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Did the Ethnic Vote Crush Pauline Marois?

04/08/2014 06:07 EDT | Updated 06/21/2014 05:59 EDT

The "next referendum" might be further out now that the Parti Québécois (PQ) has been defeated in Québec's provincial vote. In an acrimonious electoral cycle rife with corruption allegations, sexist innuendo, fraud accusations and racist demagoguery, few will come out unscathed. The misspoken candidates, the aspiring dauphins eager to dance on a fallen leader's grave, the pollsters... they'll all have to recoup.

The previous referendum, in autumn 1995, shifted the nature for the Parti Québécois, whose primary vocation is to lead the founding francophone province towards separation from Canada. The then-Premier Parizeau's closing declaration, that his esteemed referendum win was "stolen by money and the ethnic vote", still sends chills down some citizens' spine. Playing the part of the thieving villain in the separatist fairy tale of stolen sovereignty is a script minorities worldwide have read before.

This week, Quebecers were summoned for the second time in eighteen months to determine the seating arrangement at the Assemblée Nationale du Québec. The results, with Philippe Couillard's Liberals in a clear majority government, have been interpreted as a "rejection of Pauline Marois' secularism charter" or a "rejection of the PQ's a referendum", depending on which pundit you believe. Either way, the pollsters have determined that francophones liked the idea of informing newcomers of the dress code boundaries plainly (as opposed to the covert cultural messaging that permeates the Canadian quotidian). Anglos and allophones didn't appreciate it quite as much.

How did the experts determine which linguistic profiles and demographics favoured the doomed Charter of Values?

One assumes they must have done some surveying and then segregated the results based on personal information such as language spoken at home and/or on mother tongue.

A CBC-commissioned Ekos poll suggests seventy-eight per cent of anglophones and 70 per cent of allophones surveyed agreed the proposed legislation targets Muslim women.

The vast majority of non-francophones surveyed agreed the charter is an infringement of fundamental and religious rights -- 84 per cent of anglophones and 74 per cent of allophones. Only 36 per cent of francophone respondents agreed.

No one accused Ekos of being divisive, anti-anglo, or discriminatory in any way. The study was an effective way of diagnosing the political landscape, of getting the lay of the land, as opposed to doing an overarching poll where minority voices are drowned out.

Canadians have grown accustomed to reading national polls with rural vs. urban, men vs. women, Québec vs. the RoC breakdowns (though the Americans are even better at it: the NY Times has 2012 presidential election results by gender, age, education level, income, race & ethnicity, ideology, marital status, etc.). For example, the age-basedunemployment issue is tracked by the media and parliament is dissecting it as well in an effort to mend the gap. Whether the theme is adherence to the British monarchy, support for the Gun Registry , the seal hunt or nationalized childcare, regional, gender and indigenous qualities highlight perspectives which inform both the public and policy makers of the texture with which Canada's fabric is woven. This type of polling allows for contemplation (and plausible understanding) of minority voices. Well, some of them.

The missing link in electoral results analysis in diverse voting pools such as the one in Québec is the "race & ethnicity" poll. It's non-existent. Curiously, there is little empirical data around ethnic voter turnout in Canada. Elections Canada published a report in 2006.

Results of the 2004 and 2006 federal elections reveal that ridings with high concentrations of immigrants had lower than average rates of voter participation. In 2001, nearly 90% of all immigrants resided in the provinces of Ontario, Québec and British Columbia. The ridings with the largest percentage of immigrants are located in these metropolitan areas.

Even Elections Canada is reduced to extrapolation to assess the coveted "ethnic vote". There seems to be no conclusive proof that the voters who turned out in these "diverse" ridings are "ethnic voters". They might just be "heritage Canadians" who also reside in the area.

As visible minorities are poised to make up a third of the general population and close to half of urban centers, when will pollsters wake up to this demographic gold mine? Are those voices not worth exploring? Is it worth finding out what nearly a quarter of Canadians think or feel to better serve the country as a whole?

A 2001 Elections Canada report offered a recommendation:

What are some of the implications that flow from recent immigrant and minority expression in Canadian electoral politics? First of all, the need for more research is quite evident. One priority involves exploration of the differences in voter turnout across specific communities.

While there is bound to be endless banter on the Quebec's electoral shift over the coming weeks, the political puzzle cannot be solved without the ethnic vote piece.

Was the rise in voter turnout linked to an increase of immigrant and visible minorities voters? Was it the Charter or the spectre of another referendum for them to "steal" that drove them to the polls in record numbers? If Premier Marois had access to better polling data surveying minorities who make up a sizeable chuck of the electorate, would she have pulled the electoral chain to begin with?

As pollsters drown in the sea of complacency and/or mortal fear of uncovering the uncomfortable truths, the necessary examination of voters will continue to falter. It could be that Pauline Marois' reign as Premier of Québec came to an abrupt end because of the scorned ethnic vote. Thanks to our collective debilitating fear of ethnic accounting, we'll likely never know.

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