i'm peculiarly proud of myself for voting in the quebec provincial election today. perhaps it's that sense of self-sacrifice, that i went out and walked the ten minutes in freezing cold weather to mark my little "x" in the full knowledge that it wouldn't count for anything. only canadians seem to be able to take pride in doing things that are pointless and painful out of a sense of responsibility. that said, with recent voter turnouts, it's becoming obvious that most canadians are hopping off that train in record numbers.
i can't really say as i would blame people who opted out of this contest. after all, we're in the midst of a flash freeze that unexpectedly dropped the temperature from around freezing to minus double digits in the space of twelve hours. who really wants to head into that?
then, of course, there's the issue of the actual parties and their positions, which always makes engaging in quebec politics rather like hugging a porcupine. sure, it's cute from a distance.
leaving aside the free-falling flash-in-the-pan action democratique, there are in this election and every election, two parties who are competing for the votes of quebeckers. you can find their public platforms on a variety of issues on the linked web sites (although i have to say that as i'm typing this, the liberal web site isn't working) but there is one important thing that every student of quebec politics should understand that you won't find mentioned therein: neither of those parties wants to separate quebec from the rest of canada.
this is sort of a difficult proposition to wrap your head around, since separation (or sovereignty, if you prefer) is a key part of the platform of the parti quebecois. nonetheless, it is true. after all, quebec has a pretty good deal going with the national system of equalization payments, receiving more money than it could hope to generate on its own by virtue of the fact that it remains, however sullenly, within the national federation of canada. and, in truth, no provincial party has done more with their equalization money. university tuition in quebec is significantly lower than in other parts of the country, owing to a decision that kept fees capped for over a decade. quebec also used public funds to start its own $5 a day day care program under the pq watch in 1997. so no one can argue that the separatist party doesn't enjoy and employ the benefits of remaining in canada. the fact is that any serious separatist party would be taking every step to cut back the province's expenses and to wean it without delay from its dependence on money from the federal coffers. after all, we each learn when we make that first move away from home: as long as your parents are still paying the bills, you're a long way from being truly independent. (if you want to see people who really do want quebec to separate, trying looking at people in every other province in canada. a lot of them look like the proverbial rich guy realising he should have had his wife sign a pre-nup. he desperately wants her gone, because she's making him crazy every time she talks, but he knows that leaving her himself is going to be way too expensive.)
no one can say that the liberals, the erstwhile voice of federalism within quebec, don't take full advantage of its image as st. george holding back the separatist dragon, armed only with huge bags of money from ottawa. and that propaganda is hugely successful. make no mistake, the liberal party of quebec will garner many thousands of votes today from people who either do not agree with or do not know the party's stand on issues of direct importance to the lives of citizens, simply because those people believe that if they do not vote liberal, the province is headed for sovereignty and doom.
and maybe those people have the right idea. after all, if you're going to choose between two parties who don't really want to separate quebec from canada, you might as well give your vote to the one that comes right out and says it. ah, but there in the fluffy angel cake of political compromise lies the razor blade of reality. the fact that every provincial election in quebec must be fought with the question of sovereignty lurking beneath the surface means that there isn't ever an election about anything else. no one ever gets to think about all the other issues that provincial governments are supposed to be dealing with, because each vote comes down to weather you want to give your support to a party that says it wants to separate or a party that says it doesn't.
i'm willing to bet that there are a lot of quebec residents who'd be willing to trade some of those equalization dollars to get some real political debate and representation.