8 posts categorized "Pierre Martin"


Frais de scolarité, grèves étudiantes et leçons de politique appliquée

Dans ma chronique de ce mois-ci dans le Toronto Star (édition du 26 avril), j'offre quelques éléments d'explication aux lecteurs hors-Québec qui observent le conflit étudiant chez nous avec ce qui doit être un brin de perplexité. Les frais de scolarité postsecondaires québécois sont les plus bas du Canada. Quel est le problème? Ce petit texte est loin d'être complet, mais c'est aussi loin d'être le dernier mot sur cette question.

Pour lire le texte original, voir le site du Toronto Star

Tuition hikes, student strikes and lessons in applied politics

Today was supposed to be final exam day in my American politics class, but no one will take the test. Instead, we have a full month of classes ahead of us, if a solution ever emerges from secret talks now being held in Quebec City.

Since I have some time on my hands, let’s try to figure out what’s going on. Is there any way out of this mess? Will there be any winners in this game, whether at the polls or in classrooms?

First, however, I have to address the obvious question that readers outside Quebec might ask: Why all the fuss? Quebec’s university tuitions are the lowest in Canada and CEGEPs are virtually tuition-free, so what are people fretting about?

In fact, at the risk of reinforcing the perceptions of mutual indifference that Michael Ignatieff maladroitly brought to the surface recently, Quebecers in general do not pay much attention to what other provinces do, particularly in education. University administrators and policy-makers might like to compare themselves to the rest of Canada but for the vast majority of Quebec students, the Quebec system is as distinct as the society it serves.

Since my own student days, when tuitions were around $500 a year, activists have been clamouring for one of the unrealized promises of the 1960s’ Quiet Revolution: higher education should be seen as a collective good for society as a whole rather than a personal investment made by individuals in search of future income gains, and therefore reformists at the time determined that the new CEGEP system should be tuition-free, and advocated that universities should also one day be tuition-free.

Starting in the late 1980s, however, Liberal governments have instated successive increases in university tuition, up to about $2,400 now. The latest series of increases under Jean Charest’s watch were grudgingly swallowed by students, but the projected $1,625 hike, albeit over five years, was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Is higher education a public good or a private investment? Of course, in Quebec as elsewhere, it is a mix of the two, but the recent moves by the Charest government tipped the balance toward the latter approach in an unprecedented way, thus clashing with the well-entrenched views of large segments of the population.

This is not the only way in which Quebec’s culture of higher education differs from that of other Canadians. Over the years, the low costs of higher education have made it possible for young adults to pay their own way through university without necessarily relying on their parents’ financial assistance. This expectation of self-reliance is part of what makes Quebec’s culture of higher education distinct, and it is important to take it into account to understand the reaction of many students to the projected tuition hike.

All this being said, however, the student movement is far from united, and many student associations in areas that tend to favour a more “instrumental” view of higher education, such as economics, business or some of the professional schools, have resisted the calls for strike.

Also, the unfortunate association of radical elements prone to violence and vandalism has tarnished the movement in many of its public demonstrations, leading to a gradual erosion of support for their cause, both in the public and inside student bodies.

For example, of my department’s five student associations, one opposes the strike (the politics and economics double majors, unsurprisingly) but others hold on while condemning acts of violence or vandalism (some within our own walls). Whether support for the strike will last as the prospect of losing a semester looms closer is anyone’s guess.

Negotiations are underway to settle the issue for the time being and salvage the semester of thousands of students, mine included. But whatever is bargained for in a closed room shouldn’t be more than a temporary solution. Many students will lose the benefits of a full semester, but they might gain some experience in applied politics.

In the long run, the level of tuitions is a choice that voters should settle, but the atmosphere generated by the strike is unlikely to make decisions any easier for Quebec voters.

If anything, recent polls suggest that this season of student discontent has muddied the waters enough to make Jean Charest’s decision whether to call an election in the spring or in the fall even more of a gamble than it already was.

Pierre Martin is a professor of political science at the Université de Montréal.


Au Québec, plus ça change...

Plusieurs choses ont changé au printemps dernier au Québec, mais les éléments de la structure qui sous-tend la dynamique partisane au provincial et au fédéral n'ont pas changé tant que ça. Il ne faut donc pas s'étonner si on assiste à un certain retour du balancier quelques mois plus tard. C'est en substance ce que je raconte ce mois-ci aux quelques douzaines de lecteurs du Toronto Star qui s'intéressent encore à la politique québécoise.

