By Chantal Hébert
According to the editors of Maclean’s magazine, Quebecers deserve better than governments mired in corruption allegations.
On this at least the Toronto-based magazine and the majority of Quebecers happen to agree.
Indeed, long before Maclean’s invested itself with the ultimately failed journalistic mission of outing Quebec as the most corrupt province in Canada, Jean Charest’s Liberal regime had become a long shot for re-election.
But in a spirit of consistency, will Maclean’s also encourage Quebecers to turn to the Parti Québécois in the next provincial election?
If that were the case, the editors of the magazine would be demonstrating an uncommon amount of abnegation on behalf of their readers for precious few Canadians crave for a return to the unity wars of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Achieving sovereignty may seem like a long shot these days but that hardly means business as usual would follow a return of the PQ to power.
Caught in the long game of Quebec politics, Quebecers are routinely called upon to balance their natural desire to punish their governments for their failings with the consequences of their vote on the larger debate over the province’s political future.
No other group of voters in Canada faces a choice that is quite as stark. And none gets as much free and virtually unanimous outside advice.
Over the past decades, it is hard to think of a single English-language editorial that did not encourage Quebecers to pick whatever the federalist camp had on offer federally and provincially, regardless of its comparative merits or lack thereof.
As things stand today, choosing between a fatigued and increasingly discredited federalist party and one committed to rekindling the language and the sovereignty debates will be the choice on the next Quebec ballot.
Faced with the same options in the past, and much to the relief of most non-Quebec commentators, a significant number of Quebecers have opted to hold their noses and continue to support the federalist option on the ballot.
In last year’s Montreal municipal election, incumbent mayor Gérald Tremblay overcame a campaign plagued by corruption allegations in no small part because a critical mass of Montrealers could not stomach the thought of putting their city in the hands of Louise Harel, a former sovereignist minister with limited English, for four years.
Despite daily negative headlines stemming from a provincial public inquiry into the judicial nomination process, the Charest Liberals won a decisive by-election victory in Montreal last month. Rather than turn to a less federalist candidate, 80 per cent of the voters of the provincial riding of Saint-Laurent stayed home; Liberal minister Jean-Marc Fournier sailed to re-election with 63 per cent of the vote.
As things stand now, the victory by default of the PQ in the face of significant federalist abstention is the most probable outcome of the next Quebec election.
A rebirth of Jean Charest’s fortunes or of those of his Liberal party under a new leader is probably the least likely.
But the only real certainty is the nature of the spin that will be put on some of the morning-after headlines.
If the federalist Liberals win, Quebecers will be deemed to have turned a blind eye to a disquieting amount of allegations of corruption. In the more likely scenario of a PQ victory, they will be deemed to have snubbed Canada.
One can only wonder how my fellow At Issue pundit Andrew Coyne would cast his vote in that election without tripping on the “roots of corruption” that he is convinced run so particularly deep in Quebec.