Sunday, April 13, 2014

Ding dong the witch is dead – Democracy shows it’s alive and kicking in Quebec

Pauline Marois planned to fire Jews, Musims and Sikhs,
but on election night, she was the one who got the boot.

Seeing the PQ crushed in the recent Quebec election made me feel like dancing in the streets. 

More than two-thirds of Quebecers voted for federalist parties and against the separatists. And it’s not just that they voted against sovereignty; they voted against the PQ because they don’t even want to talk about sovereignty anymore.

Just as wonderful, we no longer have to look forward to the spectacle of a Canadian provincial government firing people from their jobs because of their religion. The PQ had hoped to ride a wave of xenophobia to a majority government and it didn’t work. Compared to the threat of having to go through another referendum, Quebecers just didn’t care that much about whether people wore hats or hijabs, lids or kippas. 

It’s possible that in the end, the PQ’s “values charter” actually worked against them. For one thing, Quebecers realized that doctors, daycare workers and teachers were actually going to get fired if they refused to remove their kippas, hijabs or turbans.

Incredibly, for weeks, Quebec media let the PQ get away without admitting this – until a PQ candidate came out and proclaimed that of course they’d be firing people. And then Pauline Marois, the PQ leader, admitted it, too: Really, how else can you ban religious symbols unless you’re going to fire people who refuse to take them off?

Once this sank in many Quebecers realized that the whole thing had gone a step too far. Sure, many small town Quebecers are suspicious of people who wear funny hats and won't eat pork, but firing them for this? That's not nice.

Also, Quebecers realized that the PQ could have brought in most of their charter of values without an election at all; that the only point of the election was to get a majority; and then the purpose of values charter would be to force a showdown with Ottawa as a prelude to a referendum. And does Quebec want another crisis? Non, non, non!

Possibly the most significant outcome of the Quebec election was the voter turnout: 72%. That’s huge – much larger than voter turnout for most elections in Canada. Of course, that’s great because it makes the rejection of Quebec independence and of the PQ's xenophobic charter of values even more decisive.  But it also shows that democracy is alive and kicking in Canada.

We hear much hand-wringing about how fewer and fewer people vote. Pundits continually suggest it’s because people believe politicians are all equally terrible. That low voter turnouts show a fundamental flaw in our democracy.

This is mostly nonsense. People don’t vote because Canada works well. Countries where almost everyone votes are the countries in the biggest mess. Usually, people are turning out in huge numbers because some recently deposed dictator has been denying them their right to choose their own leaders for decades. Or people turn out in droves because their country is in crisis.

Canada is precisely the opposite. On voting day many people can’t be bothered to go out to the polls because it doesn’t matter enough. Regardless of who gets elected, they’re not going to screw things up too much.

But in Quebec, this formula for voter indifference broke down. The vote did matter. Quebecers decided the PQ was going to create a national crisis (again). So voters came out in great numbers. They crushed the PQ, and buried the nightmare of a sovereign Quebec under an avalanche of ballots.

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