The Party’s Over

When I was growing up, the cool kids were pretty much all péquistes. Even among the anglos and allos, the political movement launched by René Lévesque, Gérald Godin, and others, had undeniable youthful allure. Think about it: on the one hand, you had a hard-drinking, hard-smoking ex-journalist and his merry band of poets, academics, and all purpose dreamers. On the other, you had…, well, you had Robert Bourassa and his drab-but-sensible technocrats. If you were a 17 year-old aspiring leftie who thought that politics was about the hope for a better, more just world, then the PQ was your go-to party. Now, granted, you don’t have much of an idea about what it might mean for the world to be better and more just when you’re 17, but surely, having a poet in a Cabinet position had to be part of it.

I never ended up voting for the PQ, I should add. I would certainly have voted “oui” in the 1980 referendum had I been old enough to cast a ballot, and I was devastated at just barely missing the 1981 vote, at which I would without a doubt voted for the PQ (the election was held in April, and I turned 18 in May). By the time the 1985 election rolled around, the PQ had started resembling the parties it had unseated in 1976. And by then I had figured out that I wasn’t really a sovereignist after all, though I was turned off by Trudeau’s triumphalist Canadian nationalism as well.

Many people in Quebec will celebrate the near-certain electoral defeat of the PQ in Monday’s election. Polls have them stalled below 30% support. There would be poetic justice if that was where they ended up. After all, the appalling right-wing identitarian turn that has been central to their short-lived minority government, and to their electoral campaign, was engineered by those within and around the PQ who felt that the “denationalization” of the party’s message under leaders like Lucien Bouchard and André Boisclair had been its undoing. How apt it would be if the electoral dividend of that fateful turn were exactly zero!

I can’t deny that I will breathe a sigh of relief if and when the PQ, in its present instantiation, is returned to the opposition benches (and – who knows? – perhaps even nipped at the finish line by the surging CAQ). The toxins that have been released into the body politic by the PQ over the course of the last few months with their heinous Muslim-baiting policies and rhetoric will take years to dissipate, and the PQ deserves to be severely punished at the polls for having set back the cause of inclusion in Quebec by a generation for what will turn out to be a mirage of short-term electoral gain.

At the same time, it’s hard not be just a bit saddened by this turn of events. How quickly a party that once painted very appealing pictures of a progressive Quebec in which all citizens – francos, anglos, allos – would work together toward the realization of the somewhat Quixotic dream of a kinder, gentler, francophone society somehow holding its own within a ocean of English, has degenerated into a chauvinistic, small-minded and small-hearted shadow of its former self! How eager it has been to abandon its own constitutive ideals in order to try desperately to cling to power (“You don’t want a referendum? Great! We don’t want one either! We won’t have one for at least two terms! We are the sovereignist party that promises absolutely nothing to promote sovereignty as long as you vote for us!”).

Looking at pictures of PQ rallies, you don’t see many young faces in the crowds anymore. Polls indicate that the 18 – 25 demographic is now actually of all groups the least likely to vote for the PQ. Today,the cool kids are definitely not péquistes. They have migrated to Québec Solidaire, or have simply been turned off by the nastiness of the politics that the parties of their parents’ generations are engaging in. (Who can blame them?) The PQ has morphed from a party that stood for progressive change, to a party that appeals to those groups within the electorate that are the most afraid of change – change brought by immigration, to be sure, but also by the diversity that is the inevitable result of living in a free society. The message of the PQ has for the past few years been “vote for us, and we will do as much as we can to keep those nasty religious signs out of your faces. But don’t worry! None of that will affect the religious signs that you are actually comfortable with, namely, your own! We simply have to re-baptize them as “patrimonial” and “non-ostentatious””

So if and when the PQ is shown handed its walking papers on Monday, my satisfaction in seeing it receive its comeuppance for the gutter politics in which it has engaged for the last few months will be tempered at least somewhat by sadness at the speed with which a party that embodied so much of what I hoped politics might be about when I was 17 has turned in a matter of just a few decades into the political zombie that it has now become.

And the party that stands primed to inherit its mantle as the prime progressive force in Quebec politics will have to engage in serious reflection about how to avoid the fate of the PQ, that is, how to turn itself into a potential party of government, without at the same time losing (too much of) its soul.


The Party’s Over — 4 Comments

  1. Daniel,

    The more I read of your public postings the more I am saddened. I used to think we had a lot in common since we attended elementary school together, but I was mistaken. Your glorification of the separatist and the far left puzzle me. With all your studies in political philosophy I find it strange that instead of promoting harmony, reconciliation, and building bridges, you would support separatism and breaking up one of the greatest countries in the history of the planet.

