The poverty of politics in Quebec

marois couillard

We are now amidst what could probably become one of the most polarizing electoral cycles of contemporary Quebec history, certainly a pivotal moment in many ways. As I said in my last article, the Parti Québecois’ shift to the right and its realignment with a right-wing nationalist discourse is a seismic shift in and of itself. But from the onset, this election is merely the culminating point of a pattern of political instrumentalisation that has impoverished the political discourse in Quebec for the past thirty years.

The infamous Charter of Quebec Values is a strategy for the PQ to preserve power. In the context of a growing sentiment of disenfranchisement and bewilderment that many Quebeckers feel towards the current state of affairs of Quebec, the Charter is the transfiguration of this sentiment of malaise into a political force.

Inherent to the process of transfiguration of this sentiment of disorientation into political points at the ballot box are two simultaneous movements: the creation of an other and the creation of an us. The other is a direct threat to the existence of the collective us, thus supposedly the other is the antithesis of the collective us, but in this case the other is the main condition of existence of the collective us and the collective us is built in reaction to the existence of others. This explains how slowly but surely since the start of the debate about the Charter, the PQ has been able to amass exponential support.

pq plq
Same thing last election (image by flubu.com)

The main objective behind these political maneuvers is to camouflage the austerity agenda which has created such havoc in the day-to-day lives of Quebeckers of all walks of life. The dismantlement of Quebec’s social structure, the commodification of many aspects of Quebec’s culture and the liberalization of the market.

The vectors of disorientation are occulted, the invisible enemy. The automatized march of an unrestrained and unregulated reckless flow of capital is substituted by the tangible threat of an foreign usurper trying to undermine the values of Quebec.

The comprehension of this process of the creation of the other, how and why it is used is key to understanding Quebec politics in general and this election in particular. This phenomenon pre-dates current events by quite some time, it’s inherent to the system of Quebec politics, the PQ and the Parti Libéral du Québec.

Movements such as Coalition Avenir Québec or Action Démocratique du Québec will come and go. They have become prisoners of this paradigm.

The PQ and PLQ have crafted the frame within which the political discourse flows in Quebec. To reinforce their grip on Quebec politics they instigate divisions within Quebec society and create fictional fault-lines, almost as if there were between these two political formations a political pact similar to the Treaty of Tordesillas (treaty signed between the Portuguese and the Spanish in 1494 which divided the world between Portuguese zones of influence and Spanish zones of influence).

The PQ takes the souvereignist vote aka the Francophone vote and the PLQ takes the federalist vote aka Anglophone and traditionally the Allophone vote. With this arrangement both get roughly ten years behind the wheel in Quebec City and alternate terms of power between themselves.

johnson bourassa

In this manichaean set-up, the tempo is driven by debates without substance, by opposing buzzwords such as independence versus unity and slogans such as “masters of our house” versus “real issues.” Unfortunately these terms are void of substance, because they are words that never translate into action.

Today the PQ advocates for independence and yet offers no alternative agenda to the neoconservative agenda of Ottawa; one must wonder then, in these circumstances, what would be the purpose of independence? The PLQ refutes independence by using the usual whish-washy argument that independence would be detrimental for the economic prosperity of Quebec and yet in the past nine years of PLQ economic governance, the prosperous have only been a few.

The charter didn’t appear out of thin air. It’s the direct consequence of a system in which divisive and sectarian politics is the name of the game.

Marginalized are the political parties that try to bridge the gaps or start a meaningful debate. Simultaneously the more ugly the debate, the more potent becomes the force of attraction that brings all of the parties to the centre of the political spectrum.

When you prescribe austerity in economics, I guess it’s only normal to prescribe austerity of the political discourse. It truly is a shame, because the wealth of Quebec is found in its diversity, something that is not represented within the discourse of the most prominent political parties in Quebec.

At the end of the day these parties only offer lip service to the notion of democracy and of debate, because all main political parties in Quebec thrive within this framework, without it they are nothing. Thus it’s key for them to maintain the illusion of debate but never to start a real conversation about the future of Quebec.

We can seek comfort in the recent phenomenon of the rise and fall of both the CAQ and the ADQ. It’s proof that this system is becoming saturated and that people are yearning for an alternative.

The alternative lays with the parties that have a unifying message and that push beyond their base, that engage in dialogue with all sections of Quebec society, that do not instrumentalise and pit Quebekers against one another but rather have a discourse that transcends the barriers of language, religion, heritage, etc…

As Marx said “philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” The PQ and the PLQ have identified the fault lines within Quebec society and created a framework which plays on these fault lines to divide and rule. It’s up to us to change that!

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