quebec" for his record as owner of Quebecor and its media empire, where former prime minister Brian Mulroney serves as vice-chair of the board.
Mr. Péladeau's comments about unions have consistently been scathing. But so slavering was Mr. Marois to have Mr. Péladeau run that the party's platform was suddenly changed. The PQ scrubbed a promise to prevent off-premise workers from doing the work of locked-out ones, presumably because Mr. Péladeau objected to it.
Mr. Péladeau said he has an "extremely profound" attachment to Quebec independence. Funny that, since he gave money to the Quebec Liberal Party in 2005, 2007 and 2008, as well as to a third party, the Action Démocratique du Québec, in 2008.
So the PQ has recruited the very right-wing Mr. Péladeau and is also running on fear of the "other," the foundation of the Charter of Quebec Values, the kind of policy largely espoused by very right-wing parties in Europe.
Under these circumstances, prospects for the far-left Québec Solidaire just improved.