April 14, 2014

The surprisingly strong Quebec Liberal victory April 7 means euthanasia is off the table - for now – and signals a greater openness to religious Quebecers, say informed observers.

The Quebec Liberal Party led by Philippe Couillard trounced the Parti Quebecois, winning 70 seats to the PQ's 30. The Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) won three additional seats, bringing its tally to 22, while Quebec Solidaire won three seats.

McGill University historian John Zucchi said the Charter of Quebec Values, euthanasia and "even the spectre of separatism" were all "intimately connected," in this election. All three issues showed the PQ was out of touch with the needs of the people, he said.

They either didn't understand the needs or responded with "facile solutions," he said.

"On the question of identity, they responded with a silly charter that would take care of problems by pinpointing ethno-religious groups," he said. As to the "fears people have concerning the health system as they grow older, they responded with euthanasia."

Concerning the economic future of Quebec, the PQ proposed a "fast track solution of separation," he said.

McGill University bio-ethicist Margaret Somerville said she was "relieved" by the victory, calling it a "hat trick" in the goals of repudiating separatism, which she called "enormously important," rejecting the values charter and setting aside the euthanasia debate.

Somerville said she held a "tenuous hope" the vote was also a rejection of euthanasia.


Quebec had come within a "hair's breadth" of passing euthanasia Bill 52 only days before the election call, she noted. Liberals scuttled a planned vote Feb. 20 on euthanasia by insisting on allowing any member to speak on the issue on conscientious grounds.

"My guess and my hope is that the Liberals and particularly Mr. Couillard won't want to bring anything like this back in because it would necessarily mean a confrontation with Ottawa," said Somerville, who is the founding director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law.

Euthanasia falls under the Criminal Code which is federal jurisdiction.

Former Canadian Ambassador to the Holy See Anne Leahy, who now teaches in the faculty of religion at McGill, also does not see euthanasia as a priority for the Liberals.

"The people elected a new government, clearly one that will govern on the economy. Everything else comes after fixing the economy," she said. The emphasis will be on job creation.

But former PQ Social Services Minister Veronique Hivon, who was re-elected, has already told Quebec media she hopes the euthanasia project she championed "will not disappear."

Hivon reminded listeners a majority of MNAs in the last National Assembly supported it, Leahy noted.

"Vigilance will be the order of the day," Leahy said. She described the push for euthanasia as a pan-Canadian issue that cuts across party lines and has to do with a loss of understanding of "what the human being really is."


Though polls showed a majority of francophone voters were in favour of the charter, "Francophone voters did not think this was a crucial element in the election," Leahy said.

She praised the good common sense of the Quebec people.

"A lot of Quebecers felt [the charter] was not on; this does not represent how they felt their neighbours should be treated," said Somerville.

"A lot of Quebecers, even if not religious, were appalled by this forcible suppression of religion the charter would have entailed: 'If you want to show you're religious, we'll fire you.'"

Somerville described this as "terrible" and "antithetical to the way Quebecers see themselves."


In his victory speech, Couillard said reconciliation is on the agenda. But Leahy said, that is "going to be a lot of hard work; there's been a lot of damage done."

New Canadians "felt really personally vulnerable," she said. There is also a great sense of dismay and disappointment being expressed by those who "thought they were going to have an independent country."