Election 2011: rabble.ca has chosen 10 key ridings across Canada for progressives to watch in the run-up to the May 2 vote, and asked local writers to assess them. The profiles highlight why the riding is important and issues local campaigns are focused on.

In Gatineau, incumbent Bloc MP Richard Nadeau is fighting hard to retain his seat, which he won from the previous Liberal MP with a handful of votes. That MP was no one else than Françoise Boivin, now running for the NDP!

Boivin’s defection from the Liberal Party was controversial, linked with allegations (not proven) of malpractices. It now seems in any case that Françoise has the capacity to regain her seat as she is benefiting from the orange crush “wave”.

Her neighbour Nycole Turmel, in Aylmer, is also well placed to win the riding for the NDP against a Liberal incumbent). Nycole is well known there as the former president of PSAC. In Gatineau and Ottawa, public servants are quite terrified at the prospect of a majority Harper government. Harper and his cronies have announced major job cutbacks.

Boivin, a lawyer, has been associated with Liberal and federalist politics in the Outaouais region for a long time. She has a similar background in that regard to Thomas Mulcair, the sole NDP MP from Quebec at this moment. Mulcair, himself, was once on another side of the floor, having been a minister in the provincial Liberal administration under Jean Charest. He dissented when Charest launched a series of attacks against labour and community groups in 2003 (Charest was finally defeated by mass mobilizations). Later Mulcair resigned from the Charest government when he disagreed about a project to privatize a park (Orford).

Boivin, Turmel and Mulcair could join other NDP candidates who can win in three-way battle that could go in many directions. In several ridings, the Bloc can be defeated by the NDP or likely by the Liberals or the Conservatives, because, basically, Bloc voters are switching to the NDP, which could allow Liberals or Conservatives to squeeze in. In Quebec, contrary to Ontario, very few progressives vote for the Liberals apart from Anglophones), although Michael Ignatieff has tried to court voters who do not want to support the right by adopting a platform which could be a fit for the NDP.

However, the credibility of the Liberals is weak as it is associated with past policies that were very neoliberal (especially during the time of Paul Martin) and also hard-line against Quebec nationalism. It is curious to observe that most people have forgotten the fact that the NDP (before and with Jack) has been siding with the Liberals in that anti-Quebec posturing (except for a few mild statements recognizing Quebec’s rights). Jack has been carefully avoiding these controversial issues and it is true that many Quebec voters are more concerned about jobs at this point than about the future of the State. But at a later stage, the Quebec issue will come back.

The switch, however, is real and won’t change before Monday. It reflects dissatisfaction from the traditional right-wing parties (Conservatives and Liberals) and also a critique of the Bloc and therefore of the PQ. Traditional centrist policies adopted by the PQ (and reproduced by the Bloc) have become vague and ambiguous. It is a PQ government after all (under Lucien Bouchard) that made major cutbacks in health and social expenses (in the 1990s). Since its fall into opposition, the PQ has not been able to come up with coherent policies on major issues such as the environment, free-trade, education, etc. The Bloc is affected by this passivity and decline although its MPs have generally speaking, more to the left, which was easier because they were never faced with the task of governing.

The “fatigue” of the electorate is not so much on the “fundamental” issues of social and national emancipation, but on the ways the traditional PQ-Bloc leadership has been unable to move ahead.

At the same time, the NDP surge is showing that an important part of the electorate is leaning left. Which, from my point of view, is good news. It fits well in any case with the progress of Quebec Solidaire, now credited with 12-15 per cent of vote intentions (provincial elections are still far away however). Quebec Solidaire and the NDP are attracting many of the same voters, mostly young, mostly dissatisfied with traditional parties.

What is less glorious in the present moment is that the weakening of the Bloc might help Harper to win.

What is also very iffy is how far Jack will be able to capitalize on the “surge” and establish a structured and permanent base in Quebec which does not exist today. Some are optimists, some are pessimists (I certainly am). But it seems that many are ready to take the risk.



Pierre Beaudet

Pierre was active in international solidarity and social movements in Quebec, and was the founder of Quebec NGO Alternatives, and Editor of the Nouveaux cahiers du socialisme. He blogged on rabble.ca in...