The rise of the Right & the challenge of building a Left alternative
Just a few months away from the next Québec election, the polls are indicating a possible majority government for François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), with 37 per cent of the vote, versus 28 per cent for the Québec Liberal Party that continues to slide, a historic 19-per-cent low for the Parti Québécois, and a steady nine per-cent for Québec solidaire.
The financial crisis and the resulting economic uncertainty are certainly having an impact. The climate of uncertainty is not unique to Québec, but precipitated by the global crisis that is impelling large numbers of people to flee environmental disasters, endemic poverty, repression and war.
Europe and North America (with the exception of Mexico) had been relatively sheltered from the crisis until recently, mainly because of their position of dominance vis-à-vis the global south, gained through economic exploitation and militaristic policies, with the U.S. leading the way and Canada following. The resulting permanent environmental and economic crises have now reached our shores. The lasting recession that has taken hold in Europe, and the United States is now knocking at our door, both in Canada and Québec.
The tired and corrupt Liberal Party can no longer maintain credibility, despite its election promises. The prevailing winds, however, are not blowing from the Left, as evidenced by the victory of Macron in France, Trump in the United States and Doug Ford in Ontario, as well as the Conservative win in a recent Québec federal by-election in the Saguenay. This adds to the challenges faced by the Left and particularly Québec solidaire, which has to put forward a comprehensive and persuasive political response to the situation in order to convince voters of the need for far-reaching social change.
If we fail to provide this response, then protectionist and anti-immigration sentiment will maintain its hold on an electorate in search of solutions. To defeat the Right, we need to clearly show who is responsible for the current political and economic crises.
The CAQ has used the issue of immigration to earn political capital, arguing that we need to lower immigration levels to ensure better integration of immigrants into Québec society, and the party has not hidden its hostility towards refugee claimants. As for the PQ, it has no qualms about using ethnic nationalist appeals for electoral purposes.
While the Liberals and the CAQ push privatization to serve the interests of the business class, the PQ promises to be a government that is proud of its entrepreneurs and will put “the state in the service of greater economic growth.” It plans to create a more business-friendly environment by reducing regulation.
The Québec Liberal Party has been a zealous defender of the interests of the Québec business class, and especially the oil and gas companies. The CAQ works from the same playbook and has never been very critical of Liberal policies in this regard. The Parti Québécois in power under Pauline Marois behaved in a similar way, subsidizing oil exploration on Anticosti Island and tying the government to the oil companies with a contract that cost $41 million to cancel.
Québec solidaire will therefore be campaigning against a worn-out Liberal Party and a PQ in a continuous downward spiral, but also facing a general decline in mass mobilization in the wake of various setbacks in recent years. Québec’s trade union movement, for instance, failed to build on the energy and victories of the 2012 student strike.
The challenge for QS lies not only in waging a successful election campaign, in the traditional sense, but also in its ability to restore hope for change and rally the forces of social opposition to rekindle the struggle.
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. André ran for Québec solidaire in the riding of Crémazie.