Bloc Québécois and PQ showing new signs of life

Toronto Star, 7 février 2012. Voir l'original ici.

Has everything really changed in Quebec since last spring?

For a while, when the walloping of the Bloc on May 2 was followed by a battle of egos within the Parti Québécois that almost led to the party’s implosion, the answer seemed obvious.

Many things changed, but recent developments suggest that the underlying structure of Quebec politics, which has endured for decades, may be more resilient than many initially thought.

On the surface, things have changed a great deal in Quebec in 2011.

In what seemed like an instant, the federal partisan landscape was thoroughly shaken. At the provincial level, the new Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) appeared poised to wipe the “old parties” off the map, as the Liberals suffered from a seemingly incurable case of government fatigue while the PQ seemed destined to fall victim to its own pathological factionalism.

Although it is still early to make definite predictions, recent polls indicate that both the PQ and the Bloc may be in a position to climb up from the abyss, as François Legault’s CAQ is losing altitude.

Other factors suggest this budding trend may continue.

First, one of the assets of Legault’s party for much of last year was that it could be all things to all people: neither sovereignist nor federalist, neither left nor right. Since the CAQ officially merged with the moribund Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ), however, its de facto positioning as a right-leaning proponent of the federalist status quo has emerged more clearly.

Although Legault and a handful of other PQ turncoats claim to remain sovereignists at heart, the CAQ offers no clear vision of Quebec’s future. Also, as the right-wing former ADQ members become the CAQ’s dominant voices in the National Assembly, it will be much more difficult for Legault to woo left-of-centre voters.

Another source of vulnerability for the CAQ may be its founder’s absolute control over nearly every aspect of the party’s operations, particularly the selection of candidates. Since the demise of Maurice Duplessis’ Union Nationale, Quebecers have come to expect a modicum of democracy within their political parties, which the CAQ doesn’t seem to offer.

For PQ Leader Pauline Marois, there may be such a thing as too much party democracy but, after months of assaults on her leadership, she’s still standing, some say stronger than ever.

It remains unclear whether Marois’ resilience and her new battle-hardened image as “la dame de béton” will change the public’s lack of enthusiasm for her leadership, but it shouldn’t hurt.

Gilles Duceppe’s decision to put himself out of consideration as a potential alternative won’t hurt either.

As the PQ regains lost ground in the polls, so does the Bloc Québécois, which is now tied with the NDP in Quebec, with an edge among francophones.

Maybe the three main federal parties intend to score points outside Quebec by relentlessly prosecuting Duceppe, but he remains a well-liked figure in Quebec and a public flogging of its former leader in Ottawa may be all the Bloc needs to re-energize its base. Indeed, the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair has shown his keen political instinct in coming to Duceppe’s defence, while probably warning his colleagues sotto voce against settling scores with too much fervour.

As recent polls suggest, the NDP has disappointed Quebecers as defender of Quebec’s interests in Ottawa.

The May 2 election was rightly interpreted as a victory for federalism, but it did not change a key feature of the structure of the province’s electorate: for most voters, Quebec comes first and Canada comes second, often way behind.

Since last May, most of Harper’s policy agenda has been construed by Quebec’s mainstream opinion as a frontal assault on its interests and values. In this context, the NDP’s failure to fulfill its promises to Quebecers, and the negligible weight of Quebec in the party’s interminable leadership campaign, represent a golden opportunity for the Bloc to rebuild on solid ground before 2015.

Of course, the provincial election will come first. If Pauline Marois can put her party’s internal wars behind her (a very big “if”), she will be in a position of strength to run as the best rampart against the Harper government.

Indeed, many things have changed in Quebec since last spring, but plus ca change. . .

Pierre Martin is a professor of political science at the Université de Montréal.


La CAQ et la volatilité de l'électorat québécois

L'article ci-dessous a été publié dans le Toronto Star du 25 octobre 2011. Il fait une analyse sommaire du système partisan dans lequel s'inscrit l'apparition du nouveau parti de François Legault, la Coalition Avenir Québec.

Source: http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1092297--restless-quebec-voters-give-new-party-a-look

Restless Quebec voters give new party a look

In Quebec last week, former Parti Québécois minister François Legault finally threw his hat into the ring with the official creation of his new party: Coalition Avenir Québec.

