Are you feeling it?
A sweaty quiver of dread? A bowel-churning knot of disgust? A brain congealing to mush, like so many gravy-soaked cheese curds?
Well congratulations! You've caught Quebec Election Fever, the hip new political disease that's sweeping the nation! And if you don't have it yet, just pick up a newspaper and let the proud Typhoid Marys of the Canadian press work their magic.
Personally, I didn't expect Premier Charest to call an election yesterday, mostly because the pundit brigade kept saying he was gonna, and their predicting powers haven't exactly been Kreskin-esque lately. But he did, and a thousand pre-written Quebec election editorials cheered with joy (before shedding a tear for their massacred brethren, the pre-written cabinet shuffle editorials).
Pretty much every Canadian pundit of note or acclaim has published a Quebecertorial over the last two days, which might make a certain naive sort of person assume there's a lot to be said about the race. In reality, alas, there's pretty much only one thing to say, and everyone just wants to say it over and over: namely, it's gonna be pretty awful and boring.
I mean, have you met the cast of characters?
First, we have incumbent Premier Jean Charest, the man widely considered to be the most incumbent of the major candidates. He's running for a fourth term, and all the pundits agree that at this point he's little more than a pathetic, crooked, empty, decaying, lifeless husk of a man.
"Ripe for the picking," says the Toronto Star. Just "scandal after scandal," says Macleans' Martin Patriquin. Too "old and tired" summarizes Jon Ibbittson at the Globe. A "thoroughly worn-out incumbent," concurs the Post's Chris Selley. And no achievements or convictions, either, pipes up Dan Delmar! Ask "ten Quebecers where Charest sits on the political spectrum" and "you will get ten different answers," he scoffs.
Wow, what a loser! So ol' man Jean is destined to lose, right?
Not so fast, replies everyone; turns out all his rivals are big losers too!
Take Pauline Marois, head of the official opposition Parti Quebecois, for instance. Go on, take her! No one else will. She's considered worse than useless because she once wore a red square on her blazer and was caught on film banging some pots together (that's also why Hudak lost to McGuinty, if I recall correctly). Such undisciplined shenanigans make her "lucky to still have her own job" says the Post's Matt Gurney, let alone the job of running a province.
The press is also in broad agreement that this whole "separate from Canada" idea -- the cause Pauline is super-into -- is actually a super-dumb thing no one cares about anymore.
Rousing Quebeckers to ditch Canada only works if they have legit grievances to exploit, says beloved Globe columnist Lawrence Martin, but thanks to a succession of bend-over-backwards prime ministers, the "grievance cupboard" has "run bare." The Toronto Star editorial board snarks that all the PQ-ers have to offer voters these days is a whole lotta "obstructionism towards Ottawa and pointless blustering on the language front." And who wants that?
So, third party to the rescue? Nope, that option apparently sucks too.
Character number three in this bumbling community theatre improv is a dude called François Legault, head of the Coalition Avenir Quebec party, or "CAQ," (but don't say it out loud), which is apparently on the right or left or centre or something ("even more ideologically inconsistent" than Premier Charest, says Delmar).
Monsieur Legault operates on the premise that if a politician takes as few positions as possible, it's harder for people to hate him. But he grossly underestimated the Canadian press' mastery of the art of hating people for not being hateable enough.
It's all well and good to spout "cute" and "glib" answers as you bob and dart among the aging dinosaurs of a decrepit two-party system, scolds the Globe and Mail board, but "Quebeckers are right to hedge their bets until they get a better sense of what Mr. Legault and his new party are made of." Yeah, agrees the Montreal Gazette crew, the only tangible thing Franky's party has going on "is that it is neither the Liberal party nor the PQ," which is hardly the toughest task in the world. Try it for yourself!
Anyway, throw all these folks screaming into the blender and you're left with an election that's about as appetizing as that mental picture.
Conclusions? Well, since no self-respecting pundit wants to go on record endorsing a dud, most Quebecertorials embrace an exaggerated sense of confused indifference towards the question of who's actually gonna win this thing, ("too close to call," says Ian MacDonald; "even-odds," quips Ibbitson) often accented by a colourful turn of phrase denouncing the whole sham of democracy itself (a "plodding battle between entrenched camps" -- Patriquin) or a passive aggressive hope that somehow everyone loses (please God, "a big minority mess" prays Selley).
And herein lies the supreme irony of the entire exercise. In the mad scramble to provide the very best coverage of Quebec's ever-so-anticipated provincial election, we're seeing a massive mobilization of Canadian journalistic talent, a clamorous cacophony of our nation's finest reporters, bloggers, analysts, pundits and prognosticators, each generating miles of edifying editorials, essays, and expositions.
All to tell us they couldn't care less.