The election of Jean-François Lisée as leader of the Parti Québécois is good news for federalists.
It was a memorable night in Quebec politics: the Parti Québécois, struggling to remain relevant following its historic 2014 loss and abysmal poll numbers under former leader Pierre Karl Péladeau, voted to elect a new leader. With their dreams of sovereignty fading away, party members decided that the only person who could reinvigorate a new generation of Quebecers was a white-haired, 58-year-old political chameleon with an inarticulateness that makes Philippe Couillard look like Barack Obama. While federalists breathed a sigh of relief, sovereignists may want to let out a sigh of exasperation: Lisée is no Band-Aid solution and will likely only aggravate the PQ’s electoral bleeding.
Lisée began his campaign with a confession: the dream of sovereignty is unachievable in the short term. He promised not to hold another referendum until the second mandate of a potential PQ government (MacPherson). Was he playing politics to reach out to federalist voters? Of course, but behind any political calculation is a well-guarded truth: Lisée knows that the PQ has no chance of winning if sovereignty was the ballot box question. Which is good news for federalists, because even high-ranking PQ members recognize that sovereignty simply is not very popular. Skeptics may ask: what if he is lying, and holds a referendum in his first mandate? Firstly, the political backlash would doom the project from the start. Secondly, public polling shows that Quebecers have even less appetite for sovereignty than they do for Jean-François Lisée. In fact, a recent Angus Reed poll found that 82% of Quebecers believe that Quebec should stay in Canada, including a staggering 73% of francophones (Dougherty). An old adage is that you cannot kill an idea, but right now, sovereignty is on life support.
Indeed, history shows that PQ leaders have done little to help or harm their movement: the popularity of sovereignty has been almost entirely based on the decisions of the federal government. For example, the second referendum was a reaction to the constitutional haggling of the Mulroney Conservatives, rather than anything that Parizeau might have done. After the nail-biter that was the 1995 referendum, federal parties have learned from their mistakes: Stephen Harper passed a bill acknowledging Quebec’s nationhood, while Quebecers are more satisfied with Justin Trudeau’s federalist Liberals than any federal government since 1980 (Presse canadienne). Sovereignty is a reactionary movement; as long as the federal government offers little provocation, Lisée will be aimless, with no target to fire at.
Furthermore, getting a second mandate is contingent on Lisée electing the Parti Québecois for a first mandate. During his leadership campaign, his election plan was clear: divisive identity politics. He was a strong supporter of the Charter of Values, and now wants to lower immigration levels as well as place a ban on wearing the burka in public. There is only one small flaw: this brand of politics has never worked and will not work. Pauline Marois tried it in 2014; it failed. Stephen Harper tried it in 2015; it failed. Jean François Lisée will try it in 2018; I’ll leave you to fill in the blank. The main reason that it is ineffective is that it alienates everyone except for a core base of PQ supporters. In addition, rather than creating a wedge issue that divides the opposition, it actually encourages strategic voting for the Liberal Party: Quebecers who are fervently against the propositions will see Couillard’s Liberals as the only alternative. Lisée, a former political analyst, should know better. As the PQ inches into the sea of irrelevancy, Lisée decided to dive right in.
All in all, federalists have a reason to smile. The prospect of having a government with integrity may still be a pipe dream, but at least the remnants of old sovereignist hopes are also being drained like wastewater into the St. Lawrence River. Jean François Lisée is not the superhero that the PQ wanted; in fact, he is a deeply flawed politician with an election plan that is sure to fail. Federalists can sleep easy, because today is a good day to be Canadian.
Written by MWR writer Logan Stack and edited by MWR reviewer Laurence Doucet
The election of Jean-François Lisée as leader of the Parti Québécois is bad news for federalists.
It has barely been two years since Pauline Marois and her husband, Claude Blanchet have been accused of breaking Parti Quebecois funding rules. Recently, the corrupt Jean-François Lisée has been elected as the head of the PQ. He is a ‘closed’ nationalist, and as Philippe Couillard has described him, he is “one of a beleaguered nationalism, a nationalism of fear, of people who don’t want to confront diversity, who prefer that Quebec remains closed in on itself.” During his campaign, Lisée publicly proposed to ban the burka, criticized a political opponent for wishing Muslims a good religious holiday, and expressed his worries on Quebec’s high immigration levels. Lisée’s ‘worries’ are, as he explained, for security reasons, as underlined by ten European democracies; he wishes to follow France’s immigration policies to fight possible radicalization.
The reason why Jean-Francois Lisée’s election was supported by many Quebecers is because he promised he would not hold a referendum during his first mandate. If his promise is kept, a referendum will not be held until 2022. Nonetheless, he has his reasons for convincing his party members to withhold the referendum. Effectively, he plans to convince Quebecers that being a, so-to-speak, “great Quebecer” is better than being “an average Canadian”- a pathetic argument that only inspires hate and disdain.
Though he may not hold a referendum any time soon, Lisée plans on changing federalists’ minds by converting them to a nationalistic ideology. He is a determined sovereigntist and that adopting such a stance is the optimum choice for Quebecers. He fervently vents in his speeches: “We, supporters of independence, our dream is more alive than ever. We know we don’t have to ask anyone’s permission except ourselves. We know Quebec will be present on world stage. We know the future belongs to us. We know that tonight, the road to victory lies ahead of us.” Lisée is also overly confident that he will be able to achieve his goal: “I am optimistic that within the mandate, at some point, Quebeckers will want to have their own country.’’ Lisée seems to be ready to do absolutely anything to separate Quebec from Canada: “You can create a new country with as much or as little broken glass as possible. I am in the as-little-broken-glass-as-possible camp.” His burning passion for a separate Quebec and his sinister depiction of our country is truly frightening.
Currently, the Parti Québécois holds 28 seats, the Liberals hold 70, the CAQ hold 20 and Québec Solidaire holds 3. In order for PQ to win, it has to ‘steal’ the Liberals’ seats. Although he denies it, it is obvious that Jean-François Lisée dislikes the Liberals. He even went so far as to seriously accuse former PQ member and current CAQ leader François Legault of having gone to the “dark side” because of Legault’s party-switch. Currently, Lisée’s priority is to defeat the Liberals in next election which is held in October 2018. If the dreaded day Jean-François Lisée succeeds in defeating the Liberals occurs next year, brace yourself to pledge allegiance to the flag of Quebec in Lisée’s sovereignty-driven agenda.
Written by MWR writer Shan Wang and edited by MWR reviewer Camille Hamant
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