Marois’s pyrrhic victory?

Paul Wells looks at the paradox now possible in Quebec

Let’s assume what probably won’t happen, which is that rapidly fluctuating voter support in Quebec stops on a dime and the results turn out the way this morning’s Léger poll says they will.

This seat projection from the pollster’s client, the Journal de Montréal, suggests what might happen: 65 Parti Québécois seats, enough to hold a bare majority in the 125-seat National Assembly, with 33 per cent of the popular vote. That’s possible because the PQ vote is more efficient than other parties’ — there are more regions in the province where the PQ vote is strong enough to carry ridings, and fewer where it’s bunched up in local pockets where the next PQ vote won’t change the outcome, as the Liberal vote is in several places from Peel St. to the Ontario border.

If that were the way Quebec’s election turned out, it would be an intriguing result. Marois is already making the most mealy-mouthed sort of half-commitment to a secession referendum if she wins. Two of her most prominent recruits, the ex-journalist Jean-François Lisée and the, er, ex-journalist Pierre Duchesne, come from the Parizeau Fan Club wing of the party and would very publicly not be thrilled to spend a mandate in government attending interprovincial conferences the way members of an ordinary government do.

But at 33 per cent, Marois would be in a fix. That would be the second-lowest level of popular support the PQ has ever received in the 10 elections since the 1976 election, higher only than the 28 per cent and change the party received under André Boisclair in 2007, when the PQ sank for two years to third-party status. (Bernard Landry lost power to Charest with a little over 33 per cent in 2003; in her first election as PQ leader, Marois lost to Charest with a little more than 35 per cent.)

This is the kind of paradox that is now possible in this election: a new PQ majority with the weakest popular mandate the party has ever had while in government. Now in the old days, guys like Landry would say, “Well, support for sovereignty is much greater than support for the PQ,” and throw in the support for Mario Dumont’s Action Démocratique party as part of a broader pro-sovereignty coalition. There’s still room for some of that: Québec Solidaire and Option Nationale, two fringe sovereignist parties (think People’s Front of Judea and People’s Judean Front) are at 6% and 3% respectively in the Léger poll. And of course there’s the big Coalition Avenir Québec, led by former PQ cabinet minister François Legault. That’s got to be good for something.

But unfortunately, Legault has said he would not hold a secession referendum for at least a decade, and that if one were held now, he’d vote no. This has put Landry in a bad mood, and meanwhile there’s considerable squabbling between the PQ and Québec Solidaire over who’s a good sovereignist.

Welcome to the future, if (and again, for now, it’s only an ‘if’) Marois wins a parliamentary majority with a sliver of the popular vote: infighting and recrimination among people who see daily management of a provincial government as inherently unworthy, but who cannot rally popular support for their preferred alternative. What should Stephen Harper do in such a circumstance? Mostly just stand back and watch.

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