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Caution: Philippe Couillard May Contain Traces of Pauline Marois' Ideals

04/08/2014 07:59 EDT | Updated 06/08/2014 05:59 EDT

Amid all the federalist euphoria over yesterday's election of the robustly pro-Canada Philippe Couillard as premier of Quebec, here are some important stats to keep in mind.

The majority of Quebeckers voted for parties that did not oppose separatism. A combined 33 per cent voted for ones that supported separatism explicitly  --  the Parti Quebecois and Quebec Solidaire  --  while another 23 per cent backed the Coalition Avenir Quebec, who were officially neutral on the matter.

Neutrality is not the same as active endorsement, of course, but in practical terms there wasn't really a lot to distinguish Coalition party leader Francois Legault  --  himself a former cabinet minister from a separatist administration  --  from Premier Marois. Both claimed to be disinterested in holding secession referendums in the near future; people just found Legault's claim more believable. By the standards of the rest of the country, at least, we certainly wouldn't consider a guy who constantly went around saying he welcomed both "federalists and sovereigntists" to his ranks as any sort of patriot.

Secondly, the majority of votes cast yesterday were cast in support of parties that either openly or implicitly supported Premier Marois' hardline religion-bashing "Charter of Values." The pragmatic Mr. Legault, for instance, claimed he was ready to use the power of the state to forbid "judges, police and other law enforcement officers, as well as teachers and principals" from wearing overtly religious garb on the job. Moderate for Quebec perhaps, but in any other province he'd be safely exiled to the xenophobic fringe.

Indeed, even loveable old Philippe Couillard claims he favours banning women wearing chadors --  long headscarves that don't cover the face  -- from government jobs, on the grounds such things constitute "a message of withdrawal of women." So no party in Quebec was exactly pro-Muslim during Decision 2014, if we're using that as some sort of standard.

It should go without saying that none of the four main parties supported signing the constitution of Canada, either, something the separatist government of Rene Levesque spitefully refused to during Prime Minister Trudeau's repatriation efforts in the early 1980s, and no Quebec government  --  of any party --  has been generous enough to do since.

Mr. Couillard, in typical Quebec Liberal fashion, initially made some vague noises about possibly breaking out his pen if his signature could be part of a negotiated deal with Ottawa to amend said constitution and give Quebec more powers. But in the rarefied world of Quebec politics, to even imply an openness to constitutional talks is to commit a sin of unacceptable weakness, and after some separatist bashing, Couillard quickly retreated to merely endorsing the signature-lacking status quo.

He's since promised to hijack any future Senate reform talks to ensure "Quebec's demands will also be on the agenda." Couillard justifies this, as he justifies so many things, by noting he's a "Quebecker first."

Nor was any party in favour of loosening Quebec's infamously draconian French supremacist language laws. Oh sure, Couillard came close during the election's second leadership debate when he briefly appeared to offer an univocal endorsement of the virtues of learning English, only to once again quickly back down amid criticism.

In my Quebec, English fluency is a skill that will have to be "justified," he declared of the world's most useful language. Talk about "dodging a bullet," said Tim Duboyce at CBC Montreal.

I mention all this just so we're clear about something  --  Liberal victory or not, Quebec is still very much Canada's most politically weird province; a place where the base orientation of all politicians remains firmly nationalist-left, and only gets more nationalist-left from there.

In other words, the rejection of Pauline Marois in favour of Philippe Couillard in no way signals Quebec's abrupt embrace of its proper, constitutionally mandated identity as one of 10 equal provinces in a loyal and patriotic Canadian confederation -- merely its adoption of a slightly more moderate strain of an independent jingoist philosophy. A philosophy holding the province to be a special snowflake for whom Canada's normal rules do not apply  --  but new ones should certainly be written to accommodate. A philosophy dedicated to using the might of government to forge a particular sort of nation for a particular sort of people, whose identity, language, and lifestyle deserve to be permanently preserved.

Premier Marois sought to achieve these goals in spectacularly absurd fashion  --  a separate country for French-Canadians and a ban on religious headgear for everyone else  --  and on Monday, her extremism was rejected. Hardly definitively, however.

The Parti Quebecois remains Quebec's official opposition, and the rise of new nationalist parties, coupled with a sharp split in the popular vote, suggests much of the Marois agenda has merely scattered elsewhere. More than a trace can even be found in Mr. Couillard.

Indeed, it's only because Quebec politics grew so obviously unhinged under Premier Marois, a woman Jon Kay at the National Post describes as "the most appalling, cynical and intolerant large-party politician in the modern history of Canada," that so many seemed to lose sight of the fact that Quebec's "normal" is more than a little odd as well.

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