Let's hope for a few surprises election night


Saved by a war that has siphoned away most of our attention, Bernard Landry, Jean Charest and Mario Dumont escaped the kind of scrutiny they would have faced otherwise. If it hadn't been for the leaders' debate and the so-called Parizeau affair, last weekend's snowfall would have been the major story of the election campaign.
In fact, ambiguity became the trademark of this campaign. If re-elected, Landry refused to say if there would be a third referendum on sovereignty or how he would implement the four-day work week for young parents. Charest kept mum on possible demergers and joined Dumont in complete silence when it came to list which services and departments they would cut. Don't worry, be happy, they all seem to say. So voters get to choose which Pandora's box they prefer.
If anything, it's been a campaign of well-controlled images, not of ideas. The platforms of the main parties read more like a focus group wish-list than well- defined visions. There's been hardly any debate on health or education. Born out of those same focus groups, work-family conciliation dethroned the government's previous "obsession" with full employment and the fight against poverty. By the way, that's called "agenda setting." And it's been so successful that both Charest and Dumont have had no choice but to jump on the family bandwagon.
Promising that Quebec will become "the most extraordinary place on the planet to have babies," as the premier humbly puts it, the Parti Québécois still keeps some lead among francophone voters, even the dejected, childless ones. Still, few commentators have dared to predict who will form the next government.
That's for two reasons. First, the Liberals have been picking up steam since the leaders' debate, capitalizing on Charest's performance and the will for change expressed by a majority of Quebecers. Second, there's a wild card out there called the Action démocratique. Though it's firmly in third place, it could still garner enough support in some regions, including the important Quebec City area, to be the kingmaker in a number of ridings. If it splits the vote between the PQ and the Liberals, who knows who'll come up the middle?
Landry knows all that. He feels the water rising, as Robert Bourassa used to say. So much so that he's now resorting to sovereignty as his life-saver. Who'd have thought it? Referring more often to a future referendum, he hopes to get his militants to work even harder and for sovereignists at large to close ranks regardless of the discontent that lingered after the premier yanked Jacques Parizeau out of the PQ campaign.
The premier is probably also hoping that few heard him when he said "I'm not asking for a mandate to achieve sovereignty." Or that even fewer read the words of Jacques Parizeau in the latest issue of the newspaper Le Québécois. After asking readers to vote for the PQ, Parizeau concludes, with a warning of sorts: "After the election, everyone will recover their freedom to speak out, to criticize and to present their projects for the future."
Also watch for the left-wing Union des forces progressistes which has recruited top quality candidates such as Gaétan Breton in Ste. Marie-St. Jacques and Jill Hanley in Outremont. But it's Amir Khadir, running in Mercier, who is the one UFP candidate who stands the most chance of being elected. As his party's star candidate, he's had a great deal of visibility in the media and has won the support of such prominent Quebecers as songwriter Richard Desjardins and former CSN president Marc Laviolette. Even La Presse's most popular columnist, Pierre Foglia, wrote that "it would be really great for the democratic life of this country to have in Quebec City a different voice, maybe not 50, but at least one would be nice."
Up against Liberal MNA Nathalie Rochefort and PQ candidate Daniel Turp, Khadir could help the riding of Mercier make history, as it's done so often in the past. Should he be elected on Monday, Mercier would not only send a vigorous left-wing voice to the National Assembly; it would also offer Quebecers a foretaste of what proportional representation could do by giving a seat to someone who represents those who have been voiceless in our political arena.
So on Monday night, maybe, just maybe, some voters will forgo the carefully orchestrated image-based platforms they've been served up by the three main parties. And, all in all, maybe there will be some surprises that could produce a result no one had expected at the onset of the campaign. Who knows?

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