The Parti Québécois is a Québec nationalist party, formed in 1968 through a union of 2 movements, a SOVEREIGNTY-ASSOCIATION movement in the Mouvement Souveraineté-Association (the MSA) and the Rassemblement pour l'indépendance national (RIN). The MSA itself had been the result of an earlier fusion, for it allied itself with the forces of the Ralliement national (RN), led by the former Créditiste federal member of Parliament Gilles Grégoire.

The MSA was created in 1967, when Liberal militants, following a policy conference of the Liberal Party of Québec where they had failed to win acceptance for their program entitled Pour un Québec souverain dans une fédération canadienne ("For a sovereign Québec in a Canadian federation"), decided to quit Jean Lesage's party. They were led by René LÉVESQUE, the former minister of natural resources.

The RIN may have created what could be called the vocabulary of independence for Québec, but it was the PQ which made it acceptable to a good part of the Québec electorate. Nothing less than complete independence was acceptable to the RIN. After the RIN and its leader Pierre Bourgault wound up its affairs in 1968, the PQ became the hub of virtually all the nationalist movements and associations in Québec. It acquired workers, an infrastructure and a network of support, all of which grew rapidly. These supporters included the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste and the Mouvement national des Québécois.

After suffering electoral defeats in its first 2 tries (in 1970, with 23.5% of the popular vote, it received only 7 seats; in 1973, despite a popular vote of 30.8%, it elected only 6 members), it won the election of 1976 (41% of the vote, 71 seats), defeating Robert Bourassa's Liberals, who in 1973 had elected 102 out of a total of 110 deputies. This victory was largely a result of a clever electoral manoeuvre, orchestrated by Claude MORIN, by which the PQ promised to hold a referendum on sovereignty-association during the first péquiste term of office. One of the most important pieces of legislation of the PQ was BILL 101, which made French the sole official language of Québec (see LANGUAGE POLICY). The Agricultural Zoning Act, drawn up to protect Québec land, was complemented by Bill 125 for the management of lands. The Auto Insurance Act established state-run property damage insurance and no-fault compensation. Bill 89 introduced a new CIVIL CODE and reformed FAMILY LAW.

A unique feature of the PQ government was its attempt through Sommets de Concertation ("summit conferences") to establish trust among social groups. The first summit was held in Point-au-Pic in 1977, followed by one in Montebello in 1979. The conferences called together interested parties in various fields to participate in policymaking and to try to arrive at a consensus on the future development of Québec. One of the major concrete results of these summits was the creation of OSE (Opération Solidarité Economique, or Operation Economic Solidarity), a program of economic stimulus and job support.

Referendum of 1980

The referendum which the PQ had promised during its 1976 election campaign was set for May 1980. Many public meetings followed an initial televised referendum debate in the National Assembly. Those who opposed negotiation for sovereignty-association won the referendum (60% to 40%). Nevertheless, the party was re-elected in 1981, winning 82 seats. Along with the belief in sovereignty-association, péquiste ideology was based on 2 sometimes contradictory tendencies: one insisting on consultation, the other on guiding people instead. The conflict blew the party apart in 1984 after the annual conference at which it was agreed that the PQ, once re-elected, could itself negotiate sovereignty-association.

After a referendum-style consultation with the membership, Lévesque led a party which had lost the support of a group of dissidents who refused to accept the results of a vote allowing the PQ temporarily to put aside the idea of sovereignty-association. Late in 1984, the PQ government was rocked by the resignation from Cabinet of a group of independentistes, including Jacques PARIZEAU. Lévesque eventually resigned as leader and was succeeded by Pierre-Marc JOHNSON. Faced with the resurrected Liberals of Robert Bourassa, the Parti Québécois was devastated in the election of December 1985, hanging on to a mere 24 seats. In November 1987, a week after the death of Lévesque, Johnson announced his resignation. The more independentiste-minded Jacques Parizeau was the leading leadership contender.

