As all progressive Quebecers did, I watched in horror last month on Quebec’s election night at the thought of an ADQ government. Sneering images of Mario Duplessis (er, Dumont) galloped across my frontal lobe.

But dear readers, let’s face the real story here: this election was a dead heat among three horses who should be put out to pasture.

Lots of hullabaloo about separation, “autonomy,” and partition. Lots of debate about various flags. More recently, it was racist bluster about “slant-eyed” Asians, or forcing Muslim women to unveil at polling booths.

What a gutterball contest, and this despite burning issues in Quebec politics.

For the sake of genuine discussion, let’s review a few:

  • Quebec lost 33,000 well-paid manufacturing jobs in February 2006 alone. Gatineau (my home riding) ranks among the worst-served ridings for health care, with a list of over 20,000 waiting for a family doctor. As plans for tax cuts reign supreme, social services don’t get the funding they need.
  • In 2006, the average wage was $38,000, but Canada’s top 100 CEOs made that amount (again on average) by 9:46 a.m. on January 2. Quebec’s Kyoto targets, while important, are only the beginning.
  • Many are unprepared for retirement, and planning on a “big lift” from lottery tickets. Small businesses are losing the fight against subsidized big box giants. Who is our army defending in Afghanistan?
  • Quebec’s minimum wage sits at a measly $7.75 an hour. Student debt climbs year after year. Five massive banks (who control 84 per cent of their market) are fleecing all of us, as we work harder (and longer) for less.

This is my own shortlist of issues. Others could doubtless add more.

My point is this: why weren’t the three “contending parties” taking them seriously?

Here’s a thought: perhaps they’re more similar than most care to admit.

Despite vague references to “health care and education,” Jean Charest proposed tax cuts with recent money from Ottawa.

When the Parti Québécois ruled in the late 1990s, they cut more (on a percentage basis) than Mike Harris did in Ontario. André Boisclair promised more of the same.

When his party wasn’t insulting gays or feminists, Mario Dumont openly talked about shrinking Quebec social programs.

Can we detect a theme here?

Of the three “leading” candidates in this election, almost no one mentioned they’re all on the right of the political spectrum.

At varying speeds, they all bow down to corporate Quebec and its pin-striped lobbyists.

Though I hope to be wrong, this appears to be also true of the upstart Greens.

The Greens claimed to be “beyond Left and Right”, which experience shows means moving to the political centre. Like Green parties elsewhere, they believe in an alliance between big business and progressive voters.

Are these the limits of Quebec politics?

Thankfully not. This election, one party believed a better Quebec is possible, and declared its independence from corporate-driven politics.

Through most of the campaign, Québec Solidaire polled at five to six per cent of the popular vote, a remarkable breakthrough given the dominance of Quebec’s three existing brands. In the end, as the vicegrips of “strategic voting” took hold, it captured about 3.65 per cent. That’s still over 120,000 votes though, an ample compliment to Qsol’s over 5500 (largely new) members.

Without question, Québec Solidaire broke new ground in its first year. It sought an alliance between progressive Quebecers normally divided into “sovereignist” and “federalist” camps.

In doing so, the party set a new precedent on Quebec’s political landscape, but it is one that will take time to build.

For decades, most assumed progressive separatists and federalists can’t work together, let alone vote together. After more than a year in Québec Solidaire, I’m quite convinced the opposite is true.

Québec Solidaire’s unity message may not have won a seat in this election, but it finished a strong and close second in two ridings (Gouin, Mercier).

It also served notice with bold ideas that struck a chord.

Many support a $10 minimum wage (including, it seems, Ontario Liberals) , and cheered the notion of an additional week of statutory vacation.

Many want action on renewable energy, and were intrigued by the demand to nationalize wind power.

Many want corporate tax havens closed, and think better-off Quebecers should pay their fair share.

Most are tired of “politics as usual” and want a renewal of “bottom-up” democracy.

If Françoise David was allowed a national stage (in the leaders debate) to express these (and still other) ideas, Québec Solidaire might be the spoiler force in this election.

In official circles, however, mediocrity reigns. Mario Dumont, a well-managed ideologue, is somehow the alternative to Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

Don’t believe the hype. The future for Quebec’s newest party remains bright, but far more work must be done.

There is a long-run significance to Québec Solidaire and its declaration of independence from corporate-driven politics.

As the other parties pack up their campaign centres, and dismiss volunteers until the next election, Québec Solidaire must ready itself for the battles to come.

Dumont’s gang will urge a right-wing revolution. Last month’s contest at the ballot box then shifts to the streets.

It is here that les solidaires must gain more momentum, and translate it into results when the Liberal minority falls.

Comme toujours, c’est l’union qui fait la force (as always, there’s strength in numbers).