After bouncing back with 99 seats, the Liberal government under Robert Bourassa had some rough patches, but overall it was a productive four years for the party. The biggest news for the party during that time was when Bourassa invoked the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to override a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that declared parts of the Charter of the French Language unconstitutional. Doing this resulted in several anglophone ministers in his party to resign. Bourassa would introduce modifications into the charter, which reduced the controversary over language.
Macleans would write quote:
“Bourassa just can’t seem to find the handle of linguistic issues. Here he is, at the end of 1988, with a new language law that has caused three English-speaking ministers to resign, has split his caucus and his Liberal party.”
The other big news during the new term for Bourassa was the Meech Lake Accord, which would not be completed until a year after the election. Bourassa worked closely with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and received many concessions from the federal government in order to ratify the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In the end though, the accord failed when Manitoba and Newfoundland failed to ratify the agreement.
Also in March 1989, Quebec was hit by a geomagnetic storm that knocked out power to the entire province for nine hours. Bourassa would receive criticism for the response and the issues with the power grid, something that would begin to change over the next five years.
The Parti Quebecois was now led by Jacques Parizeau, who had been a close friend and cabinet minister under Rene Levesque. He had joined the party on Sept. 19, 1969, and served as the president of the party’s executive council from 1970 to 1973. He was unable to be elected to the Legislature until 1976 though and he was soon appointed as the Minister of Finance. While he and Levesque had been close for years, they had a falling out in 1984 when Levesque moved away from pursuing sovereignty. Parizeau would resign from cabinet over the matter and retire briefly from politics. On March 19, 1988, he was chosen to be the new leader of the party and he would take the party into the next election.
Parizeau would say quote:
“I want Quebecers to realize that they constitute a country.”
A new party emerged at this point as well, the Equality Party, which promoted the use of English and French on an equal basis. The party was formed as a reaction to the use of the notwithstanding clause by Bourassa. The party was led by Robert Libman, who had been an architect when he co-founded the party.
Only days before the election began, 7,000 supporters of the Parti Quebecois attended a rally at the Maurice Richard Arena. In that rally, Parizeau would say quote:
“We are Quebecers. We have the right to be Quebecers and we have to make the Quebec nation now.”
Bourassa would have issues as the campaign began, including a strike by nurses in the province that had 40,000 walk off the job, followed by another strike of 225,000 hospital workers, teachers and civil servants.
Bourassa would say quote:
“The sick, the aged, and the handicapped have been left uncared for by these workers.”
Through the campaign, Bourassa attempted to win back Anglophone voters who were mad about his notwithstanding clause use, and also for abandoning his campaign promise from 1985 to allow bilingual outdoor signs. Instead of following through on his promise, he passed Bill 178 that banned the use of languages other than French on outdoor commercial signs and only allowed the use of English indoors.
Bourassa was aided in the fact that investment in the province had grown by 15 per cent per year since 1985, and there was a gain of 233,000 jobs during that same period of time.
Kicking off his election campaign, Bourassa would say quote:
“Constitutional questions are not the major preoccupation of Quebecers. Their priority is still a strong economy for Quebec and that will be the main theme of my campaign.”
Both parties were facing problems with their response to environmental issues, which was becoming a larger campaign issue nationally at the same time. The Liberals were hurt when it was found that a fire at a toxic waste warehouse had sent smoke with PCBs into the surrounding countryside, forcing 3,500 people to evacuate for 18 days. The report criticized both the Parti Quebecois and the Liberals for their attention to the storage and disposal of toxic waste.
Kicking off his campaign, Parizeau immediately started to attack the Liberals over health and social services, labour unrest, the environment and unemployment. Unlike the last election, he would also begin to make sovereignty an issue on the campaign trail once again. He would say quote:
“The sovereigntist fervor is being rekindled in Quebec at the present time, and of course, the election results will give an indication of how strong the revival is.”
Bourassa and Parizeau would debate each other on television, which happened to be on Parizeau’s 59th birthday. Bourassa would wish him happy birthday on the air and say quote:
“From time to time, we have to rise above partisan politics.”
Getting the debate to happen was not easy, as Bourassa originally did not want to do a television debate over Meech Lake. Parizeau would say quote:
“It underlines the need for a debate between him and me. We have to discuss it in front of everyone, on television.”
Around the time of the debate, the Liberals were campaigning at 20 points ahead of the Parti Quebecois.
In the Sept. 25, 1989 election, Bourassa and the Liberals lost seven seats, falling to 92 but still maintaining a huge majority over the other parties.
Parizeau and the Parti Quebecois would gain six seats, finishing with 29 but still a far cry from what the party would call success after having led the province from 1976 to 1985.
Parizeau would say in his victory speech quote:
“This victory confirms the fact that a majority of Quebecers have placed their faith in the federalist system. At the same time, we see that this faith is not unlimited. They said independence was dead. It is alive.”
As for the Equality Party, it actually gained four seats, which surprised many. While the party did not receive official party status, but both the Liberals and Parti Quebecois agreed that the caucus of the party would receive official party status privileges. The election of four members also resulted in changes to the Quebec language law, to ensure Anglophone support.
Macleans would write quote:
“With a budget of approximately $200,000 and little campaign experience, the party overran the Liberals’ well-financed so-called Big Red Machine in four ridings.”
Libman would say quote:
“The premier will never take the Anglophone community for granted again.”
The party would merge with the Unity Party in 1990 but it would never repeat the success of 1989 and would never again have a member sit in the Legislature. It would officially dissolve in 2012.
A lot had changed in Canada since the last Quebec election. The Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Accord had both collapsed, leaving Quebec still not ratifying the Canadian Constitution. On top of that, those failures had led to a fracturing of the federal Progressive Conservative Party, leading to the creation of the Bloc Quebecois, a federal party with the goal of separatism for Quebec. Brian Mulroney was out as prime minister, his party was decimated, never to recover, and the Liberals were back in power federally under Jean Chretien.
Within Quebec, Robert Bourassa retired from politics and was replaced by Daniel Johnson Jr., the son and brother of former Quebec premiers. As for Bourassa, his time outside of politics would be sadly too short, as he passed away in 1996 from skin cancer at the age of only 63.
Johnson had taken over as premier on Jan. 11, 1994, and little was done prior to the election slated for later in the year.
