By Andrew Bailey
It’s voting time in Québec, and the 2012 provincial elections look set to change the French Canadian political scene significantly.
Jean Charest’s centre-right Liberal party has been in power in Québécois provincial government for the past 9 years. Having been re-elected twice, Charest and his team have recently navigated more murky waters, including the corrupt public construction scandal that emerged in 2009, and the 2011 proposal to raise university tuition fees by over $1000: a proposal that triggered the massive year long student protests and strikes that the government then decided to crack down by introducing “emergency measures” legally limiting the students and sympathisers ability to protest in public spaces and also taking out injunctions effectively annulling the protesting students’ decision to picket their Cégeps and universities. Charest et al. claims that the silent majority of Québec does not support the students’ plight, that their non-acceptance of the fees hike is selfish, and that the prolonged unrest is damaging Québec’s reputation as a summer vacation destination and that, therefore, police intervention is justified. Student’s reply by holding up proof of police brutality as affronts to Québec’s right to freedom of expression. This unrest is, of course, still unfolding as we speak.
A decline in the Liberal’s popularity seems to be taking on a more tangible form. A survey reported in La Presse on August 10th (a month before elections take place on September 4th) that were voters to cast their votes right now, The centre-left PQ (Parti Québécois) lead by Pauline Marois would just clinch a victory with 32%, with Charest’s party obtaining 29% and François Légault’s recently formed centre-right CAQ (Coalition Avenir Québec) party coming in third place with 21% of the vote. The truth and reality of these political polls is always questionable; it really isn’t over until the fat lady sings. The poll has, however, caused worry amongst Liberals that their reign on the throne of Québec may soon be over.
The PQ is traditionally associated with Québécois sovereignty; a victory for Marois could potentially bring the question of succession back to the table, although public and political support for an independent Québec seems to have waned for the time being. The idea of a win for the PQ doesn’t please everyone, however: students fear that Pauline, who has a history of supporting the raising of tuition fees, will go ahead and do exactly as Charest had planned. Furthermore, Marois recently did damage to her popularity by supporting the strengthening of ties between Québec city council and Québecor Media in the running of Québec City’s Amphithéâtre de Québec (currently under construction and due to open in 2015), a move mixing government and business that some see as a potential replay of 2009’s construction scandal.
The support for smaller political parties has also increased, with green/left-leaning groups such as Québec Solidaire and Option Nationale garnering more attention thanks to an increase in disillusioned voters.
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, it is certain that the same questions of student fees, austerity, national identity and transparency will be asked and demand answers.