Does Québec Solidaire (QS), a Montreal-based, democratic socialist and sovereigntist political party, hold any real chance in the upcoming Quebec provincial elections?
Truth is, there’s a feeling amongst leftist Quebecers today that if they have sovereigntist aspirations for the province, they must reconcile those aspirations with those of the Parti Québécois (PQ), the most present force in Canadian politics fighting for Quebec separation.
For while the PQ might have begun as a relatively progressive force in Quebec politics, many feel that it sacrificed its left-leaning origins in order to greater promote separation from the rest of Canada, all the while promising that said separation would not negatively affect the province’s economy.
This ideological shift was certainly felt the most in the aftermath of the 1995 referendum, under the premiership of Lucien Bouchard: many progressives on the left wing of the PQ perceived what they felt was a move by the party towards more neoliberal approaches to the Quebec market.
Québec Solidaire, formed in 2006, attracted many activists that would formerly have been members or supporters of the PQ, now disillusioned with the party for its rightward shift, and is the probably the best embodiment of that disillusionment today. Amongst other things, the party emphasizes environmentalism, social justice, participatory democracy, aboriginal rights, and combating homophobia and Islamophobia. Translating that disillusionment into a viable political movement is another thing altogether, however.
QS, like most relatively new left-wing parties with broad mandates, has struggled to instill a sense of legitimacy within the general electorate. Although it calls for Quebec sovereignty, many Quebecers with separatist aspirations feel like juggling sovereignty and economic stability is too difficult a task for a provincial government. The fact that the main sovereigntist party in the province has been incapable of forming a majority government for some twenty years, even when their main opponent, the Quebec Liberal Party, has been supremely, even historically, unpopular and plagued by corruption scandals, is a testament to that fact.
What we have to remember however is that Quebecers are open to younger, left-leaning political movements as long as they present themselves as strong viable alternatives and not merely a lesser of two evils compared to the PQ/BQ: this is, of course, the same province that succumbed to the “Orange Wave” and the late Jack Layton’s New Democratic Party’s (NDP) overtaking of both the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois in Quebec seats in the 2011 federal election. Back then, the NDP became the first federalist party to best the Bloc, the PQ’s informal federal equivalent in the province, since the 1995 referendum on sovereignty. Of note, a majority of the NDP names on those ballots barely even had any experience in politics; many of which were young students either still in school or having just graduated, like the “McGill 4.” The same could happen with QS, maybe even on a larger scale.
Moves like QS refusing an alliance with other sovereigntists like the PQ emanate that much needed strength, telling both new and old voters that leftist policies (and by extension, sovereignty) is not something worth compromising. Younger voters will hear that message above all else, for certain, given their discontent with PQ’s initiatives like the Quebec Charter of Values and its almost deliberately-overt Islamophobic and xenophobic undertones.
And where QS has struggled with political legitimacy, they find hope in the recent election of Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois in Gouin. His activism as a spokesperson with CLASSE during the 2012 student protests, and his subsequent election as a member of Québec Solidaire, gives credence to the idea that QS can be a rallying force in Quebec City.
If the protests did effectively aid toppling Jean Charest’s Liberals from power, who’s to say that QS can’t eventually be an equivocating force alongside the PQ and the Liberals? Both parties are steadily losing their legitimacy, whether it be the Liberals and their ubiquitous corruption allegations, or the PQ and their promises to only bring a new referendum to the ballot in a second term, nevermind the fact that they’re gaining a first mandate to govern is unlikely.
The fact remains that while most Quebecers are not all die-hard separatists, a majority of Quebecers do care about the province’s role within a federal and constitutional framework. What they don’t care for, it is the traditional hostility and grandstanding between the Liberals and PQ, evidenced by recent arguments in Quebec City.
QS has the opportunity to reframe the debate in a meaningful way, something Nadeau-Dubois knows. In a recent Facebook post, he extols the values of continuing the debate over what Quebec’s role in Canada is, but says we should not bicker, but rather frame the issues that traditionally young people care about: oil and Western Canadian pipelines, and not for instance, increased control over immigration.
QS gaining a political mandate to govern in the near future is probably impossible, but it does offer the possibility of a true leftist alternative for the province that will steer provincial debates into the the realm of the hopeful and not that of political exasperation. Elections like that of Nadeau-Dubois for QS show young people that they can have a place in provincial politics, or even just at a grassroots level, something more established political networks should note before it’s too late.