I almost hit the nail on the head in my last column when I predicted a change in government in Québec. What I never expected was an impressive majority. But in politics nothing is ever as it seems – just ask Pauline Marois. Even as she believed that she had all her ducks in a row and a majority victory a done deal, election night proved to be her political undoing: a painful defeat and the end of her political career.
The scenario could not have been worse for her and her party. In fact, I would be surprised if a defeat of this scale had been considered anywhere along the line, even during the final hours of election day. This is a perfect example of an unbelievably mistaken political call and its result. In the end, the Parti Québécois (PQ) got caught at its own game. The two main issues addressed during the campaign turned out to be cause for its demise. Irony of ironies, the party had believed that those very issues would be the ones to guarantee the electorate’s support and give them a majority win.
It would appear that PQ strategists did not or refused to see the menace that was looming around them prior to the election. Evidently the Liberal Party was able to use these two issues – the sovereignty referendum and the Charters of Values – to their own advantage, securing a victory that wasn’t originally in the cards.
Right from the start, the PQ tried to make sure the campaign would not focus on a potential referendum. However, its stance was feeble. Unable to make a clear denial of the possibility of a referendum for fear of a backlash from her staunchest supporters, Premier Marois could only repeat incessantly that a referendum would only be held when the people of Québec were ready for one, without saying just how this would play out. This approach led to increased skepticism on the part of the population.
We know what happened next, including the enormous strategic mistake of introducing Pierre-Karl Peladeau in the race. Despite the fact that his arrival on the political scene was meant to highlight the economy – not a bad choice in itself as he has a proven record in the area – his short speech on the future of Québec was manna from heaven for the Liberals.
The péquistes [PQ members] at that point were sure to have turned the attention away from any reference to a referendum with this winning card in their back pocket. But when they saw the first signs of leakage in their political ship, they turned their hopes towards the Charter of Values.
The péquistes’ game plan did not unfold as expected. Even on this issue, the political calculations were faulty and instead of helping the PQ cause, it actually caused their downfall and contributed to the Liberals’ solid majority victory. According to polls, it appears that the younger electorate, usually close to the PQ, was not sold on the Charter, a critical factor in the PQ’s defeat.
In the end, the lesson to be learned here is as true for any other Canadian political party as it was for the PQ. Come election time, the economy is the dominant factor in the mind of most voters. How else can you explain how a political party that 19 months ago was ousted from power by a profoundly dissatisfied population could return to power with a very comfortable majority?