An often overlooked dimension of the 2014 Quebec election is that of metropolis versus hinterland. Almost from the day the Parti Quebecois was founded in 1968, the party has faced tensions between its Montreal-based leadership and voters in non-metropolitan areas where, in more recent times, it has won most of its National Assembly seats.
The cleavage was especially acute in 2007 when many voters outside Montreal abandoned the PQ, then led by Andre Boisclair, the ultimate Montrealais, an archetype of modern urban values, openly gay, a sharp dresser and a proponent of openness to the world. Mario Dumont, leader of the upstart Action Democratique du Quebec (ADQ), capitalized on this to win support in wide areas of Quebec where resentment of Montreal's economic and cultural influence is never far from the surface. When the tiny rural municipality of Herouxville adopted a xenophobic Code of Conduct, it was enthusiastically embraced by Dumont and just as keenly rejected by Boisclair.
Jean Charest, the Liberal premier of the day, sought to push the issue under the rug. His approach was to appoint a commission on "reasonable accommodations"--and then ignore most of its recommendations. In the 2007 election, the Liberals lost their majority, the ADQ became the official opposition and the PQ was relegated to third place. While the ADQ's surge was short-lived--it lost most of its seats in another election a year later--its message had been heard.
The Charter of Values needs to be understood in this context. PQ strategists, among them Jean-Francois Lisee, concluded that the party had to outflank the floundering ADQ (and later its successor, Francois Legault's Coalition Avenir Quebec) on identity issues. In Montreal, for which he was responsible as minister in Pauline Marois's government, Lisee ran into a stone wall when it came to the Charter. An anti-Charter motion in August 2013 won unanimous support from Montreal city councillors, including several prominent Pequistes. In the November 2013 mayoral race, the Charter was backed by just one candidate, who got less than 1.4 per cent of the vote. The message was clear: the Charter was anything but a vote-winner in Montreal. Yet the Marois...