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The Salon is ONW's weekly gathering place where three of Canada's brightest and most respected political strategists - John Capobianco , Marit Stiles and Richard Mahoney - come together to analyze national issues affecting Ontario.

What does the Liberal majority win in the Quebec election mean to Ontario and the rest of Canada?

John Capobianco:

Like most Canadians the anticipation of yesterday's election was at an all-time high - more than any other provincial election campaigns, Quebec's campaigns are watched by the entire country for obvious reasons.

There was a collective sigh of relief when word came that there was going to be a Liberal government - in fact, a Liberal majority government. Great news for Canada and not so good news for the sovereignty movement - although you can never count the movement out. Time for serious reflection for the PQ, as Chantal Hebert said in her column this morning in The Toronto Star: "PQ insiders have long feared that their party could not survive without the glue of sovereignty to hold it together."

Richard Mahoney:

I guess the first thing we have to acknowledge about the Quebec election is that this is just another proof that campaigns matter. This campaign started looking like a likely march to a PQ majority. It ended with a Liberal majority, and sadness, tears and careers ended on the PQ side.

The second and more important observation I would make is that the election of the Liberals is important to us in Ontario in that it affirms two key developments.

First of all, Quebecers rejected the idea of another referendum. That does not mean that Quebec's aspirations and identity were altered or changed in any way. But it means they soundly rejected the idea of another referendum.

Secondly, they rejected the PQ’s so-called secular charter. In so doing, Quebecers affirmed their modernity and openness as a society. Had the PQ won a majority and proceeded, that proposed law would have put Quebec on a collision course with the idea of a modern, open, tolerant country that so many of us cherish, including the majority of Quebecers.

That law would have been challenged in the courts, and ultimately struck down by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The PQ would have used that development to further inflame divisions, both within Quebec and with people in other provinces, particularly Ontario. That approach was rejected, and that is a very good thing for Quebec, for Ontario and for Canada.

Marit Stiles:

Big election. Big results. I couldn't agree more with John (and that doesn't happen often!) that Quebec elections have policy makers, business and Canadians watching with more interest than most elections. Certainty is good for the economy, good for workers, good for families. And that's what Canada and Quebec got last night: there won't be a referendum in the immediate future.

It's also worth noting that this is the second provincial election in less than a year where one party has started with an enormous lead, and then there's been an enormous shift. As Richard noted, campaigns clearly matter. The PQ's racist Charter of Values was expected to be the central issue in the campaign, and then Pierre Karl Peladeau came along and PQ leader Pauline Marois allowed separatism to overtake her message. I think the story of this election is going to be less of the great victory of the Quebec Liberals (although it certainly was a great victory) and more the story of the demise of the PQ and how not to run a campaign.

John Capobianco:

The question now is what happens with the PQ.  An obvious leadership campaign begins which will involve significant soul searching and potential policy alignment shifts. Like any party - either provincial or federal - election defeats need to be assessed and evaluated through honest and critical lens. All three of us have been through this process painstakingly.  

The point is that this process will be important and will also determine what the sovereigntists believe was the reason for their defeat - will they blame the messenger, their policies (as Richard points out in his comment - thankfully they were rejected) or the voters?

Whatever the case, and whoever decides to run, the PQ are in for a tough period of self-reflection, and what they decide to do or the direction they take will always have a profound effect on Quebeckers and Canadians.

Richard Mahoney:

What does the Quebec election mean for federal politics?

First, if I was Thomas Mulcair, I’d be a little nervous. Most of his caucus is from Quebec, many of them sympathetic to separatism/sovereignty. Indeed, the NDP has quite successfully replaced the Bloc Quebecois’ role in Ottawa. But this election, just like the last federal election, shows that this can change, and quickly. Secondly, I would note that the results are helpful to Justin Trudeau. He was the only national leader who clearly and strongly opposed the PQ charter from the beginning:

I Have Faith In Quebec: Justin Trudeau

Globe and Mail

Other leaders waffled and then followed in due course, to varying degrees, but not with his clarity. He has also been clear on issues like the Clarity Act, and has opposed the NDP’s attempts to reverse that law, effectively flirting with separatism.

Secondly, Mr. Trudeau openly supported the clearly federalist option, the Liberals, while Mr. Mulcair, remained “neutral”:

Tom Mulcair Staying "Neutral" In Quebec Election

CBC News

This is all revealing and important as Canadians assess these parties and reflect on which one better represents their values, and their view of Canada.

Marit Stiles:

Richard, too bad Trudeau wasn't able to vote in the election, though, eh? In fact, I believe it was Tom Mulcair who was able to cast his vote and did it for the Liberals. Maybe you missed that. Anyhow, this is the kind of old bickering that Quebeckers are tired of. They sent a pretty strong message to that effect in the 2011 election and again last night. In fact, I would argue that it's Trudeau who suffers in the current scenario.

With the PQ in power, Trudeau would have been able to don his 'Captain Canada' cape and continue to spread simplistic and inaccurate accounts of the NDP's (staunchly federalist) position on Quebec sovereignty (thanks for sharing that by the way).

Sadly for the Liberals, instead they'll be watching from the sidelines as the attention of Quebeckers shifts again to the Charbonneau Inquiry, which starts again Wednesday. I predict the Quebec Liberals will have the shortest honeymoon in Canadian political history.

I don't envy the people of Quebec the choice they were given by Marois and the PQ:  referendum, or back to the Liberals they had kicked out 18 months before for their corruption. But they made the right choice given their options. Now it's up to Mulcair and the NDP to work with other progressive movements to propose another alternative next time. 

About The Salon

Richard Mahoney is a former Liberal advisor to Rt. Hon. Paul Martin; Marit Stiles is a federal and Ontario NDP strategist; and John Capobianco is a former CPC candidate and long-time party activist in both the federal and Ontario Conservative parties
Posted date : April 09, 2014

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