Not much new was said. No candidates were revealed, and the platform tidbits had already been floated by Legault’s informal group. The only novelty was the flashy logo.

When questioners tried to push Legault beyond his carefully prepared script, the answer was invariably “On verra” (We’ll see). When asked to take a stand on the defining issues of Quebec politics, the CAQ is neither here nor there.

When Legault quit the PQ, he claimed the party wasn’t pushing hard enough on sovereignty. He now wishes to shelve the issue, but won’t call himself a federalist. Although Quebecers voted left in last May’s federal election, Legault will run on a right-of-centre platform while rejecting the left-right labels.

Yet polls predict an easy victory for the CAQ. What’s happening?

Electorates can be fickle at the margins, but their underlying structures tend to be fairly stable. Since the late 1960s, the province’s idiosyncratic sovereignty-federalism divide has coincided, roughly, with the more universal left-right dimension to form a stable two-party system. With the rise of the Bloc Québécois, the structure was more or less replicated at the federal level from 1993 to 2008.

On the national question, for the past two decades, solid sovereignist or federalist identifiers have each represented between a quarter and a third of the electorate, with a middle group of moderates on whom neither label sticks too well.

The rise of the PQ was a “realignment” of the system. A weakening of either dominant party (or both) can also lead to a “dealignment,” followed by a return to the previous order.

This happened in 2007, when Mario Dumont’s Action démocratique du Québec shook the system but could not make it fall, largely because it could not establish its credibility as a governing alternative, but also because defeat led the PQ to clean up its act — or so it seemed.

Does the sudden rise of Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec signal a fundamental realignment, or merely a temporary lull in the decades-old system?

Looking at this from the bottom up, there is little evidence that the structure of the electorate is shifting. Although support for sovereignty is receding, its key underlying causes are still present: a Quebec-centred identity, an unsettled linguistic situation, lingering economic tensions and a widening of the values gap between Quebec and Canada.

The picture is different from the top down. Indeed, the two prime beneficiaries of this stable structure seem to be hard at work undermining their own “duopoly” on power.

After eight years in office during tough times, the Liberals have endured levels of dissatisfaction hovering around 75 per cent throughout 2011. Whatever the substance of the allegations of corruption that dog his party, Jean Charest’s prolonged efforts to escape the inevitable public inquiry into the matter sapped the public’s confidence.

Things are even worse in the PQ. After losing a chunk of its urban progressive base to the quixotic Québec Solidaire, the party could have renewed itself and re-centred its program. It did not, mostly because many of its militants still can’t wrap their heads around the fact that if they want to have any chance of attaining sovereignty, they first have to govern, and govern well.

To make matters worse, entrenched interpersonal rivalries that have little to do with ideas or policies have eroded the public’s confidence in the PQ almost as much as perceptions of corruption have for the Liberals.

This confidence gap creates a huge opportunity for new, untried outsiders to step in, as the NDP did at the federal level.

Thus, in recent polls, voters judge the largely unknown CAQ more apt to solve the province’s most intractable problems than the two established parties. But Legault’s support is thin. When presented with the unlikely hypothesis of Gilles Duceppe as PQ leader, voters would shift massively back to the PQ.

There are many more signs of volatility in Quebec public opinion, but none is more important than the fact that party loyalty among voters seems to be at its lowest point in many years, which promises a rocky road from here to the next election.

In such a volatile context, to quote Cole Porter, “Anything goes!” That’s precisely what François Legault’s new coalition offers, for the moment.

Pierre Martin is a professor of political science at the Université de Montréal.


