Quebecers are in a Hérouxville state of mind

Reasonable accommodations and wrangling for nationalist votes marked the year

La planète MacPherson-The Gâzette-Lysiane Gagnon

This is the season for us in the media to choose news stories and newsmakers of the year. But instead of choosing an event or a person of the past year in Quebec politics, I've decided to choose a place.
Because Hérouxville isn't just the small village that put itself on the globe right at the start of the year by warning prospective immigrants, none of whom were likely to settle there anyway, that they would not be allowed to burn women alive.
Hérouxville was a state of mind, of which its code was only the most extreme representation, that extended far beyond its own municipal boundaries.

It was to express itself again and again, throughout a year that has left Quebec the most divided it has been since the 1995 referendum, between the majority and minorities and between the hinterland and the metropolis.
Hérouxville was anywhere that voted Action démocratique in a historic election that produced the first minority government in Quebec since 1879 and that might also turn out to be a watershed of political realignment in this province.
It was where politicians chased after votes by posing as defenders of the majority against threats from imaginary veiled voters or by trying to outdo each other with proposals of new restrictions on fundamental minority rights.
Hérouxville was wherever the Bouchard-Taylor commission provided a respectful hearing and province-wide attention for bigots to slander Muslims, Jews and immigrants.
And in this season, it is where "Merry Christmas" is spoken pointedly, with a slightly hard edge, as a slogan asserting identity.
The Hérouxville mentality has claimed at least one victim, in addition to the members of minorities who have become targets of an expression of hostility that has become more socially acceptable.
André Boisclair has already become a forgotten man, shunned even by his party since he stepped down as its leader after losing the election. (His name surfaced briefly this week when it was announced he will be teaching a course at Concordia University in, of all things, public relations and crisis management.)
But he is a worthy candidate for personality of the year in Quebec politics, in spite of himself. It was his weakness as leader of the Parti Québécois that made so much possible, including the rise of Mario Dumont and the arrival of the first woman to lead a major party in Quebec as Boisclair's successor.
Young, the first openly gay leader of a major party in North America, and sincerely committed to an inclusive, "civic" Quebec nationalism, Boisclair proved to be ahead of his time in more ways than one. He was not ready for leadership, and Quebec was not ready for him.
But it was a year for women in Quebec politics. In addition to the arrival of Pauline Marois as PQ leader, women gained parity with men in the cabinet Premier Jean Charest formed after the election, as well as some of the most important portfolios.
Charest came within a few thousand well-placed votes of becoming a victim along with Boisclair because he blew the most important political decision a head of government in the parliamentary system has to make: when to call an election.
But the luck that has kept his career alive for so long continued. He has lowered expectations so much that merely by avoiding blunders for a few months, he has pundits writing about a new Charest.
He appears to have time and room to manoeuvre ahead of him. The PQ is broke and facing possible new ideological divisions. The ADQ, as the official opposition, has failed to show it has grown from a neo-Créditiste protest party to a government in waiting.
And the two opposition parties are essentially trying to make gains among nationalist voters at each other's expense. So it might be a while before it is in the interests of both at the same time to defeat Charest's minority government and force an election.

Happy holidays, everyone.
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