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Quebec political turmoil continues

Jessica Squires

January 10, 2012

It now looks like even several years of political scandals surrounding Jean Charest’s Liberal government in Quebec City will not prevent an election in 2012, perhaps as early as the spring.

Charest will want to avoid bearing the full brunt of the negative fallout from the corruption inquiry he has been forced to call into the construction industry. His only hope of doing so would be to call an election before public hearings begin in the fall. Some commentators expect the writ to drop as early as April following a budget.

PQ crisis

There are other reasons for Charest to call an election. The crisis in the Parti Québécois (PQ) is far from over, and an early election would give less time for Francois Legault’s new party, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), to build up its base and prepare for elections. CAQ is a pro-business, right-wing split from the PQ.

Legault already has eight MNAs, due to several factors. First, the Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ)—Quebec’s right-wing, populist party that was redued to six MNAs in the last election—has dissolved into the CAQ. Two former ADQ MNAs, up to now sitting as independents, have also joined CAQ.

Second, the PQ crisis caused by leader Pauline Marois’ shameful manipulation in favour of an unfair contract for the rabidly anti-union Quebecor to manage a stadium in Quebec City, led to six MNAs leaving the PQ–two of which have now joined the CAQ as well.

But, as Jean Charest observed, the ADQ have basically joined a poll. The CAQ’s support, polls actually show, is based neither on its ideas nor on Legault’s leadership, but purely on its new-ness.

Québec solidaire

In this politically charged situation, Québec solidaire (QS), the pluralist, anti-neoliberal left independentist party, will be able to make gains, especially by emphasizing how not new Legault and his party actually are. The only question is how much QS will gain, and where.

Recent polls are putting QS at 9 per cent, which is more than double what it got in the last general election. This core support seems to be solid in face of the CAQ wave. It could be enough to deliver QS a few MNAs, especially in the centre of the island of Montreal, where QS is the strongest.

Meanwhile, QS spokespeople Amir Khadir (the party’s only MNA) and Françoise David are among the most popular and respected politicians in Quebec.

Coinciding with the looming spectre of an election is a massive student mobilization, which could culminate in an unlimited general strike in late March or early April. A similar strike won a major victory against Charest in 2005. This strike could challenge both Charest and Legault and set the tone for the election and its aftermath.

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