Un mauvais été pour le Parti québécois

Le texte ci-dessous a été publié par le Toronto Star dans son édition du vendredi, 19 août. En bref, les choses ne vont pas très bien pour le Parti québécois et pour le mouvement souverainiste au Québec, même si les conditions de base sur lesquelles repose l'appui à la souveraineté sont dans l'ensemble assez favorables. Que se passe-t-il? Je propose ici une petite partie de l'explication.
Sovereignty and its discontent
The sea is calm, the wind is favourable, the destination is distant but attainable. Yet no one seems to be holding the wheel and some crew members are jumping off the ship, apparently determined to sink it. Welcome aboard the Parti Québécois, flagship of the sovereignty movement.
Last May, despite the Bloc Québécois’ devastating defeat, the sovereignty movement still had many strengths. More Quebecers than ever self-identify primarily with Quebec, which should make them more receptive to sovereignist arguments, and every week Stephen Harper’s Conservative government finds ways to widen the gap between its self-proclaimed “Canadian values,” including its recent push to revive monarchism, and mainstream Quebec values.
Normally, this confluence of forces would help sovereignists rebuild on stronger foundations, but strong ideas or ideals are not enough. To achieve their vision, sovereignists also need to win at the real-world game of politics.
Like many other idealistic political movements, the Quebec sovereignty movement suffers from a chronic incapacity to find the proper balance between idealism and realism; conviction and pragmatism; rationality and emotion.
The PQ was successful in the past when its leaders and militants acknowledged that the average Quebecer is receptive but ambivalent toward independence. They knew that strategies or tactics designed to please their most loyal supporters would never allow them to win the moderate voters needed to push them toward a recount-proof majority.
For Quebecers who see themselves as a distinct society or nation, sovereignty is the obvious way to achieve autonomy and recognition, but some remain willing to give federalism another chance — which was why many sovereignists voted for the NDP last May.
Like Canadians, however, Quebecers also want peace, order and good government, and realists within the PQ have always known that the only way they could demonstrate that a sovereign Quebec could be well governed was by showing that sovereignists could govern well.
In all mass movements for change, true believers provide vital energy, but they often are viscerally incapable of understanding the hesitations of those they wish to rally to their cause. This is why many rock-solid independentists always distrusted the professional politicians who stepped forward in their name to run a “mere province” or to fill seats in a “foreign” parliament.
Some of the sovereignists who have been jumping off the PQ ship in recent days appear to live in a parallel universe where the merits of sovereignty are so obvious that they cannot conceive of any reason why a political party should tailor its strategy around the ambivalence of average voters — as most parties with any intention of winning elections typically do.
To win, political leaders need to connect both with their core militants and with the elusive average voter. That’s what made the Parizeau-Bouchard tandem so effective in 1995. The radical Jacques Parizeau appealed to idealists, but he also was a consummate rationalist who looked like a pragmatist without losing sight of his convictions. Lucien Bouchard, who embodied the ambivalence of Quebecers, appealed effectively to their emotions and, as the good lawyer he is, projected a sense of conviction while defending his cause.
That was a rare and ephemeral combination. Parizeau now serves as a constant reminder of how the radical wing of the sovereignty movement has lost any trace of pragmatic political realism, while Bouchard’s obstinate silence on the national question is a reminder of how difficult it will be to re-engage the average Quebecer emotionally in support of sovereignty.
The PQ’s recent strategy of “sovereignist governance,” which was grudgingly accepted by militants, was an attempt to redefine a path through these apparent contradictions. As an attempt to find a politically realistic way to move toward independence it was no worse than the alternatives, but few radicals recognized their own views in this mixed strategy.
Militants gave a tentative nod to Pauline Marois in April, hoping she would lead with enough conviction to keep the ship firmly on course to their objective and not meander in the muddy waters of compromise and pandering for easy electoral gains.
Things snapped when Marois unilaterally backed a dubious resolution to suspend the rules in granting construction contracts for a new Quebec City hockey arena. Instead of using this issue to showcase her resolve in defending her party’s demands for tighter rules for public construction, she pandered in order to gain the votes of a few Nordiques fans.
Marois lost a chance to demonstrate leadership and that was enough to convince many of her reluctant supporters that she doesn’t have what it takes to lead the sovereignty movement to its goal fast enough. But those militants in a hurry probably have only managed to push their long-sought destination even further into the future.
Pierre Martin is a professor of political science at the Université de Montréal.