Meanwhile, the failure of the Accords had caused a surge in popularity for separatism, seen in the Bloc Quebecois becoming the Official Opposition in Parliament. This was good news for the Parti Quebecois, still led by Jacques Parizeau, as it headed into a new election.
A new party had also emerged in 1994, Action democratique du Quebec, which was a right-wing populist party that was founded by members of the Liberal Party who were angry over the Charlottetown Accord. The party was led by Mario Dumont, who was only 24 at the time but had been a member of the Liberal Party since he was 15 and had told his friends he would one day be premier. He would be sympathetic to the sovereignty movement, earning him popularity in several areas of Quebec, and a great deal of cooperation from the Parti Quebecois.
When the election campaign kicked off, the Party Quebecois was already ahead of the Liberals 51.6 per cent to 42.7 per cent in the polls. Due to the fact that the party was trailing, Johnson kept delaying an election call. Eventually, Parizeau started campaigning, stating quote:
“Our campaign is under way, and Mr. Johnson can join us when he wants to.”
Through the election, Parizeau would alter his image compared to previous elections. Where he once had a tightly-knotted tie, he now had a bright silk cravat. Rather than be aloof and distant from voters and the press, he would be more engaging, often smiling and speaking directly to Quebeckers. Rather than wear his typical pinstripe suits, he was often wearing Italian-cut outfits, and he cut down on his drinking and smoking. Macleans would write of this just prior to the election, stating quote:
“A new, more relaxed PQ leader is emerging, one who is ever prepared on occasion to puncture his own near legendary reputation as the epitome of upper-crust pomposity.”
For Parizeau, as the election wore on, his smile only became more natural as the polls showed that the Parti Quebecois was heading to a comfortable victory. By the beginning of September, just before election day, the Parti Quebecois sat at 49 per cent, while the Liberals were polled at 42.6 per cent.
Throughout the election campaign, Parizeau made it clear that the election of the Parti Quebecois would be considered a mandate to trigger the move towards sovereignty. He would say quote:
“I have said it many times before and I will say it again. I am a sovereigntist before, during and after the election.”
Lucien Bouchard, a highly popular figure in Quebec at the time, would enter into the campaign but he would disagree with the Parti Quebecois plans to pass a resolution in the National Assembly that affirming the will of Quebeckers to separate. He would state that it was something that could only come about from a referendum. Another issue arose when Parizeau said that his planned tax increases on businesses mirrored a similar levy by the federal Liberals implemented a year previous. Bouchard had opposed that federal tax heavily, and was now in the position of having to do the same provincially.
The Parti Quebecois would run ads that showed Quebec to be a place where job losses were increasing, dropout rates were on the rise and unemployment was out of control. All the blame would be put on the Liberal Party.
The Liberals would counter with their own ad campaigns that branded Parizeau as The Taxer and the Borrower.
Just like Parizeau, Johnson would attempt to remake his image for the campaign, portraying himself as a down-to-earth individual, rather than someone with a forbidding exterior. He would attack the image of him in the public as what he called a bloodless bean counter. This didn’t always work out well. When Julie Snyder, a TV host, challenged him to prove he was a little crazy inside, he responded by tossed a glass of water at her and said while laughing quote:
“Is that crazy enough?”
Macleans would write of the difficulties Johnson was having, stating quote:
“He has spent the first leg of the campaign urging people not to listen to Parizeau because he is a separatist. But Johnson has yet to give Quebeckers a good, sound reason why they should vote for him.”
Johnson would also not get much help from the federal Liberals. At one point, the Foreign Affairs Minister told Hong Kong investors that a Parti Quebecois win would not have serious consequences, even while Johnson portrayed it as a move towards separation if the Parti Quebecois won. Prime Minister Jean Chretien would echo the same sentiments to investors, further angering the Quebec Liberals.
The leaders would go toe-to-toe in the first televised debate since 1962, with previous debates being in front of a crowd or over the radio. Overall, there was little public interest for it but most felt that the Parti Quebecois had little to gain with a debate, but much to lose, while the Liberals hoped for a strong performance by Johnson to get Francophone votes. In the end, the debate seemed to change nearly nothing in terms of the polls.
In the Sept. 12, 1994 election, the Parti Quebecois returned to power after almost a decade out of power by gaining 48 seats on the campaign promise of a sovereignty referendum. The party now had 77 seats, its highest total since 1980, and its second highest total ever. While the party had won, it did not win by the large majority it was hoping for. Even the victory celebration was somewhat muted, with only about 100 people gathering for the victory party, held outdoors in the rain.
Lucien Bouchard would say quote:
“The dominoes of the federal regime are falling one after the other. The new government will use all its resources to allow Quebec to take its place in the community of nations.”
The Liberals would lose 45 seats, falling to 47 to form the Official Opposition. The party’s 47 seats was its lowest since 1981, which gave the Parti Quebecois a comfortable majority. The party also lost six per cent of the popular vote, which was mostly picked up by the Parti Quebecois.
Johnson would say quote:
“This sort of neck-and-neck result seems to me to indicate the unwillingness of Quebec to enter the path of separation.”
Prime Minister Jean Chretien would say quote:
“When the two parties got virtually the same votes, it is a good indication that Canada is here to stay.”
As for the Action Democratique, it won only one seat, and that was the seat of Mario Dumont. He would continue to lead the party, and hold his seat, for the next 15 years. The party would have to wait awhile, and go through a merger, but its time to shine would come in a few decades time.
One interesting part of this election was that it saw a tie in a riding. In the riding of Saint-Jean, Michel Charbonneau, a Liberal, tied Roger Paquin, a Parti Quebecois candidate. They had to hold another election in the riding on Oct. 24, which Paquin won by 532 votes.
With this election, the stage was set for the 1995 Quebec Referendum, which would fail but only by the slimmest of margins. That referendum would change Quebec politics forever, and its impact is still felt well into the 21st century.
The 1995 Quebec Referendum had gone through, with the No side winning by the slimmest of margins. To date, it is the last time a referendum on sovereignty on Quebec independence has been brought forward.
While the Yes side lost, the impact of this referendum would be felt heavily in Quebec politics leading up to the 1998 provincial election.
