The rise of Québec solidaire was in some sense historically ordained, although we didn’t realize to what extent. We kept hoping and working to make it happen. The political process is not a linear one. There comes a time when the parties that have dominated the political stage no longer meet the demands of the moment or are unable to stem the tide of social forces. This is what happened to the Parti Québécois, which lost all credibility, and to the corrupt Québec Liberal Party.
While the election of the Coalition Avenir Québec might seem paradoxical in this context, it would be a mistake to see in it a right-wing shift in Québec society. Compared with the 2014 election, the positions of CAQ leader François Legault on immigration were rather low-key and not as far-reaching as the PQ’s campaign around the Charter of Values that tore Québec apart and contributed to that party’s defeat. Once the CAQ was elected however, Legault returned to the charge on immigration and identity.
The CAQ victory reflects a desire for change at a moment when neoliberal ideas are in the ascendant. The Liberal Party, which dominated Québec politics in recent decades, was so threadbare and unpopular that 44 of its MNAs chose not to run this time around. Despite its promises, the other traditional party of government in Québec, the PQ, introduced similar economic and environmental policies and had long since abandoned its mantle as the hope for change.
The election of the CAQ represents a break with the historical pattern of the Liberals and the PQ alternating control of the reins of government. And that is not by chance. From the start, the idea was to marginalize the PQ and the sovereignist option by creating a party based on ethnic nationalism ready to prey on the fear of immigration. And that was the aim of former PQ cabinet minister François Legault, former PQ leader Lucien Bouchard, businessman Charles Sirois and the Desmarais clan in founding the CAQ in 2011.
What made the CAQ’s task easier was the abandonment of the fight for social justice and sovereignty by successive PQ leaderships over several decades. In fact, the PQ’s only objective now is to maintain its place as a provincial manager in a globalized world with all the consequences that flow from that ambition: support for free trade, privatization, fees for public services, a tax system that favours the rich, and fossil fuel development. As a new party that had never held power, the CAQ was able to depict itself as a force for change.
In this context, the success of Québec solidaire in more than doubling its seats from three to 10, including four seats outside Montreal, is a real victory that opens a new chapter for the Left. In a way, Québec solidaire also benefited from the desire for change, but it had a much tougher hill to climb given the mudslinging against the Left. Here PQ leader Jean-François Lisée took the lead. Where earlier he had accused QS of being run by a Politburo, in the final days of the campaign he insinuated that QS co-spokesperson Manon Massé was not the real leader of the party and that QS had a hidden agenda.
The QS victory is not the mere by-product of a changing political climate; it is also the result of a protracted process of party building, especially over the last few years. It was two years ago that QS began developing its Economic Transition Plan, the backbone of our campaign. In May 2017, we also decided to run a full slate of 125 candidates and to reject forming an alliance with the PQ in spite of the pressure from various quarters and especially from PQ leader Jean-François Lisée, who wanted to persuade QS voters eager to oust the Liberal government of Philippe Couillard that the best way to do that was to cast their lot with the PQ.
By contrast, the merger of Québec solidaire and the small sovereignist party Option nationale helped to enlarge our common activist and electoral base and contributed to deepening our thinking about the future of Québec.
Translated by Andrea Levy.
André Frappier is a regular contributor to Dimension. He also serves on the editorial board of the online weekly Presse-toi à gauche and has been a member of the FTQ Montréal Labour Council for many years.
This article appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of Canadian Dimension (An Unjust Justice System).