Yves Boisvert is a columnist for La Presse.
The Parti Québécois is very busy these days, choosing a new captain next month and reshuffling the chairs on the deck. Meanwhile, yet another study points to a fatal demographic iceberg.
Generation Y – more culturally diverse, more international, less worried about language issues – could hardly care less about the party's independence project. Such is the conclusion of the study done by political scientists Valérie-Anne Mahéo of Université de Montréal and Éric Bélanger of McGill University. The findings of their study (titled Is the Parti Québécois bound to disappear?) are in line with sociological analysis of the past 10 years. The party of René Lévesque is steadily declining as the baby boom generation wanes. In the seven general elections from 1994 to 2014, the PQ's support fell from 44 per cent to 25 per cent. Projecting current demographic and political trends, the two researchers put an expiry date on the party: 2034.
They may be wrong. It could come much more quickly, judging by the current leadership race, arguably the most disastrous the party has ever known.
The sudden departure of Pierre Karl Péladeau caught the PQ by surprise. For the first time in eight leadership races, no obvious candidate was in sight. From the start, the young, Cambridge-educated lawyer Alexandre Cloutier was the favourite. The handsome father of three made a good impression against Mr. Péladeau and finished a strong No. 2. But the 39-year-old MNA from Chicoutimi seemed to waver on many issues, namely the existential one: how to achieve Quebec's independence?
Mr. Cloutier said that six months before the next election (2018), he'll take the water's temperature and decide whether to propose a referendum. That, however, is not clear enough for Jean-François Lisée, ex-adviser for Lucien Bouchard and Jacques Parizeau. The party should forget a referendum until the 2022 election, Mr. Lisée argues, since Quebeckers have no appetite, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is way too popular.
Mr. Lisée is a modern-day Talleyrand, a brilliant political schemer who manufactures new machinations by the hour. Many in the PQ think he is too clever by half, and can't stand his constant lecturing to colleagues. Surprisingly, Mr. Lisée is gaining support by making Mr. Cloutier look weak, especially on identity issues.
After having been one of the inspirers of the so-called charter of Quebec values who supported it publicly, Mr. Lisée then disavowed it and came up with a new "moderate" and subtle version. Mr. Cloutier said it was too radical. Then, in a particularly cheap shot last week, Mr. Lisée said the controversial Muslim preacher Adil Charkaoui "supported" Mr. Cloutier. (Mr. Charkaoui was once targeted by CSIS as an al-Qaeda sympathizer in Canada.) Mr. Cloutier was not amused, and had to receive extra police protection, under the advice of the Sûreté du Québec. Mr. Lisée then "retracted" his declaration, but refused to apologize.
Then there is Martine Ouellet, the only leadership candidate, it seems, who cares to talk about secession. She promises a referendum on independence despite the polls. She called the other candidates "provincialists," the utmost insult for a wannabe PQ leader.
If, as the polls suggest, Mr. Cloutier wins the leadership on Oct. 7, his victory is unlikely to provoke any euphoria, or reverse the apparently gloomy social trends for the PQ.