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.

 

 

 

Wow, they’re actually admitting it. On-again/off-again Bloc Leader and die-hard soverignist Gilles Duceppe endorsed Denis Coderre, a staunch Liberal and federalist, in his bid for re-election as Mayor of Montreal.

During the last Montreal Municipal Election campaign in 2013, there were rumors that supporters of the Liberals (both provincial and federal), the Bloc Québécois (BQ) and the Parti Québécois (PQ) were secretly pushing Melanie Joly’s candidacy for Mayor, not in hopes that she would win, but that she would split the anti-establishment vote and prevent a Projet Montréal victory. Whether there was involvement from those forces or not, that’s exactly what happened: Coderre won and Joly was off to greener pastures in Ottawa.

But why would these seemingly divergent groups have a common goal? The argument goes that establishment parties would do anything to stop anyone loosely aligned, even in terms of who supports them, with parties like the Federal NDP or Québec Solidaire (QS) provincially.

While that may seem like pie in the sky conspiracy stuff, Gilles Duceppe just endorsed Denis Coderre and he said why. Mixed in with reasons/excuses like how he feels the Pink line is unrealistic and there are a couple of soverignist candidates on Equipe Coderre, Duceppe said that Plante and Projet were “too close to QS and the NDP.”

For decades, both the federalist provincial and federal Libs and the sovereignist PQ and BQ thrived on everyone being focused on the National Question and the division it brings instead of more pressing issues like the corporate dominance, austerity and, more locally, transit. Now that their dominance is threatened at the municipal level by an arguably leftist party with a dynamic leader who is concerned with making life in Montreal better above all, they are scared.

Moreover, they are getting desperate. Desperate enough, apparently, to get in bed together publicly.

Earlier this week, establishment press tried to make a big deal out of Projet Leader Valérie Plante not answering a question about how she voted in the 1995 referendum, a smart move considering this election is about Montreal, not the specter of sovereignty and both sovereignists and federalists can be found in both main parties running. I wonder if they will give equal play to Coderre getting an endorsement from a prominent sovereignist like Duceppe.

Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Gilles Duceppe endorsed Denis Coderre. The other shoe has dropped.

This election is about the staus quo versus a new way of doing things and it only took the Liberals and the Bloc to make that crystal clear.

Four months after Françoise David resigned from all of her political functions, it is time for the people of Gouin to choose her successor. The by-election in this riding which contains parts of Rosemont and La Petite-Patrie has been followed with extraordinary attention by Quebeckers of all political stripes, as it served up one wild card after another.

There are now no less than 13 names on the ballot and none of them are from the Parti Québécois.  Although all candidates seek to make their mark, the stakes are incomparably high for Québec Solidaire, who risks losing one of their three seats at the National Assembly.

Forget the Box spoke with the main contenders.  Can you guess which candidate said what? Here are some quotes. Make your guess and then click to find out if you were correct and read more about that candidate:

“When Thomas Mulcair won, that’s when I switched to provincial politics, because the NDP had clearly taken a turn towards the center of Canadian politics and I’m not someone who is interested in being in a centrist party.”

 

“I identify a lot with Mme David, and also Mr Gerard – a veteran from the student movement- and Mr Boisclair, who never hesitated to bring new ideas to his party, a bit like me.”

 

“It’s harder and harder to get affordable housing in the neighbourhood and, of course, it’s people with lower incomes who are suffering for it.”

 

“The Energy East pipeline: we have no jurisdiction on that. It’s gonna go through 800 of our rivers and the question is not is it going to leak, but when is it going to leak.”

 

“Most people want to overthrow the liberal government. People are sick of the current corruption, so I think their priority is to have an alternative.”

 

The Gouin by-election is Monday, May 29, 2017 and advance voting is already underway. Voting info is available at monvote.qc.ca

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Premier Philippe Couillard appeared in a live interactive interview on Radio-Canada (French CBC) Wednesday night. It was the first time a Premier tried such an exercise and he didn’t have an easy time of it. Throughout the 60 minute interview, Couillard was confronted with the consequences of what he still refuses to call austerity.

“I don’t like (that term) because it’s inexact,” Couillard maintained. “when we talk about austerity, we think about other examples in Europe, where the ministries’ budgets were massively cut. I am repeating that we never diminished the budget of any ministry. We augmented them more slowly, that’s true, but we’re light-years away from what happened in Greece, England or Spain.”

