|this is what we really need|
if i'm writing headlines like that, you just know that we're in the midst of another provincial election in quebec. i'm kind of shocked at the number of times i've had to get out to vote in the time since i moved back to montreal in the middle of 2008. this is the third time provincially, in addition to two times each federally and municipally, which adds up to a total of seven elections in less than six years. i find politics interesting and even i'm exhausted by this pace.
i'm lying. our municipal politics have been interesting and, were it not for toronto's mayor rob ford doing us a solid and distracting national [and international] attention, you'd likely have heard about the fact that our last mayor was arrested on corruption charges a few weeks after replacing the guy who resigned due to rumours of impending corruption charges. i wish i were making that up.
and the last two federal elections have been nail-biters. i wasn't thrilled with the results of either one, being one of prime minister stephen harper's biggest anti-fans. [i'd also like to point out that, in the wake of the corruption scandals that led to his original election, i was willing to give the man a chance. i have proof.] but the fact is that they were interesting to follow and for once they weren't foregone conclusions.
well, here's a brief primer on quebec politics in the 2010s: there are two main parties and power in the province has been handed back and forth between them for my entire lifetime. that's more than forty years, which in itself is not unheard of [although it behooves me to point out that the majority of canada's provinces have had at least three parties in their governmental mix during that time], but here's the real problem: the teeter-totter has gone between the liberals [who governed canada for most of the twentieth century, owing in large part to the fact that they maintained a base in quebec that was unassailable for many years] and the separatist parti-quebecois. the conservative party has not existed on a provincial level in quebec for as long as i can remember. since the parti quebecois started out as a left-leaning party under rene levesque, there was little room for a federalist [the term applied to quebeckers who support staying within canada] left-wing option.
there are other parties who have met with some success. most recently, factions of the p.q. have split to form the more right wing, quietly separatist but really corporate-focused coalition avenir quebec [which is sort of a rebirth of the earlier action democratique quebec, who got as far as forming the official opposition before imploding a few years later] and the more "old-school" [higher income, more intellectual] members split to form the option nationale, which has failed to make much impact with their "we know better than you" platform. there's also quebec solidaire, which isn't an offshoot of another party, but a montreal-born socially progressive option that's also separatist. they've managed to get a couple of members elected and have been taken more and more seriously as they have emphasized the separatist part of their platform. they're actually not dissimilar to the original parti quebecois.
there is a smattering of other options, of which the most visible is the green party, which is almost exactly like quebec solidaire without the separatism.
now, if you've become confused by everything i've written there, let me simplify things: when we go to the polls on on april 7th, there is precisely no chance that anyone other than the liberals or the parti-quebecois will emerge the victor. right now, we have a p.q. minority government. recent polls have suggested that the balance of power will tilt back towards the liberals. chances are that both coalition avenir quebec and quebec solidaire will win seats, as they did in the last election. but there will be no large-scale changing of the guard.
in a parliamentary democracy, where you vote only in the race in your particular riding, that means that any vote cast for a party other than those two will have precisely no effect on who governs the province starting april 8th. you don't get proportional representation, where seats are divvied up in part based on the total number of votes for each party. you don't even get to vote separately for your local representative and the overall leader the way you do in the united states or france [among others]. parliamentary democracy is like a beta program that no one bothered to finish, still full of bugs.
i make no secret of how much i hate the act of strategic voting: casting a vote for one party not because you believe in them, but because you think the other main option on the table is worse. it's a recipe for mediocrity and you could find no better object lesson for that than the recent history of quebec politics.
the parti quebecois came to power in 2012 and in that time the piece of their legislation that has received the greatest attention is their "charter of values", which seeks to ban public employees [which in canada includes employees of hospitals and schools, not just those employed directly by the government] from wearing any outward signs of religious or cultural significance. while discreet items, like, say a rosary, are ok, whereas an overt item, such as a head scarf or yarmulke would be prohibited. see if you can spot the problem there.
the charter enjoys less support than hitler in montreal, but the parti quebecois could care less, because the city- home to half of quebec's population- has never been a hotbed of p.q. support. the object here is to drum up support among more xenophobic francophone populations outside the metropolis, by raising the alarm that a tidal wave of immigrants [especially muslim immigrants, although muslims have a long history in quebec, since there were many french colonies in northern africa] are coming to impose sharia law on them.