    Unlike you, when I was growing up I did not consider any of the kids who were PQ supporters to be “cool”. As far as I was concerned, they were ignoramuses and the PQ was my “go-to party” for narrow-mindedness, tribalism, and deception.

    Your reference to the hard drinkers, poets and dreamers at the head of the party being a great attraction for you is reflective of adolescent confusion between a rock band and a political party wishing to form a government. Alcoholism, etc. are poor qualifications for any politician who wants to do a serious job of governing at any level. But you should not omit the other interesting stuff… you forgot to add that the hard-drinker also killed a pedestrian while driving, and there was a shoplifting thief, and a paid informer for the RCMP. Great role models, eh?

    You suggest that the PQ was going to build a “kinder, gentler” society. Excuse me? Bill 101 (Charter of the French Language) was nothing of the sort. It was so “kind and gentle” that thousands of Quebeckers and businesses left the province! Taking advantage of Canada’s freedom of mobility, the PQ created their own conditions for their own version of “ethnic cleansing”. In my case, my parents were immigrants to Quebec, but just before the PQ was elected, my father had a sabbatical and so we went to London (England). When I returned to the neighbourhood where I was born, and applied to go to the English school down the street from my home (Loyola High School), the school principal (a former student of my father’s) rejected my application. He stated that under the new PQ law, I was an “illegal student” and if he accepted me, not only would the government subsidies for my education be cancelled, but for the entire school, which would spell bankruptcy and the end of the institution. Do you have any idea what it is like to be labeled an “illegal” in the city where you were born and consider home?

    One can protect the French language by requiring its presence, but banning other languages, particularly the only other official language in the country and the primary language of communication around the world, is hardly “kinder, gentler”.

    You criticize this new Charter of values… but is it not obvious that this new charter stems from the same source of primitive xenophobia and excessive nationalism? While you are despondent over the PQ’s failure, I rejoice in it and their dropping in the polls renews my faith in the people!

    Your suggestion that the PQ is now prepared to abandon their ideas to cling to power, betrays a misunderstanding of recent history. The PQ has always been prepared to say that they were putting things on the shelf to gain some temporary edge, but they are manipulators and liars, and will do anything to achieve their objectives. One has to be naive to believe them.

    In the 1980 referendum, which you say you would have voted “Oui” if you could, the question was not a straightforward “Do you want Quebec to separate and form and independent country? Yes or No” Instead, it was “do you give us a mandate to negotiate sovereignty-association?” Everyone one knows that when you start negotiations, it is impossible to predict the outcome. Many Quebeckers were voting for a re-alignment of section 91 and 92 of the constitution, but not outright separation. The PQ did not care. They would have declared unilateral independence if they had their 50 plus 1. And what exactly is “sovereignty-association”, everyone asked. The elephant was indeed in the room although the PQ did not have the guts to label it as such.

    But the bigger disgrace was the 1995 referendum question. First, the government tables a bill unilaterally declaring independence. The question then asks for a mandate to negotiate a new deal for a year, following which the bill will be passed. Huh? Again, negotiations can lead to anything, so the question attracts positive responses from dreamers who do not necessarily want outright separation. But then, regardless of what is negotiated, the unilateral independence bill is passed. Cart before the horse? Negotiations in good faith?

    However, the most revealing media story at that time was a subsequent interview with Parizeau in which he admitted that if they had received the 50 plus 1, he would have declared unilateral secession and independence within 10 days (on the advice of a former French President). In other words, the PQ will do and say anything to attain their objectives, including engaging in misleading and fraudulent referendums or pretending that their plans for such referendums have been shelved. Deception, pure and simple. Peladeau’s fist pumping about making “un pays” at his candidacy announcement was the most honest statement out of the PQ in the whole election campaign. It is no wonder that another Quebecker, Dion, felt that the lack of honesty and transparency on the PQ’s part necessitated what he called the “Clarity Act”, which I would have preferred him calling the “The PQ does not have the courage to say ‘separation’ in a referendum question Act”.

    I wish your statement that the party is over were true, but as the CAQ leader said during the debates, the PQ has a core group of members who care about only one thing: separation. The party just needs the right leader and “conditions” (e.g., any PQ-created “crisis”), to experience a resurgence. Perhaps that former card-carrying Communist Party member, Duceppe, might seek the leadership job if Marois leaves. Fortunately, Quebeckers dumped him and the Bloc a while ago, and hopefully will do the same if he comes out of the cobwebs again.

