The leader of Quebec’s Parti Québécois seems to be watching her attempt to build a “big tent” independence party fade away—at least, to one who accepts the results of recent public opinion polls.
Pauline Marois, apparently, assumed her coalition party would sweep to a majority victory and ride that wave of support straight through a referendum and on to Quebec’s independence. Polls suggest, however, that belief is less likely now to materialize for the coalition seems to be coming apart at its fault lines.
Broadly seen as a party of the Left, Marois’s Parti Québécois made a bid for votes from the Right by using the proposed Charter of Quebec Values to pander to the province’s anxieties over its identity.
That left their economic flank exposed to attack from Philippe Couillard’s Liberals, however. So they recruited Pierre Karl Péladeau, in what Andrew Coyne calls “a bid to bolster the party’s credibility with economic conservatives (conservative, relative to the Quebec political spectrum, which is to say slightly less interventionist than the other interventionists).”
Péladeau’s recruitment, though, was not without cost to the coalition. The influential left-wing of the PQ were not universally welcoming of this media baron and arch-capitalist. As former Liberal leader Bob Rae wrote recently, “For a Quebec public servant or trade unionist to vote for Mr. Péladeau is like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders.”
Notwithstanding Péladeau’s well publicized anti-union actions and views, the man was widely considered a trump card to be played in favour of Quebec sovereignty. But perhaps Marois played that card too hastily.
Pierre Karl Péladeau’s fist-pumping as he declared he’d joined the PQ to create a country for his children, and Marois’s public musing about independence—Quebec using the Canadian dollar and retaining open borders, while Quebecers continued to hold Canadian passports—conjured up images of a referendum. Sovereignty hard-liners became excited for many understood her message to be: a vote for the PQ was a vote for a referendum.
PQ talk of sovereignty, though, was just what the Liberal leader, Philippe Couillard needed to ignite his own campaign. This, in turn, forced Marois to retreat to her original party plank, the Charter of Quebec Values. Vagueness became her smokescreen as she drew back from a commitment to hold a referendum for she could not rule it out conclusively.
During a recent news conference, Marois said, “We will not push Quebecers to take this decision. We will take the time. And when it is time, we will propose something if we are ready and Quebecers are ready.” And she has made similar evasive statements at other times, knowing full well that a categorical denial that a referendum would be held following a majority victory would likely spark a revolt among PQ hard-liners.
That grinding sound you hear, folks, is the rock and the hard place closing in on Pauline Marois. Don’t you just love it?