Challenges ahead for minority government
Quebec's political landscape appears to have changed dramatically, and the result leaves voters facing many imponderables. As Premier Jean Charest prepares to continue to lead the province into another term as leader of a minority government, he, his advisers and Liberal Party militants will have to take a hard look at some stark realities. The most glaring is that Charest's style of leadership, his aloofness, disregard for public opinion, and record of mendaciousness have sapped popular support for the party to its lowest point ever.
As Don McPherson noted in The Gazette, the Liberals’ share of the popular vote March 26 was the lowest since Confederation! Many Liberals stayed home, or voted for the Green Party, which came second, albeit a distant second, in D'Arcy McGee, Notre Dame de Grâce and Westmount-St. Louis.
Many voters are fed up with being taken for granted. Charest reneged on tax cuts, tricked voters on demergers, and failed to deliver on a pledge to tackle the much vaunted, but now discredited Quebec Model that has led to a bloated bureaucracy and a debt of $120 billion.
The obvious bigger losers were the Parti Québécois and leader André Boisclair. The PQ, reduced to third-party status in part by the meteoric and unexpected rise of Mario Dumont's Action démocratique du Québec, has to rethink and remodel itself into something that corresponds with the mindset of post-baby-boom Quebecers.
Judging from the result, they do not see Quebec sovereignty as an urgent priority, at least not for now. As many have noted, the results indicate Boisclair's personality and lifestyle choices did not endear him to Quebec voters.
Many in the largely francophone suburbs that form a doughnut north and south of Montreal – the 450 exchange – who voted for the ADQ are not a bunch of xenophobes. Many were looking for relief from the fatigue of referendum battles, a sign that our leaders care about basics like our enfeebled health care system and the crush of heavy taxation. Many sought signs of creativity as the manufacturing sector continues its collapse here in the face of fierce competition in the new globalized world.
The positive sign is that Dumont, though he's clearly an opportunist, has committed himself to support leaner government and ending the ruinous freeze on university tuition – just two areas where a Charest government can count on their support.
The forces of the left in Québec solidaire, whose only bright point was Dr. Amir Khadir placing second in Mercier riding, will have a chance to grow and perhaps attract some from the PQ who see it sticking to a centrist position, where most votes are. But there is going to be a revival of union and student activism because they will fight the changes that are coming from the Liberal-ADQ tandem. It will be a time for Charest to show whether he has the stuff to lead in what are certain to be turbulent times ahead. And it will be a time for new women and men to emerge into the centre stage of public discourse for the period of re-alignment Quebec has now entered.