The elections held in Québec, on Monday December 8th, finally returned Liberal Premier Jean Charest to majority government – though without the stability he was hoping for. The sovereigntist Parti Québécois (PQ), which had been reduced to third party in the last election, is once again second-place. The partial victory for the right is tempered by the destruction of the right-wing Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ), and the historic election of the first deputy for the left party, Québec solidaire (QS). This vindicates our analysis that the ADQ’s massive jump in 2007 was a symptom of the working masses’ desperate search for an alternative, and not a general turn to the right, as that party and some on the left claimed. This chauvinist party has now been reduced to a mere 7 seats, losing their status as an official party. The crater in the pavement left by right-populist ADQ leader Mario Dumont, along with the resounding victory of QS’s Amir Khadir, are two important wins for the working class, despite Jean Charest’s success in gaining a thin majority.

Party Seats (Seats in 2007) %
Parti libéral du Québec 66 (48) 42%
Parti Québécois 51 (36) 35%
Action démocratique du Québec 7 (41) 16%
Québec Solidaire 1 (0) 4%

Shadow of Duplessis

Mario Dumont imagined himself the reincarnation of Québec’s bonapartist Union National (UN) former Premier, Maurice Duplessis. Duplessis ruled Québec much like a banana republic, gaining himself a certain independence from the classes by imposing himself as supreme arbiter and problem-solver for the capitalist class as a whole. He introduced the much hated pad-lock law. Under this law communists (or militant trade unionists labeled communist) could come home to find their door had been padlocked, and they were left on the street. Duplessis did not hesitate to resort to force to break picket lines, as in the historic asbestos strike in 1949. He also leaned heavily on the Catholic Church, promoting its strong role in return for very vocal support. His election slogan even reflected this relationship: “Le ciel est bleu; l’enfer est rouge”, “The sky is Blue (UN), Hell is red (PLQ)”. Duplessis (“Le Chef”, as he liked to be known) was able to rule on this basis, by manoeuvering and playing one section of society against another, promoting the interests of the church and the bosses in order to guarantee his position.

Dumont, however, relied on a social layer made of hot air. He had no real basis in Québécois society, except a momentary feeling. Elections are a snapshot, and Dumont for a historical split second found himself the accidental focus of the attention of hundreds of thousands of Québécois, especially in the regions, who were revolting against the conditions of life and the traditional parties that ruled over them. His demagogic rhetoric, capitalizing on the racist accommodation debate, found a public looking for a scapegoat and massive change, any change, as long as it’s not the intolerable status-quo. The ADQ rode that accidental wave, and what a wave it was, from 5 seats to 41 seats. 1,224,412 voted for Dumont’s party in the 2007 election, up from 694,122 in 2003. It was a flash flood in Québec society, a misguided, vile and collective outcry that could be felt pouring out of every headline, leaving a big mark on the National Assembly’s composition.

A mere 7 seats away from power, Dumont – had he represented a deep and irreversible shift to the right as some claimed – should today be Premier. It didn’t take long for Québec to find out that Dumont was just an adventurer and opportunist: just another bourgeois politician, but even more fake. His posturing was pointless, his parliamentary games aimless, and his popularity was over before it started. Monday’s election showed that Dumont never actually won over any base, merely disillusioned and desperate voters who were repelled by him fairly soon after. This man, who advocated the privatization of healthcare and Hydro-Québec, saw his entourage collapse to 7 seats. He’s resigned as leader of the party. All talk of a replacement is meaningless at the moment: this little “chef” didn’t surround himself with a single independent personality, and the party is no longer recognized as an official party in the Assembly. It’s never easy to build a party out of an egoist’s entourage, let alone when the little Napoleon doesn’t even have any statues for years of strike-breaking government service. This shadow of Duplessis has turned out to be exactly that, nothing more than a shadow. The lack of an alternative precisely at the moment when hundreds of thousands were searching out for a radical break with the reality bearing down on them: this is the phenomena that led to its rise in the first place. If that alternative is built, then this shell of a party is dead for the foreseeable future.

Charest prepares for the financial crisis

Jean Charest called this election for a reason: he needed a strong mandate to institute deep cuts, privatizations and wage restraints to deal with the financial crisis. He had to seize the opportunity to get that majority before the crisis hit. A minority government would have been fragile, and a crisis this deep would have brought the government down at a certain point.