Only one person from the 1994 election would be around to lead their party into this election. Mario Dumont, the lone candidate from the Action Democratique Party to be elected would once again lead his party in the next election.
For Jacques Parizeau, the man who took the Parti Quebecois back to power in the 1994 election had resigned after the failure of the 1995 Quebec Referendum.
Replacing Parizeau was arguably the most famous separatist politician since Rene Levesque, Lucien Bouchard. Bouchard had been a cabinet minister of the Progressive Conservative Party in the 1980s before splitting with his friend Brian Mulroney over the failure of the Meech Lake Accord. He would form a new party, the Bloc Quebecois and lead it to Official Party status in the House of Commons from 1993 until he left federal politics to lead the Parti Quebecois in 1996.
Upon being chosen as the new leader of the Parti Quebecois on Jan. 27, 1996, he became the premier of Quebec.
Another man to leave federal politics was Jean Charest, who had been leading the Progressive Conservative Party after its collapse in the 1993 federal election. He was at first seen as a bad fit for the Quebec Liberal Party, and for provincial politics in general, but he would go against that view and that process began in this election, the last of the 20th century for the province.
There are elections that are watershed and landmark moments in the province, and then there are elections that change things very little. The 1998 provincial election is one such election.
Charest would campaign on tax cuts, deregulation and privatization, something that had been done in Alberta to quite a bit of success in paying down the debt and deficit. Rather than focus on sovereignty, Charest pledged to complete the Quiet Revolution of Jean Lesage, through a modernization of the provincial economy. They would also offer $2.5 billion in tax cuts and a reduced role for the state within the provincial economy.
He would say quote:
“I’m telling you that these years must return and we can do things differently, we can get off the beaten path.”
Many would compare his platform to that of Mike Harris in Ontario, which was successful in winning the election of 1995 for Harris. He would also push against sovereignty question and tried to show Quebeckers they were better off in Canada. He would say quote:
“People pay no attention to figures, no matter who puts them on the table. I have to emphasize to Quebecers the strong link they have in their hearts for Canada, which I am convinced is there and has always been there.”
Bouchard would campaign on the sovereignty ticket, only three years after the province went through a referendum. He would pledge to hold a referendum by 2001, stating quote:
“I am convinced that Quebeckers have a rendezvous with their sovereigntist future and that sovereignty is an inevitable part of the future of Quebec.”
The Parti Quebecois would campaign on a slogan of I have confidence in a Bouchard government. Charest would attack this slogan, highlighting issues with the economy and health care.
Through the campaign, Bouchard would rarely attack Dumont and often let him gain prominence on the bet that Dumont would split the Liberal vote. One former chief of staff for the Bloc Quebecois would say quote:
“Mr. Bouchard is a great actor and took advantage of his strength as a good communicator.”
Both parties would also complain over a media bias they saw. While English media gave Charest better coverage, French media did not. This was reversed when it came to Bouchard. Charest would even ask a friend why there was a relentless negative spin on him by the French media. His friend would tell him that it was like that for federalist leaders, and to expect it to get worse. Bouchard would be described in the English media as dangerous, negative, ungrateful and vindictive.
With the Liberals now polling at 29 per cent, compared to the 41 per cent for the Parti Quebecois. The biggest problem for Charest is he had just moved from federal to provincial politics, and switched from the Progressive Conservative Party to the Liberal Party.
Both leaders would take part in a televised debate, with the hope that Charest would save the plummeting polls of the Liberal Party. Unfortunately, the debate will do little to help Charest, and the feeling in Quebec was that he had to pay his dues before he had a chance to become premier. The real winner of the debate was Dumont. In a poll done after the debate, it was found the majority of respondents felt Dumont had done the best in the debate. They felt he won four of the six segments of the debate.
Jean Chretien would not provide any help for the Liberal Party in Quebec, and mostly seemed at odds with Charest, who had been a sparring partner in the House of Commons only months previous.
In the Nov. 30, 1998 election, Lucien Bouchard and the Parti Quebecois retained power, but lost one seat to fall to 76 while still maintaining a comfortable majority. The party also lost two per cent of the popular vote compared to the previous election. Due to this, Bouchard would immediately put the idea of a referendum on hold. Bouchard would say quote:
“They like what we are doing as a government, but they are not prepared to give us the conditions for a referendum right now.”
Bouchard would use a similar message to what William Lyon Mackenzie King said in 1944 over conscription. He would essentially say, not necessarily separation but separation if necessary.
He would add quote:
“I want you to know I understand that and at the same time I respect the signal you sent by choosing candidates who reflect your attachment to Canada.”
Former premier Jacques Parizeau would say quote:
“This has been a campaign of good management, standing up to Ottawa and on sovereignty. Tonight’s a moment of truth.”
The party’s party would be subdued for the most part, with the entire affair ended a few minutes after Bouchard finished speaking.
The Liberals would only gain one seat in the election, finishing with 48, while also losing one per cent of the popular vote. While his party did not do any better in the election, for the most part, Charest would pledge to stay on as leader and build a new base for the party and push against the critics who considered him an outsider in Quebec. Charest would say quote:
“For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to know me yet, you’ll have the next four years to get to know me. To those people who just a week ago said we were 10 points behind, the results tonight speak to a much different reality. We were nose to nose.”
Former Liberal leader Claude Ryan said quote:
“Mr. Charest faced an uphill battle fight from the start.”
As for Dumont and the Action Democratique, they lost no seats but gained none. Once again, Dumont was the only candidate to be elected.
I wasn’t lying when I said this election saw very little change in Quebec politics.
There were several problems on voting day. One woman was told she needed to vote on Dec. 1, rather than Nov. 30. About 15 boxes were late arriving at another location, and some voting stations had long lineups due to problems with organization. Two people even had to vote twice due to an error in the polling station.
Change would come in the next election, and it would be another 14 years before the Parti Quebecois won another election.
While the previous election was one with little changing in terms of the structure of the political makeup of Quebec, the election of 2003 would see plenty of changes as the province began to move into a new direction.
The Parti Quebecois had changed leaders after the resignation and retirement of Lucien Bouchard. He had stated that the results of his work were not convincing, and he was going to leave public life for good. Replacing him was Bernard Landry, who was chosen by acclamation to become the new leader of the party in March 2001, and by extension, the new premier of Quebec. Landry was a veteran of the old Parti Quebecois, having served with the party since its breakthrough in 1976. He had also held several cabinet positions through the years. A faithful follower of Rene Levesque, he was a die-hard sovereigntist and was highly critical of the $1.5 billion in equalization payments that Quebec received, calling it degrading and stating that the federal government was short changing the province.
