The last days of the provincial electoral campaign have made me feel people's (and admittedly, my own) disillusionment and frustration at the lack of inspiring options even more profoundly. At no time did I feel more deflated than when I watched debate after televised debate between the party leaders, only to be assaulted by condescending sneers and bludgeoned by ugly accusations. If they weren't repeating each other's names ad nauseum, they were too busy regurgitating slogans to focus on solutions.
The debates -- for the most part -- were sorry affairs. With the exception of Françoise David, who, to her credit, managed to maintain an aura of dignity and maturity (then again, it's easy to do so when you stand no chance of forming government; the closer politicians are to the prize, the uglier they fight), Marois, Couillard, and Legault behaved like they were in a cage fight, barking insults at one another. It took all the self-restraint that I had not to switch channels.
The divisive rhetoric of political campaigning and the blame game during the past month certainly didn't help matters much, as it succeeded in stoking the flames of intolerance and linguistic tension that always lives beneath this province's civilized surface. It has undeniably been one of the ugliest campaigns I've witnessed in a long time.
But, contrary to everything around me, I'm hopeful.
Despite the battle weariness all Quebecers are probably feeling about now, and as turned off as I am by the low blows, the demagoguery, the fear mongering, and the politics of division, I'm still convinced that there's a new era dawning in Quebec. It may be slow in the making, but it's on its way. I'm seeing it take shape daily as I watch people interact and discuss politics; on social media or in person. I'm convinced that I'm witnessing a new breed of Quebecer emerge. One that isn't so easily defined... and therefore not as easy to manipulate and pigeonhole.
Oh, sure, the ugliness is still there. All you have to do is read the comment section of any political article to see the bottom feeders come out. All you have to do is watch the candidates and their supporters during their final days of this campaign. Fears about McGill Muslim students overtaking private pools, questions about the leaders' ethics and morality lessons by glass house-dwelling counterparts, sneers about Dr. Barrette's weight (his bonus, not his weight should be questionable), pseudo scandals perpetuated and shared by all parties, hoping to capitalize on voters' indignation, exasperation, and short attention spans.
But, what I'm hoping to see emerge (and to a certain extent, am already seeing) is a new generation not as easily swayed by political pandering or indebted to past political allegiances. The obvious choices of the past will no longer seem as obvious.
I suspect that this is what has many parties in a total panic right now; grasping at straws, appealing to the lowest common denominator and to the grievances of a past which, while, should never be forgotten, are no longer relevant.
The new breed of Quebecers I've been speaking to, debating with, having long-winded -- sometimes hopeful, sometimes frustrating, always bilingual -- conversations with, are global citizens. They are open to the world, but have their heart close to home. They are capable of thinking outside the box of starkly-defined and ultimately limiting definitions of who they are supposed to be, and how they are expected to behave, and looking beyond the narrow confines of their own prejudices and preconceived notions of what makes a true Quebecer.
Raised in a different, and increasingly multicultural, reality, as immigrants continue to add their unique contributions and expectations to the mix, the new generation is aware that it's not a specific religion, mother tongue, or colour of skin that defines your allegiance to a place that you ultimately call home. There's a new wind blowing.
For the first time, I'm seeing Francophones for whom the PQ's self-limiting language policies hold absolutely no appeal, and Anglophones and Allophones for whom sovereignty holds absolutely no threat. It's no longer an either/or proposition for many young Quebec voters. Nothing will ever be as black or white as it once was, because the world we now live in is a million shades of grey; increasingly global, increasingly connected to everything else. It's time to act on building a society that best allows us to realize our hopes and dreams for the future; not react to perceived wrongs and slights. That chip on everyone's respective shoulders needs to go and we need to lurch and stagger forward, despite the weight of our real or perceived grievances holding us back.
It is my fervent hope that the navel gazing and the knee-jerk reactions of the past won't suffice anymore in drumming up blind political support. There is a common lingua franca slowly forming here; the one that Quebecers speak.
Oh, I'm not that gullible to think that this evolution will happen overnight. Thinking that simply casting your ballot on April 7 is enough to fulfill your duty and make a noticeable difference is part of our problem. Much remains to still be done. The older generation, for the most part, is still unable to detach from that desperate need to protect the status quo, whether it has served them well or not. But I feel a shift in public consciousness. I see more than ever overlapping opinions, no matter the language they're shared in.
New ideas are emerging. New platforms are presented. New alliances are being made. A shift is taking place, and perhaps all this ugliness will prove to be cathartic in the long run. History may look upon this time in our history as perhaps having provided the momentum for something better and broader. The politics of division may work wonders for politicians, but they do absolutely nothing for us voters, if we are to tackle the real issues that affect us all. It's time we took control back from those who stand to gain the most from our division and put the emphasis back on the real concerns and issues Quebecers face.
Author Adrienne Rich once wrote that "it's exhilarating to be alive in a time of awakening consciousness; it can also be confusing, disorienting, and painful." I think Quebecers are living in one of those times.
Corruption has cast a dark shadow over this province. The student protests have revealed disturbing proof of police brutality and undemocratic legislation. The Charter has brought out a cringe-worthy amount of xenophobia and state-sanctioned finger pointing. Opportunism has reached an all-time high as Quebecers have seen former holier-than-thou student activists campaigning side by side with unrepentant media-mogul union busters, and political leaders try to disassociate from compromising business deals and undermine our trust by continuing to include members tainted by corruption allegations in their parties. Halal hysteria, Herouxville, and Pastagate have made headlines around the world. Whatever variation of ugly you're looking for, Quebecers have pretty much seen it play out in the past year.
Perhaps once all the low blows have been thrown, all the accusations have been made, and all the boogie men have been brought out to scare us, there's nothing left to sling mud at. Conceivably once all our deep-seated insecurities have been confirmed, confronted and used as ammunition against us, we can take a step back, realize they're not that damn scary in the light, and that there's work to be done to clean up this mess. Maybe we've finally hit rock bottom and there really is nowhere to go but up.
I, for one, am sick of being scared, angry, and disillusioned. I'm sick of reacting like a puppet to the slick back-room maneuvers of political strategists who pull the strings, jerk us to the right or to the left, and we obediently dance. I suspect many others are as well. I predict some interesting results come Monday night.
Parts of this blog were originally published in another news outlet.
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