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Quebec election: “Quebec Inc”?

Chantal Sundaram

March 15, 2014

The announcement by Quebec media mogul Pierre Karl Péladeau to run for the Parti Québécois sent a shockwave through both Quebec and English Canada.
The PQ formed and came to power initially over Quebec independence, but at a time when that was connected in people’s minds to certain notions of social justice. In the 1970s, the PQ, though never truly a labour or workers’ party of any kind, was pushed by its base to bring in anti-scab legislation in support of Quebec unions’ right to strike.
Péladeau incarnates the opposite of that history: he is the controlling shareholder of media empire Quebecor, and has no less than 14 workplace lock-outs under his belt. He is a spokesman for union-busting and cuts, and now he is trying to give “fiscal legitimacy” to the possible independence of Quebec.
What are we to make of this? On one level, it’s quite simple: the PQ has been increasingly distancing itself from any notion of progressive politics, and from the base of its union support, since the 1980s. How far can that break go while still being electable? Will a shameless neoliberal notion of an independent “Quebec Inc” replace any notion of social justice for those who support independence? Will the Parti Québécois become known as the “Parti Quebecor”?
From the Charter of values to neo-liberalism
The racist and Islamophobic Charter of Values now seems a first salvo at testing the loyalty of the base of a PQ that seeks to reinvent itself even further to the right.  “Nation-building” will now be equated not only with exclusionary ethnic and religious values but with austerity, union-busting and oil exploitation.
The Quebec Liberals are no better. They are a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” at the provincial level as at the federal, and the wolf has shown its teeth in Quebec very recently. They were the architects of the tuition hike that was defeated in 2012 by the “Quebec Spring,” which they attempted to crush with draconian legislation; not to mention the years of cuts to publics services prior to that which provoked a series of one-day general strikes against them.
The Liberal call for a vote to support Canadian unity rings hollow: unity with what? With tar sands exploitation? With the drive to war in oil and gas-rich regions? With the denial of aboriginal rights against pipeline construction? It’s not an attractive alternative to the PQ’s own reliance on austerity and destructive resource extraction.
Québec solidaire, not Quebec Inc
In the same week that Péladeau announced his candidacy, a packed bar in downtown Hull (now part of amalgamated Gatineau) welcomed Amir Khadir, the first candidate to be elected to the Quebec National Assembly from Quebec’s only truly progressive party, Québec solidaire (QS), back in 2008.
Khadir’s appearance in Hull served to introduce all the QS candidates in the Outaouais region and launch their campaigns. They are candidates who reflect the diverse progressive base of Québec solidaire, which draws from the stock of ordinary people who are involved in social change in between elections, and who are not career politicians, but who see themselves reflected in this new party.
They include a 21-year-old activist; a single mother of immigrant background who depends on Quebec’s valued daycare costs (which the PQ proposes to increase and index); proponents of reinvesting in accessible postsecondary education and of expanding the accessible Quebec system of free–standing healthcare clinics; and those who view Quebec independence as way of demonstrating what a country could be if it were truly run by the 99%—not by the 1% represented by all other parties in the Quebec election.
This fact was underscored in Khadir’s opening speech in Hull: the move by the PQ to embrace not just neoliberal policies but the elite who embody them. As Khadir said of Péladeaus’s record: “Imagine if you showed up to your workplace, a printshop in Magog (a rural region similar to where the Lake Mégantic train disaster took place) and you were told on arrival that your job was gone, and security escorted you to your office to remove your things? That’s Pierre Karl Péladeau.”
And that’s not the future many in Quebec are struggling to imagine. But as the PQ turns to captains of industry, trade unionists are turning to Québec solidaire.
At its March 11 General Assembly, the Montreal Council of the FTQ, one of Quebec’s two biggest trade union federations, passed a resolution of support for six Québec solidaire candidates who all come out of the labour movement—including Claude Généreux, former National Secretary-Treasurer of CUPE. At the same meeting, they passed a resolution denouncing Péladeau’s candidacy, and expressed concern at seeing one of Quebec’s most powerful employer and anti-union symbols join the ranks of the PQ. They warned that collective bargaining for government employees in the public and broader public sector, as well as improvements to the Labour Code and to workplace Health and Safety legislation, will be major issues for unions in the next few years.
When a nation like Quebec is denied the right to determine its future, and when debate within that nation over what kind of future is possible becomes sharper between the rich and the rest, elections can raise big questions over whether a better world is in fact possible.
And when there is a party rooted in social movements and communities of ordinary people giving voice to that debate, like Québec solidaire, there is real hope that we can do much better than “Quebec Inc.”     

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