He would say of the federal government prominently displaying the Maple Leaf on federal government buildings and programs, stating,
‘Quebec does not prostitute itself for a piece of red cloth.”
These remarks were considered insulting to the flag as he had called the flag a rag. He would apologize for his comments, stating they had been mistranslated.
By the time the 2003 election came along, the Parti Quebecois had served two mandates and the poll numbers for the party were falling rapidly as Quebeckers were seeing the party as worn-out. At one point, the party placed third in poll numbers, something that had not happened in decades. The party would recover some support when it passed the law against poverty to help those who were on the button rung of society. Landry was also highly critical of the 2003 Iraq War, which gained him more popularity in the province.
Leading the Liberals was still Jean Charest, who was still somewhat unpopular with voters but the effect of that from the last election was beginning to wear off.
The Parti Quebecois focused its campaign on stability, rather than change or sovereignty. That being said, sovereignty was still the core of its platform. The PQ would portray itself as the party of the left, while the other parties were to the right. In contrast to this, the Liberal Party portrayed itself as centralist and updated its logo and created dynamic new ads and material to capitalize off the growing weariness voters had with the Parti Quebecois. The Action Democratique party used its young leader as its main focus, who was seen as dynamic, while also denying that the party was too the right.
Health care was the main focus of the campaign, with the Liberals promising to reduce wait times at hospitals. Charest would also promise to invest heavily in health care and education, something that Landry criticized and said the money for health care would come available when the fiscal imbalance was solved by sovereignty. This didn’t work for the Parti Quebecois, as Charest simply portrayed Landry as someone who put sovereignty over health care.
The family-work balance became another important issue during the campaign, with Landry campaigning on a four day work week plan. This would have required Quebec employers to provide the option of a four day work week to parents. The plan was criticized by the Liberals and Action Democratique as being improvised but it still gave some interest to voters and eventually, just before election day, Charest stated he would consider implementing it.
Attack ads would become more common in this election but they were primarily seen poorly by voters. Action Democratique released one bleak ad that mentioned deaths in hospitals and this backfired heavily for the party. It would quickly go back to brighter and more positive advertisements for the party.
The Leader’s Debate would help portray Charest as a more viable option for voters compared to Landry. Charest also sparked the Parizeau Affair, which harmed the Parti Quebecois’ campaign all the way up to election day. Due to the Parizeau Affair, the Parti Quebecois saw its support essentially vanish as the campaign went on. This affair came from the 1995 Quebec Referendum, when Parizeau made a concession speech without notes, which was described as ethnocentric and ethnic nationalistic. The day of the debate, an online article was published in which Parizeau chuckled over his ethnic votes comments of 1995. Charest would bring this up at the Leaders Debate to the surprise of Landry. The Parti Quebecois tried to denounce Charest’s act as immoral on the reputation of Parizeau but this strategy failed. Landry would mention several times at subsequent press conferences that he disagreed with the comments of Parizeau.
Due to this affair, by the time the election day arrived, the Liberals were 13 per cent above the Parti Quebecois.
In the April 14, 2003 election, Jean Charest and the Liberals defeated the Parti Quebecois, gaining 28 seats to finish with 76. Charest now found himself as the new premier of Quebec, and the party returned to power for the first time since the 1980s.
Charest would say to his supporters on election night,
‘It is a mandate for change that we have received and a mandate for renewal.”
Benoit Aubin would write of the victory, saying
“It cost him five years of pressing flesh in the boonies, away from home and the cameras, but Jean Charest was finally able to convince a majority of Quebec voters that he belongs, and is ready to govern the province.”
Peter Newman would say that Charest was the first Quebec premier who would feel at home in the other 10 provinces, having toured each one when he was a cabinet minister with the Progressive Conservatives, and later as the leader of the party itself.
The Parti Quebecois suffered heavily in the election, dropping by 31 seats to finish with 45, ending their time as leaders of the province, which had begun in 1994. The party also lost nearly 10 per cent of the popular vote compared to the previous election. Landry was graceful in his concession remarks, which actually bothered some in the audience. He said that the Parti Quebecois would mount a strong opposition and take time to reflect and listen so that it can be the party of change in the next election.
Not surprisingly, Landry would not be around for the next election as leader, but he would remain as president of the party until 2005 when he resigned.
Mario Dumont and the Action Democratique Party had its first minor breakthrough in this election, rising by three seats to finish with four, and gaining over six per cent of the popular vote, the highest gain of any of the parties in the election. Despite having only four seats, the party’s 18 per cent of the popular vote was over half what the Parti Quebecois received.
The party was soon going to be ready to become a major player on the Quebec election scene. But that is a story for another section.
For many, this was seen as the end of the separatist movement in Quebec, at least to the level that it had once been at.
One note about this election was that 70 per cent of voters came out to vote in the election, the lowest turnout in decades.
As the Liberal government approached the end of its five year mandate, Jean Charest chose to call an election one year early as he wanted to hold an election before the federal election happened to prevent voter fatigue in the province. As premier, Charest had began to implement economic policies that were unpopular with labour unions in the province. His government also sought new revenue through increasing hydro rates and insurance premiums, and imposing a carbon tax on business. His government continued to provide subsidies and tax breaks for families with children. On the environmental side of things, his government pledged to meet its own Kyoto Accord targets after the federal government opted out of the Accord, and he would establish the Sustainable Development Act, which gave every person the right to live in a healthy environment in which biodiversity is preserved.
On Nov. 15, 2005, Andre Boisclair took over as the new leader of the Parti Quebecois, earning 53.7 per cent of the vote from party members. Bosclair had joined the Parti Quebecois as an 18-year-old in 1984, and was elected at the age of 23 in 1989, becoming the youngest member of the Legislature in Quebec history at the time. He would serve as a minister from 1998 to 2003, during which time his chief of staff had been found to be embezzling money to feed his cocaine habit. Boisclair was cleared of any wrong doing but he would admit in 2005 to having done cocaine between 1996 and 2003. Upon his election as leader of the Parti Quebecois, he became the first openly gay politician in Canadian history to win the leadership of a party with legislative representation.
