By: Chris Burke
The Parti Québécois will form a minority government in Quebec. As expected the PQ, led by Pauline Marois, ousted the Liberal government run by Jean Charest. Following the defeat of the Liberal party, Charest announced his plans to exit from his long career in politics. To which I can only say, about time. Faced with allegations of corruption, Charest has come to represent the worst that politics can offer. That being said, I’m not ready to start cheering for the PQ just yet. They rode to victory on a wave of anger at the Charest government, but whether they’ll work to meet the demands of their voters or not remains to be seen.
The media has focused heavily on Charest’s exit from politics, and the issue of Quebec separatism that does underlie the PQ’s platform. I’ve pointed out in a previous post that support for the PQ in Quebec has more to do with anger at Charest and less to do with support for separation. Further, a minority government will make it difficult to impossible for the PQ to pursue any attempt at separation, sentiments that were recently echoed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper (The Toronto Star). The separation question is an important one to ask, and an important discussion to have (as long as we are honest about it and don’t resort to scare stories of Quebec separatists), but I want to focus on another big issue in Quebec. Although it has faded from view in recent months, the student protests still played a part in this election.
The Charest government undoubtedly cost itself a lot of student votes with the passing of Bill 78, which was seen by many (and I agree) as being extreme and oppressive in its nature. The elections have also been viewed as a method of undermining the protests. What do I mean by that? Calling an election and then extending gestures of support to the protestors can be enough to quell their anger and get them to agree to moderate reforms when they may have been demanding something more radical. The idea here is that the only legitimate avenue to change is through elections, an idea I’m in disagreement with.
The PQ spoke to the demands of the of the students. Ensuring that a) many students would vote for the PQ, and b) more radical (anti-capitalist) aspects of the student movement would be subdued. The PQ agreed to a freeze on tuition, which will satisfy a large number of students while isolating those who aimed for a bigger change i.e. free education. This strategy appears to have worked as the student strikes have lost much of their momentum. Keeping the anger subdued means the PQ will have to, at the very least, keep its promise of a freeze on tuitions. Only time will tell.