In our fifth FTB Podcast, we discuss school lunch shaming, the first openly gay pro football player Michael Sam joining the Montreal Alouettes and new PQ leader PKP. Plus the Community Calendar.

Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau

    Panelists

 

Josh Davidson: FTB food columnist

Jerry Gabriel: FTB contributor & Als fan

School lunch shaming report by Josh Davidson

FTB Podcast #5: School Lunch Shaming, Michael Sam Joins Alouettes and PKP by Forget The Box on Mixcloud

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

For decades, the political scene in Quebec has been in a quagmire. The national question has dominated the discourse, replacing the left-right axis found almost everywhere else with a sovereigntist/federalist one.

Two parties have benefited both greatly and equally from this setup – The Parti-Quebecois (PQ) and the Liberal Party of Quebec (PLQ) have been in power since the 1960s.

At first, many progressives felt they had no choice but to park their vote with the PQ, knowing that a better and more just world would always take a backseat to sovereignty, language and national identity. Federalist progressives, on the other hand, could either vote PQ and hope there wasn’t a referendum or hold their nose, push their ideals to the side, and vote Liberal.

Recently, other options have emerged, most notably Quebec Solidaire (QS) and a re-born provincial Green Party. Unfortunately, the two-party system seems too powerful to break. If there was ever a time for someone to come along and prove, once and for all, that the PLQ and PQ were just two sides of the same coin, neither being a place for progressives to park their vote, now would be that time.

Looks like the savior of Quebec politics may have just arrived. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Pierre-Karl Péladeau, or PKP as his friends, enemies and pretty much everyone else knows him.

A Short Honeymoon

Since becoming PQ leader, at least officially (as if it was really a contest), PKP has enjoyed some positive numbers. Support for the PQ is up and so is support for sovereignty.

Not surprising, really. A party that was down in the dumps after losing badly now has a leader with name recognition beyond the political sphere. He’s an avowed sovereigntist, too.

pkp je veut un pays

Who can forget him almost shouting “Je veux un pays!” It is, after all, the moment that pretty much derailed the Marois campaign.

He is a businessman, known for getting what he wants. He wanted a national right-wing cable news network, he got one. He wanted to raise our cable and internet rates, he did that, too.

You can see how some have faith that this businessman who wants to make Quebec a country can achieve that goal, too. They can ignore the fact that their new savior of Quebec is famous for creating a network accused of Quebec bashing on many occasions as long as he gets the job done.

The honeymoon, however, may be short-lived, and cracks in his armour may begin to show sooner rather than later.

Not a Great Business Man

One of the issues the PQ has had to deal with constantly over the decades is that their nationalist ideals were out of touch with economic reality. And an independent Quebec would spell financial catastrophe. In the early days, the party took an approach that opposed the capitalist system, so unconventional economic ideas were possible. Things have changed.

The PQ now wants to show that separating from Canada is possible and good for business. Who better to lead this initiative than a businessman with a proven track record, right?

pkp sun news canadian flags

Well, if you look at PKP’s track record as a businessman, it’s really not that great. Sure, Quebecor is a powerhouse, but it’s the house Pierre Péladeau, PKP’s father built. Since PKP took over, Quebecor has underperformed most major media companies in Canada and failed at international expansion with Quebecor World. Not to mention the fact that Sun News is no more, after just under four years in operation.

Is this what the PQ is basing their pro-business future on? At this rate, he’ll get his country, but it will only last three years and a bit.

Not a Union Man

The PQ has always relied on union support to win power. Not only does their new leader lack any pro-union cred, his name is as reviled in union circles as the Trudeau name is hated in sovereigntist ones.

No matter how corrupt Quebec politics may be, selling the man who locked out workers for over a year to union membership is just a non-starter. This is when the recognition factor starts to work against Péladeau.

The unions really don’t have many other options. The Liberals, the party of austerity and pension cuts are out of the question. Will they actually bite the bullet and back QS, a party with only three seats? Time will tell.

Without union support, the PQ will be desperate to pull any type of progressive allies they can. PKP is also the man who directed his media outlets to discredit the student protests in 2012. So a Marois-style appeal to more radical elements of Quebec society is out of the question.

One Issue Party

René Lévesque was first elected on two promises: to make Quebec a better place to live through progressive social policies and to hold a referendum. He delivered on both.

rene levesque

He wanted to show just what kind of a country Quebec could be before giving people the chance to make it his dream a reality. Lévesque must now be rolling over a homeless man in his grave.

PKP wants a country, too, but it’s the same sort of country Quebecers already have through Harper. His nationalism is purely ethnic and linguistic with no hint at being progressive on any other fronts.

