From the May-June 2014 issue of News & Letters:
Québec election the ‘dirtiest campaign’
The results of the Québec Election on April 7 are a disaster that may have implications for all of North America. The stakes were high, but the campaign was so bad and lacking in content that many of us joked about hoping for a spring blizzard that would give us an excuse not to leave the house and fulfill our civic duty at the polls.
The Liberal Party (PLQ) now has a majority government, 70 out of 125 seats, and may hold power for five years. Philippe Couillard, former Minister of Health and Social Services, deeply anti-labor and a stooge for the mining industry, will be sworn in as Premier very shortly. The Parti Québécois (PQ) now has only 30 seats. Premier Pauline Marois lost in her own district. Several of her cabinet ministers lost as well. The Coalition Avenir Québec, CAQ or “les Caquistes,” a “center-right” party that preaches entrepreneurism, got 23 seats, and Québec Solidaire, a nominally Leftist party with good intentions but only vague reformist ideas, not deep social change, won three seats.
This was the dirtiest campaign in memory, primarily based on salissage (dirt-throwing), rather than on substantive issues, all of it aggravated by social media. Couillard and the PLQ won, not because they campaigned brilliantly or had anything to offer, but because Marois lost control of her agenda. Her first mistake was calling an election with the hope of gaining a majority government. She came to power in 2012 because of the widespread corruption of the Liberal Charest government. One thing that voters expected from her was that she would clean house. She did to some degree, but was not decisive.
Her campaign came apart on March 9, when she shared a platform with media mogul Pierre Karl Péladeau, candidate for St-Jérôme. She allowed him to move the PQ platform from social democracy and the Charter of Québec Values to calling for a referendum on sovereignty/independence. That is not the main issue for most Québécois outside her party, nor is identity politics. Most are social democrats, and for those who are independents, independence also means freedom from capitalism and the hyper-rich like Péladeau. Marois has shown herself to be a “loose cannon.” The CAQ drained off much of the vote of those who were dissatisfied with the Liberals and might otherwise have voted PQ.
People are anxious to see who Couillard will choose for his cabinet. Most of the old Charest cabinet members are under investigation for corruption, as are most of Couillard’s top Liberal Party colleagues. There are questions about Couillard’s possible ties to the elite in Saudi Arabia, possible offshore bank accounts, and ties to mining and energy interests in Canada and elsewhere. With him, we can expect to see a renewed war on labor and on the French language, a whole new stage of environmental destruction, and even more widespread, but better hidden, corruption.
The elephant lurking in the room is a scheme being pushed by Couillard, called Plan Nord, a mining and energy extraction project that will affect a territory nearly twice the size of France, and will involve the appropriation of large areas of land belonging to Indigenous people. This is what Couillard and his Liberal Party are about. If they can cover up the inherent corruption and global corporate connivance, which goes on with that kind of scheme, they may well succeed.
Unless there is a mass movement to push things in a different direction, this election could be a setback for Québec for years to come. But for now there seems to be a lack of a concept of what a truly free Québécois or Canadian society would be like. We need to be able to recognize the new movements for freedom and humanity that are going to arise, when they arise, and then help them develop.
—Ti-Ouistiti, Montréal, and PJ, Québec