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Thoughts on the Quebec election a couple of days later

It's been a couple of days since the Quebec election and in spite of that time to reflect, I am still unsure of what to make of the results.

Before the election I warned friends to expect the unexpected, as is Quebec's habit, and it sure delivered. Mario Dumont narrowly avoided forming a government, and Andr Boisclair has placed himself on his stomach on the operating table with no anaesthetics, and Jean Charest is still premier, for what it's worth in the circumstances.

Quebeckers clearly wanted a change in the status quo, as they do about once a generation. I don't believe Quebeckers really knew, collectively, what change they wanted, just that a change was needed. Mario Dumont and his Action Dumontist du Qubec party weren't necessarily what voters were looking for, the party was just the only one there ready to accept a concentrated protest vote.

The immediate result is clear: Quebeckers don't want separatism -- either for or against -- as the main policy plank in the party's platforms. Separatism and federalism, I believe, have become two opposing religions in Quebec and what the ADQ offers is a party that doesn't care which of these religions its members are. It's a breath of fresh air from that perspective.

But what Quebeckers may not be counting on is the effects of a move to the right. Having a right wing party in power, with a righter wing party in opposition, with a right-leaning but less-so party bringing up the rear puts the spectrum pretty narrowly up against the right edge. For the province I consider to be the most progressive of all the provinces in the country, it's rather strange.

There are three schools of thought on what the right wing's decisive victory in Quebec means.

The first is the obvious thought: if the ADQ can win so dramatically provincially, then the province must be fertile ground for federal right wingers. The federal Conservatives are enjoying this particular point of view as if true, it means gains in their forecast.

The second is the theory of balance: Quebec now has a right-and-righter set up, with only the most right wing party likely to be in any rush to have another election. Quebeckers, historically, haven't kept the same opinions in power both federally and provincially, and with their rejection of the separatists, this has to be good for the Liberal party in the next federal election.

The third is the theory of low risk: with the PQ way down and a referendum many years off at the very least, Quebec may yet vote in a strong BQ representation in the next federal election. It's a party focused only on their interests, but without an ally with which to break things in Quebec city, so planting the vote there may be safe and productive in the view of many voters.

Ultimately I think all of these have some truth to them and so I cannot for the life of me predict what would happen in a federal election in the province of Quebec were one to be held right now.

If I were advising any of the parties in Quebec right now, I would advise the PQ to do two things: Promise specifically not to hold a referendum in their first mandate, and shift to the wide open and utterly abandoned left wing in the province. These two things would allow the party to regain much of the disaffected vote currently going to the ADQ, allowing even staunch federalists who find their PQ candidate to be the best person to represent them to vote for them.

What will happen to this minority government? I think it will have a longevity that will make the current federal government look short-lived. None of the alliances between the three parties will be natural, but none of the parties will be in any hurry to go to the polls again any time soon. The PQ will almost certainly eat its young leader alive, putting them in a position of being forced to support the Liberal government until they get their leadership sorted out. The PLQ itself may dump Charest, but the loyalty in that party is historically far stronger than in the PQ and this is not overly likely. The ADQ, while it would love another election within a year, has a leader who is smart enough to know that if he wins he will be a one-term wonder due to the total inexperience of his caucus. It will be in his interests to work as a strong and cooperative opposition and government in training for a couple of years.

It'll certainly be interesting to watch.

Posted at 09:37 on March 28, 2007

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