so clearly, the parti-quebecois has been a racist embarrassment to the province. which makes you wonder why they got elected in the first place.
the liberals, who had been in power for almost ten years when they went down to defeat in 2012. although there were many issues, the main one that pushed them out of power was the fact that the last months were marked by often massive protests. you'd have thought it was real france here during the spring and summer. the protests started out being about raising education costs, but quickly morphed when the liberals enacted legislation that drastically limited the ability of citizens to protest publicly. participants were forbidden from doing anything to hide or disguise their faces [thus opening themselves to reprisals if, say, their employer did not approve of their activities]. protest marches had to be sanctioned by the police and provide a detailed route. wearing the red square symbol of the protestors was banned. worst of all, it turned out that much of the violence and property damage that occurred [which wasn't actually a lot] was spurred on by police moles. most terrifying was that the montreal police- and i have often defended them, despite their ferocious reputation- seemed to go on some sort of power bender, injuring people who were uninvolved [like journalists] and making volatile situations worse.
word of the draconian measures and police violence spread far and wide, with publications like the guardian and the wall street journal deriding the liberal measures as authoritarian. when was the last time you heard about the wall street journal taking the part of street protestors? yeah, we're special that way.
so why doesn't anyone get their political shit together and mount a serious challenge to these assholes?
let me tell you why. because every election, the p.q. and the liberals start with the fear tactics. for the p.q., that means telling people "if you don't vote for us, our province is going to lose all its power and the liberals are going to sell out our interests to the federal government"; for the liberals, it means saying "if you don't vote for us, the p.q. are going to separate from canada and all non-francophones will be put in internment camps". and that shit is effective, my friend. quebec has taken a far more progressive stand on things like health care access and education, ensuring that provincial citizens get more than in any other province. threatening people with the idea that those hard-won benefits could be clawed back by giving the federal government more say in their affairs is scary. just as scary as telling people that the other guy is going to tear your country apart.
and the sad fact is that a large number of voters [possibly the largest number of voters] will be making their decision on monday based on their feelings about the sentiments in that last paragraph. those votes will be cast out of fear and suspicion and none of them will take into account the problems i've outlined above. people who support multiculturalism will vote for the parti quebecois. people who support the right to free speech and freedom of assembly will vote for the liberals. they shouldn't, but they will, because all they're thinking about is the issue of quebec's sovereignty.
this is the reality. these are the facts that i will be considering when i go to mark my "x" next monday. i've learned to not mind voting for candidates who don't win. i could count the number of times i've ended up voting for a winning candidate on one hand, even if i lost some fingers. what bothers me in quebec elections is that the winners are determined by a process in which no one cares about the actual process of governance. if the polls hold and the liberals do prevail, leader philippe couillard could give an acceptance speech telling people to suck his dick while snorting coke off a mob hitman's ass and chances are that the majority of his supporters will still vote for him next time. [same goes for p.q. leader pauline marois.]
it makes me wish that i could just politely ask everyone who is planning to vote based on the issue of separatism- either for or against- to just sit this one out and let the rest of us have a go. those of us who are concerned about things like the state of many of our basic amenities [our roads are a joke, other than when they collapse and kill people, which is unsettlingly frequent], safeguarding the natural resources that remain the foundation of our economy, ensuring access to health care and education now and in the future, getting rid of the rampant corruption in all levels of government and its dealings with private industry, continuing to encourage a positive environment for small businesses... there are so many things that go into running a province, could we please just have one fucking election where those were the focus??
none of that is going to happen. monday will roll around and things will unfold as they always do. i will glumly survey my ballot and decide whether i should cast a vote for someone i know will be terrible or for someone i think might do well who has no chance of winning. i'll do it because i know perfectly well that the people who get elected will have a say over how i can live and enjoy my life over the coming years, no matter how i feel about them. and whatever i do, it won't matter, because on monday night, one of the same two parties will emerge victorious and the cycle will begin again, like some horrifying dream from which there is no escaping.
this is why we can't have nice things.