  2. Andrew, You seem to think that the PQ has a monopoly on French language laws. I may remind you that the precursor was Bill 22, a Bourassa law that served as the precursor to Bill 101.

    The Liberals under any leader, have done nothing to help the “Anglo cause”. In fact, I believe under Charest, the budget was raised for the OLF. During election campaigns, I have never heard one Liberal leader even attempt to court the Anglo votes by promising Anglo rights or anything remotely close. We already know why, don’t need to get into that.

    I think the PQ may be down, but not out. Pauline Marois has to be the least popular PQ leader after Andre Boisclair. She made the campaign about her which was not helpful. Recruiting Pierre Karl Peladeau had the opposite effect. It will be interesting to see what happens to them tonight and also, whether or not Peladeau wins his seat in St-Jerome. Will he run and win as Marois’s successor? PQ will make a come back, but it will never be the original party of the working class that Rene-Levesque’s PQ was in his early days. My father would be rolling in his grave if he saw the PQ he voted for in the 70s turned into what they are today.

    I would like to see Quebec Solidaire win a few more seats this evening.

    My father, a young teacher back in the 70s and a militant for the Montreal Teacher’s Association was an admirer of Rene-Levesque and voted for him in 1976, despite it being a separatist party. Didn’t help that Bourassa was not even attempting to negotiate in good faith with the Common Front.

  3. Dear Andrew,

    I suspect that you’d be surprised to know how many anglophones share Daniel’s sentiments. I, for one, am among them:

    Like a surprisingly large number of progressive anglophones, I voted “OUI” in the 1995 referendum. Laugh if you must, laugh if you will, but those were the days when the separatist movement still looked like a left-wing enterprise—to a young and extremely naive voter like me.

    I believed, as did many of my friends, that if the separatists won they would create a northern-European-style social democracy—a sweet little Sweden right here in North America.

    This prospect was especially attractive to me at 20 because Canada and the United States seemed, at that time, to be veering further and further rightward, into shockingly heartless neoliberal territory.

    Alas, those days are long gone, and no one (not even the most naive new voter) believes that a separatist victory would lead to a socially-democratic Quebec.

    We might as well face up to it: the separatist movement has lost its soul, as has the Parti Québécois. They no longer even try to appeal to the better angels of our nature. All to the contrary, the PQ consistently appeals to all that is worst in the Quebec psyche—to our fear of difference, our fear of change—and our irrational sense of victimhood.

    Every party has its dark side, but there’s nothing left of the progressivism that once kept the PQ’s demons in check.

    When I was a kid, growing up here in Quebec, the PQ was a party of idealists. Sure, lots of folks thought they were misguided idealists—but few doubted that their hearts swelled with noble intentions.

    Where did that PQ go, the PQ of René Lévesque? I’m not sure. Of this I am sure, however: the PQ is, at present, a mean-spirited, small-minded, reactionary party—a party that’s devoid of new ideas, devoid of hope, and, increasingly, devoid of basic human decency.


  4. Hi Andrew,

    It was ironic trying to get past your liberal use of the ad hominem, which you somehow used in you plea to promote conciliation. How can you accuse Weinstock of supporting the breakup of the country and call for bridge building, all while calling the PQ and its supporters ‘ignoramuses’, ‘narrow-minded’, ‘tribalistic’, engaging in “ethnic cleansing”, ‘primitively xenophobic’, ‘excessively nationalistic’, ‘manipulators’ ‘liars’, ‘naive’, ‘deceptive’ and ‘dishonest’? If this is your idea of ‘bridge building’, you can keep it. You don’t actually live here anymore, do you? If you did, you’d be concerned that your words might be read by someone who didn’t vote Liberal. What are they supposed to take from this?

    I think that Bill 101 merits discussion and critique through a thorough comparison with other similar legislation designed to preserve and reinforce heritage languages. Also at issue is whether Quebec should have such language laws at all.. should it go the way of Louisiana? The referendum initiatives can be compared and critiqued with other similar referendum processes the world over, and the Charter,which was created much in the same spirit as its French counterpart legislation to promote secularism can be questioned too. So do that if you want, but please don’t use vitriol to accuse Anglos that actively engage to communicate and work with the Franco community of supporting “breaking up the greatest country in the history of the planet”. You may be sad that Weinstock doesn’t have much in common with you anymore, but I for one, am not.