Le gouffre politique

Cet article reprend l'analyse publiée l'édition du 3 juin du Toronto Star (voir ici).
Article publié dans La Presse du 14 juin 2011 (voir la source).
Le gouffre politique
Pierre Martin
L'auteur est professeur de science politique à l'Université de Montréal
De toutes les données d'opinion recueillies lors de la dernière campagne fédérale, les plus innovatrices sont sans doute celles de la Boussole électorale, qui a permis à plus d'un million de Canadiens de s'exprimer sur des enjeux politiques fondamentaux.
Cette énorme entreprise de collecte de données a ses faiblesses, y compris un échantillon non aléatoire qui contraint l'analyste à la prudence, mais ses résultats ne peuvent pas être ignorés.
Un premier constat saute aux yeux: pour environ 25 des 30 questions, on note une différence frappante entre les opinions exprimées au Québec et celles du reste du pays. Ces contrastes ne sont pas sans conséquence.
D'abord, si le gouvernement Harper opère un net virage conservateur, sa vision du pays risque d'aliéner le Québec que la Boussole place à gauche des autres provinces sur les enjeux économiques et sociaux - à quelques importantes exceptions près.
Quand Stephen Harper affirmait récemment que les valeurs conservatrices sont les valeurs du Canada, il donnait aux souverainistes québécois des munitions qui pourraient leur servir, si l'idée leur venait un jour de diriger leur ardeur au combat contre leurs adversaires.
C'est encore plus vrai dans le cas des enjeux constitutionnels et linguistiques, où la Boussole électorale fait ressortir le gouffre qui persiste entre les Québécois et les autres Canadiens. Le NPD était réceptif aux positions québécoises pendant la campagne, mais il n'a rien à gagner au Canada anglais en poursuivant sur cette lancée.
Ce n'est pas le seul point de discorde potentiel entre le Québec et le NPD que nous révèle la Boussole électorale qui, au Québec, ne pointe pas toujours à gauche. Depuis longtemps, les néodémocrates s'opposent au libre-échange avec les États-Unis et tiennent pour sacré le caractère public du système de santé.Depuis 1988, les Québécois sont davantage favorables au libre-échange que les autres Canadiens. Les principaux partis politiques et les milieux d'affaires appuient solidement l'ALÉNA, alors que les syndicats ont depuis longtemps cessé de s'y opposer systématiquement.
La carte de la Boussole électorale sur cette question est éloquente. Les 10 circonscriptions les plus favorables à l'expansion du commerce avec les États-Unis sont toutes québécoises, y compris cinq gagnés par le NPD, alors que huit des 10 circonscriptions hors Québec les plus hostiles au libre-échange sont des bastions néodémocrates.
Est-ce que le NPD peut prétendre représenter les intérêts du Québec tout en rejetant l'ouverture du commerce avec les États-Unis? Il serait étonnant que le parti revienne sur sa position historique dans ce domaine pour plaire aux Québécois. Il serait aussi étonnant que ces derniers soient séduits par les appels stridents au nationalisme canadien qui motivent le protectionnisme du NPD.
Sur la santé, les Québécois se distinguent du mantra néodémocrate en favorisant davantage qu'ailleurs l'ouverture vers le privé. Comme d'autres sondages l'ont déjà montré, les Québécois appuient un système de santé public, mais ils sont plus enclins que les autres Canadiens à appuyer l'illusion que représentent les solutions de marché ou la privatisation pour remédier aux maux du système.
Jack Layton aura sans doute peine à les rallier à l'orthodoxie de son parti sur ces questions, surtout si le droit chemin passe par un renforcement du contrôle fédéral dans ce domaine.
Sur bien d'autres enjeux, dont le registre des armes à feu n'est pas le moindre, on n'a pas fini de voir les contradictions mises en lumière par la Boussole électorale provoquer des tensions internes dans le caucus du NPD.
Contrairement aux divisions qui affligent le Parti québécois, d'abord liées aux personnalités, celles qui entraveront la marche du NPD vers le pouvoir seront l'expression de lignes de faille profondes dans le paysage politique canadien.


Les « deux solitudes » sont de retour... à l'intérieur du NPD

Dans un article publié dans l'édition du 3 juin du Toronto Star, je relève des observations intéressantes tirées des données de la « Boussole électorale », une entreprise de cueillette de données de très grande envergure menée par une équipe de politologues, y compris mon collègue André Blais et plusieurs anciens étudiants de notre Département, dont Peter Loewen, Yannick Dufresne et Joëlle Dumouchel. Entre autres choses, j'observe que, pour la grande majorité des questions incluses dans la Boussole électorale, les opinion exprimées par les Québécois semblent se distinguer assez nettement de celles de leurs concitoyens des autres provinces. Je note aussi que, pour des enjeux chers au Nouveau Parti démocratique de Jack Layton, comme l'opposition au libre-échange et à la privatisation dans le domaine de la santé, les opinions des Québécois se démarquent de la ligne de parti privilégiée par le NPD, ce qui pourrait lui attirer des ennuis à long terme. Mes amis de l'équipe de la Boussole électorale ne sont, il va sans dire, aucunement liés par les conclusions que je tire du fruit de leur efforts.