It is true that every ministry’s spending in absolute numbers went up. When inflation and the normal growth of population are factored in, however, it still means that affected sectors have less money to do more.

It is quite fortunate for Couillard that he refrained from claiming, as he often did in the past, that those measures wouldn’t affect services to the population. It would have put him in quite an awkward position when the questions from the public came in. People from every part of Quebec called and shared stories about jobs lost to budget cuts and children with learning disabilities without access to proper educators.

“I am living with the rigour” said a woman who lost her job after government cut subsidies for rural employment programs, “I have exhausted my unemployment benefit and I see the specter of welfare on the horizon.”

Monique Loubry, who spent 30 years as a nurse in CHSLDs, observed “chronic deficits in staff and material.” When she asked what concrete measures would be taken to improve the situation, the Premier had two answers: optimize the management and make sure that government finances were being handled carefully. Investing in care for senior citizens will be a priority “as soon as the ‘compressions’ (meant to be less harsh than ‘coupures’ though both translate as ‘cuts’ in English) give enough financial room to the government, he assured.

Mrs Loubry was not convinced: “I have nothing against virtue, Sir, but until there are concrete numbers on the table and quality standards set, I will be waiting.”

In fact, the Premier’s responses to concerns about healthcare, state-funded kindergartens and education were all roughly the same: the lack of funding was a lesser problem than the inadequate management of it and reinvestment will come when Quebec will have made sufficient room for it in the budget.

Even if he delivered his responses as confidently as ever, he is facing growing skepticism. According to the Léger-Le Devoir survey published last week, an all-time high of 68% of Quebeckers are unsatisfied with the Couillard administration.

Half-way through his mandate, the PM’s appearance on national television was an admittedly courageous attempt to connect with the population, but not a successful one. While Couillard’s persistence in talking about “compressions” and “rigour” instead of budget cuts and austerity might have been reassuring once, it now only seems to emphasize his disconnect with the people’s reality.

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.

Yesterday like hundreds of fellow UQAM students, I occupied the J-A. De Sève building. Like hundreds of my fellow students, I occupied my university to send a simple and clear message to a megalomaniac and intransigent administration,.completely high on power administration; a dignified university; and a post-secondary educational institution that calls itself such belongs first and foremost to the students and the teachers.

Yesterday, I couldn’t have been prouder of being a UQAM student. I was proud of my fellow students, of the ecstatic sense of solidarity that filled the air, and of being part of it. Yesterday, I couldn’t have been prouder of my teachers, who stood arm in arm with us on the front lines and denounced the presence of anti-riot squads within our campus.

Applying to university many people look for prestige, for a name on a diploma. I applied to UQAM because UQAM fights, because education is more than just sitting in a classroom, because we learn as we struggle, as we fight together.

Today, the mainstream media, as per habit, will rain down blame and accusations on the students, those “ragged bunch of anarchists” and “masked terrorists” who rampaged and put to fire and sword our beloved university. There will be calls across the board to put an end to the “violence” and “intimidation.”

But let’s be clear here. Is there any violence that is symbolically or quantitatively more violent than that of university administration calling on riot-cops to club and charge their own students? Within a university, there isn’t greater violence than that of silencing dissident voices!

Certainly, however, there have been excesses at UQAM and that’s the excesses of the administration, that isn’t recognized by those it supposedly represents!

Like many in the past weeks, I have been discouraged and demoralized by the internal fighting that has plagued our movement, in particular surrounding the former executive of ASSÉ. This harmed the movement and the articulation of our message more than anything else.

Some have said we’re in need of a unifying moment, we found such a moment yesterday!

To all of those who don’t want to get involved, unfortunately you have no other choice – we collectively have no other choice. Either we take full repossession of our university – we re-take what is rightfully ours – or we capitulate at the feet of a logic of commodification that uses brute force to impose its world view. Either we uphold the democratic decisions of our student association, our student democracy, and the right for students to have a say in their education, or we lose democracy altogether!

To civil society, to those that are students, but not students of UQAM, to the workers, and in general, to those most affected by the austerity measures, do you not see the inequality of opportunity this government wants to impose on us? This struggle is yours as well!

This struggle belongs to all of those that believe in the “radical” idea that education and profit aren’t synonymous. They’re antithetical! This struggle belongs to those that believe that a university isn’t a factory, that we can aspire to more than being service-sector, minimum wage, 9 to 5, cubicle confined workers.

