Pauline Marois' campaign of kindness

Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois appears to be bending over backwards to avoid personalizing the whole thing too much.

Is positive campaigning helping or hurting the Parti Québécois?

The Pauline Marois of the 2012 campaign seems to be missing the vitriol of the leader of the opposition. (Tim Duboyce/CBC)

For all the tough talk centred on allegations of corruption in the Liberal government, and a whole host of other shortcomings spanning from job creation to defense of the French language, Parti Québécois leader Pauline Marois appears to be bending over backwards to avoid personalizing the whole thing too much.

As a case in point, let me draw your attention to the opening paragraph of the PQ's election platform:

"For too long, and on a daily basis, we are experiencing a crisis of confidence in our public institutions. We see a decline of our language. We are witnessing the discount wholesale of our natural resources, the substantial growth of our debt, the weakening of social policy, the abandonment of our youth, and the increasing fragility of our enterprises in a globalized economy due to a laissez-faire approach."

In one succinct paragraph, the PQ outlines its vision of all that is wrong with Quebec.

The subtext is unmistakable: under the Liberals of Jean Charest, Quebec has lost its way over the last nine years, and now it is time to fix it.

Yet, there is no mention, in this paragraph, or indeed throughout the entire program, of the Liberals or their leader.

PQ supporters cheer on Marois at a rally in Montreal Sunday. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)
The contrast between this tone, and the vitriol that reigned in the Blue Room of the National Assembly over the last year is jarring.

There, Pauline Marois would stand up every day during Question Period, and throw down a gauntlet exploding with personal barbs, insults, and spite. The Liberals were crooks, and Jean Charest was their gang leader.

Now, no such personal indignation. Just the problem. Not the source.

If there was any doubt, here is how Pauline Marois herself ended her first major campaign speech, in front of about 1,000 supporters under a tent in Gouin last Sunday:

"To each and every one of you, candidates for the Parti Quebecois. I believe together, with our intelligence, talents, and experience, we can make a difference.

It is for us to choose. And so, I want to ask each and every one of you to work every day, tirelessly, and to work in good humour. To run a positive campaign.

Go out and meet Quebecers everywhere, even in the streets. . . Together, we have a mission to accomplish: to change the government, to change direction, and change countries!"

While it is true that Marois does point a finger specifically at Jean Charest in scrums and smaller encounters, she also avoids using heated, angry language. Even in tone, it’s about laying down the facts.

The direction is not lost on her team.

Chatting with a couple of PQ candidates on the sidelines of a campaign event, I asked how they thought it was going so far.

Without skipping a beat, the two were tripping over each other to explain to me how well Marois was doing.

What made them draw this conclusion? Because she’s running a "positive campaign" about "ideas and possibilities".

I suggested that perhaps she was letting voters forget all of the Liberal premier’s shortcomings (as the PQ sees it), and before the sentence was out of my mouth, both were vigorously shaking their heads, insisting that is not what this campaign is about.

Tired old tricks?

In partisan politics, attacking your adversary in a verbal no-holds-barred rumble has been the basic modus operandi of opposition parties throughout the modern history of politics.

The problem for Marois, is that she’s already tried that.

For four years she has followed on the heels of her PQ predecessors, trying to denigrate Jean Charest as a federalist devil disloyal to all that is true and dear to heartland Quebecers.

Others before her did the same.

And the results speak for themselves.

Despite Charest’s chronically low approval rating, and dubious polling, he has nevertheless won three elections in a row, and is trying for a 4-peat.

Despite the constant drubbing from the PQ’s very able team of critics, they’ve never cracked that Liberal enamel enough to make voters run away scared, looking for a better way.

What we are witnessing in this PQ leader’s campaign is ostensibly a very natural (albeit novel) approach in the face of an unprecedented string of electoral losses: to try something different, hoping beyond hope that it will somehow work better than what they’ve been trying all along.