Tonight I had the chance to listen to the inaugural speech of Québec's new premier, Pauline Marois. I heard it while I was in transit to Ottawa from Montréal, and it got me reflecting on the realities of Québecois politics, and why I'm proud to be a new resident of the province.
Marois, the province's first female leader, was elected in September. The party won only four more seats than the incumbent Liberals, ending nearly a decade of Jean Charest's continuous rule. Numerous scandals of 2012, notably the Charbonneau Commission investigating corruption, and the Printemps d'Erable student strikes, contributed to the waning popularity of the conservative and federalist Parti Liberal du Québec (PLQ).
The Parti Québecois (PQ) was widely expected to win the election, and they managed to win a minority mandate. Parliament first sat yesterday, and the inaugural speech (the equivalent of the throne speech) was this afternoon. In her hour-long address, she articulated the four planks upon which the government will stand, which will be explained below.
First, Marois committed her government to move toward eliminating corruption. She specified that corruption "not a Québec phenomenon", and that there needs to be a greater emphasis on getting money out of politics, evoking Réné Levesque as an inspiration. Montreal is currently at the centre of a massive corruption scandal, but it's important that the reach of money into politics is a significant problem in many other jurisdictions such as Ontario (with e-health and Ornge) and the United States (with its Super PACs).
Second, the PQ will focus on building the economy. Where the previous government introduced neoliberal reform in order to produce growth, the PQ is investing in making sure that economic activity is incremental, environmentally sustainable, and that it benefits the province as a whole. Potential reforms to taxes and financial regulations were hinted at, but the major thrust is investing in local economies rather than pursuing large international trade deals.
Third, the government wants to foster a better sense of solidarity. This is to be achieved in numerous ways, most notably through the expansion and defense of Québec's large social welfare state. Marois specifically discussed expanding access to the existing universal daycare programme, bettering school environments, offering in-home care, and hiring more physicians. These measures are designed to make sure that all generations of Québecers are being taken care of, and that everyone can participate in society. This was paired with a very strong rhetoric on the liberation of women, achieved by allowing the state to further encroach into the domestic sphere for care of children and the elderly.
Fourth, the PQ will continue to protect Québec's language identity. Obviously this is by far the most controversial item, but it is a solid principle nonetheless. Talk of separation was left out in favour of discussing the importance of fostering a strong Québec based around the French language as the tie that binds.
All told, there are some significant problems with Marois' speech. For one, it is entirely unclear how she intends to actually finance these proposed changes. The expansion of the social welfare state is indeed an excellent idea, but on a practical level, there was no indication from the premier about changes to income taxes, for example. Moreover, Marois was certainly playing politics regarding the anti-corruption plank. This was the policy position taken by the Coalition Avenir Québec, and now that there is a commission pointing out just how involved senior politicians in the province were, Marois is capitalising on the disdain coming from ordinary residents.
But with that in mind, Québec's political direction is one that I feel pretty proud of and that I can certainly support. Marois hit on some very important issues from my perspective, namely: resisting cultural hegemony through protection of the French language, propping up the social welfare state, emphasising the idea that all Québecers are important to the future of the province, and supporting green initiatives in order to protect the natural beauty of Québec.