The dangers of Quebec’s ‘boring’ election as campaign officially begins
Every election, in a sense, is also a referendum on democracy itself.
When turnout is high, we take that as a sign that the democratic process is healthy. When it’s low, we worry and try to find ways to increase it next time.
In the recent Ontario election, voter turnout hit a historic low of 43%. The lawyers called the result « a clear crisis. »
Already, on the first day of the election campaign in Quebec, there are fears that voters here will also shrug their shoulders on election day.
The province has its share of major issues — whether it’s a pandemic-plagued health care system, climate change or minority rights — and yet there has been little enthusiasm for the election, perhaps. -be because many believe that the result is a foregone conclusion.
All recent polls have shown that the ruling Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) is ahead by a significant margin. According to most of the province’s columnists, all that remains is to determine the size of the party’s majority.
“One effect this could have is that the election campaign could be boring,” Valérie-Anne Mahéo, a political science professor at Laval University, said in an interview with CBC News.
« This campaign could have a negative effect on democratic participation. »
But perhaps, paradoxically, the most boring elections are also the ones with the most stakes.
A new system emerges
The previous Quebec election, in 2018, is now considered one of the most important in the province’s modern history.
François Legault, at the head of the party he had formed seven years earlier, overthrew the Liberals, who had been in power almost continuously since 2003.
The desire for change is of course not unusual in electoral democracies. What was unusual for Quebec was that the two legacy parties—the Liberals and the Parti Québécois—suffered heavy losses while the two fledgling parties—Legault’s CAQ and Quebec solidaire—made significant gains.
In Mahéo’s recent book, The New Quebec Electorco-authored with several other leading political scientists, she argues that the 2018 election marked the end of the sovereignist-federalist divide in Quebec politics and the rise of a more familiar progressive-conservative axis.
With the gradual decline of interest in Quebec’s constitutional status, other issues have been able to enter the political space, particularly those related to the effects of globalization.
As a conservative nationalist, Legault was well positioned to benefit from an electorate less concerned with issues of sovereignty and more concerned with immigration and identity.
He owes his victory in 2018 to the support of older voters who are more predominantly male, less educated and more likely to live outside of Montreal, according to the authors of The New Quebec Electorespecially compared to supporters of other parties.
Legault may have promised to govern « for all Quebecers » when he was sworn in, but once in power he focused on putting in place policies aligned with the perceived values of his base.
That meant tax cuts for the middle class, millions for new highways and roads, and a cautious approach to social issues, like the legalization of cannabis (Quebec is the only province where you have to be 21 to buy cannabis). marijuana).
On the other hand, Legault has shown little interest in listening to opposition parties, nor the concerns of minority groups who lack representation in Quebec’s Legislative Assembly.
The Secularism Act, the controversial legislation banning religious symbols in several areas of the province’s public service, was passed in 2019 after consultations broke down, and despite objections from legal experts, advocacy groups. civil rights and those most affected by the restriction, Muslim women.
The Prime Minister has staunchly refused to acknowledge the existence of systemic racism, despite repeated pleas from Indigenous groups and other BIPOC groups.
The pandemic was also his justification for breaking a promise to introduce electoral reform that would have given urban centers more proportional representation.
Opposition parties struggling in a new climate
While the CAQ thrived in Quebec’s new political environment, opposition parties struggled to adapt.
Without the prospect of a major constitutional crisis, the need for a bulwark has become less urgent for Federalist voters. This leaves the Liberals somewhat unsure of what they are offering.
Under new leader Dominique Anglade, the party attempted both a nationalist and a progressive turn. The result is that voters are confused about the direction the party is taking.
The situation is even bleaker for the Parti Québécois. The old hobbyhorse of the sovereigntist movement risks being put to the ground in October, if the latest predictions prove to be correct.
In recent years, the party has tried to trade off its sovereignist credentials to position itself as a more reliable defender of nationalist causes, such as identity and language.
But that meant giving up its status as a left-wing party, in favor of Québec solidaire, while appearing too radical to win over CAQ voters.
Even Québec solidaire, whose progressive program is well suited to the new left-right divide, has faced challenges.
On the one hand, its base – young people – tend to have lower participation rates. QS can also struggle, at times, to reconcile its progressive ideals with the sovereignist side of its program.
The party, for example, has struggled to explain to Indigenous communities why it voted in favor of Bill 96, a new law strengthening French language protections that Indigenous leaders say will further jeopardize their languages. .
Amidst all the confusion, several smaller parties entered the fray. Among these, it is the Quebec Conservatives who are the most likely to make an impression.
The party’s staunchly libertarian program stands out from the rest, but so does its list of candidates, which includes more than a dozen conspiracy theorists.
Bad boring or good boring?
A boring election once in a while is far from the worst thing that can happen to a democracy.
High turnout, like the levels reached in the 1980 and 1995 referendums, may in some cases be a sign that politics has reached a crisis point. From this perspective, a boring election seems like a first-world problem.
But there are significant dangers of a boring election at this particular time in Quebec’s political evolution, when a new party system is emerging and new political identities are being formed.
Perhaps the most immediate concern is that without an engaged public, politicians have little incentive to come up with creative solutions to stubborn political problems.
How many times can a party promise to hire more doctors or nurses before the problems facing the health care system seem unsolvable?
And what if this sentiment becomes widespread and people lose faith in the ability of democratic politics to settle matters of life and death?
The danger is that temporary disinterest becomes permanent.
If the new political system in Quebec is characterized by chronic low participation, feelings of disenfranchisement and a lack of real opposition, then a boring election will be the least of our worries.