PQ support dwindles as sovereignty debates give way to nationalism, says professor

The Parti Québécois has battled historic lows in popular support throughout 2022, as many supporters in Quebec shift their focus from sovereignty to other concerns.

Yannick Dufresne, a professor of political science at Laval University, says he believes just over a third of Quebecers favor political independence for the province, but throughout 2022 the PQ ranked fifth in opinion polls among the five major parties taking part in the October vote. 3 provincial elections.

Meanwhile, Premier François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), which promotes nationalism and advocates a stronger Quebec within Canada, enjoys a comfortable lead, and Quebec’s other sovereignist party, Québec solidaire (QS), ranks fourth.

“It’s a complicated story. The main puzzle here is why the separatists no longer vote for the Parti Québécois. This means that there are a lot of separatists elsewhere, and they are especially in Quebec solidaire and on the side of the CAQ, ”said Dufresne in an interview.

“The PQ is a party that fights against each other in the structure. There is too much influence at the base and it is not very strategic. So the CAQ is perceived a little more to the right, and more efficient, and can take directions better.

The key moments of the first electoral debate in Quebec on September 15 showed changes in the province’s electoral politics. On the idea of ​​having a referendum on Quebec sovereignty, Legault said he “absolutely” rejects the idea, saying “that’s not what Quebecers want,” while the PQ and QS want one.

Debate host Pierre Bruneau asked PQ leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon if this was his party’s last gasp, given that it was bleeding support for the CAQ and QS. The chief offered no direct answer but replied by saying that the CAQ had failed to obtain concessions from Ottawa.

How PQ lost support

The founder of the PQ, René Lévesque, advocated the holding of referendums to obtain Quebec sovereignty and secede from Canada. His 1980 attempt received only 40.4% support. Chief Jacques Parizeau launched the 1995 referendum, which saw 49.4% support for Quebec sovereignty. Without a catalyst to bring secession to majority support, another referendum never took place.

A decade later, two manifestos were drawn up, which Dufresne said highlighted other problems. The first, “For a lucid Quebec,or “For a clairvoyant Quebec”, was signed by the founder of the Bloc Québécois and former PQ Prime Minister Lucien Bouchard and 11 other public figures on both sides of the sovereignist-federalist debate. The authors argued that low population growth, high public debt and high taxes were sinking Quebec. The solution was to cut government spending, cut tuition and daycare subsidies, and raise electricity bills.

Thirty-six signatories, including current federal Minister of the Environment Steven Guilbeault, responded with the “Manifesto for a United Quebec”. He argued that Quebec was not in as bad a position as the “lucids” claimed, and that Quebec’s response to a changing world was to reject the market capitalism and consumerism that created its problems. “Quebec must now undertake a resolutely viable, progressive and united political and economic shift,” write the authors.

In 2006, two political parties merged to form Québec solidaire. In 2008, Amir Khadir, still a member of the National Assembly today, won the first QS seat.

The 2007 Quebec general election saw the Action Démocratique du Quebec (ADQ) drop from 4 seats to 41 and become the official opposition to Jean Charest’s Liberals. The ADQ then fell to 7 seats in the 2008 election. Legault founded the CAQ in November 2011 and the ADQ merged with the new party in January 2012. The CAQ placed third in the 2012 election and 2014, ultimately winning in 2018.

In May 2022, Legault’s CAQ government passed Bill 96, which tightened French-language requirements even more than PQ governments had done in the past. The Liberals successfully introduced an amendment that would require students attending a publicly funded English-language CEGEP to take three core French courses to graduate. A backlash ensued from CEGEPs and English-speaking and First Nations communities, but the Liberals subsequently failed in their attempts to overturn the amendment.

“A balanced position”

Quebec has no debate in English this year because the CAQ and the PQ refused to participate. The leader of the Conservative Party, Éric Duhaime, therefore took advantage of the debate in French to reprimand the Liberal leader Dominique Anglade in English.

“You have betrayed English-speaking Quebecers, in fact, on this bill,” Duhaime said, referring to Anglade’s previous positions in favor of Bill 96.

“The two old parties – the ‘Yes’ team and the ‘No’ team – are below 10%. We are entering a new paradigm and I think Anglophones want to be part of this new political reality.

Bruneau asked Duhaime if he was a federalist or a separatist. He replied, “I identify as a nationalist,” and said he didn’t want another referendum.

Dufresne says he agrees with Duhaime that Quebec’s political landscape is changing in new ways.

“Something that is happening in this election is particularly interesting, especially with the Conservative Party of Quebec. … [It’s] very populist and built on resentment during the pandemic, on the nationalist aspect, very difficult to grasp,” he said.

“National doesn’t mean much. … Quebecers when [asked] are you more Quebecois than Canadian, most people would say, “Yeah, I’m more Quebecois”, but that doesn’t mean they want their [separate] country. So I think that’s a way to make it a balanced position where no one can really disagree,” Dufresne said.

Dufresne believes QS has captured the sentiment of younger voters, leaving the PQ to an older generation of single-issue voters.

“Their main voters [of Québec solidaire] are younger. When we talk to young people, they are not separatists, but they are not federalists either. They don’t really think about it much,” he said.

“Hardcore separatists are getting old and voting for the PQ. And some of them might vote CAQ,” he said, noting that some separatists he spoke to said, “We would rather the PQ disappear than see the Liberals come back, so the CAQ is a good one. compromise.

question of monarchy

A Léger poll conducted in August showed that 85% of Quebeckers in favor of sovereignty and 49% of those who opposed it wanted the abolition of the monarchy. Dufresne said marking a national holiday for the death of Queen Elizabeth II seems odd to some Quebecers and could boost the PQ.

“We all know how enshrined in the Constitution and how impossible it is to get rid of the monarchy, but for the PQ, it will be appropriate to talk about it after the funeral,” he said, asking the question: “Would there be enough time before the election to get a payoff by showing there was a disconnect? »

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Lee Harding is a Saskatchewan-based journalist and think tank researcher, and contributor to The Epoch Times.

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