Article publié dans le Toronto Star, vendredi le 3 juin 2011. Consultez la source.

Canada’s ‘two solitudes’ emerge inside the NDP

If you’re reading this, you have at least a fleeting interest in politics, so chances are you have heard of or visited the CBC Vote Compass website. More than a million Canadians did, and more than 300,000 went through all of its 30 questions on the issues that define Canadian politics today.

Some commentators have questioned the methods, and some users have been shocked to discover that the Compass’s model predicted they would vote differently than they intended. But these criticisms pale in comparison to the insights that can be gained from this enormous opinion-gathering exercise.

Although huge, this self-selected sample is not necessarily representative of the population. Its observations ought to be taken with a grain of salt, but they shouldn’t be ignored.

When one looks at maps showing the distribution of results across 308 federal ridings, the first thing that jumps out of the screen for about 25 of the 30 questions is the distinct difference between Quebec and the rest of the country.

There is little new about the story of the “two solitudes” in Canada, but in the brave new world of polarized federal politics, this peculiar distribution of opinion reveals significant risks.

The first is the exacerbation of political conflict between Quebec and the Rest of Canada (ROC) as a majority Harper government implements a sharply ideological conservative agenda that is alien to Quebecers.

With a few notable exceptions, on the social or economic choices that define the left-right axis, the Compass map places Quebec squarely to the left of the ROC.

On issues where there are clear differences between Quebec and the ROC, the pursuit of a doctrinaire conservative agenda by a majority government could potentially deepen the rift between Canada and Quebec.

Prime Minister Harper claimed earlier this week that his party’s values are Canada’s values. If Quebecers clearly reject these values, it doesn’t augur well for federalism.

In the long run, a reshaped Canada that moves further away from Quebec’s deep-seated preferences is bound to provide grist for the sovereignists’ mill.

On constitutional, linguistic and cultural issues, the Vote Compass confirms the ROC will not be receptive to Quebec’s preferences, regardless of promises made by Jack Layton during his courtship of Quebec voters.

But the depth of the rift between Quebec and the ROC on constitutional issues is not the only source of potential trouble for the NDP.

Among the ideas that define bedrock NDP support, two are unavoidable: free trade with the United States is bad, and public health care is a sacred cow.

Since 1988, while opposition to continental free trade has remained an article of faith for the NDP, support for it has consistently remained higher in Quebec than in the rest of the country.

Except for the left fringe, all political parties in Quebec, including the Bloc, have consistently pushed for more trade with the United States. Going along with the big players of “Québec Inc.,” Quebec unions stopped opposing free trade long ago.

The map for this question is eloquent. The 10 ridings most supportive of freer trade with the United States are all in Quebec, five of which voted NDP on May 2, while eight of the 10 ridings most opposed to free trade in the rest of the country went to the NDP (See this table).

Can the NDP claim to represent Quebec’s interests if it vows to roll back free trade? I find it hard to imagine the NDP reversing its historical position on free trade to please its new voters in Quebec, where the NDP’s strident opposition to free trade in the name of Canadian nationalism is likely to fall flat.

On health care, Quebec also seems to distance itself from the NDP line. When asked if there should be more or less of a role for the private sector in health care, Quebecers were significantly more willing than other Canadians to say yes.

As numerous polls have shown in the past, Quebecers support public health care, but they are consistently — and, in this writer’s opinion, unwisely — willing to seek private-sector or market remedies to their system’s ailments.

Will Layton be able to reconvert these straying Quebecers to his party’s mantra on health care? Good luck, Jack.

There are plenty of issues on which the Tories will be exploiting differences between Quebec and the ROC to divide the NDP caucus, like the long-gun registry, to give just one of many examples.

So far, results released by the Vote Compass only scratch the surface of what it will potentially reveal about the complexities and pitfalls of the emerging Canadian political landscape.

We number-crunchers are anxiously waiting for more.

Pierre Martin is a professor of political science at the Université de Montréal.


Après la défaite du Bloc: Comment se porte le mouvement souverainiste?

