Quebec Premier Pauline Marois surprised reporters this morning when she announced that the Quebec election, originally slated for next Monday, would be postponed until August the 27th.
“With students from Ontario trying to steal our democracy by registering to vote,” Marois explained, “I cannot afford to let this election go forward on the originally planned date.”
Marois cited her earlier decision to go back on a promise of fixed election dates constitutional justification for this move. The Directeur général des élections du Québec confirmed that the elections had, in fact, been postponed, adding that April 7th will remain an advanced polling date in selected ridings. The DGEQ assured voters that any correlation between PQ strongholds and ridings allowed to vote on the original date was purely coincidental.
The Journal de Montreal, who seemed to have been tipped off in advance, are praising Marois for this move in an editorial which argues that with a much longer election cycle, Quebec is getting much more democracy. But not everyone is happy.
Liberal leader Phillipe Couillard said that he was deeply concerned that the premier would use such tactics. He added that at least it would give Quebeckers time to see what happens when Marois and her husband appear before the Charbonneau commission.
CAQ leader Francois Legeault, on the other hand, applauded the premier’s move.
“Madame Marois,” he said, echoing his recent debate performance, “Madame Marois has shown us that we don’t need the bureaucracy of an election date to practice democracy in Quebec. I welcome these extra months to connect with voters.”
Green leader Alex Tyrrell, while shocked at the announcement, wondered if this would finally show Quebeckers that the big parties did not have the people’s interests at heart. Former candidate Anarchopanda, meanwhile, started laughing uncontrollably and still hasn’t stopped.
It was Quebec Solidaire’s Francoise David, though, who made the most astute observation. After her initial surprise, she said:
“Oh, I get it, very funny. Poisson d’Avril!”
For those who don’t speak French, that means April Fools!
It’s enough to make any true bleu Quebec nationalist quake in their boots. It’s also enough to make Quebec Anglos who already feels persecuted raise up their fists.
On one hand, we have the threat of hordes of Ontario and BC students trying to steal Quebec’s election. On the other we have an all-powerful PQ practicing Anglo voter suppression and a sympathetic electoral body playing along.
It’s enough to make moderates take sides and pick up (verbal) arms. It’s enough to make people who had no intention of voting when the election was called try and do just that.
It’s also enough to distract from what the real game here is. This has nothing to do with the linguistic or national divide, it’s not even about students, though they are the ones who will bear the brunt of the bullshit.
This all started when a now former electoral officer in St-Marie St-Jacques raised a now discredited red flag about an abnormal amount of out-of-province students trying to register to vote. What followed was a back and forth in the media reminiscent of those old battles between sovereignists represented by the PQ and federalists represented by the Liberals.
The only problem is that the Liberals don’t really have a chance in SMSJ, they haven’t for decades. Even if a bunch of students originally from elsewhere in Canada did register to vote, it’s unlikely they would vote en masse for a party so many of them were protesting just a couple of years ago.
Quebec Solidaire, on the other hand, is poised to take SMSJ and other left-leaning ridings on the island of Montreal. Thanks to the xenophobic nature of the charter and Marois’ massive miscalculation in making notorious union-buster Pierre Karl Peladeau a candidate, any progressive cred the PQ may have had left seems to be evaporating and they’re getting nervous.
They hope that cries of non-francophone (read: anglo and the “other”) voter fraud help mobilize their nationalist base. Can people afford to take the chance and vote QS when there’s a threat from Ontario?
It’s also a possible out for Marois if she loses the election. The PQ is notorious for discarding leaders that don’t perform well and maybe she thinks that being able to say it was because of “Ontario et le vote étudiant” will allow her to keep her job at the head of the party.
Regardless of the narrow, selfish reasons behind the move, it is having real repercussions. Some are direct and others are much more subtle and insidious.
To vote in Quebec elections, you need to be over 18 years of age, a Canadian citizen and domiciled in Quebec for at least six months. The first two points are objective, the last one is left up to the electoral officer’s discretion.
Basically, a voter needs to prove their intent to stay in Quebec. The electoral officer is supposed to look at where they pay their taxes, which provincial government they have a health card with and other factors and decide if they’re just here for their studies or the long haul.
The government, hoping to keep students paying out-of-province tuition, already makes it hard for them to be officially domiciled here, but now those who did manage to jump through all the appropriate hoops are finding it difficult or impossible to vote here. Unfortunately, it looks like discretion has given way to rejection.
The Directeur général des élections du Québec has been rejecting would-be voters who have all the documents to indicate that they plan to stay and even declared a candidate ineligible to vote. Whether this is a normal, generally unreported practice in Quebec elections, as some have suggested, or DGEQ officials airing en masse on the side of not wanting the PQ to be able to say the elections were stolen, the damage has been done.
