Home > Current Affairs, Politics > The Fall of the Parti Quebecois and the Globalized Belle Province

The Fall of the Parti Quebecois and the Globalized Belle Province

Monday’s night decisive election victory for Phillippe Couillard’s Quebec Liberals, who won enough seats to form a majority government at the expense of Pauline Marois’ Parti Québécois, is certainly important and epochal. If you follow the conventional wisdom of punditry, the result is also indicative of the death of separatism and the sound and heartening rejection of xenophobic siege mentality fear-mongering in Canadian electoral politics. Let’s not look away from analyses in the same spaces from not so long ago, however, viewing media mogul-turned-political candidate Pierre Karl Péladeau, the catalyst of revivified sovereignty and muscular, French Republic-style opportunistic targetting of ethnic and religious difference, as a qualified champion that the PQ could ride to victory at the polls and maybe in a future referendum on separation as well.

Separatism is not dead in Quebec, of course, although the PQ’s ownership of the brand is in some degree of doubt. More cynical observers might venture to opine that separatism was always a dead letter, a sort of long-dormant volcano whose imposing massif has been employed to extract the commitment to any number of safety precautions and protective measures from those living within its blast radius. Separation was always the nuclear option of Quebec political identity, a deterrent making the political, social, and corporate hegemons of Anglophone Canada reluctant to proscribe the province’s differences too aggressively. With support in Quebec no longer as vital to forming a federal government with the growth of the west (Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have done mostly without it), separatism is leverage for Quebec interests in the national sphere.

Photo by Jacques Boissinot/CP

Quebec Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard and his wife greet supporters after gaining a majority in the Quebec election on April 7, 2014

That’s one interpretation, and it seems to have increasingly been the one favoured by conflict-averse citizens in Quebec and the rest of Canada. Sovereignty arguments helped to strengthen linguistic and cultural protections in provincial legislation even as increased economic interdependence with the rest of Canada and the world continued bringing capitalist prosperity to Quebec, which no longer looked inward but outward. Separatism was a word not spoken; if the PQ still saw it as an ultimate goal, a coherent-enough social and philosophical ideology has been built up around it. State sovereignty was, perhaps, no longer as necessary due to a cultural sovereignty, a sovereignty of the collective Quebecois consciousness.

As the narrative is already telling us, the famous right-wing capitalist Péladeau (his Mussolini-admiring father founded Quebecor, corporate parent of the odious, reactionary tabloid froth of Sun Media) stated bluntly that he wanted Quebec to be a country and the air went out of the Parti Quebecois balloon like he had taken a pin to its skin. How ironic that it was a capitalist icon who brought to light the now-arcane-seeming tribal resentment so long sunk in darkness. Ironic why? Because the national and international consumer economy engagement and integration that business tycoons like Péladeau shepherded into independence in the province has created a social atmosphere uncomfortable with the idea of the kind of radical social and political upheaval heralded by separation.

If Canada has any sort of character feature that defines its people or (at least) its dominant institutions, it’s a fundamental unwillingness to avoid rocking the boat at all costs. Much of the Harper Conservatives’ success at mainstreaming its essentially unfriendly, un-neighbourly belief-system and the policies proceeding from it can be put down to the party machine’s effectiveness at selling themselves as the stable stewards of growth and profit while painting opposition parties’ challenges to its imperatives as near-revolutionary overthrows with dire consequences on economic stability. As conservative Canada has been defined by its ability to make money and by its promise of prosperity and security to its citizens, so has Quebec.

Language and “distinct culture” aside, Quebec is no outlier in global consumer capitalism but a willing and often very successful participant. The uncertainty attendent to the concept of separation from Canada (especially in relation to economic questions) is mostly seen as undesirable, just as the adjustments to government that would be a vital part of levelling the playing field in federal economic concerns are feared and villified by comfortably affluent suburban Conservative voters. This follows the lead of European nationalist movements to some extent, some of which are pursuing measured political means to achieve structured self-reliance while others accept levels of cultural distinction within historical political unions. What Quebec has found is what many formerly rigid nationalist movements have found, and what Canada as a whole has found: making money is more important than gaining self-determination over your cultural and political identity. They all may be wrong about this, but it’s what seems to be the overriding desire. And it’s what we can take out of the defeat of the Parti Quebecois in this election, if we’re looking at it in a certain light.

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Categories: Current Affairs, Politics
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