After the recent tribulations that threatened to tear it apart, the Parti Québécois put on a convincing show of unity at its national council meeting last weekend.
It would appear the party’s most active elements, the National Assembly members and riding-association executives who attend these periodic gatherings, have come to see the wisdom of Ben Franklin’s dictum that if they don’t hang together, they’ll hang one by one.
It also appears that Pauline Marois is solidly entrenched as party leader and will probably take the PQ into the next election. She has been credited with showing unwavering fortitude during her recent trials, which included defections from the PQ caucus and open dissent in the party ranks.
But the strengthening of Marois’s position is in larger part due to the absence of credible alternatives, now that Gilles Duceppe has been taken out of the picture by allegations of financial abuses while he was leader of the Bloc Québécois. Marois remains a distant third in voter preference for premier, and while some might sympathize with her for the hazing to which she has been subjected, feeling sorry for someone is no good reason to favour her for high office.
The PQ likes to posture as a party of ideas, and the weekend meeting was devoted to cranking up new ones under the slogan “Let’s change politics.” But it seems that for every good idea the party comes up with, it manages to haul out a clunker. That tendency was on stellar display last weekend.
One good idea was the proposal that MNAs who switch parties in mid-mandate should have to resign and run for election under their newly adopted colours. This was undoubtedly prompted by the recent defection of three sitting PQ members to the upstart Coalition Avenir Québec, and leads one to wonder whether the idea would have come up if the switcher traffic had been toward the PQ rather than the other way.
Others included establishing the office of National Assembly budget officer and the setting of fixed election dates. Neither, however, is exactly original. The former is borrowed from federal governance, and the fixed-election idea apes innovations on the national level and in two other provinces, Ontario and British Columbia.
On the downside, delegates approved the establishment of a chamber of the regions (a sort of provincial Senate, albeit elected), lowering the voting age to 16, and allowing for citizen-initiated referendums.
Quebec is already the most over-governed province in the country, and the addition of another chamber at the National Assembly would not only be a huge expense, but would needlessly complicate the legislative function of governance. As for the voting-age proposal, it suggests a flailing desperation on the PQ’s part : seeking salvation in trolling for the child vote.
Allowing citizen-driven referendums also is hardly a novel idea, but in the PQ’s case it is a notably half-baked one. While the proposal was adopted, it included no details on such vital considerations as how many people would have to petition for such a referendum to be held, and whether the referendum results would be binding on the government.
Such referendums have been held in other jurisdictions, and their detrimental side has been demonstrated.
They have the potential to override minority rights : in Switzerland, such a referendum supported a ban on the construction of minarets on mosques.
They can sap the power of elected governments to make necessary hard decisions : voters in British Columbia rejected the sensible harmonization of federal and provincial sales tax ; and in California, successive citizen referendums have defeated tax increases that are desperately needed to fund public services.
Marois, who struggled to answer questions on the referendum initiative, said at one point that she has “confidence in public wisdom.”
If that is the case, she should heed the overwhelming public wisdom expressed in poll after poll – that the PQ’s biggest idea, separating from Canada, is a bad idea – and stop pushing for yet another sovereignty referendum.