Are you excited for the 2018 Quebec Election? With the voting just under seven months away, my answer is maybe, and that’s huge for me.

I’m a political junkie. I closely follow all political races with gusto: federal, municipal, American, European, fictional (Bartlet 2020). Well, almost all races.

Quebec provincial politics have always failed to deliver for me. Sure, I’ll vote, watch the results pour in and even write an op-ed or five, but something is lacking.

It’s not that nothing changes, it’s that change doesn’t even seem like a far-fetched possibility.

Two Parties, Same Pander

It’s not just that we’re in a two party system that has been around since the 70s, it’s not even that the Quebec Liberals (PLQ) and the Parti Québécois (PQ) only differ on a handful of issues. It’s that they’re not even trying to appear different anymore and people keep voting them in.

Sure, the PQ did sink below Official Opposition status when Andre Boisclair was leader, but that was only due to homophobia in their base. They haven’t forgot to pander to bigots since.

When the 2012 student protests forced “Charest Dehors!” (and into a law firm, guess the protesters weren’t able to find him a “job dans le nord” after all), Pauline Marois wasted no time turning her back on the reasons she got the Premier job in the first place and went all-in on Islamophobia. The Charter of Quebec Values didn’t get her a majority and cost her re-election, but that hasn’t stopped the PQ from banging the hard-right war drum.

They have dropped all pretense of being interested in progressive votes and their pander to bigots isn’t even limited to attacking Muslims anymore. They even went so far as to mock the practice of declaring that an event is taking place on unceded native land.

Now, though, the PLQ are trying desperately to pander to the same xenophobic base. Bill C-62, the law that forces bus drivers and librarians to refuse service to anyone covering their face, wasn’t a PQ invention, but rather that of the party that won government by campaigning against the PQ’s Charter.

Both main parties in our two-party system already had a similar right-leaning approach to the economy, the environment and other important issues. Now they seem in lockstep on xenophobia, too and pretty much only differ on the federalism/sovereignty divide.

So why do I think this election may actually result in some change? There are a few reasons.

The PQ is Ready to Implode

Things aren’t looking good for the PQ:

  • They have only been in power for a brief time with a minority government in the past 15 years.
  • Their leader, Jean-François Lisée, is the guy who got the job only after the guy people actually knew quit after holding the position for less than a year.
  • Their attempt to form an alliance with smaller pro-sovereignty parties failed
  • Their federal ally the Bloc Québécois is in complete disarray
  • They are banking everything on getting the xenophobic vote. Not only did that fail them last election, but now the PLQ are targeting the same voters, as is the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ).

Put that all together and there is very real potential that the PQ will sink to third or maybe even fourth party status and never recover. Even if this means another Liberal government, ugh, with the CAQ in opposition, double ugh, it also means that the two party system we have had for over fourty years is done. One down, one to go.

QS Wants to Win

Québec Solidaire (QS) is entering a new phase in more ways than one. They have two new spokespeople: Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques MNA Manon Massé, who will run for Premier, and former student leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, who would be Vice-Premier in a QS administration.

The prospect of a QS administration, or rather the fact that they are talking about what that would look like, signals a new approach for the party that is far beyond a simple changing of the guard. They don’t just want to keep the three seats they have and maybe add a couple more, they want to win. Like really win. Form government win.

It’s a longshot and an extremely improbable one at that, but political shifts in Quebec happen en masse (think the NDP’s Orange Wave), so it’s not impossible. If the PQ was reduced to a handful of ridings with the CAQ picking up most of their far-right holdings, QS would still need almost all progressive sovereignists and enough progressive federalists to flip a few Liberal ridings to break for them to make it happen, but, again, this is Quebec.

Even if the perfect storm doesn’t happen for QS this election, their change in approach will at least win them more influence, especially in a minority government. It may land them opposition or third party status, which would be huge for them and even bigger for the future of Quebec politics.

While QS is the only left-leaning party currently represented in the National Assembly (with three seats), they’re not the only one hoping to make a dent in the Quebec political landscape by promoting progressive policies and values.

A Greener Political Left

The Quebec Green Party (PVQ) is the Quebec political outfit whose policies align closest with my own. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to vote for them last time as they weren’t fielding a candidate where I lived as well as in several other ridings.

Now, it looks like that is changing. Leader Alex Tyrrell hasn’t just been spending his time running personally in every by-election that popped up in order to ensure PVQ ideas are heard, he has been building a slate of candidates to give voters a Green option in as many parts of Quebec as possible.

So far, I’ve seen two people I know and respect throw their hats in the ring as PVQ candidates in what are undeniably Liberal strongholds. While these races will inevitably be uphill battles for the Green candidates, they could be where the PVQ breaks ground.

While ambiguous on the so-called national question in the past, under Tyrrell, the PVQ have declared themselves federalist. Voters who like almost all of QS’s policies and want to vote progressive but just can’t live with voting for a party that is sovereigntist may park their votes with the Greens and those voters can be found largely in Liberal ridings.

Well, It Worked for Jack

The Quebec Greens won’t be the only ones hoping to pick up some federalist lefty votes this October. There’s a new Quebec version of the NDP (NPDQ) running. And by new, I mean there was already a provincial NDP in Quebec up until a few decades ago and, long story short, the remnants of that party are currently part of QS.

