Posts Tagged ‘federalism’
The outcome of the Québec general election yesterday–a Liberal majority and a Parti Québécois route, incumbent premier Pauline Marois even losing her seat–came as a pleasant surprise to me. As noted by the Ottawa Citizen‘s Robert Sibley, the results were decisve.
Canada — the rest of it, that is — can relax. As voters resoundingly rejected the Parti Québécois and restored the Liberals to power with a majority government, the prospects of a third referendum on Quebec sovereignty in less than four decades has receded for the foreseeable future.
About six million Quebecers were eligible to vote in Monday’s elections, and within half an hour of the polls closing at 8 p.m. it was clear that Philippe Couillard’s Liberals were heading toward a solid majority. It was a surprising, if not stunning, turn of events for a party that only 19 months ago was ignominiously turfed from office amid the Quebec construction industry scandals and replaced by the minority government of Premier Pauline Marois. This go-round, it was Marois’s turn for ignominious defeat.
[. . .]
By 10:30 p.m. Monday, the Liberals had won 71 of the 125 seats available in the provincial legislature — ensuring that soon-to-be premier Couillard would be able to for a majority government. The Parti Québécois was a distance second with 29 seats, while the right-of-centre Coalition Avenir Quebec, which is nationalist but not sovereigntist, held 22. The left-of-centre Québéc Solidaire, with its staunch pro-separatist agenda, appeared to be confined to two seats.
[. . .]
When Marois dissolved the Quebec legislature in early March to call the election — less than two years after taking power — the PQ held 54 seats, the Liberals 49, the Coalition for Quebec’s Future 18, and Québéc Solidaire two.
The results may well reflect a prediction Couillard made during the campaign. “The Parti Québécois eclipse is over,” he said. “Political uncertainty has been lifted.”
Paul Wells argued in MacLean’s that the Parti Québécois and Québec separatism general face severe structural problems.
Its share of the popular vote, as I write this, is solidly below the 28% the party won in 2007 when André Boisclair was its leader. This is, in fact, the PQ’s worst election result, in share of popular vote, in 44 years. The only time it ever did worse was in 1970, the first campaign the party ever fought.
[. . .] It is now 15 years since the party won more than 40% of the popular vote; the Liberals did so in 2008 and again tonight. This is because the PQ sits on a policy it cannot sell: secession from Canada. But now it has added a second unsellable policy to its kit bag: a plan to fire librarians and emergency-room physicians if it is possible to tell by looking at them which religious faith they practice.
It would be all right if the PQ could simply abandon its Charter of Values, perhaps in favour of a milder policy of more limited punishments for departure from the state religion of atheism, or of a simple rhetorical preference that provincial employees dress without kippahs and hijabs. But it is not that easy. I hope soon to link to the weekend poll I saw that showed which issues were important to supporters of which party. The Charter was not top-of-mind for supporters of any party — except the PQ. The PQ’s shrunken voter base now encompasses just about every Quebecer who insists the full force of provincial coercion intervene if he cannot spot a clerk’s ears at the license bureau.
We can, in fact, add a third policy lemon to the PQ’s pantry: frozen university tuition. The two young PQ candidates who ran on nostalgia for 2012′s summer-long tuition protests were defeated tonight too. So PQ supporters will not give up on tuition freezes, but the broader population supports the notion that students should contribute to the increased cost of their ever-more-expensive educations.
On all three policies — secession, coercive state atheism, and university tuition — the PQ is stuck between an electorate that doesn’t agree, and a party base that will not retreat. Compounding the near-guarantee of further PQ grief still further is its insufferable belief in its own infallible mind meld with the Québécois collective conscience. The PQ knows better than anyone on sovereignty, secularism and higher education. Or so its members tell themselves. So it will not abandon policies the broader Quebec population, including much of the francophone majority, finds risible.
The PQ is in clear danger of becoming Quebec’s Tea Party: a fringe movement in thrall to esoteric mail-order theorists and proud of it, ensuring continued defeat and resistant to any attempts to fix it. I won’t be predicting the death of separatism; that’s a cliché. But I do predict an extended purgatory for a PQ that will wonder, for a very long time to come, why everyone points and giggles when its leaders proclaim the things they believe most profoundly.
Prime Minister David Cameron said Wednesday he will offer British citizens a vote on whether to leave the European Union if his party wins the next election, a move which could trigger alarm among fellow member states.
He acknowledged that public disillusionment with the EU is “at an all-time high,” using a long-awaited speech in central London to say that the terms of Britain’s membership in the bloc should be revised and the country’s citizens should have a say.
Cameron proposed Wednesday that his Conservative Party renegotiate the U.K.’s relationship with the European Union if it wins the next general election, expected in 2015.
“Once that new settlement has been negotiated, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice to stay in the EU on these new terms. Or come out altogether,” Cameron said. “It will be an in-out referendum.”
[. . .] Cameron stressed that his first priority is renegotiating the EU treaty — not leaving the bloc.
“I say to our European partners, frustrated as some of them no doubt are by Britain’s attitude: work with us on this,” he said.
Much of the criticism directed at Cameron has accused him of trying an “a la carte” approach to membership in the bloc and seeking to play by some but not all of its rules.
Speaking as a Canadian familiar with Québec’s intermittent flirtation with the idea of separatism, I’ve a few things to point out.
- Much of British history towards political Europe is ill-informed. One thing that frequently comes up in Euroskeptic discourse is a hostility towards the European Court of Human Rights, a supranational legal institution associated not with the European Union but with the entirely separate Council of Europe. Too much critical detail goes unnoticed, or unknown.
- Much like Québec separatists who confidently assume that after a “Oui” majority in a referendum the province could negotiate whatever arrangement it would like with a rump Canada, even a nominally pro-European Union politician like David Cameron seems to be making the mistake of assuming that a threat of separation will lead Britain’s European partners to make whatever changes the British government might want. I’m very skeptical of this. Perhaps more likely is a complete breakdown of the federation–in their own ways, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia came apart when this brinkmanship occurred.
- Many British Euroskeptics also seem to believe that, if the United Kingdom left the European Union, not only the United States but the entire Commonwealth would welcome the erstwhile founder of the Anglo-Saxon world. I can speak only for Canada, but there is no body of radically pro-Commonwealth sentiment in Canada. Canadian identity is no longer bound up with the Commonwealth in the way it was a half-century ago. If anything, British departure from the European Union would make the United Kingdom a less desirable partner relative to other European countries of a similar size.
- British departure from the European Union would be a catastrophe for the country. Unless a non-EU United Kingdom follows the lead of Switzerland and Norway in accepting European Union regulations while lacking any voice in formulating them, the United Kingdom will be outside of the various markets. What will happen to, among other things, Britain’s financial sector? (Frankfurt and Dublin will do nicely.)
- I can’t help but wonder what the consequences for Scotland might be if Britain departed. Could we get a Scottish separatism invigorated by the desire to remain in, or return to, the European Union?