Baby’s First Quebec Election

by Jonathan Sterne on September 6, 2012

This comes a little late but sobeit.  Tuesday we voted for the first time as Canadian citizens.  We’d registered a couple weeks back, and the volunteers there assumed that as Americans we would expect fancy electronic machines.  They warned us, “it’s very old fashioned.”  And it was: we arrive at the polling place (a short two block walk from our home).  We stood in line for a few minutes, as there were about 10 stations spread around a room.  Each station had two or three people checking ID and handling ballots.  They checked my ID, gave me a ballot and a pencil.  Then I went behind a cardboard screen and marked it with the pencil.  There was a single choice on it: which representative of which party I wanted as my MNA.  Then I folded the ballot, tore off a receipt, and dropped the ballot in the box and handed the receipt to one of the women at my table.  It was very old fashioned, and it was the opposite of efficient or automated.  There were lots of people there and everything was done by hand.  Here’s the thing: sometimes democracy should be efficient. It was nice to walk into a room full of people making sure the electoral process happened right.

Tuesday night I listened to the results with one ear as I carved through the deluge of paperwork I’ve got these days (that’s the subject of another post).  It was actually quite exciting in our riding: liberals by 1 vote, then Parti Québécois by 15, back and forth until the liberal candidate took a firm lead late in the game.  But Quebec Solidaire, the left party, actually gave the PQ a run for their money, coming in third, but a close third.

By the time Pauline Marois was making her victory speech, I was done and watching, and yes we saw the SQ cops suddenly remove her from the stage and the insanity that followed.  The whole thing was very, well, American.

The next night I got home and got on Facebook and was blown away by the sniping back and forth.  I can’t believe people are blaming either her or Anglos for a crazy person with a gun, but I guess that’s a version of reductio ad hitlerium on the internet.

Yes the PQ won and yes they are, among other things, an ethnic nationalist party, and it’s not my ethnicity.  Yes, they are separatist, and yes some of their proposals sounded pretty bad.  But others are quite good. So I’m keeping an open mind for now.

Perhaps it’s my privilege of not having grown up Anglo Canadian and not having children in the English-language school system.  I also don’t have the emotional attachment to the separatism issue.  I realize it defines Quebec politics–and it’s a shame, since I think most people care a whole lot more about things like healthcare, education, and jobs.   At the same time, nationalism and language politics are much more complex questions than simply another referendum.   I’ve benefitted some from Bill 101 in the sense of the whole city being like flash cards.  I’ve learned a lot more French than I might have otherwise, and I didn’t know how much I knew until I went to Paris and found it relatively easy to get by (except for all my idiomatic expressions, which were many and useless).  And there are still legacies of Anglo entitlement here and elsewhere in Canada that have to be hard to take.  I don’t look forward to constitutional battles or another referendum (where I would certainly vote against Quebec becoming an independent country).

But I also haven’t appreciated the shrill tone of the mainstream English-language press, which is every bit as much “us vs. them” as they claim the PQ to be, and sometimes moreso. They are just as much the problem as the people at whom they point their fingers.  I joked that as an American voting for the first time as a Canadian, I had lots of practice holding my nose at the ballot box, and in the end, I did as there was no perfect choice.  But that’s organized politics.  For my part, I just hope that the election did not fully co-opt the student movement, and that perhaps other vital social goods like healthcare will be added to the agenda of things for which Quebeckers take a stand in the coming weeks, months and years.

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