On the heels of a decade of federal, provincial and municipal scandals, Quebecers are more likely to see their politicians as con artists than as honest brokers — a sea change for an electorate that long equated a political calling with the cream of the province’s crop.
That corrosively negative perception dominated the television specials that traditionally usher in a new year in Quebec. Taken together, they should not have made for happy watching for anyone who cares about the democratic health of the province.
Et Dieu créa Laflaque is a popular Radio-Canada weekly show based on a cartoon character created by La Presse’s brilliant caricaturist Serge Chapleau. If one had to sum up its New Year’s eve special in one sentence, it would be a pox on all political houses.
Tailored as a James Bond parody, it cast the leading federal and Quebec politicians either as villains eager to fool voters or as bumbling idiots.
Together they formed a secret club called Les Rapaces (birds of prey) whose conspiracy to replace tea leaves with heavy oil Laflaque was on a mission to unravel.
Here is a sample.
Gérald Tremblay who recently resigned as mayor of Montreal was portrayed as a blind fool, as oblivious to the men hidden in plain sight in the bedroom he shares with his wife as to the bandits stuffing money in a strongbox in his office.
His Laval colleague, Gilles Vaillancourt, was shown trying to flush cash down a toilet, presumably in the lead-up to a police raid. That vignette was borrowed from a reported incident involving the ex-mayor’s cousin.
Former premier Lucien Bouchard was depicted as a contemptuous crank and Marois as a clueless driver.
Almost four million viewers watched the 2012 Bye Bye. While one can quarrel with the subtlety of the sketches, the show was generally well received.
To all intents and purposes, its spirit was in sync with a public mood that has grown unforgiving of politicians — regardless of their partisan stripes.
At the time of the 1960 Quiet Revolution, Quebecers transferred much of the trust they once vested in the Church to the state and its political high priests. But with so many of the latter in disgrace these days, the province’s governing institutions are coming to be seen by the public as desecrated temples.
It is not hard to draw a link between the lifeless sovereignty debate or, on the federalist side of the ledger, the benign indifference that attends the actions of the Quebec-strong NDP on Parliament Hill with the crisis of political confidence that has overtaken the province.
This atmosphere is primarily a blessing for a government such as Harper’s and its approach of avoiding putting itself in the face of a disengaged Quebec, and a curse for a government such as Marois’ whose sovereignty project calls for an increasingly improbable collective leap of faith.