Mario Dumont continued to lead the Action Democratique, the only leader the party had ever known. He was also greatly raising his profile in the province of Quebec and many were expecting big things from him in the 2007 election. Macleans wrote in March 2007,
“Denis Lessard wrote in La Presse that Dumont floated into the 2003 campaign in a hot-air balloon with nowhere to go but down, but that he has surfaced off the coast of the 2007 campaign in a submarine. Nobody saw him coming. Nobody knows how much damage his salvos will do to those two old fortresses, the Liberal Party under Jean Charest and the Parti Quebecois under Andre Boisclair.”
Through the election, Charest campaigned on finding a solution to the problem of fiscal imbalance between the federal government and Quebec, through negotiations with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Boisclair, staying true to the mandate of the Parti Quebecois, pledged that the party would hold a referendum on the issue of Quebec independence as soon as possible if the party won the election. Only months earlier in November 2006, Quebec had been recognized by the government as a distinct society within a unified Canada, which had brought the topic of independence back into the focus for the province once again. He would launch his campaign under the banner of Let’s Rebuild Our Quebec, and the party was only five per cent behind the Liberals in early polling.
It was said of Boisclair at the start of the election campaign,
“Quebecers don’t seem curious to know. He was so young and urban and polished when he replaced Bernard Landry, who was none of those things. Now Boisclair’s youth and polish and, above all, his urbanity, he has spent his life in Montreal, a city other Quebeckers find baffling, may ruin him. His platform is as radical a plan for secession as any PQ leader’s, but it replaces the word referendum with a marshmallow phrase ‘popular consultation.’”
Education became a key part of Boisclair’s campaign, and he would support home ownership initiatives for young families. Early in the campaign, radio talk show host Louis Champagne made homophobic remarks while interviewing a Parti Quebecois candidate, asking him if the party was led by a gay man, and also had another openly gay candidate, would voters see it as a club of, and I am not going to repeat the word but it begins with f.
Champagne would be suspended for the remarks for one week.
One of the biggest issues of the election was multiculturalism and the debate over reasonable accommodation towards cultural minorities. Charest and Boisclair would not take much of an issue on the topic, likely out of a worry about alienating voters, but Mario Dumont took a position stating that the majority had to protect some elements of the national identity and values, including gender equality, and that there should be a Quebec constitution that would clarify the privileges of the minorities of Quebec.
The leaders debate would be seen as a draw between the leaders, but Boisclair was seen as the most aggressive person in the debate as he kept attacking Dumont over the financial model of his political platform.
In the last week of the campaign, Charest promised $700 million in tax cuts and a reduction of wait times in hospitals. He also pledged to increase French courses at schools, but also increase tuition fees for students, which was met with criticism.
Overall, the election would be seen as a series of missteps for the parties. It was said,
“Halfway into the campaign, increasingly disgruntled voters have been treated to a vaudeville that has spiraled down into a trivial exercise in gotcha politics, a campaign that has alternated between just plain weird and outright surreal, and has ended up embarrassing or offending many.”
Some of the odd stories out of the election included an Action democratique candidate going on a Florida vacation a few days after the election campaign began. That candidate did not win their seat.
The small party of Quebec Solidaire would field two candidates in one riding, which was a violation of election laws but no one cared because neither was expected to win.
A Liberal candidate said healthy people didn’t need a family doctor, so there was no doctor shortage. Another Liberal candidate said that the claim by his party leader, Jean Charest, was false about health care. He would say that the party’s health care record was not as good as Charest stated.
A Parti Quebecois candidate wrote a book several years earlier where he stated that the Rwanda Genocide was not a genocide.
In the March 26, 2007 election, Jean Charest and the Liberals lost 28 seats and 12 per cent of the popular vote, falling to 48 seats but remaining as the first party in the Legislature. The 33 per cent of the popular vote was the lowest share of the vote for the Liberals since Confederation.
Charest said in his election speech,
“This new assembly will test our political maturity and our sense of duty. The three parties must strive to work together as we have a common responsibility to defend the interests of Quebec.”
The minority government won by Charest was the first minority government seen in Quebec since 1878, when Charles Boucher de Boucherville was premier. His 48 seats to win the election was the lowest seen for a ruling party in Quebec since the Union Nationale won 48 seats in 1944.
The Parti Quebecois lost nine seats to finish with 36 and fell to be the third party in the Legislature. This was the first time that the party was relegated to third party status or lower since the 1970 election. Its 28.35 per cent of the popular vote was its lowest share since the 1970s, and the second lowest ever for the party. Each of the parties actually had about 30 per cent of the vote, the closest three-way split in votes in Quebec election history to that point.
Boisclair said in his speech,
“You must realize that a few seats separate us from power, a few thousand votes, but tonight democracy has spoken. Quebecers want change and humbly we must accept this.”
On March 26, 2007, Boisclair resigned as the leader of the Parti Quebecois and he would resign his seat on Nov. 15, 2007. On May 28, 2020, Boisclair was charged with two counts of sexual assault from an incident dating to 2014. He would plead guilty to being a party to a sexual assault on June 20, 2022. On July 18, 2022, he was sentenced to two years less a day in a provincial jail.
Mario Dumont and Action Democratique had its breakthrough at this point, gaining 37 seats, being the only party to gain seats, finishing with 41 seats. The party would now, for the first time in its history, become the Official Opposition. The party also gained 12 per cent more of the popular vote.
Dumont would say,
“This vote expresses a powerful desire for change, for a government that does less politics and focuses more energy on taking care of people’s everyday lives. One by one, Quebecers went to polling stations to write a page in a history book, they closed one chapter and opened another.”
As the year 2008 was drawing to a close, Jean Charest launched a new election campaign and hoped to do something that had not been accomplished by a Liberal government in Quebec since the Liberal dynasty that ruled Quebec during the first three decades of the 20th century, win three elections in a row.
It had only just over one year since the last election when Charest barely won the election and the Action democratique had stormed ahead to become the Official Opposition.
Charest would launch the campaign on Nov. 5, stating he needed a clear mandate and a majority government in order to deal with The Great Recession that was beginning to take hold in the world. The Parti Quebecois and Action Democratique both criticized him for calling an election, saying they were willing to work with him to fix the economy.
