Sometimes, the obvious is overlooked. Of all the analysis of the recent Quebec election there seems to be a piece missing. It goes back not to this Quebec election, but rather the one before in September 2012.
The federalist Liberals were out of gas. They had been in power for three consecutive terms – a modern-day record.
The Liberals were emotionally tired and politically burned out. Jean Charest was well past his best before date.
The Charbonneau Commission into corruption was just beginning. The Liberal Party, which so resisted calling the corruption inquiry, seemed to be its principal target.
If there was ever a time all the stars were aligned to soundly defeat a government, 2012 was the time. The early polls had the Liberals crushed with a possible third place finish. The Parti Québécois (PQ) was the favourite to win a huge majority government.
Unlike last month’s debacle, in 2012, the PQ ran a good campaign. There was no raving or bragging about borders and future use of the Canadian dollar in an independent Quebec. There was hardly a sound about a referendum. There was no Pierre Karl Péladeau pumping his fist for an independent Quebec, and there was certainly no mention of a Charter of Quebec Values.
In 2012, the PQ ran as an alternative to a “corrupt” Liberal government that had been in power too long. They talked about change of government, not independence.
I remember going to a friend’s house to watch the election on that warm early September evening. As the results started to come in, it became apparent the Liberals were not going to fall off the map. Within 20 minutes, it was clear that they were still in the picture, not just on the Island of Montreal, but throughout French Quebec. The predicted PQ majority was off the table. What was developing was a change in how Quebecers saw Quebec’s future.
Charest led his Liberals to an unbelievable 50 seats. The predicted humiliating Liberal defeat never happened. The huge moral victory for the federalist side kept the PQ from forming a majority government. History actually changed more a year and a half ago than it did in last month’s election.
Had the PQ won the majority that was expected in 2012, a referendum, a Charter of Quebec Values, a reinforced Charter of the French Language, all of that would have happened because there would have been no way to stop a majority government from pursuing its agenda. All the fear and loathing that the country, and particularly Quebec’s minorities, lived with in April, would have come to pass. In fact, there could have been a referendum this spring before the next federal election. The timing would have been ideal for the PQ with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government so weakly represented in Quebec.
What is most amazing is how the election result of 18 months ago may answer the question everyone’s been asking since the Liberal majority win last month. Is separatism dead?
What happened 18 months ago may tell a more telling tale. Something went terribly wrong for the PQ and, if it wasn’t a horribly flawed campaign, what was it?
There may have been a hundred good reasons to humiliate the Charest government in 2012 and everyone knew it, but many more Quebecers than expected held their noses and voted Liberal anyway.
Even with independence on the back burner, there was something about the PQ that Quebecers feared 18 months ago. That fear was deeply felt and it manifested itself by changing Canada in a most dramatic way.
The April 7 election was the historic sequel not the main event.