Quebec has always sat on a political fault line. One earthquake after another has shaken Quebec society: the Quiet Revolution, the October crisis, the 1972 Common Front, the 250,000-strong student strike in 2005, the rise of right-wing-populist Action démocratique du Québec in 2007 and its sudden fall from grace the next year. On May 2nd, one of these earthquakes erupted again. This time it was not provincial in nature. It took on a federal dimension. The NDP -- whose existence in Quebec had been best described as marginal -- not only gained seats in Quebec but also demolished the Bloc Quebecois. Not mentioned often enough by most pundits, the NDP also won more seats than the Bloc ever got in its 20 years of existence.
A new question comes to the fore: how will this affect the 2012 provincial election in Quebec? Quebec has a Liberal government with Parti Quebecois as its official opposition. Both of their federal counterparts have just been demolished. To answer this, first we have to understand the reason behind the Orange Wave in Quebec.
Many political commentators seem quite fond of pointing their fingers at the Bloc's incompetence: they were too slow to respond, their political machine is too outdated, they were too busy attacking Harper, etc. There are many things that Gilles Duceppe could have done differently, but in the end he wouldn't be able to stop the tide that has been gathering for the past decade. Politics is concentrated economics, although their relationship is not always linear and direct.
The living condition for most working people in Quebec, and the rest of Canada, is getting increasingly dire. According to a recent study done by Statistics Canada, between 1984 and 2009, real average household debt for Canadians has more than doubled. In 2009, 76 per cent of Canadian households carried an average $119,000 debt. Among couples in the 19 to 34 year-old age groupings, the debt to pre-tax income ratio was 180 per cent, i.e. for every $1,000 earned those families owed $1,800. Before the 2008 financial crisis, there was a pervading feeling amongst Canadians that such skewed income-to-debt ratio was nothing to worry. A secure job with "middle-class" salary will ensure one's ability to eventually pay off the debt and enjoy a fulfilling retirement. The crisis hit and suddenly secure "middle-class" jobs become scarce and the prospect of retiring is getting dimmer.
Canada has yet to enter a deep economic recession like many countries -- Iceland, Greece, Ireland, to name a few -- have, but its spectre is real enough to shift Canadian political landscape. The status quo is no longer tenable in the minds of most Canadians. For decades, Quebec nationalist parties -- the PQ and the Bloc -- have dominated Quebec electoral politics. However, everything that is solid melts into air. Economic problems faced by Quebec working people have blunted the sovereignty issue. Quebecers are crying for a change. They are looking for a solution to their social problems, and they find that the party that resonates with their desire for change is the NDP and en masse they flocked to this party.
A new stage is now set for the next year provincial election in Quebec. If the almost non-existent NDP could bring 57 more MPs to accompany Thomas Mulcair, then the idea of Quebec solidaire winning dozens of seats to accompany its lone MNA, Amir Khadir, does not seem too far-fetched anymore. They are both identified as a party that fights for the poor and often share the same activists. Meanwhile Jean Charest's Liberal government is considered the most hated government in the history of Quebec, maybe only second to Duplessis. The demise of the Bloc showed that the old sovereignty spell has lost its charm and this could be a death knell to its provincial counterpart, the Parti Quebecois. Thus, the objective conditions are ripe for another earthquake in the next provincial election. Quebec solidaire has a real chance to not only win more seats but also become the official opposition, or even the government. Earlier this year its leader Amir Khadir had already been proclaimed as the most popular politician in the province, according to the Leger Markerting.
Quebec solidaire has the advantage of being able to prepare itself more readily than the NDP who was caught unaware by this Orange Wave. However, its rivals - the Liberal, the PQ, and the ADQ - have the same advantage as well. As a matter a fact, leaders of the SPQ Libre, a group of trade unionists who loyally support the PQ despite having been shown the door by Pauline Marois, have warned about the possible rise of QS at the expense of the PQ. However, sometimes the tide of history is just too big for any amount of petty manoeuvres to deflect. Didn't the Conservative, the Liberal, and the Bloc spend the last week of their campaign trying to derail the NDP but to no avail?
Quebec solidaire has been the only party that opposes in principle the austerity measures that the Liberal government put forward to deal with the budget deficit. It stands for free education and the defence of public health care. It always supports the unions in their struggles. If Quebec solidaire focuses on social and economic problems faced by the people and maintains its independence from the PQ, i.e. no alliance with the PQ under any condition, it is not impossible that it can become the legitimate political voice of the workers, the youth, and the poor in Quebec.
There is also a possibility that some sort of QS-NDP alliance might emerge. Should this opportunity presents itself all progressive forces in Quebec -- including the unions who have made a mistake of supporting the Bloc and the PQ -- should rally behind it and drop any sectarian and nationalist-federalist squabbling.
The time is truly a-changing.
Ted Sprague is a labour activist and an independent journalist based in Montreal. He also writes the "Red Star Over Asia" column for the McGill Daily at McGill University. He can be reached at
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