Once the leaves start falling, it’s over. Our Neapolitan summer, like the box of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream, was defined by an election offering three flavours of l’indépendence. A classic case of divide and conquer?
As filmmaker Jeanne Crepeau wrote in Rover, many Anglos are having a hard time justifying support for Jean Charest. I have a certain amount of compassion for the guy. In 1998, he was convinced by the Liberal machine to take a job he probably didn’t want; he was swayed by a combination of moral pressure and money. How many remember Charest as leader of the Progressive-Conservative Party? After the fiasco of Meech Lake, the Liberals begged him to come back to Quebec, saying only he could save the day. He got a $75,000 a year bonus paid by the party, on top of $175,000 that came with the job. The bonus was dropped in late 2010, amid the furor over corruption charges. Little wonder Charest’s enthusiasm for the next to impossible task of governing this province faded to a shade near invisible. For a professional politician, swallowing a pay cut is bound to sting.
My main daily source of information is newspapers: the Globe and Mail, which is routinely dismissive of Quebec, often superficial; the Gazette rarely breaks away from muted hysteria, while La Presse covers politics as a family affair.
Watching the televised leaders’ debates, then reading the next day’s newspapers only served to demonstrate how far our household is from the newsroom wisdom of the day. By far the best drama was Marois versus Legault, an emotionally charged encounter between two rivals who were once comrades in arms. The atmosphere reeked of betrayal as they traded accusations, each claiming the other was misrepresenting known facts. I wondered what – if anything – separates them beyond a desire to win office?
About a hundred people packed Café Matina on Bernard last week to meet Amir Khadir, the Iranian-born doctor who is co-head of Québec Solidare and the sitting MNA for Mercier. Introducing Khadir, Projet Montreal borough councillor Alex Norris touted the candidate’s personal qualities, outlining the QS stance on environment, health care and other issues. This dove-tailed with the PM agenda to the assembled BoBo crowd of artsy professionals – people clearly desperate for political representation.
Sovereignty dominated the discussion until one young woman asked Khadir to set the subject aside and identify what he thought was the single most important election issue. Her question was greeted with hearty applause. Surprisingly, Khadir sited improved fiscal responsibility. I haven’t heard much about the QS economic plan, and was heartened to hear that. Although most of what he has to say concerns social issues, he at least realizes this province is into its third decade of denial about the economy.
Asked about the distasteful waves of xenophobia frequently directed at Anglophones, Khadir – speaking a correct if slightly halting English – expressed surprise; he said he hadn’t heard Anglos were feeling put-upon. He thought the issue only concerned immigrants.
Wednesday night I fought late afternoon traffic to cross town for CAQ’s presentation of candidates and leader François Legault in St. Henri. About five hundred people assembled in the Chateau St. Ambroise for a menu of pizza squares, chips, raw veg with dip and boxed wines. The crowd could not have been more different: largely francophone office types, men in suits, women with manicures and power shoes. A small clutch of English-speakers included two men wearing kippas.
Legault arrived mid-schmooze, gave a brief pep-talk and gathered a dozen or so candidates around him for a buzz TV and cel phone cameras. At the end, he switched to English to say that CAQ held Montreal in a special position. I’m paraphrasing, but he said the party realized Montreal had a great deal of creative energy and dynamism waiting to be unleashed. If elected, CAQ would make sure everybody gets involved in that activity. I was impressed by the subtly of the gesture: he didn’t speak to Anglos, he spoke to Montreal, in English.
The following night, I wandered down to La Portuguese restaurant on St. Laurent Blvd. where Mercier CAQ candidate Julie Boncompain was meeting supporters. When I arrived mid-way through, the gathering consisted of about eight people, including her équipe and her four-year-old daughter. I’d shaken her hand the evening before, and did so again, offering words of encouragement to an obviously low-lustre campaign. CAQ is a new party, she said, sweetly.
Ah, Pauline Marois. Josh Freed wrote a brilliant column on the Perils of Pauline in a recent Gazette, pretty well nailing my feelings at that time. In the days since, the woman has made so many gaffs I’m actually beginning to appreciate her position, which is clearly driven more by the terms of battle more than by policy. I’m impressed by her brutal, dogged honesty. She wants an independent Quebec, and despite polls showing that the overwhelming majority of Quebecers don’t want to hear the R word, promises to talk about it during every single day of her mandate. So clear is Marois’ message that we are obviously – like it or not – into a kind of referendum, where voting day is Sept. 4.
This has happened to me before: I enter the polling booth, make an X and feel relieved, then 48 hours later cannot remember how I voted. Leaving the polling booth Tuesday, I’m going to write the answer on my hand and transfer it into my agenda. This time, my choice, so passionate in the hour, will not be cast in jello.
At this point, that’s about all I know for sure.
Marianne Ackerman’s first novel, Jump, was set during the 1995 referendum. She often cannot recall how the protagonist voted, without checking the page.
Josh Freed’s column the Perils of Pauline: here
Globe column: here