by Johan Boyden
Quebec headed to the polls on Sept. 4 for a historic election. The Liberals, including leader Jean Charest, went down to defeat, as voters granted a slim minority government to the Parti Québécois (PQ) led by Pauline Marois.
The PQ’s first act will be to cancel the tuition fee hike and abolish Law 78, which effectively criminalized the student strikers. Their platform also called to abolish tuition increases until 2018, eliminate the health tax, reconsider additional fees for Hydro Quebec usage, increase taxes and fees on natural resource exploitation, expand daycare spaces, and enact Employment Insurance reforms by repatriating EI to Quebec.
Marois’ PQ, however, is nine seats short of a majority to implement this agenda, sitting at 54 MNAs. The Liberals won 50 seats in the 125‑member National Assembly, while Francois Legault’s new ultra‑right Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) expanded to 19 seats. The progressive Quebec Solidaire (QS) doubled to two MNAs, and is expected to have a bigger presence in the National Assembly beyond its small numbers.
Speaking to People’s Voice, Robert Luxley, editor of the Communist Party of Quebec’s newspaper Clarté, drew attention to voter participation and the strong mobilization by right‑wing forces. At almost 75 per cent, the turnout approached levels similar to the 1998 election (following the second referendum on Quebec’s independence).
As leaked Liberal strategy documents revealed, Charest pursued a strategy of provocation and intransigence towards the student strike for months, hoping to create the basis for a “law and order” campaign. On the eve of the election the Liberal message shifted to blackmail, threatening voters with catastrophe if the PQ won and called another referendum.
On the other hand, pressure from the people’s forces, unleashed as the student struggle broadened into a popular movement, pushed the PQ into adopting a progressive‑sounding and nationalist agenda. Without the student mobilizations, the PQ platform would probably have reflected their true identity as a nationalist party of small and large‑scale business.
Many new young voters turned to Quebec Solidaire and helped double their popular vote. But another large component of high participation came from ridings won by the CAQ, often in places where the populist ADQ had made gains in the past.
The Liberals received 31.2% and the CAQ 27% of the popular vote. The PQ took 31.95% while QS won just over 6%. Thus the division of the right helps explain the victory of the PQ.
Unable to avoid convening a commission on corruption scandals, Charest effectively set the election timeline when his government established the commission’s schedule. In the end the Liberals were squeezed by the student protests, which favoured the PQ.
The Liberals won seats in Quebec City and the regions, but the lions share of their seats came from Greater Montreal, the Gatineau‑Hull area, and the Eastern Townships ‑ not surprising given that they were the only federalist party in the election.
Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said the vote suggests debate about the national question should now be shut down. This stifling of democratic discussion about Quebec’s future is unlikely to happen, however, given the reactionary framework that federalism imposes, as well as continued chauvinism from the corporate media and some Anglophones.
At the election rally of Quebec Solidaire, newly elected MNA Francoise David congratulated Marois, and vowed to work together on any policy the PQ might advance in support of women’s rights, the environment, labour, and other social issues.
It is more likely that the PQ will now try to shift from its promises and form an alliance with the right. Another election is almost certain well before four years ‑ which has also led the NDP to officially drop its plan to build a provincial party, which is also good news for QS.
David will join QS MNA Amir Khadir in the National Assembly, representing back‑to‑back ridings in urban Montreal. While perhaps not as much as the party wished, QS made important gains and finished second in at least three other Montreal ridings.
Marianne Breton Fontaine, the leader of the Young Communist League of Quebec, doubled the popular vote for QS in the riding of Acadie, coming in with almost 2,500 votes and 8%.
The next issue of PV will have more about the response of the student, labour and people’s movements to the election results.
*Note: The above article is from the September 16-30, 2012, issue of People’s Voice, Canada’s leading communist newspaper. Articles can be reprinted free if the source is credited.
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