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Québec 2008: The non-election election

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When Jean Charest launched the next election for December 2008, he obviously knew what he was doing. The popular mood is largely indifferent. People are preoccupied with the economic crisis. The level of confidence towards the government (federal and provincial) and political parties in general is extremely low. A mix of resignation, fear, lack of alternatives. This is the main asset as far as Charest is concerned and his dream is more disinterest, more absentionism, and more cynicism. It's not a crazy aspiration.

The main contender, the PQ, is in bad disarray. It has lost its social democratic spin even though Pauline Marois is trying to recuperate it. Too little too late one could say. Joseph Facal, one of Marois' main advisors, signed a well publicized ‘manifesto' a few years back, "Pour un Québec lucide", where he was associated to mostly conservative and liberal right-wingers, business people and the like. Cut taxes, align with mainstream neoliberal policies, take your distance from the trade unions, etc. etc. It did not do well within the PQ as a party (too many old timers associated with the original concept are still there), but it was the favor of the day of the establishment who still wants to avoid the splitting of the vote between the PQ and the rightwing ADQ. As social democrats turn social liberals everywhere in the world, this is what undermines the PQ, as well as the French "socialists", the "born-again" ex Communists in Italy, the SPD in Germany. They lose part of their old base and they don't win a new base. The only exception they all admire is Blair and the Labor Party who "lead" England into a second wave of conservative revolution.

What is predictable in such a setup is that a growing number of people will NOT vote for the PQ and in fact not vote at all.

Two other actors remain. The ADQ on the right is squeezed, because the Liberals are implementing their policies. Their big electoral support last time was a protest vote, nothing more. Their young leader Mario Dumont is a mix of the (intelligent) Stephen Harper and the (nutcase) Sarah Palin. He has become a running gag and unless something extraordinary happens, he is going to lose badly, especially in the semi-metropolitan areas around Montreal where he had made surprising gains.

Then, last but not least, comes Quebec Solidaire, my favorite of course. In the last 2 years, QS achieved lots of things, starting with imposing itself in the national debate, largely because of the skills of Françoise David and Amir Khadir, the two spokespeople, as they are called. They both did well in their respective Montreal ridings (around 30%) during the last election and with luck, one of them could be elected, especially if Pauline makes too many mistakes... The rainbow alliance behind QS includes most of the leadership of the social movements, young, educated and Montreal-based citizens and a significant although still small base among immigrants. So it's a good start.

However, there are a number of problems. First and foremost, because the institutional political space is melting, so to speak, it is difficult to attract people, especially the youth, to commit effectively. Support is there, but dormant, non-active, simply because lots of people think, "what the heck! The exercise is meaningless!". A second obstacle: trade unions are not ready to jump. Some are tempted, others are too reactionary or still attached to the PQ, and so at the end of the day, the most organized sector of the social movement is passive. Third obstacle: QS does not have the "machine", since it has very limited resources. It depends on semi=professional, mostly young activists who are trying to compete, especially in the media, with the "big machines" of the other parties. This is not a simple task. A final negative factor is the refusal of the Greens to come to any agreement with QS, even on a limited basis (like in ridings where QS has a real chance of winning). Basically, the Greens are a reactionary political force, targeting disgruntled suburban middle classes who think that "green" means "not in my backyard", against hydro-electrical projects, for example. It's very similar, I believe, to Elizabeth May's pitch, despite what some of my Anglo Canadian friends seem to think.

So all in all what else is there in life except to try and struggle ...

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