At the beginning of this month Amir Khadir announced his resignation as co-spokesperson for Quebec Solidaire, Quebec's most progressive political party.
Urged on by some misleading news reports, many seem to have misunderstood this move and its significance. As Khadir explained in his letter of resignation, this is merely a natural progression for the party, and one he had been awaiting with impatience.
The constitution of Quebec Solidaire calls for two spokespersons. One drawn from the parliamentary wing of the party, in other words an elected MNA, and one from the "extra-parliamentary" wing. With the election of co-spokesperson Françoise David in September's election it became necessary for one of Quebec Solidaire's two MNAs to resign their post as spokesperson.
In his letter Khadir expressed his belief in the importance of alternating leadership, and avoiding the trap of a "cult of personality", where the leader, or spokesperson, becomes more important than the party and its ideals. He also cited QS' foundational principle of feminism in explaining that it only made sense for David to take her turn at the helm.
"To those hoping that I'll suddenly become quiet, I wish them a lot of patience. You'll still be hearing a lot from me," Khadir said, emphasizing that he will remain an outspoken MNA, and continue his high level of involvement within the party.
In a situation where one of the two spokespersons needed to resign, it only made sense for the party to give David, whose performance in the election debate was so well received, a chance to strut her stuff on the national stage. While it might be tempting to read into it, there is no truth to the idea that this resignation signals some sort of internal split or division.
With Khadir's resignation, and the ascension of David to the post of parliamentary spokesperson, attention now shifts to the question of who will replace her as "extra-parliamentary" spokesperson and President of the party.
The role will be filled by a vote of the party membership at their upcoming congress, from the 30th of November to the 2nd of December.
While there has been little public campaigning for the job, the names which came up most often when I spoke to party insiders were those of Alexandre Leduc and Andrés Fontecilla. With David holding the other spokesperson post the party policy of gender parity dictates that the new spokesperson must be male, which rules out the well respected Manon Masse, who came second to PQ MNA Daniel Breton in the Riding of Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques in September.
Leduc, a former union organizer with the Public Service Alliance of Canada (where, full disclosure, he was a colleague of mine) and student activist, ran a solid grassroots campaign in the East Montreal riding of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, coming second to Parti Quebecois candidate Carole Poirier.
Considered a rising star in the party, he has built a strong reputation on the back of his youthful charm and charisma, and ability to build a top notch organization around him (unsurprising from a graduate of one of the largest and most successful union organizing teams in the country). In his late twenties, Leduc is a veteran of the student strike of 2005, and was the president of the student employee union at UQAM and the founding President of the Quebec Council of University Unions.
Leduc remains involved in the student milieu, and his campaign was largely staffed by student activists, so his selection would be a nod to QS' allies in the powerful Quebec student movement. The largest hesitation members may have in selecting him is that it would leave QS with two white spokespersons. That's a problem ideologically for a party which prides itself on its diversity, but also practically, as making inroads in ethnic communities will be critical to building the party in the coming years.
The other potential candidate generating a great deal of interest in party circles is Andrés Fontecilla, who placed third in a relatively close three way race in the North Montreal riding of Laurier-Dorion. A Chilean immigrant whose family fled the brutal Pinochet dictatorship in 1981, Fontecilla is also a veteran of the student movement, having been heavily involved in the student strike of 1986 and serving as President of his departmental student association at the University of Montreal.
For the past fourteen years, Fontecilla has been the coordinator of the Community Solidarity Council of Villeray, a coalition of community groups working to fight poverty. Fontecilla is a strong candidate, with a great deal of respect within the party. The question mark surrounding his candidacy is how charismatic he is. He was solid, but didn't set the world on fire, during the election campaign, and members will be watching to see if he can demonstrate the type of appeal Khadir and David possess.
Another name being thrown around is that of Will Prosper, an ex-cop and founder of the anti-police brutality and racial profiling community group Montreal Nord-Republik, who ran in the riding of Bourassa-Sauve. Forget it. He's brand new to the party, and took significant convincing to run in the first place. He's a high-profile star candidate with undeniable magnetism, but now is not his time.
Finally, there is the intriguing possibility of an external candidate with star power. In this category no one would be better than Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. Smart, telegenic and a household name, I'm sure the mere mention of him gets QS members drooling.
If he wants the job, it's his. I'm just not sure he wants it. He is a populist leader in a burgeoning social movement, and for now, can likely achieve more outside of the political process than within it. I don't think it's his time either.
No doubt many more candidates will emerge between now and the convention, and there's a good chance the eventual victor won't even be one of the people mentioned here, but that's the thing about radically democratic parties like QS, they have a tendency to surprise you.
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