The provincial election on March 28 constituted for Quebec a new era in its political history. Since 1970, the fundamental question in Quebec politics has been the independence of Quebec, with a polarization between the federalist Liberals and the separatist Péquistes. The major breakthrough of Action démocratique du Québec’s Mario Dumont, who is now the official opposition leader in Quebec City, has completely changed that political reality.
Right until the end of the election campaign, Jean Charest, leader of the PLQ, tried to capitalize on the fear of separation, presenting the ADQ as an ally of the PQ in the quest for the separation of Quebec. In fact, the ADQ has defended a platform of autonomy for Quebec that is a kind of a synthesis between the cultural sovereignty of Robert Bourassa, the traditional nationalism of Maurice Duplessis and the sovereignty-association of René Lévesque, without the separation of the province. After the last election, Dumont said clearly that he has never been a separatist, but he supported the referendum of 1995 to gain more power for Quebec after the disappointing failure of the Meech Lake agreement. Some English-speaking commentators, like the Globe and Mail’s Jeffrey Simpson and political author William Johnson, have completely misrepresented the autonomist position of Dumont as a separatist position. In fact, it is autonomy inside the jurisdiction of the province of Quebec according to the 1867 British North America Act that he wants, not the autonomy of a country.
In one of the few analyses that understood what happened on March 28, Lord Conrad Black pointed out in the National Post on March 31 the historic dimension of this Quebec election. It is “the revival of fiscal and social conservatism in Quebec, after a lapse of 40 years,” Black wrote. Before 1960, Quebec was the most conservative province in Canada. With the rapid secularization of the elite after the Quiet Revolution, Quebec became the most liberal province in Canada. But, it is not necessarily a tendency that will last forever. Quebecers tends to act as a flock and this society can change quickly. It is what I have been advocating for many years in this column.
Some signs, confirmed by the advance of the ADQ, point in that direction. I will mention two. First, the dogma of a unique and universal health care system has been recently attacked in Quebec more than in any other province. For Quebecers, the health care system is not a part of our national identity. Dr. Jacques Chaouli has won an important victory in the Supreme Court against this dogma. The Liberal government of Quebec has included some elements of private medicine and medical insurance in Quebec. We can hope that this spirit of responsibility will lead one day to the end of public funding of abortion, more options for pregnant women and more liberty for health care professionals who do not want to participate in the abortion industry. Second, Mario Dumont has won this electoral battle largely because he defended the national identity against the radical Islamists of Montreal who want to impose their religious habits everywhere. The use of a long veil to vote, no meat in daycare and even in the traditional “cabanes à sucre,” the demand to remove the crucifix at the National Assembly in Quebec City, are on their agenda. Quebecers are tired of these demands. We want to defend and keep our national and Christian identity.
Dumont has been successful also because he insisted on the defence of family and children. During the television debate, he opened his statement by saying that the family was the priority of the ADQ. He promised $100 per a week for every child of pre-school age who does not go to a public daycare and a bonus of $5,000 at the birth of a third child in a family. This last measure was adopted under Robert Bourassa in the 1980s and produced a good result for the birthrate in Quebec before the PQ abolished it in the 1990s. Dumont presented a good image as a young father of three children, living happily on his farm with his wife. This was in contrast to his urban adversary, André Boisclair, leader of the PQ, who is well known for his homosexuality and his use of cocaine while a PQ minister in Lucien Bouchard’s cabinet.
The ADQ won in the same region as the Conservative party in 2005, but developed more than the Conservative territory with 41 out of 125 provincial ridings (the CPC has 10 out of 75 federal ridings in Quebec). Those ridings are generally in rural Quebec, in Quebec City and in the outlying suburbs of Montreal. The socially and politically liberal island of Montreal has not yet been touched by the ADQ wave, but that will be the next step in the renewal of conservatism in the province of Quebec.