Quebecers will be going to the polls in weeks after a campaign that will centre largely on the question of cultural identity. It’s unfortunate, but more salient issues like rampant corruption, economic decline and cartoonishly wasteful bureaucracy probably won’t eclipse the furor surrounding the Parti Québécois’ Charter of Franco-Catholic aesthetic uniformity.
The PQ’s rotten red herring does not arrive in a vacuum; it is a consequence of a cultural insecurity that runs deep among elites in government and media who routinely promote division and discord in Quebec’s public sphere. That insecurity is exploited by out-of-touch dinosaur-enablers of the increasingly irrelevant concept of the Two Solitudes, and some of the more serious offenders are the scientists charged with the delicate task of measuring public opinion.
The phrase “among Francophones” is a staple in Quebec’s political lexicon. In virtually every pre-election poll, voting intentions are measured among the general population and simultaneously “among Francophones.” It’s standard practice and not widely seen as a destructive exercise, or even remotely consequential. Similarly, voting intentions are regularly measured in America by ethnicity (Black, Latino, Jewish, etc.). In both cases, pollsters are effectively practicing a form of political segregation by collecting demographic data that is specific and accurate enough to shift policy to suit the needs of the majority, at the expense of minorities.
The science of polling ethnic or linguistic groups may not be totally flawed, but the philosophy behind the practice (or lack thereof) is. Gauging the voting intentions of populations based on their racial or linguistic makeup couldn’t be less in the public interest; it only serves sinister partisans who seek to micro-target policies, ensuring that the interests of minorities remain inconsequential.
Gerrymandering, the practice of manipulating electoral districts to further a partisan agenda, is one consequence of ethnic polling. The dissatisfaction rate among members of the US Congress was 87% in the fall, but the incumbency rate after the 2012 election was a stunning 90% - the manipulation of electoral districts in Western democracies is real and common.
“Republicans have managed to both make their seats safer,” reads a recent The Economist piece on Gerrymandering, “and ensure there are more of them, despite the fact that they lost the overall popular congressional vote.”
That exaggerated and blatant form of manipulation does not yet exist in Canada; in Quebec, it’s a lack of redistricting that’s the problem. Rural regions, where the PQ can often have an advantage, are over-represented in the National Assembly. According to the Election Act, ridings must not have 25% more or less voters than the provincial average, but as many as a quarter of them are considered exceptions to the rule. In the context of an upcoming election predicated on culture wars and considering ethnics are virtually absent from Quebec’s rural ridings, this imbalance presents a major advantage for the PQ.
Polls that show majority support for the Charter of Values among pure laine Francophones specifically create a domino effect, where voters are duped into thinking that xenophobic measures are more widely accepted than they are in reality. Only among racists, xenophobes and scheming partisans does a person’s mother tongue become relevant in a societal debate about religious accommodation.
Happy for the constant work, pollsters themselves seem to be oblivious, willfully or not, to the venom that is produced by this PQ government, relying on the language-based polling they conduct. They are kidding themselves if they don’t acknowledge their part in furthering division and discord in Quebec.
“If the debate on the Charter is useless,” pollster Jean-Marc Léger of Léger Marketing tweeted recently, “why is La Presse talking about it so much, every day for the past six months?”
Well, because profiteers and partisans, bolstered by the segregationist polling of Léger and others, have hijacked the provincial political discourse for months. Pollsters are, at best, tacitly complicit in creating and maintaining an increasingly intolerant atmosphere between pure laine Francophones and Quebec’s minorities. Lucid forces in La Presse and other outlets must then respond with constant fervour when faced with government’s blatantly intolerant and illegal identity projects.
The marketing industry must show restraint in collecting data for media or political organizations for the sole purpose of dividing electors by ethnicity or language, particularly in advance of an election. If they continue to do so, they will perpetuate the institutional xenophobia best expressed by former Premier Jacques Parizeau in 1995 when he blamed the referendum loss on “money and the ethnic vote” – a vote should be a vote, regardless of the cultural makeup of the citizen casting the ballot.
Parizeau’s implication was clear, as is the implication of every pollster who has consciously decided to gauge voting intentions among Francophones since: The views of linguistic minorities, particularly Anglophones, are not as relevant as the views of the Francophone majority. The most destructive forms of hate are often the most subtle.