Pas très bien, mais malgré la défaite cuisante du Bloc Québécois les éléments fondamentaux qui sous-tendent le mouvement souverainiste au Québec n'ont pas changé de façon significative. L'idée de la souveraineté et les principaux éléments qui la motivent restent très présents dans l'opinion, mais le leadership nécessaire pour que l'appui à l'idée se transforme en votes ne va pas très bien.

Texte publié dans le Toronto Star, le vendredi 13 mai 2011.

Sovereignty movement is down but not out

The Quebec sovereignty movement suffered a severe blow last week. After six consecutive successful elections, the Bloc Québécois was virtually wiped out.

Just a month ago, many sovereignists saw in Gilles Duceppe and his disciplined troops a catalyst for their cause. Now Duceppe is gone after a lacklustre campaign and the Bloc may well be finished as a political player in Quebec.

To many Canadians, this can only mean that the idea of sovereignty is dead.

In fact, the fundamentals that drive support for sovereignty may not have changed much, although the implications of the election make predicting the course of events trickier than ever.

Recent polls on support for sovereignty in Quebec suggest a stable level of about 40 per cent, just below where it was before the 1995 referendum campaign. But behind that collective stability, individual positions are less stable. Between the dyed-in-the-wool separatists and unwaveringly patriotic Canadians, there is a vast middle ground of Quebecers who may, under certain conditions, opt for either option.

Understanding how they make up their minds can help us anticipate how the politics of sovereignty might unfold in the wake of last week’s BQ debacle.

There are three key factors: core values, including national identity; a more or less explicit cost-benefit analysis of federalism versus sovereignty; and the context in which individuals make up their mind as they ponder that big choice.

On the question of whether Quebecers identify primarily with Quebec or with Canada, the long-term trend has been toward the former. This trend has been accelerated by generational change as fewer young Quebecers than ever identify — either primarily or equally — with Canada.

For example, last December a Léger Marketing poll found that 60 per cent of all Quebecers identified primarily or exclusively with Quebec, up from measures of 45 to 50 per cent in the late 1990s.

Interestingly, a Léger poll conducted immediately after the election that saw Quebec jump into the arms of the NDP showed virtually no change in the level of attachment to Canada in the province.

Predispositions also rest on core social values. Quebec is Canada’s most left-leaning province. If Stephen Harper gives in to the demands of backbench social conservatives, who make no secret of their wish to redefine “Canadian values,” the emerging new Canadian identity could become unpalatable to large segments of the Quebec population.

On issues related to religion, gun control, criminal justice, same-sex unions and other values, there is a rift between opinion in Quebec and the rest of Canada. There are also persistent differences between Quebec’s opinions on military policy and the Tories’ more interventionist propensities.

On the whole, federalists might hope that the election results could bring Canadians and Quebecers closer together, but Léger’s post-election poll shows that 60 per cent of Quebecers do not believe that proposition.

Identity and values are a key starting point, but Quebecers are a calculating bunch and their choice depends on evaluations of the respective costs and benefits of sovereignty and federalism.

Aside from balancing the cultural-linguistic promises of sovereignty against its potential economic costs, Quebecers are also keenly sensitive to the possibility of political gains or losses within federalism, especially with regard to policy autonomy for their provincial government and a formal recognition of Quebec’s distinct character.

On this account, the election sends mixed messages. The NDP attracted Quebec voters with a promise of creating elusive “winning conditions for Quebec in Canada,” which may lead some “soft nationalists” to give Canada another chance.

But the NDP is in no position to fulfill these expectations, and with little Quebec representation in the Harper cabinet, the stage has been set for renewed disillusionment with federalism.

All these factors seem to suggest the election could lead to a strengthening rather than a weakening of the idea of sovereignty, but a strong idea is not enough.

Ultimately, political success must be earned at the ballot box, which takes leaders able to win elections and then clear the huge hurdle of a referendum vote.

There is little doubt that Pauline Marois and the Parti Québécois are in a good position to defeat Jean Charest’s Liberals in the next election but, following the defeat of Duceppe and the Bloc, the gaping hole in the sovereignty movement’s leadership makes the next step — a referendum victory — a more elusive goal.

Finally, the federal election offers a cautionary tale that the PQ would ignore at its peril: Given the yearning for change of a highly volatile Quebec electorate, sovereignists cannot dismiss the scenario of a hastily put-together third party suddenly pulling the rug from under their feet.

Pierre Martin is a professor of political science at the Université de Montréal.


