No mandate! A prejudiced, “not-ready-for-prime-time” government

By Beryl Wajsman on October 19, 2012

One thing is clear from the narrow election result in Quebec - it gave the PQ no mandate for any of its radical agenda. It was to be hoped that we could take Pauline Marois at her word that she not only respected, but understood the will of the people. However, from the  inflammatory rhetoric, the sparking of new language friction and the irresponsible fiscal policies it was perhaps too much to hope for.The only sign of hope are the endless flipflops and reining in of her Ministers that she has done.

Two-thirds of Quebecers - anglophones, allophones and francophones - voted for the federalist, free-market alternatives. Mme. Marois must take that into account and we all must hold her accountable.

Quebecers gave her no mandate to hold a referendum.

No mandate for the Identity Act creating two classes of citizens

No mandate for any extension of Bill 101.

No mandate for her draconian increases in personal and corporate tax rate.

The Parti Québecois was returned to power with a minority government . The results, in seats and percentage of popular vote, were almost a mirror of 2007. The PQ has 54 seats, just seven seats more than it had in the last assembly. The Liberals dropped to 50 seats and the CAQ captured 19 with Québec Solidaire at two. The PQ's 32% of the popular vote was only 1 per cent more than the Liberals, and very much where the party has been at for the better part of the year. It’s lowest plurality ever.

The Liberal showing was remarkably better than almost all pundits predicted. Most commentators credit the strong performance to a passionate Jean Charest who in the last two weeks of the campaign showed the same "feu sacré" as he did when he led the referendum forces in 1995.

The CAQ came in considerably below expectations. But it was clear that it sapped some Liberal votes. The CAQ took 27% of the popular vote compared to the ADQ's 17% in 2008. That made the difference. The irresponsible "change for the sake of change" vote.

But this result should not be about breathing a sigh of relief. It should be about wading into the fight. It is about becoming more engaged as Quebecers. That is the challenge to all communities.

It is about no longer accepting the palaver of the talking heads who constantly apologize for Pauline Marois and her cohorts. Who constantly say, "They don't mean that." It is time to demand that they prove that don’t mean the extremism they espouse.

Quebecers showed they reject the politics of division and discord. The showed they reject the messages of nullification and the metaphors of segregation. Now , anglophones and allophones, must show that they are confident of their place in this society and engage fully in Quebec. To prevent another resurgence it is necessary to do that. It is also right. And there will be  a lot of allies.


There was a troubling aspect in the coverage of the unprecedented series of debates in the  provincial election. Too many commentators were paying attention to everything from hand motions to smiles and smirks. They should have been paying attention to what was said. And so should have all voters.

This was the most important vote since the 1995 referendum. The reason? After a spring and early summer of social insurrection organized and mobilized by the radical CSN union, the PQ and the QS as much as by students, we enter a fall and winter of public sector union negotiations with a sword of Damocles of more urban paralysis and economic atrophy caused by more demonstrations and marches. It was important for voters to have used intellectual rigour to look at actions and results and not just body movements.

The Charest administration’s tough stance on the students must be credited to a great degree in getting most of the students to vote to go back to class. Charest made it clear that he would continue to protect the economic engine of Quebec. Marois has capitulated to student demands and cancelled the tuition hike and now the students want more. Totally free education. Nobody knows where the money will be coming from except taxpayers pockets. 

This was an election not only about economic stewardship, but about the toughness required to maintain a society of free thought and a free economy. Only Charest expounded that. But there was another dark shadow that hung over the vote..

I have used the title "A Matter of Prejudice" once before. In a column in October 2007. The prejudice then was the push by the PQ for a Quebec Identity Act. That proposition would have put egregious and draconian limits on citizenship, rights to stand for election and even communication with elected officials. All those who did not speak French would have those rights compromised.

Pauline Marois has raised that spectre again. She is still talking, now as Premier,that her government would pass a law that would not allow anyone to run for public office, not even for a city council seat, if they were not fluent in French. Basically she intends to re-introduce the infamous Bill 95 that Don Martin, then of the National Post, termed “Racism – in any language.” 

The Quebec Identity Act would not only provide a rationale for intolerance, but institutionalize it beyond anything we¹ve seen before. Marois would create two classes of citizenship. She does not understand that laws must be of universal application that respect, with equitable treatment, the rights of every single individual. 

Too many commentators have over the years, and still do today, explained away separatist rhetoric and that all the laws and all the power-sharing arrangements with Quebec were necessary to subdue nationalist fervor. That as long as language and culture were protected, no laws would ever appear that would threaten basic democratic rights. Marois may prove them wrong.

The debate on identity that Marois is rekindling, including her “lay” charter that would do away with religious symbolism in the public square save for that of Christians, goes to the heart of the blackest delusions of the Quebec malaise. The Marois proposals should not be glossed over or apologized for as so many are doing. 

