Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. And in Quebec, the more things change, the more they seem ever more frustratingly the same.
Tuesday, in a provincial election battle between three parties, the Parti Quebecois came out on top with a minority government. The battered Liberals came second and the new Coalition Avenir Quebec brought up the rear in an election that split the popular vote in a rather, well, even-handed way.
You can understand why the Quebec electorate was frustrated with Charest’s Liberals and looking for change: a long-in-the-tooth government unable to shake persistant corruption scandals, all the Charest government really needed was an opposition party with enough oomph to move it aside.
Attempting to land its fourth mandate, the Liberal government may well have slipped into that electoral rabbit-hole of believing they were the only possible choice, and held some kind of divine right of governance. That might have seemed to be even more the case because the Parti Quebecois’s Pauline Marois staunchly supports sovereignty, something even many Quebecers seem to be in no rush to embrace.
It turned out there were many choices.
The fact is that there were so many choices that the PQ ended up winning a minority government with the support of less than a third of Quebecers, taking in just 32 per cent of the popular vote. Those low voting numbers — and the fact that the number of Quebecers in favour of sovereignty is below 15 per cent right now — may mean that the PQ’s main goal of a referendum for sovereign Quebec may be a long, long way away.
But that won’t stop the PQ from trying, or from renewing the now-familiar (and oft-copied) mantra of blaming the federal government for any possible imagined slight. An old story, but with new storytellers.
For those who remember past referenda and the endless back-and-forth battling over Quebec’s place in Canada that has marked so much of the interplay in Canadian governance, the whole exercise can seem more than a little tiring — and, for those in other provinces watching federal politicians try to placate Quebec voters with cash and favourable treatment, more than a little unfair as well.
We have wasted years of political capital, taxpayers’ dollars and precious time watching several decades of the awkward pas de deux between Canada’s two solitudes.
Quebec’s voters, by a slim margin, have voted for change. Let’s hope the nature of that change has more to do with the style and skill of an aged government, and far less to do with any real interest in the PQ’s stated referendum goals.