When the Quebec election campaign started, almost one month ago, the governing Parti Quebecois were in the lead, and everyone assumed they were heading towards a majority in the National Assembly.
Well, almost everyone. A certain former Liberal Prime Minister told this writer that there would be no separatist majority after voting day, April 7. “They’re going to lose ground,” said he. “Just watch.”
And so they did. In the month that followed, the PQ made four critical errors. The result has been dramatic: now it is Liberal leader Phillippe Couillard who is in the lead, and Premier Pauline Marois who is in second place.
Mistake One: they alienated their own base. The PQ are a social democratic party. They are closer to trade unions than the Liberals are, and they are effectively seen as the equivalent of the New Democrats in the province (which is why Thomas Mulcair has always been unwilling to say much that is critical of the separatists).
But by trumpeting the recruitment of Pierre Karl Peladeau, the big-business billionaire who had humiliated the PQ’s allies in the CSN (Confédération des syndicats nationaux), Marois left long-time party members angry and confused. As one of the men who ultimately owns the pro-Canadian, arch-conservative Sun News – and, full disclosure, the avowedly pro-Conservative newspaper you now grasp in your hands – Peladeau’s ideology isn’t the Parti Quebecois’ ideology. Party members noticed. The media, too.
Mistake Two: the PQ campaign was all tactics, no strategy. When their lead in the polls started to slip away, Marois panicked, swinging at everything and anything. At one point, she suggested – out loud, with a straight face – that democracy in Quebec was in peril because of English-speaking students in Montreal might vote.
When Quebeckers stopped laughing at that one, Marois smeared former Premier Jean Charest and his successor Couillard with innuendo about corruption. The Liberal leader responded with disclosure of his personal finances – leaving a flustered Marois, married to a businessman whose name has been heard on wiretaps at an anti-corruption inquiry, refusing to do likewise.
Mistake Three: the Parti Quebecois became the party of hate. Before the campaign got underway, one candidate posted “F**K ISLAM” on Facebook, and Marois didn’t object. Another PQ candidate promoted the old anti-Semitic canard about a kosher tax, and called Jewish circumcision “rape.” She apologized, but remained a candidate.
And, of course, there was the PQ’s so-called “values” Charter, which makes the wearing of religious symbols illegal. To many, the Charter recalls the policies of the neo-Nazi National Front. But Marois is undeterred.
Mistake Four: the PQ started talking about separatism again. Grosse erreur.
When Peladeau declared that he wanted a separate country for his children, the first person to clap – onstage, in front of the cameras – was Pauline Marois. When the PQ campaign immediately commenced tanking as a result, Marois commenced furiously backpedalling. Too late: the hapless PQ leader had given Couillard the issue he needed. Quebec voters may have been in the mood for a PQ majority – but they weren’t in the mood for a separate Quebec nation.
Can Marois claw her way back in the remaining days? Possibly. In order to win big, Couillard needs to have a much bigger lead among French-speaking voters. Meanwhile, Marois has been performing better in debate, and on the hustings.
But her majority seems to have slipped away – and, here at Sun News, we are genuinely looking forward to the return of Pierre Karl Peladeau.