Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Québec's Parties: A Primer and My Thoughts

As you know, an election campaign is ongoing in my former province of Québec. I am just following this campaign as a "normal" citizen, and not making seat projections. Here are some thoughts on the parties and their positions. I will likely do another post later on this campaign's electoral dynamics, which are fascinating.

- Liberal Party of Québec: A very tired government that has been plagued with ethics issues. The Liberals' strategy is threefold:
1. present themselves as the party of the economy;
2. show that the other main parties are as dirty as they are;
3. convince voters that they are the only reliably federalist option.

On point 1, I have to agree that the Liberals' platform is probably the best (or rather, the least bad) for Québec's economy. However, their fiscal plan is dishonest: they say that they are going to pay for their promises, which, once they're enacted, will cost over $1.2 billion/year, with the budget's $300 million/year contingency reserves. By their "logic," the contingency reserves total $1.5 billion, which covers the new spending... On point 2, it was somewhat surprising that during the debates, the other leaders were not able to score points on the corruption issues, which does suggest that the other leaders have skeletons in their closets. However, as the party that has been in power for the past 9 years, the Liberals will be held mainly responsible for the situation. Finally, Jean Charest is mocking CAQ leader François Legault's recent conversion to being a federalist, and says that he might switch back. This makes sense: as things stand, both the Liberals and the CAQ are federalist and centre-right, so Charest needs to create separation between the parties, or many dissatisfied Liberals will decide to go for the new thing.

- Parti Québécois: A team with many star candidates that fully expects to be Québec's next government. The main pillars of the PQ's strategy:
1. be THE party of the French language and Québec identity;
2. stay vague on whether a referendum will be held;
3. have a vague economic platform.

Just about the only major clear thing in the PQ's platform is that it will extend "Bill" 101 to colleges (grades 12 and 13) and to firms employing 11 to 50 employees. This project would have a destructive impact on Montreal's non-francophone communities, from English-speaking colleges who would lose much of their enrollment to Chinese restaurants that will have to shrink or close unless their staff learns French. Also, the PQ wants to adopt a secular charter that would more or less prohibit displays of religious symbols in public institutions and by their staffs - but it would make an exception for the cross in the National Assembly because it's part of Québec's heritage. At the same time, the PQ wants to remove from the National Assembly symbols of the monarchy, which, of course, are also part of Québec's heritage... Having grown up in Québec, I can say that most PQ supporters are not racist: they genuinely bear no ill will towards minorities, and just want to protect their language and their culture. However, the PQ has taken this very (too?) far this time around, and it is more probably more ethno-centric that it has been in a generation, or maybe ever. "All of us are Quebecers, but some more than others" seems to be the message.

The PQ is staying vague on everything else because it is ahead in the polls. It needs both the vote of the hardcore separatists (who now have other options like Québec Solidaire and Option Nationale) and of the separatists who don't want a referendum now (who might be tempted to vote for the CAQ). It is also a big tent party economically, and is being squeezed on the left by QS and ON and on the right by the CAQ. In keeping with its centre-left orientation, the PQ has a few lefty goodies in store, but they are relatively minor.

- Coalition Avenir Québec: This is a new party that can have a broad appeal. It is neither the Liberals nor the PQ, at a time many Quebecers want change. It is federalist (for now), but more nationalist than the Liberals. It has right-wing roots from swallowing the ADQ, but its actual platform is rather centrist, if with a populist/reformist bent (e.g. save on administrative costs by getting rid of school boards and regional health authorities).

The CAQ's main weakness is the quality of its team. Its leader François Legault is well-known and relatively well-respected (at least by today's standards for a politician). His lieutenant Jacques Duchesnau is an outspoken critic of corruption, but prone to making exaggerated statements, and hasn't always worked well with others. Gaétan Barrette, the prospective Health minister, is a controversial figure. Apart from these three and former ADQ leader Gérard Deltell (who is rather well-liked, but not that well-known), Quebecers don't know much about CAQ candidates. This is especially a problem due to the CAQ's proposals for systemic reforms: such measures tend to have unintended consequences, and Quebecers are worried that the CAQ team might end up making one big mess.

- Québec Solidaire: A left-wing and idealistic party - a separatist version of what the federal NDP used to be before becoming a major contender. One of QS's two spokespersons (the party does not have a "leader") was elected in 2008. To achieve sovereignty in the right way, it wants to create a citizen's assembly to write a prospective constitution and launch a vast consultation and social debate leading up to a referendum (as opposed to the PQ's quick 30-day referendum campaign). It is likely the biggest "clean" party, and the most likeable party in Québec. However, when you look at their economic platform, you wonder if they live in an alternative universe where all jobs are either in the public sector or created with public subsidies. QS has a shot in a few eastern Montreal ridings, and may be a spoiler for the PQ elsewhere.

- Option Nationale: A one-man show in the crowded left-wing separatist space (more hardcore separatist than both PQ and QS, between the two economically). The man in question, Jean-Martin Aussant, was elected under the PQ banner in 2008, but became disgruntled with Pauline Marois' leadership. ON will only be a factor in Aussant's own riding.

No other party, including the Greens, is likely to win a seat.

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