The past, present, and future of Québec – updated to 2022 (Part Eleven)
By Mark Wegierski
It is possible to perceive that (at least until 2006) the federal government – despite occasional Conservative electoral victories – was effectively “owned by” the Liberal Party. After 1968, this was, it must also be remembered, the Trudeau and post-Trudeau Liberal Party, and emphatically not the Liberal Party of (for example) Mackenzie King.
However, in the October 2015 federal election the Conservatives decisively lost their majority. The Liberals under Justin Trudeau came roaring back to power, and they were so confident, that it almost seemed like they had never lost office. In the October 2019 federal election, the Liberals managed to hang on to a strong minority government – which was mostly supported by the New Democratic Party (NDP), which is even further to the left. Also, the Bloc Quebecois was able to stage a comeback in the October 2019 election, winning 32 seats in Quebec. In the 2021 federal election, the Liberals once again won a strong minority government, while the Bloc Quebecois again won 32 seats in Quebec.
The Conservative Party under Stephen Harper, it could be argued, had made strenuous efforts to be “ultra-moderate.” When Canada arrived at the stage where Stephen Harper finally won a majority government in 2011, the so-called “promised land” Canadians had arrived in appeared to be nothing spectacular. Because of all the massive social and cultural transformations in Canada since the 1960s – many of them carried out by the federal Liberal Party -- it appears that the combined percentage of Liberal and NDP votes will always be significantly larger than the Conservative vote. However, under the “first-past-the-post” system (with three main parties), a very strong majority can usually be won with about 40% of the vote. The said to be enormously popular Jean Chretien, won decisive majorities with about that percentage in 1993, 1997, and 2000.
In the 1990s, when Ontario elected virtually 100% Liberals federally, the province also had (after 1995) a Progressive Conservative government that was more discernibly right-leaning than the Liberal government in Ottawa. However, as the social and cultural transformations in Ontario have continued, even the “ultra-moderates” like John Tory have been hard pressed to make any inroads in Toronto and other highly urban areas. For example, in a by-election on September 6, 2012, the Progressive Conservatives were routed in a riding (Kitchener-Waterloo) that they had held for 22 years. (The NDP won that riding, and the Liberals were in second place.) During the 1950s and earlier, Toronto was considered so conservative and British-focussed, it was nicknamed “Tory Toronto.” In the June 12, 2014 provincial election, the Liberals, led by Kathleen Wynne, won 58 seats; the Progressive Conservatives, 28; and the NDP, 21. Territorially, however, the Liberals were concentrated almost entirely in the Greater Toronto Area, and Ottawa – virtually all of their seats were urban or suburban. In 2018, the Progressive Conservatives under Doug Ford, were able to win a strong majority, including seats in Toronto and the GTA. However, they had in 2019 become highly unpopular, because of the perception of severe cuts. Indeed, the inability of the federal Conservatives to win in Toronto and the GTA in the October 2019 election, was partially blamed on Doug Ford’s cuts. However, it cannot be denied that Doug Ford did a huge pivot in policy, as the Covid crisis hit. Doug Ford was able to win a majority government in the Ontario provincial election of 2022, mostly by promising extensive spending, and by courting working-class voters.
What is the essence of so-called "Canadian nationalism" today? (Actually, this term, which was once used enthusiastically by the Canadian Left, is somewhat less frequently mentioned today.) It is typically expressed through such institutions as "our vaunted social programs", “free healthcare”, multiculturalism, as well as the state-funded "cultural industries." It could be argued that most of these so-called “cultural industries” – as far as the putatively Canadian element in them goes -- have virtually no authentic existence outside of a few narrow Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, and Ottawa “arts cliques.” Indeed, large sectors of the general public are either indifferent or openly hostile to most current-day products of the “official” Canadian culture. Having deliberately cut itself off from its traditional roots, such a culture can exist only through massive state-subsidies.
The possibility of regionalization could be a clarion call towards the re-discovery of more authentic roots, and the curtailing of what could be seen as an almost entirely artificial system. This system might, indeed, be seen as giving rise to various syndromes of a failed culture. Regionalization might constitute a move towards general cultural and social renewal in this northern half of North America.
Perhaps it is possible that Quebec, which has frequently been such a hugely problematic presence in Canadian Confederation, might in some circumstances give rise to a set of events, where it could point all of Canada towards a better path for the future.
Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.