Le Bloc Québécois victime de ses propres succès

Dans cet article, publié quelques jours avant l'élection fédérale du 2 mai 2011, j'explique comment les succès du Bloc Québécois au cours des vingt dernières années ont pu contribuer à sa retentissante défaite du 2 mai. En toute humilité, je prévoyais des pertes pour le Bloc à ce point, mais pas tant que ça!

Texte publié dans le Toronto Star, vendredi 29 avril 2011.

Bloc’s success paved the way for NDP’s surge in Quebec

A seismic shift seems to be taking place in federal politics, with the NDP poised to take second place. And it all started in Quebec.

Who would have thought that Jack Layton, the last to jump into the election fray, would be the campaign’s biggest winner? Who would have predicted that this surge would start in a province where the NDP has won only two seats in the past half-century?

Since January, the four parties had held steady positions in Quebec opinion polls, with the Bloc around 40 per cent, the Liberals and Conservatives around 20 per cent, and the NDP at about 16 per cent. Then, even before the debates, the NDP suddenly started to surge. In many polls, it now stands first with about 35 per cent, while the Bloc barely manages to hold onto its lead among francophones.

Why this sudden NDP surge in Quebec?

Before I go on, it should be noted that the actual seat count on Monday may not reflect the polling numbers. The NDP’s support is diffuse and it may lead in many cases to Conservative gains over the Bloc, or Bloc gains over Liberals. Also, even if Quebecers have fallen for “Jack-mania,” they may be unimpressed with the largely unknown local NDP candidates.

Still, the NDP breakthrough cannot be dismissed, and some common explanations for it make sense. The fact that the NDP’s leftist policy orientation is close to the Quebec mainstream is nothing new.

Neither is the dismal state of the Liberal party’s organization in Quebec or Michael Ignatieff’s inability to rebuild his party’s tarnished brand.

The never-ending debates on the Bloc’s raison d’être or the obvious challenge of garnering a majority of seats in a seventh consecutive election may also be good reasons to explain the rise of another credible alternative to the Tories.

All these explanations may lead some to conclude that this election is the beginning of the end for the Bloc. It may also embolden some New Democrats to think that their party is best suited to assume the Bloc’s dominant position.

Indeed, after leading the pack for so long, the Bloc’s descent from 40 per cent to the low 30s or worse has to be interpreted as a sign of weakness.

But is this weakness permanent? Is it a sign of failure? Not necessarily.

In fact, the sudden NDP surge may be interpreted — albeit counterintuitively — as a reflection of the Bloc’s successes on many fronts.

First, the Bloc has been successful in anchoring its position firmly on the left of the political spectrum. While it lost a few old-line blue nationalists in the process, it gained in coherence. Apart from the national question, however, this tended to blur the policy lines between it and its opposition partners, particularly the NDP.

Second, because of its longevity, the Bloc was due to pay one day or other for its lack of new blood, from the leadership down.

Third, what is striking about the NDP surge is its suddenness, and the fact that there was no sign of it before the campaign, although all the conditions for it were already in place. This shows how successful the Bloc has been in disconnecting a large chunk of the Quebec public from the federal scene. How else to explain why so many voters changed their minds so fast based on so little information about the NDP’s actual policy proposals?

Perhaps this disconnection explains why so few voters have been lured by Stephen Harper’s invitation to Quebec’s “regions” to seize “power,” or by the Liberals’ long-running assertion that only they could form a government to replace the Tories. This disconnection also translates into a lack of firm party commitment at the federal level for a large part of the Quebec electorate, which makes rapid shifts all but inevitable.

Finally, the Bloc has been successful in defining the theme of the campaign: defeating Harper. Now that another party provides a credible means to that end, Gilles Duceppe is desperately trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube.

In fact, many federalist voters agreed with the Bloc’s initial goal, but they wouldn’t vote for sovereignists. Once the NDP bandwagon started rolling, they were more than happy to jump aboard. Now some polls suggest that nearly half of non-francophones may be inclined to vote for Layton.

As the election draws near, there may be debate as to the size of the national trend toward the NDP, but there is agreement on the fact that the shift started in Quebec.

Perhaps the Bloc has managed to turn the Quebec electorate into the Forrest Gump of Canadian politics: completely disconnected, but setting the trend.

Pierre Martin is a professor of political science at the Université de Montréal.