Within Quebec at the time, Charest continued to be relatively unpopular, polling at less than 50 per cent in most polls, and even reaching the low 20 per cent range in some cases. By the time the year was drawing to a close though, his popularity was beginning to rise.
Mario Dumont and Action Democratique had served as the Official Opposition, and he had dealt with two of his MNAs crossing the floor to join the Liberal Party, which caused him embarrassment. It was hoped by the party that they would gain ground after their breakthrough in the last election. Dumont would go through a confidence vote in March of 2008, winning with 94.8 per cent.
Leading the Parti Quebecois was Pauline Marois, someone who had a very long history within the party. She was first elected in the 1981 provincial election, while seven months pregnant, due to encouragement from her husband and Rene Levesque. She would become one of only eight women elected that year. Less than two weeks after she was elected, she gave birth to her second child. She was then appointed as the Minister for the Status of Women. In 1985, she would enter the leadership race and finished second with 19.7 per cent of the vote. She would serve in opposition and then in 1994 she became the only politician in Quebec history to hold the finance, education and health portfolios, giving her the title of Minister of Everything. By 2003, she had occupied 15 different ministries. That same year she ran a second time to become the leader of the party but would once again finish second, this time with 30.6 per cent. She then retired from the legislature in 2006. Then, on May 11, 2007, she ran for a third time to become leader and this time was acclaimed to become the leader and she would return to the Legislature on Sept. 24, 2007. With her win, she became the first woman in Quebec history to lead a major party.
Another party, Quebec Solidaire, was led by two people who served as spokespeople, Francoise David and Amir Khadir.
Marois would launch her campaign promising a five year plan and a $2 billion surplus in her fifth year in office. She would say,
“Mr. Charest has no economic vision.”
The party would promise several things, including putting $400 million into its one child, one place, plan to add 30,000 daycare places and put $400 million over five years into post-secondary education and $100 million for home care for seniors.
Marois would have to deal with some bad press when on Nov. 9, a nomination meeting for the Parti Quebecois devolved into a brawl between opponents, forcing a dozen police officers to show up to restore order. One person was shoved so hard they fell to the ground. This brawl could not have come at a worse time as it was the same day that the party released its election platform. Marois said,
“I blame those who committed them. I feel bad that things happened this way.”
Charest would primarily focus on Dumont at first, accusing him of fear mongering in trying to frighten Quebec seniors into worrying about the health of their pension plan. He would say,
“I’m calling out Dumont to stop scaring seniors. What he did today was totally odious. It should be denounced by anyone who wants a campaign based on substance and ideas and want to defend the economy and interests of Quebec.”
Charest would also state that his party was the only one that could deal with the financial crisis, saying
“We can’t have one foot on the brake, one on the accelerator.”
In the televised debate between the three main party leaders, it was felt that Marois had won the debate. She was considered the most aggressive in her questions, accusing Charest on several occasions of hiding the truth from citizens about the financial situation of the province. While she was considered the winner, most experts felt that the debate did little to convince anyone to change their vote as there too many personal attacks and not enough ideas and content.
Two weeks before the election, the Liberals led in the polls with 44 per cent support, while the Parti Quebecois was at 36 per cent. Action Democratique was not doing well, sitting at only 12 per cent. Charest was also seen by voters as the best leader with 47 per cent of the vote, although Marois was only four percentage points behind.
As the election campaign drew to a close, a parliamentary confidence dispute in the House of Commons became an election issue. The Bloc Quebecois pledged to support the Liberal-NDP coalition on motions of confidence, and both Marois and Dumont asked for Charest to clarify where he stood on the coalition. Charest stated that the Bloc MPs were elected by Quebecers, adding,
“I live in a society in which people can be sovereigntists or federalists, but they respect each other. The same thing should prevail in the federal parliament.”
In the Dec. 8, 2008 election, Jean Charest and the Liberals gained their majority government. The party gained 18 seats, finishing with 66 seats. With the win, the Liberals won their first third consecutive mandate since the 1930s. The party had 42 per cent of the popular vote with that election win. This was also the first time since the days of Maurice Duplessis that a party had won three elections in a row.
Charest would say,
“In this period of economic uncertainty, many Quebecers recognized the necessity for a stable government. Quebec, like the rest of the world, is facing a serious economic challenge. This is the time for strong, serious and determined leadership.”
Macleans would write,
“The fact Quebec Liberal Leader Jean Charest won a majority in this week’s provincial election further suggests Quebecers are in the mood for stability over sovereignty.”
The Parti Quebecois would regain its role as the Official Opposition, finishing with 51 seats thanks to a gain of 15 seats. They also had 35 per cent of the vote. Marois would say to 500 cheering supporters,
“The PQ is back. The PQ is a big party. It is a party that has got its punch back. We are going to continue in Rene Levesque’s footsteps. There will be a sovereigntist party in the National Assembly for as long as it is not done.”
After breaking through the previous year, the Action Democratique lost 34 seats to finish with only seven, and once again was the third party in the Legislature. Dumont would pledge to step down from the party he had co-founded 15 years previous. He would say,
“I accept, before Quebecers and our defeated candidates, all my responsibility for the defeat. You won’t be surprised to hear that I won’t be leading my party during the next general election in Quebec. I’ve loved what I’ve done, but the time has come to turn the page.”
As for Quebec Solidaire, Francoise David won the only seat for the party, and the only time to date that the party has won a seat in the Legislature.
With three straight mandates, Jean Charest had done something no other Quebec premier had done since the days of Maurice Duplessis in the 1940s and 1950s. His snap election had helped him gain his majority, and for the past four years he had worked to bring several changes into Quebec.
He had launched Plan Nord in an effort to bring together consensus on environmental, social and economic growth and how those areas related to stability. His government also set ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets and an action plan for electric vehicles. While he was premier, the province was granted representation at UNESCO, the cultural branch of the United Nations. He would raise tuition fees in all Quebec universities in 2011, resulting in a massive student strike in several cities across Quebec. On May 4, 2012, the Liberal Party held a conference and a student demonstration had to be suppressed by the police. Then, his government passed Bill 78, which was an emergency law passed on March 18, 2012 to deal with the student protests. This restricted the protesting and picketing on, or near university grounds. It defined a protest as consisting of more than 50 people. This bill was highly unpopular and many saw it as limiting the rights of people to protest legally. The Quebec Human Rights Coalition, as well as the United Nations, both condemned the legislation.