Students are historically a tough group to get to the polls under normal circumstances. Now, with stories out there about how difficult and ultimately fruitless trying to register to vote may be, I wouldn’t be surprised if some who may have tried to vote will just decide to stay home and not deal with the hassle.
And that, in a nutshell, is voter suppression with a Quebecois twist.
Harper would be proud, hell, the GOP would be proud. Marois has taken a strategy directly from the Republican playbook and it seems to be working.
If we don’t want a distinct Quebec culture with American-style electoral politics, there are still a few days to register to vote. QPIRG Concordia and QPIRG McGill are helping students who would like to vote but fear they may be denied or have already tried and would like to try again.
No matter who you want to vote for, or even if you plan to scratch your ballot or vote Parti Nul, if you plan to be in Quebec for most or all of the next government’s mandate, you have a right to have your say.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
The worst kept secret in Quebec is now public knowledge. Premier Pauline Marois confirmed this morning that there will be a Quebec election on April 7th.
Since the start of the polarizing debate about the Quebec Charter of Values, the Parti Quebecois has never been stronger and it seemed to be gaining strength in the lead-up to the election announcement. It also seems like many pundits, political commentators and some of the PQ’s rivals have accepted the fact that the PQ will come out of this election in a stronger position, many dare to say they might even win a majority.
One thing is certain: if the PQ does win a majority it’s because they succeeded in framing a divisive debate revolving around supposedly “Quebec Values” without ever defining what these values are. Not to mention almost every single political party expect Québec Solidaire in la chambre bleue let them get away with it because they too have turned their backs on the values of Quebec.
So what are the values of Quebec? Did they just suddenly appear in the past six months, a by-product of the PQ’s agenda of xenophobic and ethnic nationalism? Are they values that could fit into an extreme laissez-faire economic agenda? Are these values compatible with the values of austerity? To all of the above the answer is NO!
The values of Quebec that all of the political parties claim to represent are the values that were brought about by the Quiet Revolution: the values of solidarity, of inclusiveness, the fight against obscurantism (the grip that the Catholic Church had on Quebec society), the values of economic equality through welfare redistribution.
During this time, the PLQ fought for free education. The PQ itself was born out of this radical redrawing of the boarders of Quebec society.
From its inception, the PQ was nothing more than the political representation of la Révolution Tranquille, a movement that wanted to transcend the barriers of the Duplessis era. An era which had pitted Quebeckers against one another, and instead create a country in which all Quebeckers, all residents of Quebec no matter their creed, primary language or vestimentary habits, would be “maîtres chez nous” (in English “masters of their own house”), of our common house. We would be masters together or not masters at all.
In the past weeks, I’ve heard a lot of criticism of the PQ pinning them down as “traitors” because of Anticosti Island and their green light to hydraulic fracturing, or because of their decision to raise the cost of daycare. The truth is far more bitter, today the PQ, by aborting it’s initial blueprint to build a progressive sovereignist movement, has become it’s worst enemy, it’s own antithesis, its own archenemy, the PQ has become the biggest obstacle to independence-more on this in the upcoming weeks-.
Without a doubt, the PQ has betrayed Quebec, but instead of focusing on a panoply of individual events, we should take into account the broader context. Once you connect the dots, an irrefutable fact appears, the PQ has betrayed la Révolution Tranquille and thus has betrayed the principals and values that gave it birth.
When these recent events are viewed in the historical context of the past forty years of Quebec, René Lévesque’s caution that a political party, such as the PQ, should only be around for twenty years is materializing before our eyes. The PQ is nothing more than a political machine, its sole function is to gain and maintain power and thus the PQ has lost its raison d’être.
The difference between the PQ and l’Union Nationale, the right-wing nationalistic party of Maurice Duplessis and the instigator of la Révolution Tranquille, is slim, if not non-existent. This polarizing debate about Quebec values has served its purpose: to allow the PQ to keep power through the normal divide and conquer device.
And in the long run it has hurt Quebec society in substantial ways. It has rolled back the progress gained during the Quite Revolution, given a stage to extremist, nationalist, xenophobic and even some openly racist groups. Unfortunately for everyone, if the pundits are right and the PQ does win a majority, it’s back into the darkness of la Grande Noirceur.
In the past week, an interesting article was published in Jacobin magazine by Mike Gonzalez: Is Venezuela Burning? The author argued that only a deepening of the Bolivarian Revolution would save Venezuela. Here in Quebec only a deepening of la Révolution Tranquille will save us.
We must remember the legacy of the Quite Revolution, which the PQ has shamelessly abandoned. La Révolution Tranquille is far from over and it is our responsibility to ensure that the struggle of Lévesque and Bourgault, of Godin and Miron was not in vein, because the PQ will not.