If you’re like many people my age, you are struck, from time to time, by a sense of dread about the future. The trendlines are negative- we are deforesting, cultivating, and polluting the land like no society before us. The rich get richer while the poor get poorer- traditional middle class jobs making things people need are shipped overseas, leaving many poorly-paid service and very few highly-paid management positions in their wake. Our elected officials attack each other while sweeping problems under the rug. Almost everywhere in the world, young people feel disenfranchised, ignored; sometimes they are attacked outright for having the temerity to call for the end of exploitative practices in every field.
On Tuesday, September 4, we can take a step in the right direction in Quebec. No-one needs to tell you that none of the ‘three main’ parties will do nothing to save us from the ongoing global economic and environmental crises. The PLQ are hopelessly corrupt and have been playing defense. They gambled that taking a hard line against the student strike would win them the election- they banked on the rentrée being bloody, to show more clearly his resolve- and lost. The students went back to class, knowing that with a new government coming soon, they will soon need a new approach.
The PQ and the CAQ are both weathervanes, although in different alloys of reactionary. The PQ have made ‘identity politics’ their bag this campaign, with predictable results. The people who feel most threatened in ‘their identity’ are members of the majority in their own communities- that is to say, white, Catholic francophones living in majority white Catholic francophone areas. Parachuting a Muslim candidate into a semi-rural riding is convenient cover, yes, but proposing to end the right to a CEGEP education in English, forcing all companies with more than 10 employees to speak exclusively French, and banning all religious symbols from public buildings (except the massive crucifix in the National Assembly) are all propositions to weaken the vitality of minority communities thereby, somehow, enriching French. This is a dangerous road to walk- most Quebeckers I know, when they think of an independent Quebec, envision a modern, progressive, pluralistic country, with respect and tolerance for all. With these the stated goals of the PQ, are they really the party to lead us to that kind of country?
The CAQ, rather than defining their campaign in terms of religious, cultural, and linguistic identity, are making their stand on ‘the economy’. Their position on sovereignty is ‘wait and see’, but they do promise to get every Quebecker a family doctor by next year (how?), making school run from 9-5, to better suit working parents (what?) all while lowering taxes for individuals and companies! This feat of economic antigravity is possible, Mr. Legault assures us, because of all the spending currently being wasted by corruption and collusion. The only interesting thing about the CAQ is that they are the ‘not-Liberal’ alternative for those voters put off by Marois’ heritage sideshow, and who are more interested in ‘the economy’ than ‘independence’.
So Anglos can vote for the CAQ because they aren’t really separatist, and francophones can vote ‘Not Liberal’ in two ways, depending on how much danger they feel Quebec society is in. Now there is an analogy to be drawn between the CAQ and the NDP, but also a distinction. The analogy is that both parties faced a decrepit incumbent out of touch with contemporary values and priorities (Charest and Harper), and an uninspiring opposition who don’t propose to do anything substantively different, but who make a lot of noise about how awful the incumbent is (Marois and Ignatieff). The distinction is that NDP values are Quebec values- progressivism, communitarianism, tolerance, and fairness- whereas the CAQ’s values are- elusive. Whereas voters could feel good about ticking their ballot for le bon Jack, voting for a peanut seller is harder to swallow.
So, pretty hopeless. Nothing to counteract our feeling that the world is going to hell in a handbasket, nothing looking likely to pull us out of a nosedive into calamity. But then, a challenger appears.
I have been blown away in the last four weeks at the sheer number of people who are unaware of the very existence of Quebec Solidaire. I’ve been asked if it’s a wing of the PQ, whether it’s the communist party- all sorts of ridiculous distortions. But no- QS is the progressive alternative to the three main parties, with a realistic, albeit radical platform to start taking serious steps to save our world. Let’s deconstruct.
The first thing to clarify concerns sovereignty. Yes, Quebec Solidaire is a ‘sovereigntist’ party. Keep reading. QS is a party of diversity and inclusivity- not all members of QS are sovereigntist, and not all sovereigntists have the same ideas about the specifics of independence. QS recognizes that the process of separation should be done once, and done properly. Now, even the most hardline federalist must recognize the right of any people to self-determination, the consent of the governed being crucial to any democracy. QS have laid out the fairest possible roadmap, informed by the experiences of countless other independentist movements worldwide- elect a citizen’s assembly, draft a constitution, then put the constitution to a referendum. We will have our say many, many times before anything even goes to a vote- and QS celebrates the right of all citizens to vote how they want to of their own free conscience.
This aside, the rest of the platform is exactly what we need. It’s radical to build 50 000 units of social housing, and it’s radical to pay for free schooling with a capital gains tax levied only on financial institutions. It’s radical to do environmental assessments on big projects planned up north, and radical to suggest that our natural resources be used for the common benefit, and not the profit of speculators and shareholders. It’s radical to guarantee a minimum income to all citizens to provide for their basic needs. It’s radical to electrify Montreal’s transit. We live in radical times, and radical solutions are needed.
QS proposes to start the real work of reforming our society. They don’t just differ from the other parties in terms of policy- they differ in worldview. Close to half their candidates are women. Many work in the community and non-profit sector, giving them real understandings of the challenges faced by ordinary people. QS proposes that we all work to help each other- not just to line our own pockets, but to protect and preserve our beautiful land for generations to come. The other parties are wrapped up in the short-term thinking symptomatic of big companies, afraid to spook the shareholders with a disruptive, innovative vision of the path to come. QS is thinking about building a Quebec which can be sustained, and which can be held up as an example to the world.
QS is the party of inclusion. They will help artists and make education truly accessible, both better ways of defending the French language than banning English. They will make it a priority to integrate immigrants not by erasing their culture and overwriting it with the dominant one, but by stitching newcomers into the tapestry. They will actually take the protection of the environment seriously, and the importance of this point in 2012 cannot be overstated. And in many, many ridings, they could win. If you live in Montréal, September 4, vote for QS. In Quebec City, Sherbrooke- anywhere that people who share the progressive vision congregate, vote for QS. Don’t vote against someone- vote for a positive vision of the future. Together, it can happen.