Getting out the vote, unless you’re too Muslim

Not allowed to vote in Tunisia, Turkey, or Québec

Quebec heads to the polls tomorrow, and it’s about time; I’m fed up of this election. The ruling Liberals have spent the past four years trying to inflict upon the welfare state a death of a thousand cuts, and the PQ is only somewhat better; their main difference is that both take hardline positions on the perennial sovereignty question, but are on opposite sides. Those two remain in a statistical dead heat with the right-wing ADQ, whose popularity is based in part on hedging the sovereignty question and in part on promoting small-town values; i.e. bashing immigrants, gays, and other urbanites. With some polls showing them at an even 30% each, we should at least see decent voter turnout tomorrow. The next year or so should be interesting, too. It’s not clear who’s going to head the impending minority government, which would be Quebec’s first since the 1870’s, but their mandate will certainly be marked by some serious political horse trading. If I had to put money down today, though, I would bet on Charest staying in power but losing many of his MNAs. But which party will he want to buddy up with? I can’t wait to see, as he claims to have nothing in common with either.

Predictably, a consequence of the PQ and Liberals having their voter based threatened from the right has been a shift in their own discourse. For example: photo ID is normally required when voting in Quebec, but people not able to provide this may vote anyways by making a sworn statement in the company of someone who can vouch for their identity. But when it became public that the Directeur général des élections allowed, by extension, Muslim women who wear the niqāb (more than a hijāb, less than a burqa; see photo) to do the same thing, he received a flood of complaints, and even death threats! After a day in the company of armed bodyguards, he reversed himself and said that from now on, niqābs are out. Meanwhile, all three major party leaders ranted about how this policy was far too accommodating, and Boisclair of the PQ bragged that his own stance was far less so than Dumont of the ADQ (who, of course, begged to differ). And as for Quebec’s tiny niqābi community, they’ve all said they’re completely comfortable with showing their faces occasionally for official purposes, such as voting and crossing borders, and don’t understand what all the fuss is about. I’m guessing they won’t be voting for any of the three main parties.

And neither will I. I’m voting for the local Quebec solidare candidate, a well-spoken young Palestinian woman who will hopefully do well tomorrow. Actually, I live in an interesting riding. The last two elections here were decided by under 500 ballots, with the francophone population pretty much voting PQ or BQ and most of the rest supporting the Liberals (as the anglophone and immigrant populations overwhelmingly tend to do). Just over 50% of people living here have a mother tongue which is neither English nor French, and over 30% were born outside Canada. It’s a symbol of the Quebec of the future, even if the major parties aren’t ready to face it.

Really, my biggest aspiration for this election is that a minority government will finally get its head out of its ass and reform the first-past-the-post voting system here, aided by public outrage over the Green Party and Quebec solidare not winning any seats despite strong public support (jointly, as high as 15%, according to some polls). Really, the Liberals should have done that by now, given that they’ve spent most of the past few decades as official opposition and thus only stand to benefit by such a move. But people with political power, however fleeting, never seem to want to share. Well, the more fools they.