The Parti Quebecois was still led by Pauline Marois, who had helped the party return to the Official Opposition. For the previous four years, she and her caucus had attacked the Liberal government over corruption and illegal political financing relating to municipal contracts. At one point, her entire caucus would wear white scarves to demand an inquiry, which eventually forced the government to set up the Charbonneau Commission. This commission found a pattern of illegal payments going back decades for all the parties.
In April 2011, she would gain 93.6 per cent of the vote in a leadership review but only a month later a confidence crisis over a private bill the party introduced to replace the Quebec City arena with a new multipurpose amphitheater caused a revolt in her party due to her insistence on holding the party line. This would lead to the resignation of four members of her caucus.
After Mario Dumont had left as leader of the Action Democratique party, a new party emerged from the ashes of that party. The Coalition Avenir Quebec, or CAQ, was founded by former Parti Quebecois cabinet minister Francois Legault and businessman Charles Sirois. The party stated that its goal would never be to endorse a referendum on sovereignty, but it would seek more autonomy for the province when necessary. Soon after, nine MNAs who were with the Parti Quebecois and Action Democratique left the party. In January 2012, the Action Democratique merged with the party. Francois Legault would lead the party into the next election.
Two other parties, Quebec Solidaire and Option Nationale would both run in the election but neither had official party status in the legislature and both only had one seat at the time of the election.
At the start of the election, the support for the Liberal Party had fallen 10 per cent since the 2008 election, finishing at 31.2 per cent in opinion polls. In contrast, CAQ was at 27.1 per cent and the Parti Quebecois was at 31.9 per cent.
The Liberal Party would focus its campaign on respect for the law and civil order, which was in direct reference to the student protests that had occurred over the previous months. The party would claim that it was the party of the silent majority who did not support the protest movement.
This election saw a one-on-one debate between Charest and Marois, with the main topic being the tuition dispute. Charest would ask Marois if she was against the tuition hike, and she stated she was. She added that her government would call a summit with students and propose indexing tuition increases to the rate of inflation. Charest would respond,
“I will not bend to the street like you do. Sometimes, governments need to make difficult decisions…Otherwise, Quebec becomes ungovernable.”
Marois would state that Charest was dividing Quebecers with his actions on the strike.
In the federal election earlier in 2011, the NDP had swept the province and pushed the Bloc Quebecois to only four seats. There were many questions of how this would impact the Parti Quebecois and the topic of separatist parties. Marois would promise to create a new sovereignty committee. She stated,
“I will call a referendum when I have the assurance a majority of Quebecers want one.”
Charest stated this was an example of how the Parti Quebecois was disconnected from reality.
“What we need is stability. What we don’t need are divisions and categories of Quebecers.”
Many analysts had a hard time predicting the election result, calling it the most unpredictable election in history. Both the Liberals and Parti Quebecois were neck-and-neck leading up to election day. There was even some speculation that the Liberals could finish third in the election, which would be the first time that would have ever happened.
In the Sept. 4, 2012 election, Jean Charest would lose his own seat in the Legislature, which he had held since 1984 both in the provincial legislature and in Parliament. His Liberal Party would lose 14 seats to finish with 50. This put the party back into the role of Official Opposition after three mandates leading the province.
Charest would announce he was resigning as the leader of the party on Sept. 5.
“I announce my departure without any regrets. We are blessed to have been born in this country, to share its wealth and to have each other. There is no other place where I would want to be.”
The Parti Quebecois would rise seven seats to finish with 54, which gave it enough seats to lead the province albeit with a minority government. This was the third minority government in Quebec’s history, and the second since 2007. With her election as premier, Pauline Marois became the first female premier in the history of Quebec.
She would say,
“Even as a minority, I intend to get results for Quebecers.”
She also promised to act quickly on her promises of scrapping Bill 78.
Marois victory speech would be marred when the Montreal shooting occurred outside the concert hall where her victory event was held. She was partway through the speech when Richard Henry Bain, in an attempt to kill her and as many separatists as possible, approached the building and began to fire a semi-automatic rifle, killing one person and injuring two others. His rifle jammed and he then lit a fire in the back of the building before he was tackled by Montreal police. In 2016, he was convicted of second degree murder and three counts of attempted murder. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Marois was quickly taken from the stage by her bodyguards. She returned after Bain was apprehended to calm the crowd and ask everyone to leave quietly.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper would state that there was no place for such violence in Canada. Tom Mulcair, the leader of the federal NDP stated that his thoughts were with the family of those who were shot.
In the funeral of Denis Blanchette, the man killed in the attack, former premier Bernard Landry and Marois were both in attendance.
The CAQ would bounce back from its 2008 election failure and regained 10 seats to finish with 19. This gave the party the balance of power in the Legislature as the Parti Quebecois needed its support in order to stay in power.
For the next two elections, since they are so recent, I will gloss over both with not as much detail as I have had for previous elections. I did the same during my Ontario elections series.
Over the previous two years in power, with a minority government, the Parti Quebecois and Pauline Marois began their mandate by cancelling many of the decisions made by the Charest government. This included Bill 78, a loan guarantee to restart an asbestos mine and the abandonment of the Gentilly-2 Nuclear Generating Station refurbishment project. Marois would also begin an agenda that was designed to promote sovereigntist governance in Quebec, while also returning the province to balanced budgets through taxes and debt reduction. She would also pledge to increase the use of French in public services, and address resource development in Northern Quebec. The 2013-14 budget by the party implemented higher taxes on alcohol and tobacco, but kept the $200 health tax from the 2010 budget.
By 2013, the Parti Quebecois was suffering in the polls, falling to only 25 per cent by July 2013, while the Liberals rose in the polls to 35 per cent at that same point. The party would rebound to a high of 40 per cent in February 2014, just before the campaign, but the Liberals were close behind at 35 per cent.
With Jean Charest out, the Liberals were now led by Phillipe Couillard, who had served in the Legislature since 2003. A popular minister when he had the health portfolio, he would increase the health budget of Quebec by $4.2 billion, and prohibit smoking in public spaces. In 2008, he resigned from the Legislature, but that would not be the end of his political career. He would win the leadership election for the party on March 17, 2013, beating out two ex-cabinet ministers.
