In politics, as in every other matter, the province of Quebec marches to a different beat. Quebec has a history of political parties that spring up from nowhere to become a dominant force for two or three decades.
This year’s big winner is Mario Dumont of the Action Démocratique du Québec. The results aren’t in yet — Quebecers vote today — but Dumont is going to steal a lot of votes. The three-way split makes it unlikely that either the Liberal Party of Quebec or the Parti Québécois will manage to form a majority government.
Dumont is only the latest example of the volatility of politics in Quebec. Consider this table of provincial election results.
From 1867 until 1931, only two political parties won seats in Quebec: the Liberals and the Conservatives. In 1936, the Conservative Party vanished, replaced by the Union Nationale. In 1976, the Parti Québécois emerged as the new alternative to the Liberals. Indeed, it formed the government in that year (having won a handful of seats in the previous two elections).
Always, Quebec voters are polarized between two alternatives: Liberals / Conservatives; Liberals / Union Nationale; Liberals / Parti Québécois.
Federally, we saw a similar phenomenon in 1993. Support for the Progressive Conservative Party collapsed in Quebec, and the Bloc Québécois became the federal alternative to the Liberals. (The Conservative Party made a modest return to the scene in the most recent federal election, primarily at the Liberals’ expense.)
In the print edition of today’s Globe and Mail, Lysiane Gagnon summarizes the election campaign:
Premier Jean Charest was supposed to be a formidable campaigner. He wasn’t. His campaign was dull and erratic. Parti Québécois Leader André Boisclair was supposed to lose his temper, and his nerve. He didn’t. His performance, while not stellar, greatly exceeded expectations. And Mario Dumont? Well, little Mario … was the star of the campaign.
And the result may well be something Quebec has not had in more than a century — a minority government. The parties are in a dead heat and the pollsters will not venture to say whether the winner will be the Liberal Party or the PQ.
What is sure is that Mr. Dumont’s Action Démocratique du Québéc is a force to reckon with, and the likelihood of having another referendum on sovereignty is weaker than ever. Even if the PQ manage to form a minority government the party would be unable to pursue its sovereigntist agenda for lack of support from the other two parties.
As other observers have noted, the rise of the ADQ spells the end of the simple federalist / sovereignist split among voters. The ADQ is strongly nationalist, but then so is the Liberal Party of Quebec.
Here I am calling on the subtle distinction between nationalist and sovereignist. It is impossible to attract votes in the province without explicitly putting Quebec’s interests first. Hence the federalist leader, Jean Charest, has championed the cause of the “fiscal imbalance”.
The ADQ are attracting the “soft” nationalist vote: a vote which typically has swung from the Liberals to the PQ and back again. The three-way split makes it difficult to achieve a majority government; but it also presents a formidable obstacle in the path of the hard-core sovereignists.
For that, the rest of Canada can heave a big sigh of relief. Until the next revolution in Quebec politics. Who knows what that will bring?!