No, if Charest’s going to go to war, he’s going to need a National Assembly that isn’t going to play political games and chicanery at the expense of his ability to win it. He needs a government which isn’t beholden to opposition parties which may support a movement against him in the hopes of gaining seats – the way that Dumont gave his very much unwelcome support to striking students in 2005.

He’s got a majority, though it’s not the majority he was looking for. He needed 62 seats: the Liberals returned 66 seats, a bare majority of 4 seats. It will have to do, he has no choice. The battle must be fought, even with the threat of only 4 deserters bringing the government down. The bosses will be demanding a general freeze on public sector pay rises, which set the example for private sector workers. They will also be demanding large corporate tax cuts, increasing transport fares, hydro rates, and tuition fees. As this general program of attacks on the living standards of working people unfolds, it will become increasingly clear that this is the real reason Charest wanted his majority, to be immune to the opposition of the working class to his brutal attacks on behalf of the capitalist class.

Jean Charest has been here before, in 2003, his first mandate. Back then, he came in and immediately opened confrontations with organized labour. Soon, he had managed to unite the FTQ and the CSN against him, with 90% of the locals of the more conservative FTQ returning a mandate for a general strike. The CSN received a mandate as well, and for the first time since the 1972 Common Front, it seemed like a united general strike was on the way. The labour leaders however, delayed and maneuvered to avoid action. The opportunity was lost and the strike was quashed by the bureaucracy. He didn’t stop there: he then attacked the students, who defeated him in 2005, with 244,000 students on strike in a wild 5 week campaign with universities and colleges occupied across the province. It is on the shoulders of the labour bureaucrats that the blame must be put for the lack of a generalized opposition movement, drawing in all of Quebec society against the attacks of the bosses and their parties. It was this lack of a common fight back, the betrayed hopes of the workers, that Mario Dumont played on.

Today, Jean Charest has come full circle. He’s again beginning a majority government, and preparing attacks on the social services and the concessions workers fought so hard to win from the capitalist class. But things are also different. Québec is facing what could be a very deep recession, and even a short one will mean crisis for Québec’s industries, and the capitalists who own them. The attacks will need to be harder, more all-embracing. In the long run, his actions will prepare even more explosive conflicts with the unions. The counter attack avoided in 2003 will be back as workers learn the lesson that Charest does not wish to negotiate, only to break their backs. In other words, Charest’s fragile majority will not take long before facing big tests.

The PQ, very loyal opposition

In June, 2007, Mario Dumont huffed and puffed about bringing down Charest’s government over his unpopular $950 million tax cut. Dumont hoped the Lieutenant-Governor would then appoint him Premier. Sound familiar? In a poll, 75% said they thought the money would be better spent on social services. The PQ had the cards in its hand: support the government’s budget and its unpopular tax cut, or vote with Dumont to bring Charest down. In typical fashion for a party in a historical dead alley and increasingly out of touch with their base, they did neither. They made a deal with the liberals: they would vote to bring the government down, but only send 3 deputies to the National Assembly to do it, guaranteeing a government majority of 2 on the motion.

This week’s results are a picture of stagnation for this party, despite the increased percentage. This is no victory for them, no matter what their spinsters say. They received 1,139,185, up from 1,125,546 in 2007. They attracted 13,639 more voters, across the province. Effectively, they have not moved from 2007. Much in the same way as Dumont was propelled forward through an accidental intersection of conditions; Pauline Marois’s PQ has now found itself filling the vacuum left in the wake of the ADQ’s disappearance. A giant sucking sound was heard, and the party was pulled in to fill the space left behind. They are now where they would have been had hundreds of thousands of voters not desperately reached for Mario Dumont as a response to the intolerable pressures they faced.

