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Quebec election and the fight against racism, austerity, and oil

By: 
Chantal Sundaram

March 1, 2014

The current PQ minority government, brought in on a wave of anger that swept the provincial Liberals out at the tail-end of the Maple Spring, is about to fight an election on what defines Quebec.
 
On the one hand, there is the so-called Charter of Values that aims to prohibit the wearing of religious symbols, notably the Muslim headscarf, by public servants. Playing this racist card has demonstrably boosted the PQ in the polls.
 
On the other hand, there is the economy. Quebec growth projections are abysmal. The PQ budget, characterized by the opposition and pundits as an “election budget,” is equally abysmal. But because it doesn’t come close to balancing the budget or slashing public spending as much as humanly possible, it’s viewed as a budget to garner votes. PQ Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau himself told the Quebec national assembly that they are not slashing spending because: “Our government prefers prosperity to austerity.”
 
Killing child care
In fact, it’s a game of smoke and mirrors. No new income tax hikes is supposed to be a vote winner, but the real story in this budget is the end of subsidized daycare in Quebec.
Parents across Canada have marveled at the initial $5 (and now $7) daycare. There is in fact a social consensus in Quebec that daycare, like education, is a social good, and should not be subject to user fees. This consensus is what underlies the ongoing struggles against postsecondary fee hikes, which were ultimately supposed to be phased out completely in Quebec. 
 
Similarly, the $5 parental contribution to daycare was seen as a stepping stone to a universal system that would be fully paid for by the Quebec government. The PQ has now unforgivably betrayed that consensus by proposing to raise the cost to $9 over the next two years and then index it to inflation, effectively putting an end to the promise of universal daycare.
 
In addition to the lie about shunning austerity, the PQ’s “prosperity” proposal is based on oil and gas exploitation on Quebec soil. Like the Values Charter, this election card turns the legitimate demand for Quebecois self-determination into its self-destructive opposite.
 
Quebec and resources: “Maitres chez nous”?
In 2012, the PQ inherited three supposed "solutions" to the economic challenge from the Liberals: public sector austerity, exploitation of mining resources, and oil.
 
The first two were difficult to deliver. The Liberals were booted out in no small part by the rebellion by students against one part of the austerity agenda, the tuition fee hike. The first PQ budget tried to pursue the austerity agenda, but they suffered in the polls until the Values Charter gave them a bounce.
 
Plan Nord, revamped as "Un Plan Nord pour nous" (a Plan Nord “for us”) attempted to play on the Quebec nationalist “Maitres chez nous” ("Masters in our own House") slogan with a plan that in fact aimed at selling off national resources to mining companies with very little coming back into public coffers, and with transportation contracts that promised to continue patterns of government corruption with little real job creation and much environmental destruction along the way.
 
Then, the market collapsed for the mined materials promised by Plan Nord. The only other resource "solution" the PQ could draw on was oil.
 
This had begun under the Liberals in the form of fracking for shale gas. In their first few months in power, the PQ banned gas fracking for five years in the St. Lawrence Lowlands, largely as a result of popular protest there, but the tide has changed on fracking for shale oil.
 
Since fracking first emerged in Quebec as a viable source of energy extraction, oil and gas lobbyists have begun to circle like vultures. Now the spectre of major oil exploration on the Island of Anticosti, first raised by the Liberals, has been given new life by the PQ. Although, as some ecologists insist, it is entirely possible that this is yet another game of smoke and mirrors: there may in fact be little or no oil under Anticosti. But the “Masters of our own oil” argument will have done its damage both electorally and environmentally by the time exploration is done. In the words of Amir Khadir, one of two elected members of the most progressive party in the upcoming election, Québec solidaire, if this pristine island is destroyed it will be “because deer don’t vote.” 
 
The PQ budget suggests partial nationalization of any viable oil and gas supply which might be discovered under Anticosti Island. Finance Minister Marceau also said in his budget speech that “Being masters and prosperous in our own house is ensuring that we Quebecers are the first to benefit from the eventual discovery of resources. Quebecers will benefit from a minimum of 60 per cent of benefits from whatever is discovered beneath Anticosti.”
 
Some of the old PQ brass who do not support the Charter of Values as too extreme are perfectly comfortable with the oil and gas agenda, such as Bernard Landry, the PQ premier who preceded Jean Charest. In January, a manifesto signed by Landry and other powerful former politicians and employer representatives argued that those who say that oil energy is a thing of the past are "dreaming in colour."
 
And yet, the PQ itself commissioned a report that came to opposite conclusions, ironically titled "Maitriser notre avenir energetique" (Masters of our Energy Future), which counsels diminishing reliance on fossil fuels.
 
The real “nous” is Québec solidaire
From “our” values, to “our” North, to “our” oil, there is only one party to support in the upcoming Quebec election: Québec solidaire (QS).
 
QS is a party that emerged out of the three key movements that address the issues at stake in this election and in Quebec society in general. They are a merger of the movement against globalization/neoliberalism, starting with the Summit of the America protests in Quebec City and continuing in the Maple Spring, with the World March of Women and the environmental movement.
 
They are a party that wants an indefinite moratorium on all drilling activity on Anticosti, a complete turn to sustainable energy and nationalization of windmill production, not oil drilling; a refusal to use women’s rights as a pretext to scapegoat religious and racial minorities and distract from austerity, along with a principled position against imperialist war; and an active involvement between elections in the fight against all forms of austerity.
 
They are for sharing the wealth of Quebec with the real “nous”: the 99% of students and working-class Quebecois. Today in Quebec, that’s what being “Masters in our own house” ultimately means: disenfranchising the 1% who are putting the whole house at risk.
 
ASSE, the student organization at the heart of the mass strike, has called for a demonstration on April 3. For more information visit their website

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