This struggle belongs to everyone who believes in the fundamental idea that some things are more important than “profit” – that people are more important than profit! Our struggle is a struggle to uphold one of the most fundamental freedoms and a guiding principle that should be laid at the foundation of every society: the principle that the transmission of knowledge should be non-merchandised, universally accessible to all regardless of your class, your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, your political beliefs, your religious beliefs.

If you believe in such things your place is alongside us, with us on the front lines.

We won’t give-up a centimeter, we will resist, we will overcome!

La lutte continue!

Photograph by Benjamin Prunty.

So how do I feel about the Quebec 2014 election results? Hmm, well, that’s a tough one. Really, it is.

I’ll break it down for you:

The Good: Xenophobia lost hardcore

This election may be remembered as a historic loss for the PQ and an end to Pauline Marois’ long political career, but that’s not the real story. This was primarily a rejection of the Charter, state-sanctioned xenophobia and the politics of ethnic and cultural division. And that is a very good thing.

Marois wasn’t elected to ban hijabs and turbans and when she staked her re-election on it, she lost resoundingly. I doubt the PQ, or any other Quebec political party for that matter, will try using extreme identity politics again.

I’m proud that the place I call home won’t be known internationally as the racist part of Canada for much longer. That was sooo 2007.

I’d also like to congratulate Manon Massé for winning in Sainte Marie-St-Jacques. Quebec Solidaire now has three MNAs and a strong, committed activist now has a voice in the National Assembly.

marois resigning

The Duh: Liberal Victory

It makes sense. After PKP’s fist bump and Marois desperately trotting out Charter supporters who apparently had no clue what the proposed law was supposed to do (seriously, Janette Bertrand needs a better rental agreement and maybe a psychiatrist, not a government edict) it became apparent that the PQ was going to lose power.

I know that barring a political wave (they do happen here from time to time), Quebec wasn’t ready for a QS or Green government and the CAQ was fast becoming redundant. That leaves the Liberals.

I was fully expecting a Liberal victory and thought the prospect of Couillard as premier for a bit was a necessary evil that I could endure. Except…

The Bad: It’s a Liberal Majority

I like a minority government situation. It forces the party in power to either work with the other parties and by extension the voters who put them there or pull a Marois and try to re-work the social fabric and go out in a blaze of wealthy Islamic fundamentalist McGill students stealing your pool time.

It also sends a strong message about voter intentions. Giving an opposition party minority government status is more a rejection of the outgoing party than approval of the incoming one.

In 2012, people voted against Jean Charest, Bill 78 and his austerity agenda more than they voted for the PQ. It was clear to almost everyone except Marois, but then again, she also thought the Charter was a good idea and believed that PKP wouldn’t stab her in the back, not the sharpest tack in the drawer.

If this time around the result had been a Liberal minority, it would have been clear that people voted against Marois and the Charter and the Liberals happened to benefit. Instead we have a majority and the Couillard can claim to have a mandate from voters, because, well, he does.

A few months from now, very few will remember how we ended up with the PLQ in power. When Couillard passes austerity measure after austerity measure, tries to privatize healthcare and raise tuition again, there won’t be anyone standing up saying “dude, you’re only here because the last premier was a racist nutjob and an international embarrassment.”

Couillard isn’t Jean Charest. He’s more of a placeholder PLQ leader who found himself with a majority government because of a strategically inept PQ. I can only hope he recognizes that and doesn’t try to foist an agenda on people who were, for the most part, listening to what the PQ was saying when they voted Liberal.

If instead he tries to be Charest, we’re in for four years of social unrest that may make the Maple Spring look like a day in the park.

A wise man once spoke ill of political parties. He suggested that they should exist only for as long as it takes to accomplish their goals, and that once this is done they disband, for they tend not to age very well. The longer a political party continues to amble along, the higher the chance it will grow inept and corrupt. It will lose sight of its original purpose and become increasingly defensive in trying to justify its existence. Given enough time it will become the personification of all the errors that it originally sought to correct.

The wise man that I’m paraphrasing is none other than René Lévesque, and he was speaking specifically of the future of the Parti Québécois from around the time he resigned as premier back in 1985.

