State of La Nation

9 Nov

Once a month, La Presse – Montreal’s biggest newspaper – sticks a thermometer into the Quebec body politic and publishes a wide-ranging poll by the CROP firm.

Last month’s poll suggested that the September federal by-elections in Quebec were no fluke. It showed the Bloc Québecois and the Conservatives tied for the lead in voting intentions in the province at 31 per cent each. For the Bloc, that’s a drop from 42 per cent in the 2006 election, which was their worst-ever electoral showing. For the Conservatives, it was a gain of six points over the same period.

As L. Ian MacDonald put it:

“…one is 31 per cent on the way up, and the other is 31 per cent on the way down…”

MacDonald also crunched the Liberals’ Quebec numbers (down four points from the election to 17 per cent), and suggested that some of the safe Liberal seats on the West Island of Montreal are now within the Conservatives’ reach (it has been almost 20 years since the Progressive Conservatives last won a seat on the Island of Montreal).

The signs of a possible political realignment in Quebec come at a time when Quebec society seems to be changing. Both the Bloc and PQ are languishing in the polls, suggesting that the status of the sovereignty movement is in flux. Some have also suggested that the debate over reasonable accommodation in the province has revealed a longing for a past era long-thought buried – that of strongman Maurice Duplessis. As Konrad Yakabuski recently wrote in the Globe and Mail:

“…a large number of young Quebeckers – perhaps not a majority, but certainly a strong and politically active minority – see pre-Quiet Revolution Quebec though almost rose-coloured glasses… “To say that everything from that period was dark, that voters were all backwards, I think is a ridiculous interpretation of history,” (Mario) Dumont said on the heels of the March election… His praise for pre-Quiet Revolution Quebec is not based on personal experience. He was born in 1970. He never lived through the church repression, reactionary politics and cultural isolationism that characterized the reign of Maurice Duplessis between 1944 and 1959. This is not to suggest Mr. Dumont is a reactionary or his followers Bible-thumping social conservatives. It simply speaks to a prevailing sense among many young Quebeckers that their society has lost its bearings and that one way to get them back is re-embrace what it has always meant to be a Québécois in the first place : their language, families and memory.”

Along with my colleague Navin Vaswani, I am producing a television program on the topic tonight. Tune in if you get a chance. Details here . The show will begin with an interview with federal Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, whose challenges have been documented previously on this blog. M. Dion will stick around after the interview and participate in a panel discussion on the state of his home province. Hope you can catch it.

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