The current Quebec election comes amid an unprecedented crisis. Our schools are in tatters, the health care system is collapsing, the cost of living is skyrocketing. The disconnect between the seriousness of this crisis and the ritual, ordinary, routine nature of the election campaign is striking.
It is as if nothing out-of-the-ordinary has happened in recent years. No party is clearly expressing the anger that is rumbling under the surface of society.
There is no shortage of reasons to be angry with the status quo. A monumental disaster in the nursing homes; 16,600 deaths from COVID-19; a health care system unable to provide sufficient services; a severe teacher shortage; endless waiting lists for affordable child care; lockdowns that targeted individuals while letting corporations make a killing; the planet burning; public sector employers forcing workers to accept wage increases of only 2 per cent a year, a model followed by private sector bosses; and now runaway inflation.
Of course, this is not what the CAQ and the ruling class it represents want to talk about. They have put their arrogance and contempt for workers and the poor on full display during the campaign. When Québec solidaire (QS) promised a 0.1 per cent tax on millionaires, the CAQ went wild in the media and press. Renamed the “orange tax” by François Legault, he presented the tax as the greatest imaginable threat to Quebec society.
The same people who told striking students in 2012 to accept a $1,625 tuition increase to do their “fair share” are now crying like spoiled babies at the prospect of paying $1,000 more per million dollars. The hypocrisy of the capitalist establishment and the CAQ is plain for all to see.
Then the media and the establishment spoon-feed us sterile “debates” on immigration and make who is allowed to use the “N-word” a national issue. One can only imagine how workers who are struggling to make ends meet in the face of inflation feel about the debate over the exact number of new immigrants to be allowed into Quebec. Will it be 35,000; 50,000; 70,000 or 80,000?
And all the while, the ruling class and its parties have no solution to the real problems of the working class.
Rejection of the establishment
We have entered a time of crisis where large layers of the population are looking for radical solutions and rejecting the political establishment that has proven unable to solve the serious problems that affect them.
The general feeling about the establishment was expressed recently by a somewhat unexpected source: the journalist Pierre Bruneau during the first party leaders’ debate. When asking the party leaders about the healthcare system, he added, “No one believes your healthcare promises anymore!” Indeed, the working class and young people no longer believe the establishment parties.
This explains the difficulties of the PQ and the Liberals. As if it wasn’t bad enough that they each had the worst election result in their respective histories four years ago, both parties are on track to break that record. Who can trust them when these parties have collectively spent 40 years imposing austerity and governing for the rich by keeping wages low, giving out all sorts of corporate tax breaks, and selling off our resources to them for cheap?
Crisis of capitalism absent from the campaign
Workers and young people are tired of politicians who promise anything and everything without ever offering real solutions to their problems. They increasingly reject the establishment, and an impressive 38 per cent of Quebecers want to move beyond capitalism, according to a recent poll. And they are right to do so.
This mood would be an opportunity for the only left-wing party, Québec solidaire, to stand out. But as the crisis of capitalism worsens, the party is moderating itself more and more, and trying to show that its program is realistic within the system. Instead of denouncing capitalism and the establishment, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois tries to show that QS’ proposals are “quantified” and “credible”.
For example, QS defends above all its 0.1 per cent tax on millionaires by arguing that it is modest and reasonable. Instead of going on the offensive and denouncing the greed of millionaires, GND gives the impression that he is trying to prove his credibility… to the rich and to capitalists themselves.
But the rich will never be convinced to pay more or to do their “fair share”. Rather than appearing to walk on eggshells when we attack the rich, we need a strong voice that denounces the entire capitalist system and its lackeys in all four parties, and proposes clear and bold socialist solutions.
Moreover, QS has moderated its language and some of its proposals. The most salient example is education. In the 2018 election, the party promised “free education from daycare to PhD” in five years. This time, the party is promising a 25 per cent cut in university fees. Also, its proposal for a tax on polluting vehicles could very well have been advanced by the Liberal Party of Canada. The suspension of the sales tax on essential products as a solution to inflation is not particularly different from its opponents’ tax cuts.
Even the party’s election signs reflect this change: from “free education from daycare to PhD”, “dental insurance for everyone”, and “half-price public transit” in 2018, we have moved to vague slogans like “the ecological choice” (almost every party drapes itself in green), “solving the housing crisis” (who is against this?) and “cheaper bills, better wages” (how?).
This trend within QS risks creating the impression that the party is not that different from other opposition parties. We saw this in the Sept. 22 debate, where the PQ’s leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon often outflanked GND on the left. To give two examples among others: it was PSPP who denounced tax cuts as a way to lay the groundwork for austerity, and who called for a system of free, universal daycare. The two agreed more often than not. What a contrast to the 2018 campaign where the PQ attacked QS by raising the specter of the “red scare”!
This is where Éric Duhaime and his Quebec Conservative Party (PCQ) comes in, presenting themselves as opposed to the “elites.”
A supporter of the party said at a rally recently: “Why do I vote for the Conservative Party? It’s because I feel like the CAQ has completely abandoned our elderly.”
Of course, the PCQ and Éric Duhaime have nothing to offer working people. Underneath an anti-establishment veneer is a politician who would viciously attack unions, privatize public services and make life hard for the poor.
But the confused feeling of having been left behind by the CAQ is felt by hundreds of thousands of Quebec workers. Duhaime tries to echo this feeling and pretends to be a voice of the ordinary people, for example when he denounces the exorbitant price of gas. The recipe is nothing new: it’s the same right-wing populism that Trump has mastered, that has inspired politicians around the world, from Éric Zemmour to Jair Bolsonaro, and that has just made Pierre Poilievre head of the Conservative Party of Canada.
The potential rise of Duhaime is a warning and an important lesson for the left. Against the anti-establishment right, there must be a genuine anti-establishment left that points to the capitalist system as the source of inflation, of the botched response to the pandemic, of the housing crisis, etc. If such an option is not present, then the field is open for right-wing populism à la Duhaime and Poilievre.
What is sorely lacking in the current election campaign is a voice that explains that we need to get out of capitalism to solve the urgent problems of the working class. The climate, housing, and inflation crises cannot be solved on the basis of the capitalist system. The bosses cannot be made to pay for the crisis by remaining under capitalism—one only has to look at their reaction to QS’ 0.1 per cent tax to see that they will resist any measure aimed at attacking their power.
Socialism must be put back on the agenda: nationalizing the banks and big business, and building a mass movement of workers and youth to implement and defend this program. This is the only way out of the current crisis.