Much to ‘Oncle René’s’ likely chagrin, the PQ has become the tired old party of Quebec politics and the 2014 election has demonstrated their current incarnation is wholly unfit to govern the province because of how it chooses to self-identify. Marois made the decision to make this election about institutionalizing discriminatory hiring practices and running headlong into another interminable round of go-nowhere constitutional negotiations. I cannot recall another instance in Canadian politics in which a major political party has been so thoroughly out of touch with the population it represents; and therein lies the problem.

The PQ has demonstrated, unequivocally, that they call the shots on who they consider to be Québécois. They, somewhat like the federal Tories, are disinterested in appealing to anyone ‘outside the tribe’, anyone who isn’t already a diehard supporter and, as such, narrowed the margins on who will vote for them by a considerable degree. In sum, those who will vote PQ will have had their minds made up well before the writ was dropped. How anyone in the PQ camp could have thought this was a good idea is beyond me. Perhaps it proves the point – the Parti Québécois is so convinced of the justness of their cause they’re completely blind to how they’re perceived by the public they ostensibly hope to represent.

And so today we pull the trigger, but let’s face it: the decision has already been made. Philippe Couillard will be the next premier of Quebec and it’s entirely possible he’ll win enough seats to form a majority government.

This reality is not a consequence of any grand vision or sensible plan on the part of the Quebec Liberal Party or its leader, but entirely as a result of how they responded to the unmitigated political disaster of a campaign put on the Parti Québécois.

In boxing it’s called ‘rope-a-dope’ and Muhammad Ali used it to successfully defeat George Foreman in the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle bout held in Kinshasa. The technique involves one man taking a defensive position from the outset and letting his opponent flail away until exhaustion, at which point the defender begins exploiting the inevitable mistakes and subsequent weaknesses until overcoming his opponent. By propping himself against the edge of the ring, Ali was able to transfer the shock of Foreman’s repeated blows onto the elasticity of the ropes rather than his own body. All of Foreman’s effort was for naught, and the more frantically he tried to land the perfect punch the more he opened himself up to increasingly debilitating strikes.

Forty years later the same basic concept may have been used by Couillard and his tacticians to expose the xenophobic, intolerant and unreservedly opportunistic péquiste government for what it truly is. And frankly, we’re better off for it. Everyone who ever questioned the PQ’s social-democratic and progressive integrity has been vindicated. We now have actual proof the PQ is more concerned about correcting imagined threats to our culture and bickering with the federal and other provincial governments than it is with the well-being of the people of Quebec.

QC_polling_campaign_2014

In 2013-14 the PQ sold out its base. First they rammed through austerity measures and increases to tuition, alienating itself from the student movement that played an important role in getting Jean Charest evicted from power. Then they proposed a Machiavellian charter ostensibly designed to ensure men and women are equal in our province and that secularism reigns in the civil service, but in reality effectively institutionalizing discriminatory hiring practices and forcing religious minorities – a significant number of whom are women – from their jobs.

So much for social democracy and progressivism.

And then, just when you thought the PQ couldn’t make any more appallingly foolish political decisions, they turn around and hire the union-busting C. Montgomery Burns of Quebec media, Pierre-Karl Péladeau. The man who owns Quebecor and Sun Media/Sun News Network, the media conglomerate nearly single-handedly responsible for all the yellow journalism, anti-Quebec, anti-Canadian and general anti-immigrant sentiment in the whole country, this was to be the economic wizard of a newly independent Quebec.

Needless to say all of this didn’t sit very well with Quebec voters. On the idea of a referendum Quebecers of all languages, religions and cultural backgrounds are emphatically opposed. The simple reality is that we’re poor, a have-not province, and independence isn’t going to change that (other than eliminating equalization payments and creating a lot more debt). The people of Quebec want jobs, good jobs, jobs they can work until they retire that will afford them a modest middle class lifestyle and the means to raise a family. Dreams of independence went over like a lead zeppelin – what are the people here to dream of when their bread and butter concerns aren’t being addressed? And the more Pauline Marois or Françoise David pushed the dream of an independent country, the more they pushed themselves away from a sizable group of people in this province who are savvy enough to question the near fanatical devotion of separatist politicians to the cause.

We’ve been preached to enough. The people of Quebec have toiled for many generations under those who proselytised to the masses with ideas of future paradise in exchange for present-day suffering.

