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Quebec election watch: mid-campaign, the tide turns

By: 
Chantal Sundaram

September 22, 2018

Coverage of the Quebec election campaign in English Canada has focused on the big issue of contention thrown into the ring: immigration. And rightly so, since in the first two televised debates, in French and in English, François Legault (leader of the CAQ) showed his true racist colours in a hardline call for Quebec immigrants to pass a French test and “values” test within three years of immigrating.

But the other side of the story is that since those debates the CAQ has started to slip in its early lead towards majority government. In fact in the third debate, in French, when challenged by everyone on his threat to deport people who fail the tests, Legault tried to backpedal, saying, “I’m not perfect. I sometimes make mistakes when I replied to certain questions on immigration.” But Legault still made clear that his party’s position was to reduce immigration levels to Quebec: “we will take fewer, but we will take care of them.”

While all the other parties gained at their expense, the left-wing Québec solidaire (QS) surged to 17 percent – and to the high thirties in the 18-34 age group. This is not a high voting group, but the reception to QS on campuses across Quebec has been exciting and promising for building campus-based associations after the election.

Québec solidaire bump

Predictions look favourable for QS in 6 to 8 ridings – and for the first time some outside the Montreal base. For the first time, QS held their mid-campaign rally in Quebec City and drew over a thousand people.

QS co-spokesperson Manon Massé was the only “leader” who gave a completely from-the-heart wrap-up in the French debate, where she looked voters in the eye and asked them to have the courage to choose a better society than what the political elite has to offer. She talked about hospital attendants making peanuts—in fact she was the only one to talk about workers and unions—and about how small principled left forces can shape things. She emerged from the debates with a 41% confidence rating, the highest of all four parties.

At mid-campaign QS unveiled its detailed green transition plan, towards a complete break with fossil fuels and electrification of both public and private transit. Highway development would be ended, 38 new subway stations in the Montreal region would be initiated, and 300,000 green jobs would be created by investment in public transit and by nationalizing lithium mines to develop battery production, reuse and recycling.

The goal is to diminish carbon emissions by 48% from 1990 levels by 2030, and by 95% by 2050. In order to achieve this, QS would put in place $19.4 billion in a first mandate and 73 billion between now and 2030.

Who will pay for all this?

QS also put out an online financial tool to calculate how much better off the average person would be under QS policies—which include public dental insurance, free education through to doctorate, half-price public transit, and an immediate raise of the minimum wage from $12 to $15, and 4 weeks of vacation to all workers employed after 2 years. All of this is costed and paid for by a QS proposal to tax corporations and high-income earners, and to find savings in areas that currently favour the economic elite.

To top it off, Manon Massé was invited to address the Quebec Chamber of Commerce, the first time QS has been invited to address an assembly of the economic ruling class. There she spoke about QS’s positions on the $15 minimum wage, free education, and for a maximum salary cap for business leaders who receive public funds (the “Bombardier clause”).  She spoke about the need for an immediate turn to a green economy – targeting production, not just consumption - and to prioritize paying the environmental debt over the deficit.

In front of 200 business people, the Chamber of Commerce president asked: “Are you a revolutionary socialist party?” To which she replied: “Revolutionary, certainly...but socializing the economy means more that when money is invested it must not serve only a handful of people,” citing again the example of Bombardier.

While Manon made a distinction between what QS would instigate in a first mandate as opposed to the long term programme of the party, it was the essentially the same message from the campaign trail: QS stands for the redistribution of wealth.

Discontent on the ground, but at the ballot?

The big challenge will be to get the 18-34 year old set to vote. QS has the advantage in reaching them not just on the small issues in particular ridings but to have the big picture in mind.

Many students will vote either in their parents’ riding or where they’re studying, and QS is making a huge effort to reach them in the hallways and cafeterias of university campuses and colleges where the 2012 student strike was built.

There is no doubt that the CAQ is giving succor to the far right, especially La Meute, who have been running an unofficial campaign around their “Manifesto”—which took the place of candidates when they were unable to field any due to their own internal divisions. This has included vandalism at Muslim places of worship and other acts of violence, but when they tried to enter Mohawk territory in Oka to preach hatred against immigrants and recruit, they were physically run out.

The rest of the Quebec poor and working class is also grappling towards a different way out of austerity. That may translate into strategic voting in different ways in different ridings, to keep the CAQ out. And this will be understandable given the CAQ’s extreme and frightening racist call-out, despite the quieter but equally devastating racism of both the Liberals and Part Quebecois.

But the debates gave QS the opportunity to talk about employment equity for immigrants and racialized people, and about QS’s promise to recognize foreign diplomas and credentials. Manon also stated that QS is prepared to strike a commission on systemic racism in Quebec—a project abandoned by the Liberals.

In the words of Gabriel Nadeau Dubois, QS’s other co-spokesperson, “Quebec is neither more nor any less racist than other country. It’s a problem that exists everywhere across the world.”    

What’s next?

The 18 to 35 generation has already given its vote of confidence to a more progressive, radical choice and that bodes well for building a stronger activist party out of this election that has muscle not just at elections, but on the ground. It will be up to the activists of Quebec solidaire to continue building this essential alternative after October 1.

To find out more about QS, visit quebecsolidaire.net

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