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So a Loser, a Salesman and a Bigot Walk Into a Quebec Election ...

08/24/2012 05:03 EDT | Updated 10/24/2012 05:12 EDT
PHILIPPE HUGUEN / AFP

As a general rule, one can find at election time a candidate or two who inspires at least some slight degree of votability, who seem to be on a basic level inspiring or, ideally, just plain normal. Not so this time around in Quebec, where the three major candidates -- Jean Charest, Pauline Marois and Francois Legault -- are a uniquely unlikeable trio. Each one, should he or she win, will in their own unique way set about moving the province backward, possibly on the road to ruin. I do not pity the decision Quebecers will be forced to make September 4 because there is, quite literally, no one to vote for.

The incumbent, Jean Charest, is well past his best-before date, and not only because he is widely assumed to be corrupt (the Charboneau Commission's investigation into crookedness and government collusion in Quebec's construction industry will tell us more in the coming months, and it is commonly understood that the Liberal leader called this election now, in the middle of summer when no one is around, so as to avoid an unwinnable campaign once the commission begins to reveal what most Quebecers already suspect to be true).

Charest has presided over a ballooning debt -- at $184 billion this year by far the largest provincial burden -- and while he appears for the moment to have outlasted the student protests (students are now in the process of voting whether to go back to class; meanwhile the demonstrations do continue), he let it get way out of hand, then tried to end it with the overbearing Bill-78 that only added fuel to fire and shifted momentum to the strikers.

Beyond that, he simply looks too comfortable in the job, and that is never a good sign for a politician. (If young Trudeau isn't interested right now in the monumental project of rejuvenating the federal Liberal party, the provincial farm club could surely use his help.)

Charest's misdeeds, both proven and alleged, have Anglo voters considering switching allegiance to the Coalition Avenir Québec. This is laughable since it is not at all clear what that party's leader, François Legault, is after. Less than two weeks before voting day, and in spite of his best efforts, Quebecers still don't know whether they can trust Legault when it comes to the sovereignty debate, which can only mean one thing: the voters smell something rotten.

The former PQ minister and his party, moulded from the ashes of a previously failed party, the ADQ, and sprinkled with disgruntled ex-PQers some of whom may or may not still hold a candle for the sovereignty cause, say there will be no talk of independence for 10 years in Quebec if they are elected. There are a number of problems with this path: One, it presumes Legault will somehow manage to retain power for a decade -- highly unlikely given no one has done it in Quebec since Duplessis (though Charest will if he wins and Bourasa and Levesque came close), and in any case the notion Quebecers will somehow stop talking about their favorite topic of conversation just because the premier says so is laughable.

Legault is attempting to stake a place in the middle ground of the sovereignty debate, but no such space exists: In Quebec, you either want to be a nation on your own or you want to be part of Canada. As proof, I offer Stephen Harper's failed 2006 "nation within a nation" gambit, which showed, if nothing else, that Quebecers don't tolerate bull-merde when it comes to sovereignty.

Pauline Marois is, it seems to me, the most human of the three major candidates in this election in that one gets the sense she truly believes what she says and, if elected, would not back off or move toward the political centre as others might. This would be an endearing trait if only her central plank -- a referendum as soon as winnable conditions present themselves (or maybe sooner if the power players in the PQ say so) -- wasn't so threatening to the future of Quebec and Canada.

The policies she has proposed over the last 10 days -- extending the reach of Bill 101 to small businesses, forcing public employees to doff their kippahs and head scarves, imposing French-language tests on would-be politicians -- wreak of xenophobia and intolerance. (There is also the matter of her placating Quebec's spoiled post-secondary students.) What's worse, they are predicated on not working, so as to inflame the war with Ottawa. She has revealed herself in the last two weeks to be a disgusting person, and for her efforts has likely lost at the very least a minority victory.

So there they are in all their glory, the three incompetents Quebecers must choose between on September 4: One man who has already proven himself unworthy, another whose professed political raison d'être is so preposterous that people can only assume he must be lying, and a woman who appears more and more to be a bigot determined to rid Quebec of immigrants, the English language and, ultimately, Canada. As they say, the choice is yours.