Elections in Quebec, lessons to Catalonia

09/04/2014

Ignacio Alberni

 

On 7 April, Quebec’s electorate was called to the ballot box to choose its new provincial parliament. The previous Premier, sovereignist Pauline Marois, called early elections, not having a solid majority to govern. The election results have confirmed the trend detected over the election campaign: victory of the Liberal Party with a comfortable absolute majority (70 seats out of 125, 41.5% of the votes), thus recovering the provincial government which it had lost in the previous elections of 4 September 2012, after 9 years in office. Its new leader, Philippe Couillard, a prestigious doctor and former provincial minister, will be the new Prime Minister. On the contrary, former Prime Minister Marois has led the Parti Québécois to one of the biggest defeats in the history of the sovereignist party (30 seats, 25.4% votes) even losing its own seat. Conservative Coalition Avenir Québec is consolidated in the third place (22 deputies, 23.1% votes) and left-wing Québec Solidaire is strengthened (3 deputies, 7.6% votes).

Marois called elections given the popularity of the sovereign government detected by polls and taking advantage of the Government leadership in the “Charter of Values” initiative, the aim of which is to remove all ostentatious religious signs from the public space. Putting forward media mogul P.K. Péladeau as a candidate, who stressed the nationalist discourse since his initial statements, implied the start of the change of election trend. Throughout the first fifteen days of campaign, a defensive Parti Québécois was compelled to deny its intention of calling for a third referendum in Quebec throughout the next term in office. All the polls show the population’s wide rejection of reopening the sovereignist issue, even amongst an important percentage of Parti Québécois voters, aware that it is a division factor within Quebec’s society.

Both the Liberal Party and Coalition Avenir Québec showed their rejection of said referendum and preferred to focus their proposals on economic and social issues. Identity issues and those related to Quebec’s constitutional status within the Canadian Confederation have had secondary status both in programmes and in the election campaign. Over the last weeks of the campaign, the concrete management of the proposal “Charter of Values” has not helped sovereignists either, since it has been regarded as a sign of hostility toward religious and immigrant groups.

Like Global and Mail’s imprint, the main newspaper in Canada, stated on the day after the elections: ”it has been an election, not a referendum. But the party that won… did it because it turned the campaign into a referendum so as to avoid another referendum”. Since the holding of the 1995 referendum in Quebec and the following clarity policy implemented by the Canadian Government in order to tackle secessionism, under the intellectual and political leadership of then Liberal minister, Quebec-born Stéphane Dion, sovereignism has steadily lost battles in Quebec, as shown by reiterated election defeats and by the continued and increasing popular rejection of a new consultation.