By the end of the day we may have four years of uninterrupted Liberal governance to look forward to and a neurosurgeon for a premier. We’ll have a man who got his start under Charest but has so far managed to keep his name out of Charbonneau Commission hearings. We’ll have a man who doesn’t believe multi-lingualism will threaten the sanctity of Quebec culture. We’ll have a man who was either in cahoots with or was duped by Arthur Porter (and I’ll add the list of names in the latter camp is far longer than those in the former) and who made the choice to legally deposit his earnings from some years working in Saudi Arabia into an offshore tax haven, rather than his home province where he’d lose about half to the state. Perhaps most importantly, we’ll have a man with enough political intelligence to be against another referendum and virulently opposed to the very essence of Bill 60. In my opinion, given the poverty of our provincial politics, this is the lesser evil, the best-case scenario.

But don’t take this as any kind of personal endorsement either. I’m not impressed across the board, and haven’t yet decided whether or not I’ll spoil my ballot. This is merely an opinion on the campaign and what I believe to be the likely outcome, no more or less.

We asked our readers to tell us who they planned to vote for in the 2014 Quebec Election. When our poll closed at midnight, the results were clear.

With 115 votes cast in total, 50% of people chose Québec Solidaire. The Liberals finished in second place with 33% of the vote and the newly re-vamped Green Party came in third with 11%. The Parti-Québécois and Coalition de l’Avenir du Québec tied for fourth place, garnering three votes apiece and beating out “none of the above” and “not sure yet” who tied for fifth. Option Nationale and “there’s an election?” round off the list, each getting one vote.

Our readers’ reasons for voting the way they did are most likely quite varied and some may even be strategic. Blocking the PQ is very in this year and the best party to do that with depends on where you live (people living in Rosemont and the Plateau, for example, have a better chance of stopping Marois with a QS vote than one for the PLQ).

So I’m not going to try and guess their reasons. What I will do is mention what the top three parties on our survey are offering.

2014 quebec election poll

Quebec Solidaire: A new approach

A vote for Quebec Solidaire is a vote for a new social justice-focused way of doing things. It’s a vote against the old two-party system, a way to vote against Marois without re-hiring the PLQ which Quebec voters fired just 18 months ago.

They are are offering a renewed investment in social programs, healthcare (some CLSCs will stay open 24 hours in their plan), a tuition freeze leading to free education and free public transit in the next ten years. These all serve as job creation programs, too. QS definitely supports workers’ rights but won’t sacrifice the environment for the economy as they are opposed to fracking for shale gas on Anticosti Island.

Instead of pie in the sky (not to be confused with the pie on their poster about a more equal society), they have a plan to pay for all their projects. In keeping with their approach, it relies largely on taxing the banks more.

While QS is a sovereigntist party, they’re not offering the xenophobic vision of it that the PQ is. Instead, they want to reform Quebec democracy by bringing in proportional representation then create inclusive constituent assemblies with the goal of concentrating less power in federal hands and put the result of those assemblies to a vote in a referendum.

Quebec Liberals: What You’d Expect

As for the Liberals, who were on top of our poll for a while and by all indications will form the next government, well, we pretty much know what we can expect. After all, we just got over nine years of PLQ rule.

Now Phillippe Couillard is not Jean Charest, He seems more rational, calmer and less autocratic than our former premier was at the end. He has also promised to slow down shale gas exploration, though not abandon it completely (his party was the one who first brought up the idea) and decided against re-instating the previous PLQ government’s tuition hike, opting to keep Marois’ indexation plan instead.

That doesn’t mean that the Libs are no longer the party of austerity, quite the opposite. It’s just that their austerity doesn’t include strong restrictions on personal and religious freedoms to please the socially conservative the way the PQ version does through their charter. They’re also committed federalists and overall have the best chance of replacing the PQ.

quebec leaders debate

Green Party of Quebec: Strong platform, small slate of candidates

The Green Party of Quebec under new leader Alex Tyrrell are focused on eco-socialism, which for them includes no shale gas fracking and free public transit in five years (instead of the decade in the QS platform). They are also the only party completely opposed to the Charter in any form (the PLQ, QS and CAQ all have versions of it, albeit less overreaching than the PQ version).

To be honest I love their platform and voted for them myself in this poll. To also be honest, they’re not running a full slate of candidates, so even if there was a green wave (in the volatile world of Quebec politics, anything is possible) they still couldn’t form government.

