Federal politics are fairly easy: right-wingers vote for the Conservative Party, left-wingers vote for the Liberal Party and the NDP, and separatists vote for the Bloc Québecois – or the NDP. Alas, Quebec politics will never be that simple, at least not for English federalists. Our choice comes down to two of the five major parties in the election set for September 4: The Liberal Party of Quebec and the Coalition Avenir Québec, and they are anything but perfect.
The Parti Québecois, Québec Solidaire, and Option Nationale can be ruled out for the simple reason that they are separatists. Those parties may have some good ideas and other aspects to their platforms unrelated to autonomy, but an English Quebecers voting for a separatist party would be akin to mice voting for a hungry cat. It is irrational self-destruction. Pauline Marois, the leader of the PQ, weakly attempted to court English voters this election by claiming that hers has been “the party which has been open to the English community, which has respected the English community,” but then turned around and refused to take part in an English-language debate. Jean-Martin Aussant, the leader of Option Nationale, has run ads in English and in Spanish arguing in favour of creating “Our Country,” as if there would be room in an Aussant Quebec for Anglophone rights. Québec Solidaire is the crazy uncle of the separatist movement. The radical group has made no attempt to soften their image with English voters and instead ran a cartoon ad displaying a beaver in a Mountie hat getting kicked by a separatist. Separatism is federalism’s kryptonite; anyone loyal to Canada would do well to stay away from these parties.
François Legault, a former minister in Lucien Bouchard’s PQ government and leader of the right-of-center Coalition Avenir Québec, has made headlines after a very successful and momentous week. The CAQ has touted itself as the party ready to tackle corruption in the construction industry with an incorruptible team and ready to restart the Quebec economy. On the federalism-separatism issue, the party has remained neutral. Mr. Legault has said that there are more pressing issues and that sovereignty would not be an issue for his party. However, the CAQ remains a nationalist party that would follow the PQ’s approach to limiting the use of any language other than French in the province. Mr. Legault has agreed to take part in an English-language debate, but only if Mme. Marois does too. Effectively, this is the political equivalent of declining to debate while shifting the blame on to someone else. The CAQ is a federalist-friendly party compared to the three previous parties mentioned, but its views on nationalism are enough to make an Anglophone uncomfortable supporting them. All this is reinforced by the fact that they still don’t have an English website or platform as of this date, a clear indicator that they don’t feel it is necessary to attract Anglophone voters.
Finally, we have the Liberal Party of Quebec, for generations the only party of choice for English Quebecers. They are still the only major Federalist Party in Quebec with policies that will not discriminate against the English. In the past, federalists of all political stripes have put their differences aside to support the centrist party for lack of a better choice, but this year doing so may feel a little harder. The Liberal Party is not without sin. After accusations of corruption, out of control spending, and social unrest, many feel it is time for a change. Jean Charest has been Premier since 2003 and his campaign so far has been relatively uninspiring. During his time in office, Quebec has become the most indebted province in Canada and would rank as the fifth most indebted nation in the world relative to GDP. Our infrastructure is crumbling and our quality of services is declining, all while we’re being taxed more than any other jurisdiction in North America.
So what is an English federalist to do? There is no clear answer. Some will bite the bullet and vote for the Liberals, some will move to the CAQ and hope everything works out. But there is also the possibility of voting for smaller parties. This year the historic Conservative Party of Quebec has made a comeback after eight decades out of the political equation, but it will likely run very few candidates in the election and hasn’t made a splash in the news. The progressive Quebec Citizen’s Union will also be competing for federalist seats in the National Assembly, but voting for a small party comes with the understanding that they will definitely not form a government or even win any seats. If you feel that no one can represent you in this election, you can still spoil your ballot. A protest vote shows that you care enough to act on your civic duties while telling the world that you feel alienated by the current political climate.
English federalists may lack political weight in this election, but we are not disenfranchised. Make your voice heard; go out and vote on September 4.