The Future of the Parti Québécois

By Sabine Tessono

The Parti Québécois is described as a provincial political party created in 1968 that supports “the independence of Quebec...[while] maintaining a loose political and economic sovereignty association between Quebec and Canada.” While its true impact upon the province wasn’t realized until its rise to power in a 1976 election, (thanks to party leader Rene Levesque’s efforts), its goal of creating more advocacies for francophone speakers, more pride for Quebec citizens, and a determination to separate from the overarching Canadian federal system ultimately left a lasting influence on the territory. However, in recent years, there has been a noticeable decline in the party’s support, to the point where marginalization within the province’s government seems to be imminent. Such a role reversal raises one question: Is independence from Canada what Quebec citizens truly want?

In order to answer this, we must first look at reasoning behind supporting the party. Quebec is unique not only to Canada, but to the entirety of North America due to the fact that 80% of its population speaks French. Compared to other regions of Canada, which contain mostly English speakers, citizens of Quebec have been able to develop a special sense of francophone culture that has lasted for centuries. However, with such a strong sense of identity comes with downfalls. The nationalistic pride that the people of Quebec have cultivated ultimately caused a sense of tension between the anglophones and francophones, and a power struggle between the provincial and the overarching federal government. Such difficulties between the two groups are certainly a contributing factor to desire secession and back the Parti Québécois. If that is the case however, why hasn’t there been a successful bid for independence and an increase in party support?

For starters, there have been several previous separation attempts. In 1980 and 1985, the party has called for referendums that have ended in crushing failure. While Parti Québécois leaders have tried time and time again to rouse the population in another bid for independence, recent polls have shown that only 31.9 percent of Quebec’s population still votes in favor of Parti Québécois’ separatist movement.  Perhaps the reasoning behind the voters’ shift in thinking also stems from the threat of economic instability and a lack of funds on the part of the party. Quebec’s economy represents approximately 20.36 percent of the GDP of Canada. If Quebec were to potentially secede from the rest of Canada, fiscal turmoil and reworking of trade deals would be a direct consequence of their decision, one that they would not be able to cover with their small reserves.

The generational shift in Quebec’s population, also plays a factor in the Parti Québécois’ loss of power. The party’s lengthy history of nationalistic pride and emphasis on the strength of francophone speakers did resonate with older voters who were around to witness the struggle between French and English speakers. However, while the party “got 36.5 per cent of the [baby] boomer vote, it received only 22.6 per cent of the ballots cast by members of Gen Y.” Yet, it’s not because younger voters are disillusioned with the idea of a quebecois identity, but due to the fact that the newer generations are more open-minded and willing to explore other options. Millennials within Quebec weren’t as focused with the issue of sovereignty, and tended to turn away from separatist policies that baby boomers, (and the party) were more likely to push.

Perhaps the issue here isn’t the fault of the voters, but the fault of the Parti Québécois. While their continual attempt to gain freedom for its citizens are admirable, the polls state that their ideas are becoming obsolete in an age more focused on connections with others. In order to survive, their ideas must shift with the times, or their future will remain bleakly uncertain.