Friday, July 23, 2010

One of us - Quebecers voting for Quebecers

Quebec has a great sense of its own identity. While people from Ontario might consider Stephen Harper a Westerner and people from the West might consider Michael Ignatieff an Ontarian, there is less of an "us vs. them" mentality. They're all Canadians.

But for Quebecers, both Harper and Ignatieff are outsiders. It's a much bigger distinction and Quebecers see these two leaders differently than they do someone like Gilles Duceppe or Stéphane Dion. If Harper or Ignatieff show a good understanding of Quebecers and their values, that will be respected. If they speak the French language well enough that will be appreciated. But for a leader like Duceppe or past party leaders who hailed from from Quebec, it is an entirely different kettle of fish.

But does this perception change how Quebecers vote for one party or another? That is what I've decided to look at today.

The following chart shows the popular vote that each of the two main national parties have received in Quebec since the Quiet Revolution (generally considered to have started in 1960). I've chosen that date for two reasons: firstly, it is the moment when Quebecers started to impose themselves more forcefully on the federal level and became more aware of their own identity. Secondly, the Progressive Conservatives under Diefenbaker worked with Maurice Duplessis's Union nationale prior to this date, which skews the numbers. Voters prior to 1962 might have been voting PC because Duplessis supported that party. It had nothing to do with the Conservative leader himself.

The pale red sections of the chart below show the periods when the Liberal Party leader was from Quebec. The first band, running from the 1968 election to the 1980 election, represents Pierre Trudeau's time as leader. The second band, running from the 1993 election to the 2000 election, represents Jean Chrétien's time as leader. The final band represents Stéphane Dion's brief tenure as leader.

You might be asking why I didn't include Paul Martin as a Quebecer. After all, his LaSalle-Émard riding is in Montreal. The reason is that Martin was born in Windsor and was raised in Ontario. His background is more Franco-Ontarian than Quebecer, and his command of the French language was not exactly perfect. I don't believe he was seen as a Quebecer in the same way that Chretien or Duceppe were seen as Quebecers.

The pale blue section of the chart represents the period when Brian Mulroney (who was born and raised in Baie-Comeau) was leader of the Progressive Conservatives. The purple band represents the time when Jean Charest led the Progressive Conservatives (and when Jean Chrétien was Liberal leader). For the elections running from 1993 to 2000, I've combined the total support level of the Reform, PC, and Canadian Alliance parties. I think this chart is a very solid argument in favour of having leaders from Quebec.

Looking at the Liberal Party, it is easier to see how Trudeau brought the party to its dizzying heights, earning as much as 68.2% support in 1980. The Progressive Conservatives under Stanfield and Clark could do nothing, and their party dropped to 12% support in 1980. But the Liberals' fortunes fell after Trudeau left and John Turner became leader. This coincided with Mulroney's arrival as head of the Progressive Conservatives. Under him, the PC earned 50.2% and 52.7% in the 1984 and 1988 elections, respectively, while Liberal support dipped to 35.4% and 30.3%. When Kim Campbell took over and Jean Chrétien became leader of the Liberals, the parties switched positions and the Liberals saw another peak.

Interestingly, the PCs also had a peak in the 1997 election when Jean Charest became leader. This dampened Liberal fortunes - fortunes that raised again when Clark led the PCs and his party's support dropped to 11.8% in the province. With Martin at the helm, the Liberals again fell, dropping from 44.2% support in 2000 under Chrétien to 33.9% support in 2004 under Martin, and then 20.7% support in 2006.

The Conservatives did not have a Quebecer as head of their party, and suffered because of it in 2004. But with Martin heading the Liberals, and Harper finding the key to Quebec support in his famous December 2005 "Quebec speech", he regained the support of Quebecers when Martin couldn't earn it.

Dion, a Quebecer, shifted the dynamic again, increasing his party's support to 23.7% while Harper fell to 21.7%.

So what does this tell us for the next election? It is likely that Gilles Duceppe will be the only party leader from Quebec, not counting Layton who was born in Quebec but has spent most of his life in Ontario.

As Harper has lost favour in the province and is having more trouble being seen as "getting" the Quebec mentality, there is an opportunity for Ignatieff. Michael Ignatieff's mission in Quebec is to find the key message that will resonate with Quebecers despite his "outsider" status. The party's support in the province is lower than it has ever been, so there's only one direction to go from here.