05 September 2012

We Had An Election

Aislin cartoon from 1976 election

Well, that was interesting. An election that has left us with a new government that is nine seats short of a majority, an old government that lost about a quarter of its share of the vote, but only a fifth of its share of the seats, a new third party that did about two-thirds better than the old one it swallowed, and a fourth party that doubled its representation, albeit from one to two. The Premier lost his own seat, but only four other cabinet ministers lost. 74.6% participation this time, after a scary low of 57.43% in 2008.

The former government went from 42% of the vote last time to 31% this time. The new government also lost in percentage of the vote, from 35% to 32%. This reminds me of an election we had some years back where the leaders of both the major parties (there were really only two in contention then) lost their own seats (one of them may have gained it back by a hair in a recount). A fine comment on the public's appreciation of leadership at the time.

I played with the numbers a bit — because I'm a geek that way — and took a look at what might have happened if we had a strictly proportional system and everyone voted the same way they did yesterday. The flaws in that are obvious (knowing how the system works is a part of what makes us make the decisions we do), but this form of proportionality is practiced elsewhere, sometimes with a "threshold" as low as the vote percentage represented by a single seat. That's how I calculated it. They don't add to 125 because of rounding.

We have our first « Première ministre »! (First woman in this position in Québec.)

And after the vitriolic campaign, some recognition by each of the leaders of the contributions of their adversaries to public life, which was really gracious. Even their crowds of supporters were gracious in acknowledging the opposing parties with their applause.

When Pauline Marois spoke, she said some of the things I wish she had said during the campaign. She talked about setting aside differences and working together to improve our society. She reached out to the English-speaking community with a sentence in the best English I have ever heard her speak, affirming that the English-speaking community is a part of the history of Québec and of its future. She reached out to the first nations communities with a promise to work with them as equals. She has a very tough job to do trying to govern with only 54 of 125 seats. It would be nice to see all of the parties manage to work together and compromise to find solutions to problems: it would be to all their credit.

And then it happened.

Madame Marois was just reaching the end of her speech when two bodyguards appeared beside her and whisked her off stage. The audience, the media, the people like me watching on TV were all dumbstruck. What was happening?

From later reports, we pieced it together (still light on many of the details). A man had entered the back door of the club where the Parti québécois was having their victory rally. Inside, he shot two people who were working as sound technicians backstage (one dead, one in critical condition), then fled, lighting a fire at the back of the club (outside, I believe). He was rather quickly apprehended by the police. I know nothing about this man and the wheels of justice will take their course. So no speculation on my part about his level of sanity or his motivation.

Let me just say that the level of rhetoric in this campaign reached heights of shrillness we haven't seen for a long time. Yes, the Parti québécois was founded 42 years ago to lead Québec to independence, but no one has ever suggested that this would be done without its being an expression of the will of the population. Yes, there are real problems in a lot of people's attitudes about minorities (see my post on secularism), but there are significant actors fighting that xenophobia, too.

We have had a couple of referendums (yes, I know the proper Latin plural is referenda) on different versions of separating from Canada and we have had a whole lot of elections. Since it was founded in 1970, the Parti québécois has been the government several times, and even a majority government most of those times. So I really don't understand the over-the-top rhetoric I am hearing from people about being afraid to come here or planning to move away. Because of an election result?

Whatever the population decided yesterday (and the jury is really out on that one), we still have all of our democratic values. Not perfect, but there are people working on things like limiting even more the amount of money an individual can contribute to the political process, introducing some form of mixed or proportional representation and other issues. But those are the kind of changes that we vote on, or that we ask our duly-elected representatives to vote on.

We don't settle our differences with guns.

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