The “to hell with them all” party

Significantly, these elections had a turnout of 56.5%, the lowest since 1927. The Director General of Elections Québec called it a catastrophe, and it was. The turnout in 2007 was 71.2%, 70.4% in 2003 and 78.3% in 1998. This is a deafening blow to the legitimacy of all three bourgeois parties. Much noise is being made about “apathy”, and how this is a sad day for democracy even though they spent so much money on fancy ads: “by voting… I express myself”. The reality is that working people look at the ADQ, the PQ, and the PLQ and see that they all have the same platform: cuts, restraint and austerity for the workers – tax breaks and special treatment for the bosses. And that was in the boom time, now there are billion dollar bailouts too. This is the real source of abstention. It is not apathy; it is revulsion at the lack of an alternative. If all three parties are presenting nothing but further attacks on workers and students, why should we bother to vote?

Conversely, under different conditions, the same logic can lead to radically different results. If there were a real alternative present, with a radical program to solve the problems of every day working people and fight back against the attacks of the bosses, workers who normally abstain would enter the electoral plane in mass numbers.

Left-wing breakthrough in Mercier

Results in Mercier:
QS, Amir Khadir: 8861, 38.06%
PQ, Daniel Turp: 7989, 34.32%
PLQ, Catherine Emond: 4940, 21.22%

That alternative made a huge step forward this election. QS, the left party formed only a few years ago, has elected Amir Khadir in the riding of Mercier. This is a historic breakthrough, in a riding that has mythical meaning for the PQ. Amir’s victory was a decisive one, 8861 against Daniel Turp’s 7989. He ran on an honest platform, with the slogans:

  • For a public health system, against profiting off of illness
  • Against abusive profits, for decent incomes
  • Against the casino economy, for sovereignty in solidarity
  • For a green and local economy, against the abandonment of the regions
  • For Wind-Québec, against dependence on oil

Wind-Québec is a play on the state-run Hydro-Québec power utility, and refers to the nationalization of the wind energy industry. As opposed to the separatism of the PQ, QS has been putting forward the Québécois people’s sovereignty over natural resources and control of their economy. This is a significant step forward. With a program of meaningful reforms, Amir Khadir actually presented voters with something they had never seen before: a platform that spoke to their aspirations and their problems, without compromise, and without skirting the issues. Deceit, and a refusal to act on the issues affecting workers and their families, packaged as “realism”, is how the parties of the bosses usually operate. Under Charest, we have seen the private sector health clinics bloom, while the hospitals stagnate. With Amir, QS has shown itself to be a real alternative for workers and students looking for a way out of the crisis of Capitalism.

For a labour party in Québec

This is a historic opening for Québec solidaire. It can not be squandered. An immediate campaign needs to be begun to put the last nail in the coffin of the PQ. QS, its supporters in the Montréal Central Council of the CSN and sympathizers across the labour movement should demand that the labour leaders break their ties with the PQ once and for all and link up with QS. QS should offer spots for voting representatives from every union that affiliates to it, on all of its leading bodies, including the national executive. It should extend voting rights on the congress floor to unions that link up with the party. These are the links necessary to guarantee the future of the party as the representative of the working class in the National Assembly. Whatever political positions this or that union leader may have, we must insist on these links first and foremost, providing us with an opportunity to campaign to pressure or replace them when the time comes.

QS must show the way forward by providing the unity and foresight in the coming struggles that these leaders have so far lacked. By being at every picket line, every labour dispute, every major union congress, and putting forward a bold socialist program. It is not enough to stand for redistributing the wealth, as Amir said in his victory speech. It is not enough to be against the rule of the private sector, as he put it. It is not enough to be for sovereignty over our resources and our economy. As Charest begins his attacks on the labour movement, Québec solidaire needs to provide a clear, socialist solution:

  • Save public healthcare – nationalize all private clinics and incorporate them into the public system
  • Ensure decent salaries – link all wages to the rate of inflation to ensure an ailing economy does not mean a pay cut for millions of workers
  • End the casino of the market – nationalize the major industries under democratic workers’ control and integrate them into a rational, socialist plan of production

Only a party built by fighting in the factories, schools and the National Assembly to push back the capitalist class can truly represent the workers of Quebec, fighting for the overthrow of the bosses and their parties, the end of capitalism, and the establishment of socialism in Quebec.

We leave you with the poem Amir quoted in the closing of his speech:

Comme un million de gens, Qui pourraient se rassembler, Pour être beaucoup moins exploités
Like a million people, Who were able to unite, To be much less exploited