It may sound weird, at the end of a nail-biter of a historic three-way election, to worry about pronouns and other parts of speech. But I do. I don't just lament the fact that campaigns are more about "who" (the leaders' personalities, or lack thereof) than about "what" (the content of their platforms, or lack thereof). I am upset that nobody's talking about "why." It is, by far, this election's biggest loser.
For instance, yesterday's election, a minority government will be acknowledged by every talking head as one of the most exciting in years.
Because there were three competitive parties instead of the usual two?
It's true that a three-way race creates riveting political uncertainty that wreaks havoc with pundits' predictions. So it affects those of us who work in and around politics, because all of a sudden we have no idea what's going on and can't pretend that we do.
OK, we can pretend. But we don't know, which we personally find exciting. But other than that, why does a three-way race matter?
No idea. Mario Dumont and his Action democratique du Quebec were very much the same blunt-spoken, populist bunch four years ago as this year.
Until last fall he was considered non-serious by most, including yours truly. What, if anything, has changed and -- most importantly -- why should we care? If he contributed something important to public debate I missed it. I read a massive pile of newspapers every day and watch a bunch of political news shows but every 'explanation' I've seen has been desperately tautological (e.g. Mario Dumont is suddenly a player in this election because he's suddenly more popular than he used to be).
My guess is that Mr. Dumont's occasional willingness and ability to be politically incorrect, along with the overwhelming despair of countless electors who are so uninspired by the other two parties, are responsible for the ADQ's surge.
When you ask Quebecers why they support the ADQ they usually say things like "Mario's a breath of fresh air" or "he'll rock the boat" or "he can't be worse than the other clowns."
Which is all very fine and true. But neither positive nor specific.
I don't care what Mr. Dumont's die-hard supporters say, his popularity is mostly the result of a huge protest movement. If I were him, I would be very worried.
You can only go so far as the anti-establishment guy. Sooner or later, the people who vote for you have to like your policies more than they dislike your opponents?. And here we hit a significant snag because very few people talk about policies any more.
Yes, political leaders announce new programs and enunciate various promises. But they never explain why their policies are better than the other guy's, or really even why they exist, and nobody forces them to.
It's in good part the media's fault for focusing on who managed the most damaging insult instead of, say, what should be done to fix Quebec's demographic problems that will bring generous social programs to a screeching halt in 20-odd years because there won't be enough people to pay for them. Do you remember hearing about that these past few weeks?
Of course not. Sustainability of social programs bores political reporters to tears. Plus it evokes negative images. It means sacrifices. Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news. Especially not campaigning politicians.
The only guy who came anywhere close to the topic was Victor Bilodeau, the ADQ candidate in Pontiac, who embarrassed his leader by suggesting seizing baby-boomers' pension funds to pay for the debt they created (a suggestion he reportedly made in 2006 that resurfaced about two weeks ago). Mario Dumont quickly "clarified" his candidate's thinking and everybody moved along to the next mud-slinging contest.
It's like politicians and commentators are working together to keep voters out of the loop. If you're trying to understand why the party usually described as conservative (ADQ) proposes to send $100 a week to families whose pre-schoolers aren't in $7 a day child care even though creating new, costly social programs is the last thing conservative politicians ought to be doing, you're out of luck.
It gets worse when you try to understand the difference between Mr. Dumont's plan to help families and the other two parties' recipe for doing same which involves creating more regulated day-care spaces. And so on down the line.
Eventually we'll find out who won. But not why it mattered, if it did.
Which actually leaves us as losers.
Brigitte Pellerin's column appears Tuesday and Thursday.