You’ve probably heard that Québec recently had a provincial election. You might have also heard that the province elected the Parti Québécois, a party that supports Québec sovereignty. You’ve almost certainly heard that during party leader Pauline Marois’ victory speech, a gunman shot and killed one man, a light technician, and severely injured another. One might be tempted to call it a crisis in Québec. The separatists are in, “the English are waking up,” and it seems that anarchy is about to descend upon La Belle Province. Right? Well, not exactly.
It seems to me like a waste of time to try to pay too much attention to a statement like “the English are waking up,” made in the wake of a provincial election in Canada’s only francophone province. However, it is worth noting that the actions taken by the gunman are not representative of any organization; this will likely prove to be an isolated incident. The overwhelming majority of Canadians are likely to condemn this action as senseless violence, as they ought to do. One man is dead and another is injured, both were innocent civilians. No apparent crisis has been solved by this action. No crisis existed in the first place.
The shooter’s motives are yet to be determined, but his obsession with the awakening English suggests it might have something to do with separatism. The Parti Québécois have only won a minority government—the majority of the legislature is still occupied by representatives from parties that are firmly opposed to opening a referendum at this time. Public support polls have found that as little as 29 percent of Québécois support sovereignty, while others have suggested as many as 44 percent do. Either way, the support is not there yet for secession. Québec isn’t going anywhere for a while.
This isn’t stopping most media outlets from painting a picture of separatist takeover in Québec. The Guardian tells of “separatists’ election victory overshadowed by fatal shooting.” The Globe and Mail writes the minority victory will “bind the PQ agenda” of sovereignty, particularly with respect to nationalism. And so on. Undeniably, the idea of Québec sovereignty was an election issue, and it will continue to be for years to come. However, this issue is by no means manifested entirely in separating from Canada. Language issues, for example, were a much larger part of the PQ platform than full frontal separatism. Marois is promising voters that her government will strengthen the French language in Québec by limiting access to English language education, and imposing tougher language laws. At the same time, Marois addressed Anglophone Quebecers in English, promising to protect them as Quebecers.
Another platform of the party, and perhaps the most relevant for readers of this paper, is to roll back tuition increases and repeal the law which heavily regulates protests in the province. Some argue that this is the position which won the PQ the election; however, it seems more accurate to suggest that it was their overall commitment to social programs that won them the election. Perhaps being the best alternative to having to deal with more Jean Charest leadership is the most accurate explanation. Separatism just isn’t in it right now.
Some people seem pretty frightened that separatism is about to rear its head again and dominate our national political dialogue. This is a baseless fear. I by no means think we should be totally supportive of the Parti Québecois, but if we’re going to oppose them, we should do it for better reasons than separatism. For instance, one of the things the party would like to see is the banning of religious symbols (aside from the crucifix) from public offices. This part of the platform doesn’t seem to find its way into much of the media coverage about the election, but if the motion passes, you’ll be sure to hear more about it as the multitude of inevitable discrimination cases against the Québec government find their way to the Supreme Court of Canada.