So there you have it. FTB readers have spoken and now you have until 8pm to vote, if you haven’t already. For info: monvote.qc.ca

 

The hustle and bustle of the election will finally come to a halt on Monday evening as the polls close and slowly the votes start to trickle in. This will mark the end of one of the most divisive and “dirtiest” electoral cycles in Quebec’s modern history. For those that see a sliver lining in the clouds with the victory of Couillard’s Liberals and the ousting of Pauline Marois’s short-lived administration, be careful for what you wish for.

On Tuesday morning as Quebec awakes to a new government and a premier, one thing will not have disappeared. The dismissal of the PQ will not dismiss discrimination.  If there’s but one prognostic I will make for Monday night it’s that roughly 80% of the new occupants of the National Assembly will be aligned with the right and will full-heartedly push for more austerity and more cuts, thus pushing for further inequality and economic discrimination.

The most fascinating aspect of this election for me was that discrimination or the fight against discrimination was a central theme of this campaign. In the end it seems that many of my fellow electors are quite alright pushing aside the allegations of corruption that have been made against the PLQ in past years to fend off the threat of “ethnic nationalism” under the auspices of an hypothetical PQ government. And yet few who follow this logic have taken into account the most brutal form of discrimination: inequality.

couillard sign plq
Not sure if the link listed works plq.org/appauvrissement (image pancarte.tk)

According to the polls (they might be wrong but let’s say they’re right) Mr. Couillard will become the next premier of Quebec and the Liberals will form the next government. Quebec will elect yet another Liberal administration with a mandate to dismantle every social safety net they can, battle unions and the economic gains that were fought for during generations and generations, liberalize the economy and slowly hatchet the social fabric of Quebec society. Well, at least we’ll have the consolation prize of having defeated “institutional discrimination” at the ballot box.

Unfortunately we might wake up sooner rather than later to the gruesome reality that the phantoms of discrimination still roam freely and unhindered by the results of the election. When the Charter became the central theme of the campaign, it threw a veil over many important issues, making them non-existent specters within the political arena.

But most importantly, the Charter had the direct consequence of making inequality,  the most recurrent form of discrimination within Quebec society today, invisible. From the start of this campaign the PQ gave victory to the Liberals on a silver platter, for it’s the Liberal trademark to make discrimination solely an affair of individual liberties while on the other hand promoting economic discrimination and the denial of fundamental economic rights.

Those that will vote PLQ “strategically” Monday to chase away the ghosts of discrimination that have haunted this province for the past six months will assure these specters merely a stronger place within our society.  A vote for the PLQ on Monday could be compared to a morbid ghostly dance, a clear invitation to the phantoms of discrimination to make themselves at home in a society that will protect the principal and not the practice of equality.

During the campaign we heard the PQ say that a vote for the CAQ was a vote for the PLQ, we heard the PLQ say that a vote for the CAQ was a vote for the PQ, the truth is that a vote for the PLQ is a vote for the PQ if you’re voting against discrimination. A vote for the PLQ, PQ or CAQ is a vote for discrimination, do not fool yourselves.

Inequality will always be the worst form of discrimination, because poverty is the worst form of violence.

A luta continua!

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!

It certainly isn’t an understatement to say that in the past weeks the political debate in Quebec has revolved around the charter. It is my personal belief that it is a very important debate to be had, not because the charter itself has any premise but rather because the purpose of the charter is wrongful and would be extremely harmful for Quebec society at large. But I also don’t believe that it’s an understatement to say that the charter is but a smokescreen made to emphasize ‘differences’ that have never existed in the first place.

Yes, it is my belief as I have said in one of my past articles that the charter was a sort of electoral shortcut, a magical illusion serving the purpose of creating a debate that couldn’t hold it’s ground in the real world, the place outside the realm of political spin. All the evidence shows that there is no ‘integration’ problem in Quebec, the number of reasonable accommodations has never been flagrant and comparatively to other immigration situations throughout the world, especially in Europe, there hasn’t been any ‘flare-ups’ such as 2005 in France or London 2013.

Why the charter debate then? There are many explanations, especially political ones, but the truth is that it’s a debate that suits the ‘neo-liberal’ forces in the Quebec National Assembly because with such a smoke screen they can make their true intentions disappear.

