After the Parti Québécois under Pauline Marois slipped into office with a minority in the fall of 2012, there was a curiously muted reaction both in Quebec and the rest of Canada – unlike the mingled expectation and dread that followed the first PQ victory in 1976 and the PQ’s second coming in 1994. In their initial instances, Péquiste victories bore the seeds of potential sovereignty and the breakup of Canada. Premier Marois rouses few expectations and even fewer fears. The PQ is no longer the flag bearer of a radical project but just another political party, one that bears the same scars of popular distrust that afflict all parties these days.
Once in office, the Marois government did set about trying to poke the slumbering dragon of English Canada. Presumably this was on the principle that provoking Anglo anti-Quebec sentiments is the best (or only?) way of rousing its own sovereigntist base at a time when the sovereignty option has been sinking in public enthusiasm. But most English Canadians now seemingly care as much about Quebec as most Québécois care about English Canada: the two solitudes have grown even more indifferent to each other. This may be deplorable, but it perversely aids national unity. The PQ’s efforts to pick a quarrel (like removing the Canadian flag from the National Assembly) were met with a shrug from les anglais; instead of rallying, the sovereigntist ranks continued to doze.
All this changed abruptly when the Marois government announced its intention of introducing a “charter of values” that was supposed to express the Quebec identity into which immigrants are to integrate. Chief among these values is laïcité or the secularity of Quebec society after the Quiet Revolution. Once as priest-ridden as de Valera’s Ireland or Franco’s Spain, Quebec is today a society not only thoroughly secular but proud of it. But the PQ’s proposed charter speaks not to that confidence but to the insecurity some feel in the face of newcomers with different cultural values. Such insecurity led to the Bouchard-Taylor Commission on “reasonable accommodation.”