A Smaller Base

The PQ has always had two main bases of support: progressive sovereigntists and conservative nationalists. Marois clearly favoured the latter and risked alienating the former, but PKP has no chance with the former to begin with. The only support he will get from progressives will come from those who want a country at all costs.

It is a much smaller base to pull from. If the union support is out, he’ll just have to wrap himself in the Quebec flag and pray for a miracle. The best he can hope for is opposition or maybe a minority government if the Liberals really screw up bad.

But where will all that formerly potential PQ support go? It won’t be to the Liberals for sure. Progressives may just not turn up to vote, or possibly it will galvanize behind another party, one that puts actual societal change at the forefront, leaving the national question on the backburner.

If that happens, and the discourse in Quebec politics shifts to a new axis, people will have one man to thank: Pierre-Karl Péladeau.

Pierre Karl Péladeau, or PKP, is the name on everyone’s lips since the announcement last week that he would be running in the riding of St-Jerôme for the Parti Québécois. Debates have blossomed throughout the Quebec political spectrum.

For some it was the coup de grâce that would help seal the unity of the right-wing and the left-wing of the sovereignist movement. Supposedly the momentum that PKP would bring to the PQ would be enough to ensure a majority. Others noted that this was the milestone that would forever infamously indicate the death of the left within the PQ. Unfortunately the arrival of Pierre Karl Péladeau within the ranks of the PQ is the explicit manifestation of an ideological rapprochement between the Stephen Harper neoconservatives and Pauline Marois’ strain of “xenophobic” nationalism.

It’s obvious that the framework and rhetoric that has been brought forward by the PQ through the Charter of Quebec Values is on many levels very similar to the wedge politics that the Conservatives have imposed in Ottawa. The rhetoric used by the PQ and the federal Conservative Party or the Wildrose Party in Alberta is dangerously similar. Another transversal characteristic of these three political movements: their strategy of divide and conquer, through which they have effectively targeted sections of the electorate with key issues thus polarizing the debate in their respective political spheres.

parti quebecor

Put in the boarder context of the political strategy of polarization, PKP’s arrival on the Quebec political scene is far from trivial; to the contrary it appears to be the normal course of action. Evidently the right-wing media, Sun News or the outlets of Quebecor, are natural allies of the PQ’s quest to flood the public space with senseless rhetoric void of any substantial content.

The similarities between the various movements gives us insight into the dynamic that fuels the PQ’s capsizing to the right. The fact that “Free Speech” becomes a justification for almost any statement no matter how derogatory, hateful or out of line it might be, is a simple recipe to capture and control attention. Commanding attention is a must in every political contest and in this specific case, the Quebec elections of 2014, it allows the PQ to sideline any meaningful debate.

Since the very start of this debate about the Charter, many Canadians from the ROC (Rest Of Canada) have found comfort in the fact that such a debate is only possible in Quebec, which implicitly implies somehow that the ROC is some what less xenophobic, less prone to racist behaviours. Sorry to break the news to my compatriots in the ROC but this is a myth.

PKP’s dashing entry into Quebec’s political arena was a timely reminder. After all, the tentacles of his media empire extend far beyond the borders of Quebec. When Marois talks of the threat of Muslim fundamentalism she’s perfectly in tune with the “high priests” of the neoconservative right embodied by none other than Ezra Levant, who happens to be (certainly a pure coincidence) on PKP’s payroll as a pundit for Sun News (technically PKP stepped down from Sun’s parent company Quebecor to run, but he still holds shares).

Has the coming of Pierre Karl Péladeau been beneficial for the PQ? Everything indicates that it hasn’t. The latest polls indicate it has actually compromised the PQ’s blueprint for Quebec in more ways than one.

If anyone has made the connection between the arrival of PKP within the PQ and the potential for the Conservatives to garner support in Quebec in the next federal election, it’s certainly the main strategists of the Prime Minister’s Office. The Conservatives now know for a fact that by using a rhetoric that appeals to xenophobia and islamophobia , something the Conservatives excel at, they can make substantial gains in the rural regions of Quebec in the next election.

No matter what the outcome on the 7th of April, new fractures have appeared in Quebec society, the void left by the Bloc Quebecois and the resurgence of an ethno-centric strain of nationalism fuelled by the Charter has created the space for the Conservatives to make substantial gains. Pauline Marois has made a massive bet and with every substantial bet comes an exponential amount of risk.

The PQ might get a majority, although that’s also up in the air, but madame Marois might have also leaked to the Conservatives the blueprint to win over the “heart” of Quebec.