Pundits recently made a big deal about a paper Valérie-Anne Mahéo and Éric Bélanger presented at this year’s conference of the American Political Science Association. The paper announced the death of the Parti Québécois (PQ), which according to them would occur sometime between 2018 and 2034.
Their prediction is based on the results of a poll taken among Quebecers after the 2014 election, won by Philippe Couillard’s Liberal Party. Mahéo and Bélanger divide the population into three groups: Baby Boomers, born before 1960; Generation X, born between 1960 and 1979; and Generation Y, born between 1980 and 1994. If, as Jean-Herman Guay and Vincent Lemieux have suggested, the PQ is the party of a generation, political attitudes should vary from one group to another.
This is in fact the case. Generation Y, in particular, which was between 20 and 34 years old in 2014, stands out from its predecessors. Further to the left, with more liberal values, and more open to diversity, this generation is less likely than previous ones to support the PQ. Mahéo and Bélanger do not mention this, but these young voters are also less likely to support the Liberal Party than are older ones, and more likely to vote for Coalition Avenir Québec and, notably, for Québec solidaire.
This is a serious wake-up call for the PQ. In 2014, young voters were less likely to make Quebec sovereignty a priority; they were less concerned about Quebec gaining more powers in the federation, and less supportive of the Charter of Values.
Obviously, as Mahéo and Bélanger acknowledge, a lot can happen between now and 2034. If we just extended the current trend, we could predict that by 2034 the whole Coalition Avenir Québec team, and perhaps some of the documents as well, will have gone over to the Liberal Party, or that Québec solidaire will hold five seats in the centre and the east of Montreal! More seriously, the PQ could lose ground, but it could also change. Or it could be replaced by another party. The future, in this respect, remains open.
But most surprising thing in Mahéo and Bélanger’s results may not be the voting intentions, which necessarily vary from one year to the next. When the different generations of Quebecers are asked about their identity, their responses are remarkably stable. Among Baby Boomers, 56 percent see themselves as Quebecers only or Quebecers first. The same is true among the youth. By contrast, members of Generation Y are much less likely (44 percent) to describe themselves as being very attached to Quebec than are the Boomers (70 percent). And this is not because they feel more Canadian. They are even less attached to Canada (31 percent) than are the Boomers (38 percent), who were not very attached either.
A new public opinion poll conducted by the Angus Reid Institute and the CBC shows that this generational gap also exists elsewhere in Canada. The coming generation simply does not have a strong attachment to the nation. Its allegiances may be more personal, and perhaps more global. A bit more to the left than previous generations — this could just be a passing aspect of youth — this generation is probably also more cosmopolitan.
This cosmopolitanism certainly has its positive side, since it fosters an open attitude toward the world and toward diversity. But the downside — a gradual detachment from one’s real and immediate community — could be worrisome. After all, what is attachment to one’s country if not a concern for a place and for the fate of the people one lives with, close and not so close?
A concern for the world also rests on the strength of one’s national solidarities. In work Jean-Philippe Thérien and I did a few years ago, we showed how public support for foreign aid was rooted in universal and generous social programs, and how the success of redistribution at the national level made international redistribution possible. People who do not have ties to anything are unlikely to become engaged world citizens.
In keeping with the times, two recent Quebec novels feature characters who are remarkably detached from their communities, and who literally drift along at the whim of their impulses. In La femme qui fuit, Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette tells the story of her grandmother, the poet Suzanne Meloche, who abandoned her children for adoption, and then sailed from one affair to the next, without ever creating lasting ties, gradually shifting from Quebec to Europe, to the United States, and then to Canada. Right to the end, this elusive grandmother who belongs nowhere, remains a mystery, and a profoundly sad character. In Daniel Grenier’s L’année la plus longue, we encounter her male counterparts. This is a double story of drifters in the United States, where fathers leave their wives and children to wander across North America without really settling anywhere. In both novels there is a sort of redemption through the descendants, who recreate a family and a country for themselves. Yet the characters we remember are the loners, who keep no ties and who who seem to want neither family nor country.
These novels take us far from Antoine Gérin-Lajoie’s wandering Canadian (1842), who “wandered, alone and sad, through alien lands unknown,” and asked acquaintances to tell his friends he remembered them.
It is true that the Quebec of today is not exactly inspiring. Aging, at times corrupt, with no clear collective project other than to achieve budgetary surpluses in order to lower taxes, mired in sometimes surreal debates over religious symbols, and politically paralyzed by divisions among the opposition parties, Quebec could do better. In this respect, the recent initiative “Faut qu’on se parle” may augur well, especially if it can rally young people and induce them to reconnect with their society. The first step, indeed, is to rediscover a sense of rootedness and commitment.
A 19th century patriot and a romantic, Giuseppe Verdi, has Radamès, who loves Aida more than anything, explain that first and foremost one’s country is the “land where we first loved.” This is a simple but essential message that we should not forget.
Photo: Artens / Shutterstock.com
This article is part of the Public Policy and Young Canadians special feature
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