In his historic speech made upon his departure from office Lucien Bouchard sounded a clarion call for freedom. He said, “When issues are matters of principle, there is no room for negotiation. We touch here clearly at the heart of what is essential. I wish to affirm with absolutely no qualifications, that citizens of Quebec can exercise their right to vote, in whichever way they want, without being accused of intolerance.” Marois and today's PQ, in a desperate bid to pander to Quebec's hard-line exclusivists, are ready to jettison those noble sentiments to the dustbin of Quebec history. 


For those who thought that once in power Marois’ PQ would show intelligence and maturity, they too were proved wrong. The original Saturday Night Live cast members were once known as the “Not ready for primetime players.” That appellation can easily be applied to this after an astonishing first few weeks that evidenced an audacious lack of comprehension of public finance, manifested a total disregard of its meager minority status and demonstrated the paucity of talent in its caucus.

This government is unprepared to govern a province, much less to separate and govern a nation.

For all the normal election bombast, one almost has the impression that the PQ – in its deepest council rooms apart – really did not think it was going to win this election. MNAs with little or no experience have been appointed to not one, but in many cases, to two critical Ministries at the same time. Put aside the typical PQ display of taking the oath to the Queen behind closed doors and having the Canadian flag moved out during the ceremony, the choice of Cabinet members seemed nothing less than a haphazardly game of musical chairs.

Announcements seem to be made by Mme. Marois in machine-gun fashion – almost off the cuff . She seemed like nothing less than a vaudeville perfomer afraid the big cane was going to pull her off the stage by her neck. 

Nicolas Marceau, a UQAM economics professor first elected to the National Assembly  in a by-election on September 21, 2009, is now not only our Minister of Finance but is also responsible for Economic Development. That former Ministry was so important that it attracted some of the most able people from the private sector – like Clément Gignac - to shoulder the sacrifices of public service. Now it seems that the PQ is relegating economic development to backburner status.

In the midst of the Charbonneau Commission, Mme. Marois has given 42-year old Sylvain Gaudreault the enormous Ministries of Transport and Municipal Affairs. Exactly the domains the Commission is investigating. And naturally, despite having obtained one of the smallest pluralities in history, Marois named 35-year old Alexandre Cloutier as Minister of State for Intergovernmental relations and for “sovereignist governance.” 

And the decisions taken in her first few weeks have been outlandish. Mme. Marois managed to add billions of dollars of expenses onto the treasury that we will have to make up. She cancelled the meager tuition hikes and the health tax. Those alone are a billion dollars. If she thought she would buy the loyalty of the students she was wrong. Within 48 hours student leaders announced they now wanted free education. 

If you thought that the measures Marois announced would be paid for by the development of our natural resources, you would have been wrong. She announced permanent moratoriums on the development of South Shore natural gas and Anticosti Island oil. Montana, North Dakota, western Pennsylvania and central Texas have achieved almost full employment through development of their natural gas fields in just the past two years. But that`s not good enough for this government. It even led former PQ Premier Lucien Bouchard to question this government`s economic rationality. And, oh yes, let`s not forget nuclear power. France gets 75% of its energy from it. Ontario, 50%. But Mme. Marois is going the other way. She announced the closure of Quebec`s only nuclear plant called Gentilly 2. There was a bit of an “Oops” moment when she was informed it would take billions of dollars and ten years to close it down and safely move the nuclear waste. The PQ’s response came a day later. The government rationalized that the costs of a shutdown would be spent in Quebec, while the costs of refurbishing the plant would see some 40% of the money spent to buy equipment and technology from Ontario. So of course shutdown is better. 

Almost unnoticed was her decision to allow Public Security Minister Stéphane Bergeron to look at the possibility of  a public inquiry into the conduct of the Montreal police - yes the police, not the marchers - during the student riots that  cost Montreal taxpayers some $12 million. 

But the cherry on the cake were her announcements of how she expects to fund Quebec. Tax increases of course! The traditional way. Increases ranging from 3-7% , depending on income, from the already highest taxed citizenry in North America. Increases in income taxes, capital gains taxes and of course corporate taxes since our economy is so completely recovered from the world economic crisis. And to add insult to injury, she wants to make some of the tax increases retroactive. Some question whether that is even legal but when asked, Finance Minister Marceau said that this had been stated by the PQ in the campaign. Well, nobody can find where that was stated.

This government is completely divorced from reality. As we write this, images of anti-government riots in Spain and Greece are flashing across television screens around the world. We hope that Quebec’s “not ready for prime-time government” doesn’t drive this province to the same point of desperation. One is reminded of Caesar’s commentaries on the campaign in Gaul. “We made a desert and called it peace.”



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