Québec election: Right wing CAQ victory but Québec Solidaire rising

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There is no reason to celebrate the election of a Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) majority government. Not since Maurice Duplessis’ rule has there been broad electoral support for a political party that is both intolerant of people of colour and immigrants, and has a right-wing economic agenda. There is no question of “giving them a chance” in office.

The question is not whether the CAQ will attack the working class, but rather when and on what issue it will attack. As newly-elected Sherbrooke Québec Solidaire (QS) MNA Christine Labrie said in her victory speech, we must “stay mobilized” to resist the coming attacks.

The next four years may be painful. The CAQ will try to privatize, cut services and attack workers with the blessing of chambers of commerce and employers. This is not to mention the CAQ’s complete indifference towards the environment.

Rejection of the established parties

The two parties that have taken turns running the province for decades got a clear message from voters: working class people are sick of them. Support for the Québec Liberals (PLQ) and the Parti Québécois (PQ) is lower than ever before. The PQ is at the bottom of the roster behind Québec Solidaire. This is a spectacular drop and a massive rejection of a party that fails to excite, neither with its independence project nor with its “alternative vision for the province” in recent years.

The Liberal’s ridings (constituencies) are now almost entirely confined to Montreal. The party reaped the reward for repetitive corruption scandals and deep cuts to public services.

Meanwhile, the PQ has been completely ejected from the island of Montreal and is no longer the main pro-independence party in Québec. Its turn to the right over the last decades has proved fatal. Some of its electorate preferred to vote for QS’s clear left programme, while its more right-wing supporters decided to vote for a party that better represented their values: the CAQ. Sitting between two chairs never pays off, and the PQ learned this the hard way.

Québec Solidaire is now the voice of the pro-independence political left in Québec. It not only won in 10 ridings (up from 3) but came second in 12 ridings, including in Assomption, the riding of CAQ leader François Legault.
CAQ: Mixed support, but clearly right-wing

Legault may continue to play up anti-immigrant prejudice in order to sow division and advance his political programme for the 1%. But, in the midst of a crisis of labour shortages, it would be foolish for him to continue down the road of calling for reduced immigration to Québec. Most aspects of immigration policy are the federal government’s jurisdiction and it would be surprising if the CAQ decides to fight Ottawa on this issue.

The CAQ seems to be moving towards banning all religious symbols, especially non-Christian, in the public sector. The trade union movement will have to organize a grassroots campaign against racism and intolerance in workplaces. On the other hand, Legault, as a typical boss, will always choose profit over identity politics. This could, sooner or later, offend his socially-conservative electorate.

The CAQ’s vote of 37% does not necessarily translate into solid support for its capitalist and xenophobic agenda. The CAQ is a party of political defectors whose only common ground is their rejection of the federalist versus sovereigntist debate and respect for Legault’s leadership. Many new CAQ members have expectations on social issues, such as support for family caregivers, which the CAQ platform promised. At the first signs of austerity measures, support for the CAQ is likely to crumble very quickly.

As Alternative Socialiste wrote in 2012: “The party’s social base is mainly composed of a range of business people annoyed by both the PQ and the PLQ. François Legault’s partisans rely heavily on political opportunism and calls for change to set themselves apart from other politicians. People have all kinds of expectations of this party.”

This broad base with high expectations is what allowed Legault’s majority victory, but it is also what makes him vulnerable. There are already good prospects for mass mobilization against the CAQ.

Québec Solidaire’s success

The rise of Solidaire is the other headline of the election, more than doubling its popular support. QS reached its electoral goals: increase popular support, increase the number of its MNAs, and win seats outside Montreal. Success! With two seats in Québec City, one in Rouyn-Noranda and one in Sherbrooke, as well as six in Montreal, QS has the opportunity to build movements of struggle across Québec.

QS’s success flowed from its platform and campaigning. Its strong policies, to tackle inequality and improve public services, were almost the exact opposite of the other parties. QS campaigned for:

• Free and accessible public education from pre-school to university
• Strengthening public medicare, including universal dental care and a pharmacare programme
• A $15 an hour minimum wage
• Increased pension benefits for low-income and special-needs families
• Strengthening labour rights with anti-scab legislation, the right to strike on social issues and four weeks vacation after one year of employment

QS also tackled democratic and human rights issues, such as:
• Affirmative action for minorities in the public sector and recognition of foreign diplomas
• Establishing a universal legal aid plan
• Decriminalizing the simple possession of all drugs and treating drug dependency as a public health problem
• Public education to combat stigmatization and harassment of sex workers
• A public campaign against sexual violence
• Adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and the implementation of the 94 calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

QS was the only party to focus on climate change, with its platform stating that, “the fight against climate change is the biggest challenge of our century.” Its environmental program included:
• Free public transit within 10 years
• Nationalization of inter-city transportation and a big increase in service, with a high-speed link between Montreal and Québec City
• An $8 billion increase in transit infrastructure spending, with special attention to the electrification of trucking
• Giving communities a veto over mining permits and increasing mining royalties to 5% of the gross value of output, compared to the present rate of around 1%
• Strengthening Québec’s environmental agency to include free and informed consent of Indigenous communities for any development project on their lands and all mining projects to be subject to an environmental assessment

Québec Solidaire waged an energetic and enthusiastic campaign with large and youthful rallies. It now has 20,000 members out of a population of 8.3 million.

An alliance with the PQ?

A number of times, the PQ leadership proposed an alliance between itself and QS. The membership of QS has rejected this repeatedly, recognizing that such an alliance would marginalize QS’s social and grassroots demands and submit QS to the francophone, nationalist capitalist class in Québec.

In the past, the hard work of PQ activists won important gains for Québecers, such as the establishment of French as the language of work in Québec (Bill 101) and the creation of affordable childcare centres. However, the PQ has betrayed working people too many times with cuts to public services, its prejudicial Québec Charter of Values and choosing the anti-union Pierre-Karl Péladeau of Québecor as its leader.

As QS leader, Manon Massé, stated, QS has to link the question of Québec independence to “people’s everyday needs and concerns.” It is impossible to do this if trying to reconcile class contradictions as the PQ tried to do for too long.

Québec Solidaire: the way ahead

The long and patient work of QS’s founding activists and left-wing organizations has borne its first fruit: the overwhelming enthusiasm of thousands of young people at QS election rallies. Much has been done since union activist Michel Chartrand ran against Lucien Bouchard in 1998, with the slogan of “zero poverty” in reply to Bouchard’s “zero deficit.” It has been nearly 20 years of patient activist work to build a left-wing, pro-independence alternative in Québec.

Québec Solidaire activists now need to continue this fight with pride. The future of QS does not lie with mediocre agreements and parliamentary intrigues; QS’s future is in building struggle in the streets. The new MNAs must use their positions in parliament to mobilize in the streets and to build mass movements.

QS should not spend money on public relations to look good in front of the bourgeois media; instead, it should create independent media and distribute it to people. The road to a QS government and, more importantly, the carrying out of QS’s programme requires the mobilisation of Québec’s working class. The trade union movement cannot continue to ignore the need for a political alternative that defends its interests. It is time to start discussions in the workplaces and to promote support for Québec Solidaire.

Alternative Socialiste is part of QS and will campaign in the workplaces, unions and communities to build a strong socialist wing in QS as part of the way ahead.

QS’s next election campaign must start today! Meeting people tirelessly, publicizing the ideas of the party, demonstrating with workers, being at the forefront of environmental struggles, and most importantly proposing an alternative to the current capitalist system.

Let’s build fighting working groups in our neighbourhoods and workplaces!
Let’s build a democratic mass movement against austerity and racism!

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