Talk of a potential new Quebec party surfaced following the Orange Wave of 2011 when Jack Layton led the federal NDP to Official Opposition status for the first time in the party’s history thanks largely to a massive shift in Quebec votes. Initially, the Quebec wing of the federal party rejected the notion of a new NPDQ, but in 2014, they registered the name.

The NPDQ went public in 2016 and this past January elected Raphaël Fortin as leader. If they are thinking that the Orange Wave can be duplicated at the provincial level, they might be right, but if it happens this election, it likely won’t be with them.

Jack Layton having the perfect response to Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe’s bragging during a debate is what set the NDP Quebec landslide in motion in 2011. Fortin probably won’t get anywhere close to the debate stage.

A good chunk of people who vote NDP federally here vote QS provincially. So if there is any kind of leftist wave, it’s most likely to break for them.

If the NPDQ’s plans are more long term and involve becoming the progressive federalist alternative to the Liberals, then they better hope they get funding and support from the federal party. The Greens are going for the same voter base and have a significant headstart.

Might Be Exciting This Time

So when you consider the potential or, as I like to think of it, imminent implosion of the PQ and then factor in the strong push for leftist votes from three different parties, it looks like things may be changing in the Quebec political sphere. Throw in the recent election of Valérie Plante and Projet Montréal at the municipal level here in Montreal and it starts looking like we may be ready to scrap the status quo in Quebec City as well.

At least the 2018 Quebec Election may be exciting for a change.




The City of Montreal put forward a controversial request to the Quebec government to amend the Quebec Highway Code to allow cyclists to perform a rolling stop – popularly known as the “Idaho stop”, named for the state that legalized it in 1982 – which would eliminate the need for cyclists to come to a full stop at stop signs, under certain circumstances.

This request has drawn the ire of many motorists, who already see cyclists’ generally unpredictable habits and disregard for the law as a threat to their comfort and safety. Common sense dictates that formalizing what is perceived as reckless behaviour would only succeed in putting lives at risk.

It must be said that what is considered common sense is not necessarily true or accurate, especially when it comes to risk assessment. Policies and practices that can improve safety are often counterintuitive, such as the example of mandatory helmet policies, which have been demonstrated to not improve overall safety.

Studies have shown that drivers are less likely to give cyclists a wide enough berth when passing, if the cyclist is wearing a helmet. Let me be clear that I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t wear helmets when cycling, but the kind of head trauma that helmets protect us from is comparatively rare to the other dangers faced on the road, and legislation should encourage rather than discourage cycling.

Which brings us to the Idaho stop.

Formally, the change will allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs, meaning that we could slow down, gauge if there is oncoming traffic, and carry on if the coast is clear. Functionally, we already do. As an avid cyclist in the city of Montreal for the better part of thirty years (and more recently a driver), my habits are unlikely to change and the risk of being fined for running a stop sign on my bike has never been a deterrent, which is true of most cyclists in the city.

The reason is twofold.

First of all, cycling is a very physical activity, and maintaining efficiency is what makes it worthwhile. The amount of energy expended coming to a full stop, and then starting again from zero is significantly greater than maintaining some forward motion and balancing upright while scanning for traffic. Having to do this at every intersection would be a deterrent from riding at all.

City councillor and member of the Mayor’s executive committee Craig Sauvé knows this distinction.

“Pushing a pedal in a car to accelerate is not the same as moving one’s entire body to accelerate as a cyclist does,” he told me when I asked for his input.

This difference in acceleration contributes to the second factor: safety. As is often the case at an intersection on our crowded roads, I find myself next to a car, or stopped in their blind spot. And Montreal drivers aren’t exactly known for their consistent use of turn signals.

If I’m at a full stop, and a car – or worse, a truck – suddenly veers in my direction, I very likely will not have enough time to accelerate fast enough to get out of the way. However, if I maintain motion , I can accelerate or stop as needed very quickly, and will also place myself sooner in the driver’s field of vision, so they don’t accidentally clip or crush me.

Zvi Leve, a member of the Montreal Bike Coalition, views this kind of policy as a way to shift the focus of our enforcement efforts away from ineffective traffic calming methods and towards actions which are truly dangerous to others.

“We need infrastructure which is designed for the safety needs of vulnerable road users. We have designed our cities for vehicle circulation, and then we wonder why pedestrians and cyclists keep getting injured.”

Leve doesn’t suggest that this should be a free for all for cyclists, and is quick to point out that pedestrians are the most vulnerable, and need the most protections.

“Cyclists also need to understand the ‘rules of the road’ and to cede the right of way when necessary. In fact, that is what it comes down to: The ‘right of way’ can be ceded but it should never be taken.”

Hopefully, this mindfulness of courtesy regarding right of way will catch on with drivers as well. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to further infrastructural changes that will improve safety, and in a tangible way, save lives, and so is Sauvé:

“The reality is that the current highway safety code was made a half a century ago with only cars in mind. Society has evolved and there are more and more cyclists on the road every year. We have to change our highway code in Montreal to reflect that reality.”

* Featured image by Richard Mason/Cyclelicious via flickr Creative Commons