No need to fear PQ government: visiting Quebec student.
Bernard Cloutier, a Canada World Youth volunteer who has called Perth home for the past few weeks, reads up on the Quebec election night shooting at the Parti Quebecois victory party in Montreal that left one man dead.
Voting for a Parti Quebecois government does not mean that Quebecers have turned their backs on Canada.
Bernard Cloutier, a member of the Canada World Youth team that has been camped out helping out with social work projects in Perth for the past several weeks, made sure he got his vote in the mail in time to be counted for the Quebec provincial election on Sept. 4.
Since then, the rest of Canada has watched as his fellow Quebecers voted in a minority PQ government, and the fallout that ensued.
After nine years of a Liberal government, “they (voters) may have just changed their vote from Liberal… You can vote for the PQ and not be a separatist,” said Cloutier as he took time away from preparing to leave with his CWY friends for a humanitarian trip to Nicaragua.
“I am not a separatist,” he said during an interview on the front lawn of St. Paul’s United Church in Perth. “But I am very glad that the PQ got elected.”
Like many election watchers on the night of Tuesday, Sept. 4, Cloutier went to bed believing that the PQ was back in government for the first time since 2003. But he was not prepared for the news the next morning; that a gunman had tried to storm the PQ’s election night victory party in Montreal, had set a fire, murdered a stagehand and wounded a bus driver before being arrested by police.
Television viewers and PQ supporters whipped up in the frenzy of victory, were stunned when, suddenly, PQ leader Pauline Marois was shuffled away from the podium, mid-speech, by Surete de Quebec bodyguards for her protection.
Like all Quebecers, he condemned the attack.
“I was very surprised to see this happening in Quebec,” said Cloutier. “There has been a lot of action in Quebec (this year)… but this is something else entirely.”
Still, in spite of the flash of violence, he was glad to see Quebec join the line of other provinces like British Columbia, Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador (as well as Prince Edward Island in the past) who have had female premiers.
“It’s about time,” he said with a smile.
Cloutier’s riding of Richmond, just outside of defeated Liberal Premier Jean Charest’s former bailiwick of Sherbrooke, remained Liberal, but only just. The Liberal candidate beat the PQ challenger but only by 269 votes. An upstart separatist party, Option Nationale, made up of disaffected, hard-line separatists, drained 810 votes away from the PQ in the riding, enough to give the Liberals the slight edge they needed to hold on.
Cloutier had a front seat as history unfolded on the streets of Sherbrooke and Montreal this past spring and summer, as students left their university and college classrooms and took to the streets in protests over proposed tuition hikes – which has since been scrapped by the Marois administration.
Cloutier, a literature major at a CEGEP (a type of Quebec community college) in Sherbrooke, was a red-square-wearing member of the militant CLASSE student union, and took part in demonstrations in Montreal and Sherbrooke.
“It politicized me,” he recalled of the protests. “It was the school of life. It changed me.”
He remembered that a lot of professors changed their lesson plans for the semester and adapted them to the new normal of near-daily protests, and the social upheaval that came with it. Even MNA Amir Khadir, the co-leader of the hard-left separatist Quebec Solidaire party, visited his college to talk to students during the strike.
“It (the election) was a bit like voting for or against the tuition fee so our point was heard,” he said. “It was a very good thing. The best thing that the protest did was to make the tuition fees a major issue.”
But he warns that the protests may not be over yet, even though the students got what they wanted. His student union is now pushing for free post-secondary education.
“I don’t think it (the student protests) will end,” he said. “It changed into a social crisis. There were not only students in the streets.”
Since the PQ’s election, Premier Marois has come under criticism from many English-speaking Canadians over her treatment of symbols like the Canadian flag, which was put into storage when the time came for her to take the oath of office, along with her cabinet, at the famous Red Chamber at the National Assembly in Quebec City last month.
But for Quebecers like Cloutier, these actions by the PQ are par for the course.
“It was surprising to hear about that again,” said Cloutier, noting that the PQ was founded in the late 1960s “for the separation of Quebec from Canada. It’s not their main focus (now), to talk about it, but I doubt it (separation) will happen.”
He is also uncertain that the PQ will even attempt to hold a referendum, with only a four seat advantage over the opposition Liberals. And if it does roll the dice, Cloutier predicts that they will lose.
While he was glad to be part of the protests, and that he got his ballot in on time, working with CWY, “it felt good to have a break from all of this,” he said with a laugh.