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But Quebec nationalism isn't dead - to paraphrase an old punk adage, it just sucks right now
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September 18, 2012
QUEBEC CITY, QC, Sep 18, 2012/ Troy Media/ – Quebec’s recent election results – with the Parti Quebecois (PQ) winning a minority government – signal a victory for the status quo.
Granted, the governing Liberal Party was removed from power, while the newly-founded Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) won a substantial number of seats. But the much-maligned Liberals still received 31.2 per cent of the popular vote for a total of 50 seats in the National Assembly, as opposed to 32 per cent and 54 seats for the PQ.
Given that the Liberals were portrayed as corrupt and out-of-touch with ordinary voters, the results are somewhat surprising but speak to an insidious conservatism that is developing in Quebec, and to a great extent throughout much of the Western world.
I do not mean to use the term ‘conservative’ in the sense of being to the right of the political spectrum, or favouring free-market solutions and business; rather, I use the term in its most general sense, that of resistance to change, an inability or unwillingness to adapt to new ideas, and a tendency to favour familiar narratives at the expense of meaningful reform.
In many ways, Quebec has chosen to continue with more of the same. The PQ has vowed to restore the tuition freezes that were at the heart of this summer’s vicious student protests and Quebec Premier Pauline Marois has promised to pursue – once again – an agenda of nationhood, another example of the rise of conservatism in Quebec.
The issue of independence for Quebec is now the well-established viewpoint of the establishment within Quebec, and as such it fits the broad definition of conservative as I defined it above. Achieving political independence for Quebec is the last vestige of the youthful ideals for which Baby Boomers (who form the base of PQ support) fought throughout the Quiet Revolution, the rest having long been banished by the realities of paying mortgages and saving for retirement.
Indeed, this shift to familiar terrain for political discourse is reflected in much of the Western world today, with parties on the so-called left of the political spectrum regarding themselves as somehow being anti-establishment, or fighting the man, while in fact they struggle to reinforce the powers of an ever-invasive welfare state.
This is especially true in Quebec. The PQ’s devotion to a strong, independent state will mean that it will reinforce the vast, cumbersome, and expensive government bureaucracy. Civil servants are not blind to the benefits of political independence for Quebec, which would offer unparalleled opportunities for career promotion.
Sadly for the PQ’s supporters, who might have actually cast a vote in favour of change (throw the bums out!), the practical effects of their actions will have the exact opposite effect.
Unfortunately, the tension and confusion inherent within the demographic shift taking place in the Western World between the Baby Boomers and their ideals and the current generation stands to continue, and in no place more so than in Quebec. But in the case of Quebec, this tension will likely fan the flames of nationalism, not reduce them.
During the election, two parties, – the nationalist-socialist Quebec Solidaire and the hardline nationalist Option Nationale (ON) – which previously might have been written off as extremist or fringe groups – made considerable gains. In particular, ON made an impression through its social media savvy, even gaining the approval of former Premier Jacques Parizeau, who led the charge for the ‘Yes’ side in 1995. More significantly, the party attracted young, vibrant supporters drawn in by its fresh approach and the quality of its candidates.
Although support for Quebec’s independence is at historical lows, protracted economic downturns in the future could intensify the tension between Baby Boomers and upcoming generations which favour meaningful political reform. In this scenario, and in the absence of being able to agree on other more substantial matters, the only common ground that remains is independence for Quebec, a consensus which is largely symbolic. This is far from a sound basis for a nation, but Quebec nationalism has always been more about passion than reason.
The last election showed that tangible support for change in Quebec is hardly pressing. However, this certainly does not mean that the fires of sovereignty have been extinguished.
To paraphrase an old punk adage: Quebec nationalism isn’t dead – it just sucks right now.
Troy Media syndicated columnist Nelson Peters is originally from Manitoba. He has spent much of the last five years in Quebec, where he completed a degree in Civil law at Universite Laval and served as Editor-in-Chief of the faculty student law review from 2010-2011. He, along with three colleagues, writes a weekly column keeping an Eye on Quebec.
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