Former Parti Quebecois (PQ) Premier , Pauline Marois was gracious in defeat last night as she stepped down as leader of the party.
In most elections, two things happen before the voters mark an “X” on a ballot. First and foremost, elections have turned into a battle of who can create the best “buzz” phrase. Just a simple, one sentence statement can replace the mountains of campaign brochures and election posters. And, in Quebec, they know how to use the brochures and the posters better than in any other part of Canada. Quebecers have a real joy in most things political. Having “a bit” of Franco-Canadian in my personal DNA, I have come to understand those passions.
Those buzz-word phrases work like TV commercials for anything from automobiles to laundry soap. Create a phrase that is memorable and you are likely to sell that SUV or box of soap. Former USA President Ronald Regan came up with a “zinger” as he rolled the Republican Party back in to power and ousted Jimmy Carter. The phrase? “Happy Days are heREGAN”. Play with it for a second and you will discover the magic inside. Regan simply asked voters IF they were better off with the Carter government than they were four years earlier. It worked and Regan, a former grade B actor moved into the Whitehouse.
Voters are not overly interested in lengthy political manifestos and will always opt for something made simple.
Premier Marios was riding to victory and could easily contemplate forming a majority government by riding on the buzz-phrase of a dream to build a secular society. Her party, the ruling Parti Quebecois was coasting to a predictable majority with its plan for a truly secular society, a thing that most Quebecers could identify with. They wrapped the concept up with a catchy phrase “charte sociale” the Social Charter. It offended a few ethnic voters but was entirely consistent with a concept held by the majority.
But, then the second thing happened in Quebec as it usually does in most elections. All contestants in an election are quite adept at the cut and thrust of the sword fights that we call politics. In all cases, the really good politician waits for that one “Coup de main” (death by one cut). PQ star candidate, Pierre Karl Péladeau delivered that opening and wonderful opportunity to Philippe Couillard, a former neurosurgeon, led his Liberal troops to a majority. PQ insiders today describe Pierre Karl Péladeau as “the worst thing that ever happened to the PQ”. When Mr. Péladeau pumped his clenched fist into the air and uttered the five words “to make Quebec a country”, he inadvertently told voters that his party had a hidden agenda that had nothing to do with the Social Charter.
I would not take lightly the fact that the concept of a social charter lives in the hearts and minds of Quebecers. For generations, resentment has grown towards new-comers who made no attempt to ft in and instead demanded “rights” that are inconsistent with societal norms inside Quebec. As much as the PQ lost a great number of seats last night, I was amazed to see third party, Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) grow while holding those same “Social Charter” concepts. A political party lost last night but (by no means) was an idea repudiated.
And, in it all is a valuable lesson for other politicians and one I have been regularly pointing out about Justin Trudeau who has a penchant for making ill-advised comments in public. His now well known admiration and preference for dictatorial regimes in places like the People’s Republic of China will eventually bite him as did Pierre Karl Péladeau’s fist pumping threat of a referendum.
Here, in Ontario, Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak would also fare well by taking a page from Ronald Regan’s achievements and asking Ontario voters if they and their families are any better off as a result of a lengthy list of Liberal scandals while in office.