Electoral Base of the PQ

During the elections of 1970 and 1981, the Parti Québécois was supported by most people under 30, nationalists, union leaders and members of the working class in the regions of Saguenay-Lac St-Jean and the east end of Montréal. This electoral support was built up through small discussion groups and through student organizations, but it began to shrink again in 1982-83. Illegal strikes in the public-service sector caused social unrest; the young people had become indifferent to politics in general. The péquiste government had to use legislation (Bills 68, 70 and 72 of June 1983) to force public-sector workers to accept salary rollbacks, and lost much of its union support. At the same time, the PQ was losing members because of its reduced commitment to sovereignty-association and to social-democratic legislation.

Dilemma of the PQ

Both as government and, from 1985 to 1994, as the opposition, the PQ has demonstrated a certain ambiguity. The party has had to attack the federal system from which it wishes to detach itself, while seeking to extract maximum benefit from this very system. A good example of this dilemma was the PQ's position during the federal-provincial constitutional negotiations of fall 1981 concerning the patriation of the Constitution (seeCONSTITUTION, PATRIATION OF). Québec joined 7 other dissident provinces to oppose the intention of the Trudeau government first to bring back control of the constitution and then to make a new agreement. However, Québec found itself isolated when the other dissidents accepted a new constitutional agreement. Québec under a Liberal government did not endorse the constitutional agreement until further concessions were made in 1987.

The PQ regained power in 1994 under the resolutely nationalist leader Jacques Parizeau, who presided over a very narrow defeat in the 1995 referendum. One reason for the defeat was Parizeau's own failure to define just what independence would mean for Québec. Parizeau resigned in bitterness and Lucien BOUCHARD was sworn in as premier on 29 January 1996. Bouchard set the party's priorities as economy first, independence second, a reversal of the policies of the last several years that had left the Québec economy in a state of serious disrepair.

Feeling that another referendum soon after 1995 would be destined to fail, Bouchard chose to focus on improving Quebec's economy, implementing massive cuts to health care and social spending in an effort to balance the provincial budget. Overall, the PQ's fiscal policies were somewhat successful in repairing Quebec's fractured economy and they won another term in 1998. Bouchard served another 3 years as premier, but despondent over the lack of success of the separatist cause in Québec during his time as premier, he resigned in 2001.

Bouchard was succeeded as party leader and premier by his former finance minister, Bernard LANDRY, on 8 March 2001. Yet by 2002 opinion polls showed a significant decline in the PQ's popularity, which began to be split by the success of Jean CHAREST's Liberal Party and the emerging Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ) and its vibrant young leader, Mario Dumont. The party regained some of its popularity when the ADQ's more conservative views were revealed to Québecers. Moreover, more socialist legislation such as the Act to Combat Poverty and Social Exclusion increased the PQ's popularity even further. Still, it was not enough and the PQ was defeated by Charest's Liberals in the 2003 election.

Some members of the PQ began to contest Landry's leadership after the party failed to retain its position as the government. At the party's 2005 convention, Landry announced his intention to resign if he did not have at least 80% of PQ member support. Results showed 76.2% approval, and Landry resigned. Louise Harel became the party's interim leader on 6 June 2005.

On 15 November 2005, André Boisclair, a former cabinet minister under premiers Bouchard and Landry, was elected the PQ's 6th leader, edging out former PQ leadership candidate Pauline Marois and former PQ cabinet minister Richard Legendre. Boisclair furthered the party's position on separatism by denouncing the Clarity Act, claiming that sovereignty was a political rather than a legal decision, and he declared that he would seek a mandate for a sovereignty referendum in the next provincial election. Opinion polls at the time of Boisclair's election showed the PQ to be ahead of the Liberals, but later polls indicated that support for the PQ had begun to decline.

Boisclair's PQ lost significant ground in 2007. The 26 March election saw a surge in popularity of the ADQ. Created in 1994, their platform of liberal conservatism appealed to an increasing number of Québecers who did not support another referendum. PQ seats dropped to 36, and the ADQ succeeded the PQ as the official opposition in a Liberal minority government. For the first time in over 30 years the PQ formed neither the government nor the opposition in Québec. In May Boisclair announced his decision to step down as party leader.