As all four political parties seek to outdo each other in making promises we suspect they can’t keep, what to make of this odd Quebec election campaign? Most of us understand that at least some of these promises are not worth the paper they are printed on. So how to decide?
The big question is, which party is best placed to ensure continued economic growth and political stability, and is committed to policies that will enhance these goals. For us, it is clear that in spite of problems and some missteps in the past four years, the Quebec Liberal Party under Philippe Couillard is the best possible choice, given the alternatives.
This election comes at a particular moment in Quebec history. As veteran political analyst Bernard St-Laurent points out elsewhere in this issue, it is the first campaign in 50 years where Quebec sovereignty and the prospect of a divisive and costly referendum is not at issue.
For two of the parties that could be in contention for leading the province, sovereignty remains a key goal. Quebec independence still is the raison d’être of the Parti Québécois. Its ever-crafty leader, Jean-François Lisée, in many ways is a poster-man for the party’s shifting tactics. It retains a commitment to social democratic values, but few voters want to return to the uncertainty and economic cost of flirting with separatism.
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The PQ, committed to French-style secularism, is wrong on insisting that state employees be barred from displaying ostentatious religious symbols, such as wearing a kippah. With the return of Jean Martin Aussant, the former MNA who quit the PQ to found the more radical Option Nationale, and now running as its candidate in Pointe-aux-Trembles, the party is committed to showing that Canada does not work.
Québec Solidaire is fully committed to social democratic values, but there is no chance it can be anything more than a rump and a vote for it can only end up helping François Legault and his centre-right Coalition Avenir Québec.
François Legault has done a good job since he quit the PQ to build up the party as he repeatedly states his intention to “never” support a sovereignty referendum. However, his pledge to demand more powers from Ottawa, and possibly use threats to get results, might plunge us into the bad old days of constitutional conflict.
Quebec has the power to select immigrants, and the mayors of Drummondville and Quebec City are pleading for workers, yet Legault wants to cut immigration targets by 20 per cent, from 50,000 to 40,000. A certain percentage of newcomers will always decide to move elsewhere, but reducing the intake can only mean fewer stay. This policy seems designed to tap into deep rooted insecurity among many Quebecers, that newcomers will not integrate, but the evidence is to the contrary: When given a chance to settle and work here and attend school, which since Bill 101 is in French, new Quebecers by and large are enriching Quebec society on every level.
More worrisome is the CAQ pledge to impose a French competency and “values” test on immigrants: Those who fail will be refused full access to the rights of citizens. Surely, this is no way to attract immigrants. It sends the wrong message to those thinking of moving here. Criteria for obtaining landed immigrant status are set by Quebec — including additional points for knowledge of French — and to then penalize them because their French may not have reached a certain level of competency is short-sighted. As for the values test, we have laws and two charters of rights and freedoms to establish a legal framework for values. No test is necessary, and to impose it smacks of xenophobia.
Worse, the CAQ plans to prohibit any public-sector employee, including primary and secondary teachers, from wearing a religious symbol. This retrograde step would presumably affect doctors and nurses, police, judges, and members of the National Assembly, which would keep out turban-wearing Sikhs, hijab-wearing Muslim women, and kippah-wearing Jews from holding office and having equal access to a host of professions. There are laws and regulations in place which prevent any official from imposing religious prejudice against anyone. Again this policy is narrow-minded, xenophobic, and contrary to the values of pluralism, equal access, and respect for the views of the Other.
Even the current law passed under the Couillard government that bans public service to those who wear a face-covering niqab or burka is bound to face a court challenge. We are concerned that among Legault’s top economic team is Youri Chassin, candidate in Saint-Jérôme. He not only opposes supply management, which is essential to maintain family dairy farms here, he also believes that private health care is better than our cherished if imperfect public system.
Yes, the bulldozer approach of outgoing health minister Gaétan Barrette has left scars, but he has cut back on the over-bureaucratization of the system and service has improved, even if more must be done. Yes, the promise of extending free dental care to children aged 16 from 11, and low-income seniors, has been promised before. But we are convinced that a Philippe Couillard government would do its best to carry out this pledge, and keep Quebec on a path of growth, prosperity, concern for the weak, and a serene social climate that makes this a great place to live and work. This is not the time to experiment with alternatives.