Quebecois go to the polls

by Robbie Mahood
October 1 is election day in Quebec, the first under a new law that requires a new mandate every 4 years.

As the population wearies of cutbacks in health care, education and social services, the Liberal Party government of Philippe Couillard is facing defeat. But this will not be at the hands of their traditional rival, the Parti Quebecois (PQ).

The bourgeois nationalist PQ is in crisis. It was responsible for calling Quebec’s two referenda on independence in 1980 and 1995. But it has consigned another referendum to the indefinite future, if ever. Losing its raison d’être as the party of sovereignty, it is bleeding support mainly to the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), a populist right of centre party, now poised to oust the Liberals. Under former PQ Minister, Francois Legault, a CAQ government would deepen austerity while scapegoating immigrants and posing as the best defender of Quebec’s “interests” in negotiations with Ottawa.

That leaves the small ‘left’ party, Quebec Solidaire (QS). By pushing a pro-independence and anti-austerity agenda, QS hopes to win over sovereigntist and working class voters from the PQ. But at 10% in the polls, the most that can be expected is adding a few more deputies to its current roster of 3 out of 125 in the National Assembly.

This election testifies to the stagnation of bourgeois parliamentary politics in Quebec. A stifling ideological consensus envelops the Liberals, the CAQ and the PQ. For most voters the choice is whether to toss out one band of corrupt reactionary politicians and replace them with another. Only QS provides some measure of relief.

This reflects the current lull in social and class struggles in Quebec. That is the price for the dead weight of the bureaucratic leadership of Quebec’s unions. Having thrown their weight behind the PQ’s bourgeois nationalist project in the 1970’s, they now find themselves in a greatly weakened position after years of concessions and retreat. Union leaders have confined their intervention in this election to ‘interrogating’ the three parties that might win. Their strategic horizon is limited to securing a seat at the table when neo-liberal politicians sit down with Quebec’s business class.

The union brass is still not willing to countenance a definitive break with the PQ, only signalling to vote against the Liberals and the CAQ.

This is despite a QS election programme that the unions can certainly support: public dental care, ending public funding of private schools, free education from pre-school to university, re-orienting primary health care to the public sector, abolishing the fees families must pay to place their children in the province’s daycare centers, a promise to invest in mass transit and a quick transition to a $15 per hour minimum wage.
QS embodies contradictory elements. It is a progressive or ‘left’ party, but far from a labour or socialist party. Its evolution is increasingly determined by electoral calculations. The sometimes-radical party programme is often trimmed by the leadership so as to stay within Quebec’s liberal capitalist consensus. For example, a commitment to the COP 21 target of a 2/3’s cut in carbon emissions by 2030, was scaled back so as to close the gap with the position of the neo-liberal parties.

On the other hand, QS decisively rejected an electoral pact with the PQ. And its programme tilts leftwards, demarcating it from its rivals. It represents a partial break with the ruling class parties and there is potential for it to become a class alternative, by seeking union affiliation to the party and advancing a clear working class agenda.
That is the perspective the Ligue pour l’Action socialiste fights for within and outside of QS and the basis for our call for a critical vote for QS. We deplore the decision of the newly relaunched provincial NDP to put up candidates against QS in this election. This will divide the pro-working class electorate. The rationale for this decision can only spring from a sectarian and nationalist reflex based on loyalty to the federal Anglo-Canadian state. The provincial NDP seeks to take votes away from another much more established party of the reform-minded left just because it offers a progressive (yet, like the NDP, hardly socialist) vision and platform in the framework of an independent Quebec.

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