27 March 2007

The Quebec election reflects the real Canadian division

The Quebec election illustrates the real dividing line in this country, not the only one -- we have many -- but the principle one in electoral politics. It isn't East vs. West, or even Quebec vs. the rest, it's town vs. country. In the case of Quebec, as Lysianne Gagnon wrote in The Globe, the election represents rural revenge against the "city slickers from Montreal."

Despite the Parti Qubecois' declared allegiance to the customs and values and heritage of old Quebec, in reality it has always been the preserve of urbane Montreal intellectuals. Did they actually believe rural and small town Quebecois would rally behind a gay cocaine-smoker? To social conservatism, the dominant ethos in the hinterlands, Andre Boisclair is the devil personified.

The PQ have never really connected with this ethos, but they were the only nationalist show in town so they captured the rural vote anyway. Now Mario Dumont comes along, a man who really shares those down home values, and rural voters flock to him like the electoral messiah he is. Finally, a guy who "gets" them.

We see this across the country. In Saskatchewan, for example, almost all the rural seats go to the Saskatchewan (conservative) Party while almost all the urban seats go to the NDP. And of course federally, Dumont appeals to the same voters as Harper and for similar reasons.

A century ago ago, we were a rural country, 80% of us lived on farms and villages. Now we are an urban country, 80% of us live in towns and cities. In the last century, we didn't so much urbanize as suburbanize. In this century, many of the inner suburbs are becoming increasingly urban as growing towns circle the outer suburbs. It's a fluid dynamic, but one thing seems certain. We can expect the rural populace, with its social conservatism and ethnic homogeneity, to continue to decline -- and to continue to resent that decline. On Monday, they struck back.

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