By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
Yesterday, readers mentioned this wonderful artwork from 2012’s Printemps érable in Montreal. And today we have election results from Quebec. The Real News Network interviews Leo Panitch, Canada Research Chair in Comparative Political Economy and a distinguished research professor of political science at York University in Toronto. Here’s the video:
When I lived in Quebec, I thought separatism as advocated by the Parti Québécois (PQ) was madness, because I was invested with the idea that Federalism can support a mosaic of cultures; but now that Harper and the Canadian Conservatives are busily turning Canada into a reactionary petro-state — for which 47 Quebeckers paid with their lives in the Lac-Mégantic oil train explosion — I’m not so sure. Be that as it may, today’s electoral developments in Quebec are entertaining and interesting, both electorally and as partisan politics.
First, a once-progressive party, the PQ, was punished for cynically pretending they were still progressive while at the same time moving right. (It never does to project one’s own electoral politic onto another country, but still; does that sound familiar?)
[PANITCH:] [T]he Parti Québécois got wiped. … [T]he choice that voters had was between that party moving rapidly to the right–as you mentioned in your intro, by making a star candidate P. K. Péladeau, who is Quebec’s most prominent media tycoon, the head of Quebecor, the head of the second-largest newspaper chain in Canada, Sun Media, the owner of the largest cable television network in Quebec. And they thought they were going to be able to get people to vote for them by presenting themselves as having capital on their side.
This blew up in their faces. [Péladeau] had been extremely anti-union, famous for his lockouts of workers. And the notion that the Parti Québécois was so cynical as to put forward someone like that as their candidate to make Quebec separatism respectable amongst capitalists blew up in their faces. And it was a remarkable development in that sense.
Two of the leaders of the student protests ran as Parti Québécois candidates, and they showed themselves [incompr.] like to be opportunists in doing so. [I believe the French word for schadenfreude is… schadenfreude.] … And I think this can be seen as a rebuke to cynical politicians like Pauline Marois, who put on a little red flannel badge, which is a sign of support for the students, when their campaign was going on, joined them in the streets, but then, when she was in, turned her back on what they were standing for.
Second, the party voted in, the Quebec Liberals, necessarily has a weak mandate, because it’s corrupt. (Ditto.)
PERIES: So, Leo, let’s talk about who won. Philippe Couillard, Liberal Party, won big, gaining twenty seats, and a total of 70 seats. And this was a party that was just ruling just before the Parti Québécois was in power.
PANITCH: Yes, and with a very corrupt record, and with an inquiry going on, an official inquiry going on, which was suspended for the election campaign, into all kinds of corruption. The corrupt contracts that the government was engaged in letting in exchange for kickbacks to politicians or to the Liberal Party. And this is likely to resurface.
So Couillard himself, indeed, was doing some business with the head of the Montreal Hospital, who turned out to be accused of very corrupt practices. But this turned out not to harm him, because of the way the PQ could have conducted this campaign so badly.
It will be interesting to see what happens when the offical inquiry resumes!
Third, a good deal of the voting was strategic.
[PANITCH:] [T]he PQ also tried to follow the root of the French right, the French nationalists, in introducing what is known as a secular charter. There was a fear, especially on the part of rural Quebeckers, about immigrants, especially about Muslim immigrants, but not only. There’s a constant fear in Quebec that Quebeckers, who have a low birth rate, will be overwhelmed by people who’d rather be speaking English in the sea of Anglophone North America.
But there was also an element of fear of women with chadors and so on. And the PQ thought that they’d play a smart one and introduce this charter, the secular charter, which would prohibit people who work in the public sector–in hospitals, schools, as well as in government offices–from wearing any religious symbol, which included even a yarmulke, a skullcap that Jews wear, but also included any other garb, including chadors that women wear and so on. And this showed some popularity in rural areas. But, again, it blew up in their faces in the campaign. Quebeckers are not, for the most part, an intolerant people, and they were not prepared, I think, to accept this. Of course, it led, moreover, for a great many people who were from other parts of the world and now live in Montreal and elsewhere who previously, for social justice reasons, might have voted for the PQ, to switch their vote, and to switch their vote in such a way as to ensure they got defeated, which meant rather than voting for Québec Solidaire, they voted–held their noses, no doubt, but voted for the Liberal Party.
Fourth, there are signs of hope for an emergent party to break the PQ/Quebec Liberal duopoly.
[PANITCH:] This does lay the basis for, I think, the growing support for a more substantial independence party, but one that is closer to being socialist. They don’t quite use the term, but they use the term social justice. And this is Québec Solidaire. They had two seats before the recent election. They gained an additional one. All of them are in central Montreal, in the poorer working-class districts of Montreal, all three of them. They are definitely on the left.
And people who supported the Parti Québécois till now, having some substantive social justice reasons for doing so, are now likely to turn to the Québec Solidaire Party. [I think the bulk of the activists in the great student protests in Quebec from just over a year ago would have been in favor of the Québec Solidaire.] And we may, in that sense, be seeing the end of Quebec politics being defined in terms of who’s for or against staying in Canada, above all, and being defined much more clearly in terms of who’s in favor of a socially just Quebec and who’s in favor of kissing the butt of the capitalists, which the PQ, unfortunately, has moved towards being alongside the Liberal Party. …
So, a sophisticated, engaged electorate is doing interesting things. But then, with the round bacon they’ve got to cope with up there, sophisticated and engaged is just what they’d have to be.
Basically, I’m just arguing for a watching brief, here; this post is background. The Printemps érable came out of nowhere and was very creative in its methods and achieved some results. All it takes — one hopes — is a single tear in the painted canvas of our Potemkin village for the wind to tear the entire fabric and carry the whole flimsy structure away.
 The artworK scrolls horizontally. For whatever reason, swiping works on the iPad but dragging no longer works on my laptop. YMMV!
 Canada counts paper ballots by hand in public: The gold standard, because the likelihood of corruption is far less than with the electronic voting machines we in the United States use. All the ballots are counted in one night.
 OK, OK, I know “progressive” doesn’t really mean anything any more, but you know what I mean. Panitch comments:
Quebec society has been the most left-wing in Canada since the 1960s, having been the most traditional and patriarchal and religious-dominated until them. But Quebec went through a quiet revolution, as it’s called, in the 1960s. The Parti Québécois came out of that with a kind of a left and progressive project of an independent Quebec state, but their main politics were always nationalist, and they, you know, historically, although the unions have been affiliated with that party, have often engaged in a repression of public-sector trade unionism themselves. So they were hoping, as most nationalists do, to create this impression of a cross-class alliance…
 Canada has a “first past the post” system, so Québec Solidaire would have had to have won a majority in those districts.