Québec solidaire, the new progressive political party formed by the merging of the Union des forces progressistes and Option citoyenne, faced its first electoral trial during the by-election on April 10. The general elections expected for fall, 2006, or at latest spring, 2007, will without a doubt be a colossal challenge that will force the young and growing party to face matters head on, while still seeking to do politics differently.
Passing the Electoral Test
Less than a month after its foundation in February, 2006, Québec solidaire took on a six-week electoral campaign for the by-election in the Sainte-Marie/St-Jacques riding, left vacant when MNA André Boulerice of the Parti Québecois resigned. Manon Massé, a community worker in a Laval women’s centre and one of the central figures behind the organization of the World March of Women, took up the party colours in this Montreal riding, a priority riding for the party.
Counting on more than 200 activists and volunteers (for nearly half of whom this was their first electoral experience), a campaign organizing collective of 16 people (half women) and a respectable budget of $40,000, Manon Massé put up an excellent campaign. Intensive door-knocking (more than 1,000 households met by the candidate), public assemblies (including one to consult the local population about the programme), polling calls, press conferences, etc., were all part of the strategy. The campaign benefited from the support of the Montreal Council of the Confederation of National Unions, as well as many people from a range of social movements. Québec solidaire’s two national spokespeople, Amir Khadir and Fran¸oise David, were very present throughout the campaign.
The 22-per-cent share of the vote brought the national press unanimously to declare, “Québec solidaire has passed the electoral test.” Although the PQ was able to save its stronghold, Manon Massé’s party was hot on its heels. Québec solidaire came in only five per cent behind Jean Charest’s second-place Liberal Party. Mario Dumont’s Action démocratique du Québec got only two per cent, behind the Green Party’s six per cent. Despite a low turnout (31 per cent) - fairly normal in by-elections - QS almost doubled its absolute support in the riding (nearly 3,000 votes) compared to the general elections of 2003. At that time, with double the turnout, its predecessor, the Union des forces progressistes, obtained 1,700 votes, or 6.5 per cent.
General Elections on the Horizon
General elections are anticipated for autumn, 2006. The Charest government may try to benefit from a certain warming to Conservatives in Quebec and from its affinity with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Even if these elections occur in spring, 2007, however, they will still arrive a little fast for Québec solidaire. To date, only 60 out of 125 possible riding associations have been set up.
Another challenge for Québec solidaire will be to translate the declaration of principles into an electoral platform, making sure to set out the basis for a long-term program. A national policy commission has been formed by the National Council, composed of working groups on twelve themes meant to build towards 25 propositions for a Quebec based on solidarity and realizable within a first mandate: agro-food and rural areas; alternative globalization and international solidarity; rights of First Nations; environment and energy; citizen integration; justice and public security; early childhood; education and cultural life; health; quality of life and social services; a strategy for sovereignty; an employment strategy; and democratic and regional life. Certain important reforms, like tax policy, may be the subject of wide debates and consultations over the course of a mandate. Now that pollsters include Québec solidaire on their lists, the latest polls accord the party with eight per cent support. This is simultaneously the beginning of a long process and a new cycle in the development of the Quebec Left.