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Can Quebec Move Past its Teenage Angst?

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Sleep deprived, confused, conflicted, disoriented, defeated, in need of some perspective, and still cautiously optimistic. These are but some of the emotions I'm experiencing the day after what turned out to be a surreal ending to this month-long cacophony of campaign coverage.

First off, the results...proving, once again, that polls can provide nothing more than a skewed and imperfect glimpse into voters' intentions, Quebecers sat stunned in front of their TVs last night as the results started trickling in.

When it was all over but the crying, the Liberals, in their defeat, had paradoxically still pulled off a stunning victory; managing to snag 49 seats during a re-election campaign and a vocal student movement that had positioned them perfectly for vilification.

The PQ, on the other hand, had succeeded in forming a government, but only barely. Despite expectations from many that Pauline Marois and her party, armed with highly contentious proposed identity and language policies, would march victoriously towards a firm majority, all they succeeded in doing was barely cross the finish line. A slim 55-seat PQ minority, inevitably -- and perhaps bitterly to some hardliners -- also translates to a 68-seat strong opposition, and a firm rejection of sovereignty. Quebecers voted for change, yes. But they didn't necessarily vote for the PQ's policies. It's an election that was in many ways lost by Charest, not necessarily won by Marois.

The day after, there are no clear winners or losers. Quebecers gaze at a poisoned political landscape that seems to have borne bitter fruit. Satisfaction seems to elude us all -- irrelevant of our allegiances. Everything has been turned on its head; most of all, one suspects, the expectations of the older political parties.

Across Canada, panic has set in, as the ROC tries to analyze and predict what a PQ victory (albeit it, a minority one) might mean for the country's unity. Of course, most of the Quebec bashing, the angst, the fear comes from the fact that, unless you live here, you are unable to truly understand the delicate -- sometimes painful, always clumsy -- dance we engage in when language tensions get high.

The number of ROC journalists and pundits covering the elections last night speaks to Canada's desire to understand, but also its inability to do so. The confusion is such that it prompted Canadian comedian, Steve Patterson, to jokingly tweet that "English journalists who don't live in Quebec analyzing QC election results are as relevant as middle-aged men reviewing the Twilight series."

Fair enough, but sometimes even the English and French journalists who do live in Quebec miss the mark terribly. Perception has a way of altering reality to such a degree that it sometimes renders us unable to see clearly. All we have left are knee-jerk reactions. But here's some perspective the day after.

After it's all said and done, Quebecers went to the polls in record numbers and voted for change, yes. But most importantly, whether it was a conscious decision or not, they voted for forced collaboration. They not only rejected the status quo; they rejected the status quo in waiting. In doing so, they also rejected their rhetoric. They elected a pro-sovereignty minority PQ government that will have no choice but to work together with a strong opposition comprised of two pro-federalist parties.

This is no longer the Quebec of the Quiet Revolution. This province is willing to be loud about what it does and does not want. The problem is; it still needs to figure out what it is and what it isn't.

To paraphrase Shakespeare, this summer has been our summer of discontent. Students made their case with a pot-banging, marching symphony that left some covering their ears. Those sickened by allegations of rampant corruption wanted change. The phraseology involving religion and language became ugly. Politicians manipulated and harnessed this malaise to further their own goals, unwilling to accept the dangers such loaded parlance could unleash.

And then shots were fired. And we all collectively gasped and came to our senses. We all recoiled in horror at the stark difference between what we thought we were and the offensive zealots we could so easily become. Today, we hopefully all take a step back.

Most of what will be making the media rounds today will be the details of the bizarre assassination attempt on Marois' life. I'm refraining from focusing on this tragic event, because, while it's perhaps understandable (and, perhaps, even worthwhile) that people will want to ponder what implications one of the most hateful and polarizing campaigns I've seen in Quebec in a long time, had on the psyche of a mentally-ill man justifying such actions to himself, it's irrelevant. Ultimately, his personal actions have as much to do with the campaign's divisive rhetoric as video games and rock music have to do with creating mass murderers. Let's not fall into that trap. Let's focus on the real issues.

There's an existential crisis brewing. A province realizing it's not necessarily the open, welcoming, progressive place it thought it was; a people grappling with questions of identity, inclusiveness, and neurotic navel gazing. A new generation coming to terms with the inelegant phobias and fears it wants to unload, as it stumbles upon a new acceptance of what it wants to embrace.

Maybe some of you don't see it yet, but there's sweet comfort to be had in the chaos. This is a society in real flux. A society that is, in some ways, holding on to the last vestiges of a past that defined what it became, but can no longer allow it to become what it must. Quebec is experiencing major growing pains.

The ugly rhetoric and the overall nastiness of the campaign were, in many ways, indicative of anachronistic parties attempting to remain relevant. Relevant, in a time where, even as the hateful politics of division persist, they are slowly, but systematically, being thrust aside for a new vision of shared commonality, and mutual respect. It is the kind of global vision that positions Quebecers as proud members of a distinct society that embraces its uniqueness of culture and language, without living in constant trepidation. The kind of vision that led a Francophone colleague of mine to exclaim: "I want to raise my children to be proud; not afraid."
Feminist author Adrienne Rich once stated: "It's exhilarating to be alive in a time of awakening consciousness; it can also be confusing, disorienting, and painful."

Evolution like this is always raw, vexatious, and hurts to the touch. It's not pretty while it's taking place, because progress is always jerked violently back by those who can't understand or accept it, but if nurtured and allowed to take place, it can lead to the kind of evolution one hopes for.

For the first time in its history, Quebec has elected a woman premier. What's so outstanding about this is how little importance it merited in most of our media. It speaks to the fact that we have a society that naturally assumes that a woman can tackle the job. For the first time in a long time, we have a change of government. Democracy always needs a change of guard and an injection of new blood and ideas to operate well.

For the first time we have not one, but multiple pro-sovereignty parties emerging, signifying that there's a change in how this population perceives self-determination, and a new breed of Quebecer no longer attached to the ugly pandering of "nous" vs. "vous."

For the first time we have a forced coalition of power that will either have to find a way to work together or perish. This minority government won't survive a year if it's not prepared to compromise and add water to its hardline wine. Those are all good things.

While many worry that the current social climate in Quebec is a worrisome one, the fact that everything has been turned on its head may prove to be a good thing. It means we are now faced with a new perspective. Now it's up to us to create the kind of place that speaks to the people we claim we want to be. It's time for the hateful rhetoric, the ugly politics of division, and the manipulation of people's fears to be done with. It's time to look past the narrow confines of our own prejudices and shape our own narrative; not the one so conveniently dictated to us by the powers that be.