September 11, 2012

Quebec election: people give no clear mandate to any party

The election rally of Quebec Solidaire

J. Boyden

A shorter version of the article will be published in the upcoming issue of People`s Voice newspaper

Quebec voters headed to the polls on Sept. 4th for a historic election, coming after a series of major storms of popular discontent had swept the province --  outrage over corruption scandals and opposition against the Liberal government’s austerity budgets, which exploded during last spring’s student strike. But the final results saw no party come out with a clear mandate, as the Liberals, including party leader Jean Charest, went down to defeat while voters granted a slim minority government to the Parti Québécois (PQ) led by Pauline Marois.

The PQ has already announced that its first act will be to cancel the tuition fee hike and abolish repressive law 78, which effectively criminalized the student strikers.  Positively, their party platform also called to abolish tuition increases until 2018, eliminate the health tax, reconsider additional fees for Hydro Quebec usage, increase taxes and fees on natural resource exploitation, expand daycare spaces, and enact Employment Insurance reforms by repatriating EI to Quebec.

Marois’ PQ, however, is nine seats short of a majority to implement this agenda, sitting at 54 Members of the National Assembly (MNAs).  The outgoing Liberals held on to 50 seats in the 125-member National Assembly while François Legault’s new ultra-right and populist Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) expanded from 9 to 19 seats. The progressive Quebec Solidaire (QS) party also increased its seat count to two MNAs and is expected to again have a bigger presence in the National Assembly beyond its small numbers.

Voter turnout

Speaking to People’s Voice about the analysis of the Quebec vote break-down which will be published in the next issue of the Communist Party of Quebec’s newspaper Clarté, editor Robert Luxley drew attention to voter participation and the strong mobilization by right-wing forces during the election.

At almost 75 per cent, turn-out in the election broke all recent records of votes in the last ten years, approaching levels similar to the 1998 election (following the second referendum on Quebec’s independence).

Law & Order

On the one hand, as leaked Liberal strategy documents confirmed shortly before the election was called, Charest pursued a cavalier approach of provocation and intransigence towards the student strike for months, hoping to create the basis of for a campaign of fear where they represented law and order, and stability.
On the eve of calling the election the Liberal message shifted to one of blackmail, threatening voters with a political and economic catastrophe if the PQ won and called another referendum.

In the squeeze

On the other hand, unable to avoid convening a commission on corruption scandals due to public outrage, Charest effectively set the timeline for the election when his government convened that commission and established its schedule.  In the end the Liberal’s were squeezed by the student protests – conditions which also favored the PQ.

The pressure from the people’s forces, unleashed as the student struggle broadened into a popular movement, pushed the PQ into adopting a progressive-sounding agenda, to avoid losing votes.  Without the student mobilizations it is probable that the PQ platform would have more accurately reflected their true political identity, a nationalist party of small and large-scale business and not a left party.

Voter break-down

While the higher voter participation no doubt included many new young voters, who also turned to Quebec Solidaire and helped double the popular vote of QS, another large component of high participation came from ridings where the CAQ won.  Often these were in places where the populist ADQ had made gains in the past.

The Liberal’s received 31.2% and the CAQ 27% of the popular vote, eating into the PQ, which received 31.95%, while QS won just over 6%. Thus the division of the right helps explain the victory of the PQ.

Liberal vote

Although the Liberal’s received basically the same total number of votes as the last election (only 5,000 votes less), it was their lowest percentage of the popular vote since Confederation because of the high participation of the people in the election. The Liberals won seats in Quebec City and the regions, but the lions-share of their seats came from Greater Montreal, the Gatineau-Hull area, and the Eastern Townships -- not surprising given that they were the only Federalist party in the election.

An opinion poll conducted by Le Devoir suggested the primary reason Liberal voters chose that party was to voice opposition to the PQ and support Canadian unity, as well as economic stability – rather than the actual values of the party.

National question still burns

Conservative Prime Minister Steven Harper responded to the Quebec election by concluding the vote suggested debate about the national question should now be shut-down. This stiffening of democratic discussion about Quebec’s future is unlikely to happen, however, given the reactionary framework that federalism imposes, as well as continued chauvinism from the corporate media and some Anglophones.
As a case in point, the PQ election victory celebrations were tragically interrupted when a man attempted to set fire to the theatre venue and shot two people, killing a stagehand. As he was arrested he yelled incoherently about the how the English-speakers are now “waking-up.”

The attack was “an isolated act of madness, but it was nevertheless triggered by the socio-political [context]” the Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste said in a statement, calling on the English-language corporate media to tone-down their rhetoric which has labeled soveriegntist voices during the election “Franco-supremacist,” “intolerant,” “anglophobes,” “close-minded idiots,” who “despise minorities” etc.  Comments on some English-language newspaper websites, expressed regret that the gun man was not successful to “kill the bitch”, and other hate speech.

QS makes gains

At the election rally of Quebec Solidaire, held not far from the PQ’s event, newly elected MNA Françoise David congratulated Marois on her election as the first women premier and vowed to work together on any policy the PQ might advance in support of women’s rights, the environment, labour, and other social issues. 

It is more likely however that the PQ will now try to find an excuse to shift away from its election promises and form an alliance with the right. Another election is almost certain well before four years – which has also lead the NDP to officially drop its plan to build a provincial party, good news for QS.

David will now join QS MNA Amir Khadir in Quebec City, meaning that both of QS’s spokespeople will be in the National Assembly, representing back-to-back ridings in urban Montreal. An evaluation of the election by Quebec’s voter-reform coalition suggested that under a Mixed-Member Proportional system, QS would hold 8 seats.  While the actual result is perhaps not as much as that party wished, QS made still important gains and finished second place in at least three other Montreal ridings. 

Marianne Breton Fontaine, the leader of the Young Communist League of Quebec, doubled the popular vote for QS in the riding of Acadie, coming in with almost 2,500 votes and 8%. 

In an upcoming article we will look at the response of labour and people`s movements to the election.

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