Narrow Liberal majority reveals Quebec's malaise

Élection du 8 décembre 2008 - Résultats

Jean Charest very nearly lost his big gamble. The narrow majority his Liberals were clinging to last night was neither the vindication nor the clear mandate that he and many other Liberals had expected.
Charest offered Quebecers stability, which should be at a premium in these times. But he could rally only about 42 per cent of voters to his cause, on a day when cold weather and perhaps election fatigue sharply inhibited the turnout.
Now he will have to proceed carefully in the National Assembly - one or two recounts, or early byelections, could leave him, like Stephen Harper, worrying about an opposition coalition.
At least Charest finds himself with an experienced caucus, replete with cabinet candidates.
What he does not have, the resurgent Parti Québécois will argue, is much of a mandate to make dramatic changes.
The big news last night, bigger than the generally-foreseen Liberal victory, was the revival of the PQ under Pauline Marois. Taken with the strong Bloc Québécois showing in the October federal election, this persistence of separatist parties is bitter medicine for federalists, and especially for all who had hoped for a new era in our politics.
In March 2007, after Charest stumbled back to office with a minority of Assembly seats, we and many others welcomed the arrival of a new force. The day after that vote we wrote, with more optimism than prescience, "the old federalist-sovereignist polarity was shattered, perhaps permanently ..."
But this morning the Action Démocratique du Québec is again reduced to a corporal's guard, and the PQ has reclaimed its status as the default party for much of the francophone population.
Sovereignist parties continue to flourish even though sovereignty seems - for now - to be far down Quebecers' agenda. The "nous" nationalism of the PQ-BQ has left the anglophone and much of the allophone population, along with federalist francophones, feeling stuck with the Liberals, election after election. It's not a healthy situation: people should be able to vote with enthusiasm for a party they support. The malaise which began in the 1970s continues: Too many Quebecers feel they must vote defensively.
The ADQ did not win enough seats or votes to be recognized as an Assembly party, and Dumont said he won't run again. The ADQ's future seems dark.
As one party collapsed, however, another got a toehold in the Assembly, when Amir Khadir knocked off the PQ's Daniel Turp in Mercier. Québec Solidaire is wrong on most issues, we think, but it speaks for a legitimate current of Quebec thought, and deserves a voice in the Assembly.
A majority is a majority, however thin. Charest, and Quebec, will be better off than before. But many Liberals will be asking what went wrong.

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