The formation and relative success of Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) and Quebec Solidaire (QS) have transformed the political landscape of Quebec. They have provided alternatives to the well-established Liberal Party of Quebec (LPQ) and the incumbent Parti Quebecois (PQ) who have dominated the National Assembly since the 1960s. Meanwhile, the Quebec electorate has also evolved: immigration has led to the enfranchisement of a wide range of linguistic, cultural, religious and ethnic minorities. Nevertheless, political actors still seem to make the same assumptions as 50 years ago, ignoring the weight and the voice of newer Quebecers.
Today, one in 10 Quebecers are considered to be visible minorities. They stem from the most recent wave of migration to Canada originating in the Third World. The government has often lumped ethno-cultural minorities together in this macro-category to contrast them from the White majority and the First Nations. The individual groups are relatively small, the largest- Black Quebecers- accounts for around 3% of the province’s population. Nonetheless, many groups have aggregated in ‘cultural’ neighborhoods, where they account for the plurality of the population- and therefore, the plurality of the electorate. Yet, for the most part, parties have not targeted these populations, and have even ostracized them as a means to gain support from the majority.
The 2014 Quebec Provincial election has centered around three major issues: the economy, separatism and the ‘Charte des Valeurs Quebecoises’. The first two concern the majority of the population, whilst the third puts the spotlight on visible minorities. The ‘Charte’, proposed by the minority PQ government, has become a very contentious topic: Notably, it seeks to secularize the province by denying government employees the ability to wear ‘ostentatious religious symbols’ such as Hijabs, Yarmulkes or Sikh turbans. The PQ has been accused of creating a wedge issue as means to further their electoral goals. Quebec Solidaire and the Liberals are firmly opposed to the Charte, while the CAQ has had its reservations.
The question remains: How do we expect visible minorities to vote in the election on April 7th? This group is by no means a unitary bloc that is expected to vote uniformly. Like every subsection of the population, we expect variations and a certain level of polarization. Anglophones for example have voted overwhelmingly for the liberals, but some have offered support to other parties. Similarly, visible minorities have generally favored the liberals over the more nationalistic Parti Quebecois. Beginning with the Anglophone communities of Quebec, the PLQ has a long history of relative tolerance towards minorities. With a growing number of visible minorities in the province, the PLQ expanded its inclusiveness to encompass these newer groups of outcasts. On the other hand, the PQ has maintained and strengthened its nationalist cause, drawing the overwhelming majority of its support from francophone Quebecers.
Quebec Solidaire is perhaps the least xenophobic sovereignist party; their platform has usually included: environmentalism, socialism and feminism. Although Quebec independence is a key component of their discourse, they often emphasize their desire of an inclusive society. Furthermore, one of their two MNAs- Amir Khadir- is a visible minority of Iranian origin. Why not vote for them? Sovereignist movements have generally not been very attractive to visible minority groups. When applying to migrate, they intend on settling in Canada, not Quebec, and they generally would rather keep it that way. Some have argued that similar issues in immigrants’ original countries make them less likely to support potentially destabilizing political movements.
On April 2nd 2014, Pauline Marois declared, “Quebec forms an open, warm, welcoming nation”. If it had been one day earlier, we would have thought it was an April Fools ruse to trick voters; instead, it was just ironic. In many ways, Pauline Marois and her PQ minions have driven away and attacked visible minorities through xenophobia to appeal to the francophone majority. She has claimed that the Charte is aimed to neutralize the government from religious bias. However, reading between the lines, the issue is more complex. First, it highlights Quebecois culture as the ideal as opposed to foreign heathenries, propagating a sense of exclusion amongst minority groups. Second, by denying individuals wearing religious garments the right to work in government, she is transferring these government jobs to the francophone majority at the detriment of visible minorities.
The incumbent PQ has been plummeting in opinion polls with only 28% of decided voters expecting to vote for them. It has made superficial efforts such as nominating visible minority candidates in order to attract the vote of newer Quebecers. However, almost all of them have run in districts where they were almost sure to fail. So far, the majority of visible minority MNAs have come from the Liberal party, with a few surprise wins from the PQ.
With the election of Amir Khadir, Quebec Solidaire has grown as a potential alternative to visible minority voters. However, as things stand, the Liberal party is almost guaranteed to gain the overwhelming majority of visible minority vote, amounting to around 10% of suffrage. Clearly, it will take some time for QS to change the negative perception of separatism left by the PQ to make any significant gains.