Political Turmoil In Quebec: Leadership Challenges, Corruption Inquiry And New Parties Dominate Headlines

Jean Charest

The Huffington Post Canada   Eric Grenier Posted: 10/28/11 07:50 AM ET

National unity may not be a hot topic at the moment, but that does not mean Quebec has fallen off the political radar.

Leaders are being challenged, new parties are being formed and a corruption inquiry promises to dominate the headlines for the foreseeable future.

And with an election anywhere from one to two years away, Quebec's unpredictable political scene is unlikely to quiet down anytime soon.

Since Jean Charest was first elected premier in 2003, he has faced his fair share of challenges. But even his normally obedient party is beginning to get restless, and the premier was forced to relent to public pressure and call an inquiry into corruption in the construction industry last week.

After the relatively toothless probe was derided throughout Quebec, Charest pledged to broaden the commission's investigative powers if need be.

Though the inquiry isn't likely to release its final report until after the next provincial election, the damage may already be done by then. The Gomery Inquiry buried the federal Liberals in Quebec long before its final report was released in February 2006.

Luckily, the Conservative government handed Charest a useful distraction in the form of the long-gun registry. Scrapping the registry has always been unpopular in Quebec and the provincial government had already announced it intended to set up its own registry once the federal version had been ended. But news the federal government will be destroying its registry data has sent the Quebec Liberals to the barricades, pledging not to destroy what data they have in their possession and requesting the Conservatives hand over their registry data.

The Prime Minister has no ally in Jean Charest, who has rarely passed on an opportunity to go after the federal government when his own support has dropped. But none of the major national parties have allies in Quebec, further muddying the waters of Quebec-Canada relations.

No federalist party has a provincial counterpart in the province. The Quebec Liberals have long been separated from their federal counterparts, no provincial NDP exists and the ADQ has, at best, only friendly unofficial ties with the Conservatives. As Gerard Deltell's party has only four sitting members in the National Assembly, those ties are of little practical use.

Of course, the Parti Quebecois has always had an ally in Ottawa in the form of the Bloc Quebecois. But the PQ is going through its own troubles, with Pauline Marois promising to stay on as leader after quelling an internal revolt during a contentious three-hour caucus meeting on Wednesday. The provincial party is unlikely to get much help from the Bloc. Reduced to only four MPs, the three aspirants to take over from Gilles Duceppe do not have the profile needed to give either of the parties a much-needed boost. One has even promised to loosen the ties between the PQ and the Bloc.

The collapse of the Bloc in Quebec demonstrated that Quebecers were more than willing to make wholesale changes in their political allegiances. This has encouraged those who are planning to launch new parties in the province.

The most viable is that of former PQ minister Francois Legault, who's Coalition for the Future of Quebec (CAQ) is slated to sweep the province if a snap election is called. The CAQ, which should formally announce its creation as a political party on November 14, could attract a few of the independents currently sitting in the National Assembly, and may even lure a few MNAs from the established parties.

There are two sovereigntist movements which could become new parties of their own and there is even talk of a provincial NDP-like formation springing up before the next election. The left-wing, sovereigntist and draped in orange Quebec Solidaire is also hoping to cash-in on the NDP's newfound popularity.

With four parties currently represented in the National Assembly, the inclusion of four more parties to the ballot, in addition to the provincial Greens and the smattering of fringe parties in the province, would make for a very confused state of affairs when Quebecers are next asked to head to the polls.

Quebec's politics are in turmoil and there is no end in sight. Strap yourselves in.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls, and electoral projections.

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  • What does this new bill on the gun registry do?

    We keep hearing about scrapping the long-gun registry, but really what we're talking about is scrapping the requirement for people to register their rifles and shotguns - that's what Bill C-19 aims to do by making amendments to the Criminal Code and Firearms Act. Once passed, people will not have to register their non-restricted or non-prohibited firearms. It also provides for the destruction of existing records in the Canadian Firearms Registry for those firearms. <em>With files from CBC</em>

  • What exactly is the registry?

    It's a centralized database overseen by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that links firearms with their licensed owners. It contains information about all three types of guns that must be registered - non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. (All firearms must be registered.) To register a firearm, you have to have a licence to possess it.

  • Does the bill make any changes to licensing requirements?

    No. Canadian residents need a licence in order to possess and register a firearm or ammunition and that won't change. There are a couple of different kinds of licences because of various changes to laws and regulations over the years.

  • What are long guns?

    There are three types of guns under Canadian law: non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. Most common long guns - rifles and shotguns - are non-restricted but there are a few exceptions. A sawed-off shotgun, for example, is a prohibited firearm. A handgun is an example of a restricted firearm. Different regulations apply to different classifications of firearms.

  • How many guns are we talking about?

    As of September 2011, there were about 7.8 million registered guns. Of those, 7.1 million are non-restricted firearms.

  • Why does the government want to get rid of the long-gun registry?

    The government says it is wasteful and ineffective at reducing crime and targets law-abiding gun owners instead of criminals, who don't register their firearms.

  • Who wants to keep it?

    Police and victims' groups are big supporters of the registry. Police say the database helps them evaluate a potential safety threat when they pull a vehicle over or are called to a residence. They also say it helps support police investigations because the registry can help determine if a gun was stolen, illegally imported, acquired or manufactured. This year, the RCMP says police agencies accessed it on average more than 17,000 times a day.

  • When will the registry cease to exist?

    The government has passed the legislation and the registry no longer exists. Except for in Quebec, where an ongoing court challenge means the owners must still register their guns in the province.

  • Why does the government want to destroy the records?

    The government is doing this to ensure that no future non-Conservative government can recreate the registry. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has also made it clear that if any province wants to set up its own registry it would get no help from the federal government. The Conservatives are so fundamentally opposed to the existence of the records, because they say they focus on law-abiding citizens instead of criminals, that they don't want them available for anyone to use.

  • How much does the registry cost?

    The registry cost more than $1 billion to set up in 1995 and the cost was the source of much controversy. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said on Oct. 25 that the government's best estimate is that it costs about $22 million a year to operate. That's the entire registry, not just the long-gun portion, but he noted most of the guns in the registry are long guns. He said he didn't know how much money scrapping the requirement to register long guns would save the government. Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner says there are also "hidden costs" that are borne by provincial and municipal police agencies to enforce the registry.