On Tuesday the announcement was made, in very vague terms, that hypothetically in the near future public hospitals would have the possibility to charge patients for their beds. In clearer terms it means the death of public health care as we know it.

Unlike the debate on the charter this is a debate in which all three main political parties, the PQ, the PLQ and the CAQ, in Quebec City are on the same wavelength.

In this dire situation, should the charter still be at the center of our political debate? Should the charter still be on everybody’s mind?

Well that’s were it gets problematic, doesn’t it? The fact is that discrimination is unacceptable in any condition, but while the charter continues to monopolize all the space within the public arena, economic discrimination is at its point of culmination.

The fight against the charter must go hand in hand with the fight against economic discrimination, because in the end, discrimination, whether its origin is xenophobia or economic inequality, is still discrimination. The fight for a more just society encompasses the fight for public universal health-care, the fight universal public education and the fight for minority rights, the rights of refugees, the fight for civil rights.

The false dichotomy that divides civil rights from economic and social rights must be abolished. Until then, our struggles are but disjoint pieces of a huge jigsaw.

The theoretical right to be a free entity able to express one’s singularity is a fundamental human right. The debate revolving around the charter is an important one because we must defend that fundamental human right, but what is theoretical freedom worth if, in practice, outside the world of theory, the balance of your bank account is the soul decider of if you live a decent life or a miserable one, if you enjoy all the freedoms at your disposal or not, if you succumb to sickness or survive.

Over my dead body will any government privatize public health care.

* Top image: Rémi Prévost, marxist.com

Alex Tyrrell is the new leader of the Quebec Green Party. He’s also a candidate in today’s provincial by-election in Outremont, running against Quebec Liberal leader Philippe Couillard. While Couillard had initially agreed to debate him, the PLQ boss has since backed out.

“The small parties have tougher questions to ask than the big parties do,” Tyrrell theorized about Couillard’s change of heart in a phone interview, “it would be a lot easier for him to debate Pauline Marois or Francois Legeault than the leader of the Green Party or candidates from Option Nationale or Quebec Solidaire.”

Tyrrell would have pressed Couillard on Anticosti Island and the fracking agreement former Liberal leader Jean Charest signed with the private sector, where residents only get 3% of the royalties (known in some circles as “the theft of the century”). While Premier Pauline Marois had campaigned against hydraulic fracturing for shale gas, she has done an about face since being elected simply by changing the wording. Apparently “oil shale” is okay for her, or fine enough that she would have no reason to attack Couillard on the issue.

Tyrrell also thinks public transit is extremely important. The Greens haven’t had their policy convention yet (Tyrrell was only elected leader a few months ago), but when they do, Tyrrell will be arguing (as he is in Outremont) for free public transit.

“Free transit is really an incentive that will be matched with a major expansion of the public transit networks across the province,” he said, “it’s also a social justice issue. We think it’s completely unfair that people have to pay $77 per month if they’re not a student for an STM pass and more if they come farther away. It’s counter-intuitive.”

Tyrrell thinks the incentive approach is much better than some heavy car tax. He feels that making public transit a province-wide priority and increasing funding to this shared provincial/municipal responsibility will achieve both social justice and environmental goals without penalizing workers who live far from public transit and need their cars.

“Even if some people live far from major cities,” he argues, “if we reduce the number of cars in the cities, it will reduce climate change.”

The riding he hopes to win tonight is not only a transit hub, it has been Liberal for quite some time. While Tyrrell admits that residents there have been represented by a fair share of cabinet ministers, it doesn’t mean the Liberals have been listening to what they want.

“For the longest time, they’ve been taken for granted by the Liberal Party,” he says of Outremont electors, “there’s a pattern of the Liberal candidates not showing up for debates and not being involved in the riding.”

Tyrrell would like to change that and has been going door-to-door in Outremont to get that message out, despite having to split his time between Outremont and leading the party. He’s found that people there are disappointed that, while the Greens and other smaller parties are running, the major parties (PQ and CAQ) are treating it like a foregone conclusion that Couillard will win.

“The feeling I’m getting,” he recounts, “is that the people are disappointed that the other parties aren’t running and that the by-election is being abused not only by the Liberals but by the other parties as well who are refusing to participate. I think they’re not very happy about being taken for granted.”

* polls in Outremont and Viau are open until 8pm tonight, Monday December 9th. Voting info is available at monvote.qc.ca