The CAQ was still led by Francois Legault, who would try to build off the rebound the party had in 2012 election. Quebec Solidaire continued to have two spokespeople rather than a leader, with Francois David and Andres Fontecilla running.
At the start of the election campaign, while polls were close, the Parti Quebecois had a wide lead when it came to Francophone voters. Couillard focused his campaign on healthcare, jobs and education and he would criticize the handling of the economy by Marois, stating she was causing Quebec to live beyond its means.
As the election campaign went on, the polls started to favour the Liberals and the Parti Quebecois started to sink in the polls. This was aided by the strong debate performance of Couillard, although his second debate performance was seen as inferior to his first one.
One of the reasons for the sudden drop for the Parti Quebecois, was the announcement of Pierre Karl Peladeau, the president and CEO of Quebecor, as a candidate. His anti-union business background was widely criticized as being at odds with the party itself. He was also outspoken about having a third referendum on sovereignty.
Only a few weeks before election day, Marois was accused of antisemitism when one of her candidates stated that the Jewish practice of circumcision to sexual assault and claimed that kosher food prices were kept high to fund religious activities abroad. She would defend the candidate, while denying there was antisemitism in the party.
In the April 7, 2014, the Liberals gained 21 seats to finish with 70 and returned to power once again. They also picked up over 10 per cent more of the popular vote. With the election win, the Liberals were returned to power after only two years as Leaders of the Official Opposition.
As for the Parti Quebecois, they lost 24 seats, finishing with 30 but still good enough to serve in the Official Opposition. The 30 seats was the lowest seat total the party had seen since 1989, and its share of the popular vote, 25 per cent, was the lowest since the party’s first election run in 1970. The two years in power was also the shortest stay in power for any Quebec government since Confederation. It was also the first single-term government since the Union Nationale government of 1966 to 1970. Marois also lost her bid for re-election in her riding. Not surprisingly, she resigned as leader of the party on election day.
The CAQ would lose four per cent of the popular vote, but earned four more seats in the election to finish with 22, just behind the Liberals for third party in the Legislature.
As for Quebec Solidaire, the party earned one more seat to finish with three but Andres Fontecilla lost in his riding, while Francoise David was re-elected.
We have reached the last election our series, the most recent election before the current one being held right now in Quebec. This episode actually releases on election day, so we will see how that plays out.
Over the previous four years, Phillippe Couillard had worked to deal with the $6 billion budget deficit. His party was able to balance the budget within one year, through budget cuts and the raising of taxes. In each year that he was premier, the government had balanced budgets but those came at the expense of education and healthcare, which greatly hurt his popularity in the province.
As premier, Couillard also removed various protections on preserved areas, while also allowing logging on caribou land. In October 2017, his government also passed Bill 62, which banned face coverings. This law gained international attention as it required Muslim women to ban their religious garments to uncover their faces in order to access public services. Couillard would say of it,
“We are in a free and democratic society. You speak to me, I should see your face, and you should see mine. It is as simple as that.”
The party had sat at 41 per cent in the polls after the 2014 election but that would slowly erode over the course of the next four years until it hit below 30 per cent by the time the election campaign rolled around.
The Parti Quebecois was now led by Jean-Francois Lisee, who had first been elected to the Legislature in 2012. Prior to that, he had been a special advisor to both Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard during their time as premiers of Quebec.
In May 2016, he entered the leadership race, stating he would not campaign for sovereignty in his first mandate if he was premier. On Oct. 7, 2016, he was elected as the new leader of the party with 50.6 per cent of the vote in the second round. His leadership campaign was not without controversy when he said he would ban Muslim veils in public places and that Muslim women could hide machine guns under their burkas. Later, in 2018, he stated he wanted to build a fence near the Quebec-New York border crossing to stop asylum seekers from crossing over.
Francois Legault continued to lead the CAQ as the party was slowly making gains in the province and by the election campaign started, was polling better than the Parti Quebecois.
The Quebec Solidaire party was led by Manon Masse now, who was listed as the party’s candidate for premier.
In the Oct. 1, 2018 election, the entire political landscape of Quebec was turned on its head.
The Liberal party lost 37 seats, falling to 31 seats and becoming the Official Opposition once again. This was the worst defeat for the Liberal Party since the 1976 election. The party would win 19 out of 27 seats in Montreal, but it won only seven seats in the rest of the province. The party also lost 16 per cent of the popular vote. Three days after the election, Couillard resigned as the leader of the party.
With the election loss, this was the first time in the history of Quebec that two governments in a row had only served one term.
The Parti Quebecois would also suffer a major collapse, losing 18 seats to finish with only 10. It was the worst showing in an election for the party in 45 years, and with Lisee losing his seat in the election, it was the second time in a row that the party leader had been unseated. The party was no longer an official party in the Legislature, and it was shut out of Montreal for the first time in decades. With the terrible showing, many questioned if the party would survive and if it even remained relevant in the changing political landscape of the province.
As for the CAQ, after decades of trying to break through, the party won 74 seats, a rise of 53 seats. At the same time, the party picked up 14 per cent more of the popular vote. That election win was the first time since 1966 that neither the Liberals or the Parti Quebecois would be leading the province of Quebec. The CAQ was able to take seats from the Parti Quebecois, that they had held for decades. The 37.4 per cent of the vote share by the party was the lowest of a majority government in the history of Quebec.
Quebec Solidaire also did well, winning an extra seven seats to finish with 10, the same amount as the Parti Quebecois. With that, the party was listed as the third party in the Legislature for the first time in its history.
By the time of the 2022 election, only Legault would remain as the leader of a party from the 2018 election. The Liberals were now led by a woman for the first time in its history, Dominque Anglade. She is also the first Black woman to lead a provincial party in Quebec and the first person of Haitian descent to be a cabinet minister. The Quebec Solidaire was led by Gabriel Nadeau Dubois, who played a major role in the 2012 Quebec student protests. The Parti Quebecois is now led by Paul St. Pierre Plamandon, and a new party, currently with one seat in the Legislature, the Conservative Party of Quebec, is led by Eric Duhaime.
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