The lessons of the last provincial election, when the voters unceremoniously dumped the Parti Québécois into third place, were not lost on Pauline Marois. It was André Boisclair who led the party to depths it had last seen pre-1976, but Marois, the current leader, understood that the party's troubles involved more than leadership.
The PQ had allowed itself to be outflanked by Mario Dumont's Action démocratique du Québec. Before the March 26 election, and even more so afterward, Dumont shamelessly milked francophone Quebecers' anxieties about identity, language and culture.
To take on Dumont, Marois said, "We should no longer be embarrassed or afraid to say that in Quebec, the francophone majority wants to be recognized and that it is at the very heart of the nation." It is time, Marois said, to reclaim the right to be "nous."
Excuse us for suspecting that her "nous" does not include us. A day later, Marois argued that her nous means everyone living in the province, but many people, in all language groups, will be alertly wary of that claim.
Nous comes with a lot of baggage, most of it of a sort that a forward-moving society would not want to keep. On referendum night 1995, then-premier Jacques Parizeau lashed out at money and the "ethnic vote," blaming them for stealing a victory away from the 60 per cent of francophones who had voted Oui.
For years after Parizeau's rant, no one touched the nous/les autres vocabulary. It is disappointing that Marois has resurrected this language. While blandly claiming she includes everyone in her "nous," she has dangled the old vocabulary of exclusion to appeal to francophones who fear their culture will be swamped.
In fairness, we must note that Marois is not the only one playing this game. She and Dumont now seem to be competing in the effort to send the clearest coded message to the majority. Only Premier Jean Charest, among party leaders, has been steadfast and unambiguous in defence of diversity.
Ultimately, Quebecers will have to make up their own minds about what Marois and Dumont really mean.