The Parti Quebecois lost Quebec's election on April 7--and it deserved to. A year and a half into its term, having passed a law setting a four-year fixed-term electoral cycle (see box), the minority PQ government dissolved the National Assembly. Facing an untested new Liberal leader and buoyed by polls in its favour, the party convinced itself that a majority was in sight.
As a minority government it proved competent, in part because it could not get the more extreme parts of its program, on further English-language restrictions and on the undiluted Charter of Values, through the National Assembly. In calling the election, however, the PQ mistakenly interpreted its popularity as a moderate minority government as an endorsement for moving forward on these policies and, just possibly, for putting a referendum on sovereignty back on the agenda. Trying to win a mandate as a majority government that would act on these matters simply played into the hands of the Liberals, whose new leader, Philippe Couillard, proved able to take advantage of the opportunity handed to him.
The moment that it all came crashing down was when the PQ's high-profile recruit, union-busting media magnate Pierre Karl Peladeau, made explicit with raised fist why he was at Pauline Marois's side. And it was hardly to support the moderately left-wing policies of her government: he was running to make Quebec an independent country.
The plummeting polls soon made clear what should have been apparent. While many Quebecers were sympathetic to the principles underlying the Charter and to the goal of sovereignty in the abstract, far fewer were ready to move toward implementation, given the divisions and--as Couillard and Coalition Action Quebec leader Francois Legault kept reminding them--distraction from the real economic challenges facing Quebec that this would entail.
How could Marois and her advisers have been caught unawares? How could such apparently sophisticated people have been so wrong? Part of the answer is age. At the back of her mind, she could not but feel that a majority government at this time might be the last chance for her generation, the one that built the PQ, to realize its projet de societe.
The results proved otherwise. To their credit, some of Marois's peers were willing to face up to the implications of what happened on April 7. For example, in its report the next day, Le Devoir quoted Louise Beaudoin, a grande dame of the independence movement (see box)...