Canadian Politics
June 29, 2004 6:46 PM   Subscribe

CanadaFilter. Please help educate this Canadaphile from south of the border. Martin, Chretien, Mulroney, and Trudeau all rose to political prominence from ridings in Quebec. What accounts for the lack of geographic diversity among recent occupants of Canada's top post? And why Quebec? I would think that the prominence of the sovereignist BQ and the relative cultural isolation of Montreal from the Anglophone cities would make it unlikely that mainstream Liberal and Tory politicians would thrive.
posted by PrinceValium to Law & Government (11 answers total)
Quebec makes up nearly 25% of the country and tends to vote as a block. As yesterday's election demonstrated yet again, it's virtually impossible to win power without Quebec.
posted by timeistight at 6:55 PM on June 29, 2004

As it's nearly impossible to win power without Québec, it's also nearly impossible to win power without having a proper Québécois accent.

Stephen Harper, and others before him, received no end of grief for their dismal performance and atrocious accent during the French-language debates.
posted by filmgoerjuan at 7:21 PM on June 29, 2004

Orbital mind-control lasers. Or a really good school system coupled with strong family traditions of public service. Just watch Justin!
posted by bonehead at 7:34 PM on June 29, 2004

Quebec doesn't vote as a bloc any more than any other province. Look at Alberta and Saskatchewan, all of which elected no more than one or two non-Conservative MPs this time out. Or Ontario in 1993, 1997 and 2000. Or PEI since 1988. This election, the Quebec results were 21 Liberal, 54 Bloc Québécois, so the Quebec electorate did not demonstrate anything "yet again" -- except to serve, with Ontario, as a focal point for Western political grumpiness.

Leaders not from Quebec have not tended to do as well, which has led some people to ascribe tribalist voting tendencies to the Quebec electorate. But those leaders had their own shortcomings, and it's easy to overlook the fact that while they didn't win in Quebec, they didn't do all that well elsewhere either. It's not like Quebec's 75 seats vote one way and TROC votes another. The only time Quebec voted with near-utter unanimity, frankly, was 1979 and 1980, when all but one or two MPs were Liberals. (Funny how it was okay for Alberta to elect nothing but Tories at the time.)

Because it is expected that our political leaders be able to express themselves in both languages, there is a certain amount of self-selection that prevents unilingual politicians from grabbing the brass ring. It's so much of a job requirement that putative aspirants to political leadership are frequently said to be "taking French lessons" if they're anglos. Given that requirement, politicians from Montreal -- as bilingual an environment as you can find on this continent -- are going to be overrepresented in your sample, because it's hard to find people elsewhere who are capable of eloquence, not just fluency, in both languages.

Jean Chrétien, as someone from small-town, francophone Quebec who, when he was first elected in 1963, could barely speak a word of English, is an outlier in this regard. Francophone politicians from the sticks (think Benoît Bouchard) are about as likely to become Prime Minister as their rural anglophone counterparts elsewhere (think Ralph Goodale, unless he's been "taking French lessons" on the side and I'm not aware of it).

Also bear in mind that "from Quebec" is kind of fluid: John Turner represented a Vancouver seat while Liberal leader, but started his career by representing a Montreal riding. Similarly, Paul Martin was born in Windsor, Ontario and grew up in Ottawa (his father was a federal cabinet minister) before relocating to Montreal. (Similarly, I live in Quebec, but I'm a Westerner by birth; this is the fourth province I've lived in.)

Note, by comparison, that political leaders from Toronto are extraordinarily rare. Probably because everybody hates Toronto. I think Jack Layton has to be the first in decades, if not ever.
posted by mcwetboy at 7:35 PM on June 29, 2004

The preceding only took the last few decades into account. It occurs to me that more could be said about the first half of the 20th century as well, especially in re the Conservatives' failure to attract votes in Quebec. But you'd have to take into account the fact that an anglophone -- William Lyon Mackenzie King -- was leader of the Liberals from 1919 to 1948 and managed well enough to the the country's longest-serving prime minister.
posted by mcwetboy at 7:41 PM on June 29, 2004

There are Canadaphiles? Wow. I did not know that.
posted by Salmonberry at 8:05 PM on June 29, 2004

Response by poster: There's lots more on the way, salmonberry, ever since Tim Hortons came to Rhode Island earlier this year.
posted by PrinceValium at 8:11 PM on June 29, 2004

So, mcwetboy, you're saying it's a coincidence?
posted by timeistight at 8:39 PM on June 29, 2004

No; I'm saying that if there's a reason for it, I don't think it's because Quebeckers always vote in a bloc for one of their own. I think that's too simplistic an explanation, if not outright wrong. Obviously there's something going on, but it's at a deeper level, I think.
posted by mcwetboy at 9:50 PM on June 29, 2004

I am a big Canada fan too. I've even lived there. Like PV, I went to Brown. Is there a connection? Should that be a new AskMeFi (just to push the booger question down)?
posted by dame at 11:06 PM on June 29, 2004

I'm no expert, but it seems that to be a ruling party, you need a certain level of support in central Canada, namely Ontario and Quebec. Quebecers would be more likely to vote for a party led by one of their own, whereas Ontarians might not care so much. Adding to that, there is the separatist thing: having a PM from Quebec helps keep down francophone feelings of alienation from the federal gov't, which is obviously useful for federalist parties. All of this may or may not hold water, but I'd venture to guess that the perception is there, and comes into play when parties are selecting leaders.
posted by transient at 7:57 AM on June 30, 2004

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