In the absence of an independent mass campaign by Quebec organized labour for its own independent economic program, discontent with the Charest Liberals resulted in one-half million Quebec voters shifting to the right instead of the left, on March 26th 2007. The big winner was the newest demagogue on the block, Mario Dumont leader of the Action Democratique du Quebec (ADQ). Promoting a Quebec version of the neo-con Harperite agenda, Dumont made most of his gains around Quebec City and outside of the City of Montreal and in suburban north shore of the St. Lawrence. The Liberals and PQ retained their traditional control of the 2 million city of Montreal. The Liberals held the northern constituencies on the island and the PQ kept the south.
The Vote Breakdown
The vote province-wide broke down to 1.3 million votes for the Jean Charest Liberals resulting in 32.% of the popular vote for 48 seats enough to form a minority government, the first in 125 years. The Mario Dumont ADQ received 1.2 million votes 31.2% of the popular vote and 41 seats, displacing the PQ as the official opposition. The Andres Boisclair Parti Quebecois (PQ) won 1.1 million votes for 28.5% of the popular vote and 36 seats. Quebec Solidaire, (QS) led by Francoise David and Amir Khadir, a coalition of left progressive anti-poverty, peace and democratic activists garnered an impressive 4% and the Greens 4%.
Harper Interference Helped Dumont
Mario Dumont accepted the advice of P.M. Harper’s Quebec strategists to rally genuine discontent under a phony right-wing program. Some that heeded the ADQ call included bigots and racists hankering for a return to Duplessis autocratic style government for Quebec. The ADQ parroted P.M. Harper’s code words of “choice” and “family values” promising a $100 per child handout to cash strapped families in an attempt to discredit universal childcare. Dumont proposed a mixed public private health care system a la the Stelmach Conservatives in Alberta and the Campbell Liberals in B.C. that inserts wedges of privatization into the public system as the first stage of undermining the entire universal public health care system. Dumont called for “choice” in education, code for replacing publicly elected school boards with government appointed boards in a thinly disguised move to re-establish clerical influence in the school system and to curb the power of teacher’s unions. Dumont played to justifiable public anger at the decline in government support for senior care programs and housing. The ADQ in opposition will certainly pressure Charest for expanded private-public solutions to senior’s needs that will be warmly greeted by wealthy private care investors.
The Impact of a Right Wing Shift in Quebec
The Liberals are now vulnerable to ADQ reactionary pressure and to save his skin Charest will in all likelihood move to the right. There will be pressure from the ADQ to accelerate reductions among public sector workers, especially among those who provide services to the poor and disadvantaged. There will be pressure to enact more tax cuts for the wealthy and to divert surpluses to debt reduction at the expense of health care and education. More costs will be downloaded on municipalities and less funding will be allocated to public transit and the environment.
Liberal Responsibility for the ADQ Victory
The responsibility for this shift to the right rests first of all on the Charest Liberals who held power for nine years and incrementally under funded health, education, child care and senior’s needs while allowing logging operations, lumber mills, pulp and paper plants, textiles, food, furniture, auto parts and other manufacturing industries to shed good jobs in large numbers. The latest is the Glidan tee shirt manufacturer in Montreal that is closing its operations and moving it to Central America with a loss of 450 Quebec jobs. Quebec farmers, under constant pressure from US corporate agriculture that are using NAFTA rules to attack Quebec marketing boards aimed at displacing Quebec dairy, egg and poultry and mixed farming from the Canadian market.
Liberal neglect of the economy has resulted in a decline in both the quantity and quality of government supported social programs and a loss of jobs in the core wealth creating value added industries. The Liberal reliance on revenue received selling hydro power to the U.S. market is turning Quebec into an economy dependent on electrical energy exports. The Charest policy has been to tailor fiscal policies to give generous tax concessions to the investor classes heavily invested in the real estate market, service, retail, banking and investment sectors. These are the interests who can buy private health, education and retirement needs and are disdainful of those who work for wages and must rely on the public health, education and pension system to survive. Over the years, Charest served up a double hit on workers incomes by reneging on promises to cut taxes on lower incomes, while at the same time reducing in practice, the amount Quebecers receive from publicly funded programs, a government engineered wage cut. The subtle shift of the tax burden to workers and farmers and small business and the under funding of social programs that serve the common good is the root cause of the political turmoil in Quebec and in the absent of a left wing alternative, fertile ground for right wing extremism.
Parti Quebecois Abandons Its Social Democratic Program
The Parti Quebecois leadership is responsible for the erosion of public support for its social democratic program. The Gilles Duceppe Bloc shares that responsibility. Both the Bloc and PQ have distanced themselves from organized labour while continuing to cynically demand labour’s support at the polls. The declining appeal of the PQ’s call for a sovereignty referendum is indicative of the preoccupation of the working people of Quebec with economic issues. They do not see the solution to their vital economic interests through separatism. The failure of the leaders of the Quebec Labour Movement and the entire aware left to reach out to all working people with an independent economic and political program, that would compel the PQ, the Bloc and left Liberals to take it up, campaign on its core demands, or get out of the way, is the central issue for left-labour politics and demands urgent action. The dramatic upsurge of support for QS is proof that where a militant alternative is offered, there is a militant response. The absence of any visible participation in the Quebec campaign by the Communists, the lack of public statements by its leadership or any pre-election analysis of the Quebec situation in the Party’s national newspaper People’s Voice is of deep concern to party supporters across the country. If the Communists do not come to grips and soon with the decline in its public work it confronts irrelevance as force in working class politics.
What Lies Ahead?
The election has solved nothing for the working people of Quebec. Quebecers will be betrayed by the Dumont ADQ. The collaboration of the Liberals and the ADQ is a possibility but it can only be on the basis of an evolving right wing agreement to make the working people the victims of the unfolding economic downturn. It is impossible and the worst kind of wishful thinking to imagine that the ADQ and the Liberals will collaborate in the interests of organized labour and the working poor.
The Quebec election will encourage every right wing reactionary in Canada. The Harper neo-cons now have the reactionary electoral organization they were looking for to help them swing enough Quebec federal ridings to win a majority in the next federal election.
There will now be a clamour from the extreme right, from the investor classes alarmed at the deteriorating economic situation in the U.S.A. to consolidate federal power around the neo-con Harperites and protect the wealth and privileges of the wealthy and to shift the emerging economic crisis to workers and farmers.
The economic crisis in Quebec that underlies political discontent and uncertainty will continue to deepen until a viable workers alternative is advanced, discussed and campaigned for everywhere in all regions of Quebec. The underestimation of the danger from the right continues to undermine the fight back from the left. All left forces are exhibiting a complacency that is alarming and mystifying when one considers what is at stake. The possibility of the election of a majority neo-con Harper Government spring boarding from a right-wing upsurge in Quebec is now a real possibility and requires the most urgent response from the left to warn the Canadian people of the full consequences for our social programs, democracy and peace.