Québec: elections in midst of revolt

From the September-October 2012 issue of News & Letters:

Québec: elections in midst of revolt

Montréal—On Aug. 22, at least 50,000 students, workers, and social justice activists marched peacefully from Place du Canada through the streets of Montréal to Place Jacques-Cartier in “joyous protest.” Some estimates were as high as 100,000. Demonstrations have been held on the 22nd of each month since March. This was the largest of the summer. However, Radio-Canada (the French-language service of the CBC) lied about the numbers and claimed to have hired “experts in crowd evaluation” who had determined that only 12,500 had been there. Their “experts” were a marketing research firm. Radio-Canada, once accused of “radicalism” by former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, is now firmly under the iron fist of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and has lost credibility as a source of information.

It is in this context of social unrest that the Québec provincial elections will take place on Sept. 4. By the time you are reading this, you will know the results, but at this time, nine days away, there are some general projections that can be made.

The present ruling Liberal Party of Premier Jean Charest is not expected to remain in power because of the corruption scandals of the past few years (see “Québec ‘Maple Spring’ Repression,” July-August 2012 N&L). Nonetheless, it is still a contest between three parties: the Liberals, the Parti Québécois (PQ), and the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ). They are each expected to receive between 28 to 33% of the vote, which means that no party will have a majority, and that a minority government of two parties is probable.

New in Québec politics is the level of animosity between the leaders of the three parties. It is so great that such a government might be unable to last six months.

The CAQ is a new party with no elected members but is expected to do well because of disillusionment with the Liberals. Many describe it as a new version of the old Union Nationale party, basically Right-wing, with mild nationalist overtones, an attitude often called “soft federalism.” François Legault, its leader, is a former accountant and thinks like one. CAQ members prefer to call themselves “coalisé(e)s,” but are popularly called “caquistes,” a nasty scatological pun (“caca”).

Pauline Marois of the PQ might form the next government and is popular among some protesters, but is seen by others as being neoliberal. The PQ supports a secular Québec, through a “charte de la laïcité” by which religion will be kept from the political sphere entirely, though this is already the general practice in Québec. It also is pro-sovereignist and social democratic.

There is a fourth party, Québec Solidaire (QS), which has one member of the National Assembly, Amir Khadir, and which has little chance, but a lot of sympathy amongst the youth. It supports labor, feminism, same-sex marriage, the social safety net and sovereignty, but many believe that its goals are not attainable under the present social order. Still, party co-leader Françoise David did well in the televised debates, and more QS candidates may win seats, herself included, which would give them a greater voice in the Assembly.

The present demonstrations show a lot of passion, but the picket signs and discussions are not very specific. There is a sense of a need for greater ideas than those which have been articulated so far. There is much talk and passion for a “more just Québec,” but without an idea of how to get there. One sign in the march said simply, “I’m so angry that I wrote this sign.” What is new is that after so many years of stereotyping the youth of “Generation X” and “Generation Y” as being indifferent to social change, youth are once again associated with social revolution.

Another new development, is that the movement has spilled across international borders into New England and New York State, with discussions and support groups in several places. On June 13, four members of Occupy Albany were arrested for “disorderly conduct,” as the group marched in a solidarity demonstration with Québec students. Charges were dismissed, since Albany County DA David Soares refused to prosecute the cases. Occupy Albany then decided to hold solidarity marches starting at 7:45 PM every Wednesday.

After Sept. 4 a lot may have changed in Québec. Still, this passion and movement for a totally new society will continue to grow, and will continue to inspire people across national boundaries. The idea of freedom is contagious.

—Ti-Ouistiti, PJ, D. Chêneville,

Aug. 26, 2012

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