Despite what many pundits and reporters are saying, voters did not elect Pauline Marois as premier of Quebec, put the PQ in office, give them a minority government or anything else of that sort. They can’t in Canada. What they did is what Canadians always do in elections. They elected legislators.
Now the lieutenant-governor will ask one of the party leaders to become Her Majesty’s first minister after discussing with them whether they believe they command the confidence of the House and why. And probably it will be Ms. Marois. But she’s not premier until that happens and it may not.
I make no mere pedantic quibble here. Given the outcome on Tuesday night it is highly improbably that Ms. Marois can, in fact, pass a budget or even a Throne Speech unless the CAQ decide in the name of political expediency to hide behind the curtains instead of functioning as responsible legislators. Loose talk of a PQ mandate may help convince them they must do so. But it would be bad if they did.
Our system of self-government, in Quebec as in every other province and at the federal level, involves voters choosing legislators to control the executive by yanking on the purse strings. And when MPs, MPPs or MNAs feel that they cannot, for instance, vote against a budget because a rival party has a “mandate,” they abdicate their constitutional duty to protect us from excessive taxation, unfair enforcement of the law and all the other things people in power do if not kept under constant control.
To repeat: Voters do not give a premier or a party a mandate. They give individual legislators mandates, one riding at a time. Legislators then permit a ministry to remain in power as long as it seems fit to wield executive authority. If Quebec legislators are not prepared to sustain a Marois ministry on substantive questions, Ms. Marois will not be premier long and may not even be invited to assume that position. And there will be nothing “undemocratic” about it.