Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); }

A week ago, the Quebec polling firm CROP asked people in that province for their views on the government's law regulating demonstrators.

By a narrow 51-49 margin, a majority said it approved of the law that has been described by its critics as the greatest assault on civil liberties since the War Measures Act.

When people were asked their opinion of the specific provisions of the act, to each provision a majority of more than 70 per cent said they agreed.

Story continues below advertisement

Confused? Conflicted? What were Quebeckers saying? Quite likely – and polls are always subject to interpretation – they were saying: We're tired of this whole student affair, we want the two sides to end it, but the government has to govern and if this is what it takes, get on with it.

What the poll did not show was support for the students' position or their pot-banging and trade-union supporters. Although the issue of a modest increase in student fees was long ago sidelined in the public debate, polls consistently showed steady majority support for the government's position and not that of the striking and demonstrating students.

The silent majority of Quebeckers were therefore both silent and in a majority against the students' position. And most Quebec students continued to attend classes. (Talks between the student leaders and the government broke down on Thursday.)

The poll illustrates the dangers of generalizing about "Quebec" or any other collective group. The media in the province focused on the street demonstrations, for they were colourful, "new" in the classic definition of out of the ordinary and were tailor-made for television. The student leaders were handsome and charismatic, much more presentable than the poor old politicians.

Much of the written press expressed outright or indirect support for the striking students. Yet despite this sympathetic coverage, the students never convinced more than a minority of Quebeckers of the correctness of their position. "Quebec" could not intelligently be generalized about, although day after day it was, especially outside the province.

The only generalization that might make some sense about Quebec these days, politically speaking, is that attitudes on many issues are conflicted. Of course, some voters are solidly anchored in certain political positions – secessionist/federalist, Parti Québécois/Liberal – but these seem fewer than before. A very large number of Quebeckers are searching, politically rootless, for something that is perhaps not clear even to themselves.

Secession remains a dream for some, but it has receded as impractical, unnecessary or at least something not for now. When the aging bullhorn of the movement, Jacques Parizeau, says the street demonstrations suggest something is bubbling under the surface for secession, he is kidding himself (again). Support for his Parti Québécois was hurt by the PQ's alliance with the students.

Story continues below advertisement

Premier Jean Charest's Liberals are tired, baffled by how to handle the protests, out of gas and led by someone now trying for his fourth term in the widely anticipated fall election. He lost his education minister and chief of staff in the dispute, having previously lost (for personal reasons) his deputy prime minister. The Liberals, like the PQ, hardly turn anybody on in the province except, one supposes, their most ardent supporters.

The new party, the Coalition pour l'avenir du Québec, was all the rage for a while, with its mixture of conservative and liberal policies and its promise to let debates about secession rest for a decade. The CAQ has now faded into third place, albeit a rather close third.

Federally, the Harper government is seen as the least caring, most out-of-touch federal government vis-à-vis Quebec since John Diefenbaker's stumblebum governments of 1957 to 1963. The Harper government displays a tin ear in the province. Its capacity to function in (Quebec) French is limited. The government is seen as somewhere between irrelevant and malevolent. The federal Liberals are nowhere.

Only the federal NDP remains in good odour, but Thomas Mulcair and company are consigned to opposition. That a bunch of NDP MPs got mixed up supporting the student protest, however, sends an important and sobering signal outside of Quebec where this party's heart lies. A party seriously preparing to govern would never have aligned itself with the students.

Where the political heart of "Quebec" lies, apart from with itself, is unknown in a period of volatility, turbulence and disappointment.

Related topics

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies