Wednesday, September 05, 2012
Pauline Marois, leader of the Parti Québécois, is set to become the Province’s first female Premier. Just before midnight, she was giving a victory speech to an electrified audience when a would-be assassin begin shooting near the back door of the hall where they were gathered.
Wearing a balaclava over his face and wielding a rifle, the man got within 20 feet of the stage and opened fire. While Marois and those inside were not injured, one supporter outside in his 40s was killed, and two others were hospitalized. Before the shooting, the gunman managed to set a fire blocking the rear door.
Police captured the man, who screamed “The English are waking up!” in broken French. After being hustled out of the venue, Marois returned to the stage and requested that the victory crowd calmly leave the building before concluding with a few more lines of thanks.
This was the first time the Separatist Parti Québécois had won a Provincial election in 15 years, although they won just shy of the 63 seats necessary for an absolute majority. This summer’s student protests and an unpopular anti-protest law (Bill 78) enacted by the scandal-plagued governing Liberals, hastened elections and the choice of the new Premier. The election was further complicated by emergence of a new party, the Coalition Avenir Québec (Coalition for Québec’s Future, or CAQ), which took almost 30% of the vote across the province and won 19 seats.
This morning it appears that the Parti Québécois (PQ) won 54 seats (DARK BLUE), the Liberals (who are not liberal by US standards) won 50 seats RED), the new CAQ took 19 seats (LIGHT BLUE), and the ultra—hard-line Separtists Québec Solidaire took 2 seats ORANGE). The PQ will need to have the support of legislators from some other party in order to pass legislation.
Within her own party, Marois is largely seen as a moderate who is ‘soft’ on the independence issue, and who would actually take small steps to move towards a more autonomous Québec rather than demand independence. Some Parti members actually quit the party under her leadership because they thought she was too wishy-washy on the independence issue.
Among Anglophones, however, she is painted in much harsher tones. In an English language chat room sponsored by the Canadian Broadcast Company in Montréal last night, some writers were accusing her of hate, racism, and of being ‘a lizard in human form.”
Thursday, August 30, 2012
[This article analyzes the 2012 elections; for a blogpost on the 2014 elections, see 2014 Québec instead] In the midst of unparalleled student unrest, a university system that literally shut down for half a year, and a government embroiled in construction-contract scandals, Québec Premier Jean Charest and the Liberal Party appear headed for a major defeat in provincial elections less than a week from today.
The likely victors will be the Parti Québécois and their passionate leader, Pauline Marois. It will be the first chance that the Franco-centric separatists will have to flex its muscle since it lost an independence plebiscite by a mere 1% margin in 1995. Whether the Parti Québecois will win a majority of seats in the largely three-way race on September 4th remains to be seen.
The Canadian political landscape – and the Québécois landscape in particular – rests on different paradigms than the more ideological, American race which has dominated the media from Tampa all week.
Three parties are vying for control of the province – none of which are parties that have any significant role on the national level…but the politics of Canadian nationalism (or ‘federalism’) loom large over this race.
The current government of Québec is dominated by the Liberal Party, a political party that lost all significance on the federal level just a few years ago. The Liberals dominated the national Canadian government under Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien for forty years from the 1960s to the early 2000s; the party was then decimated on the national level, reduced to a mere footnote, winning only 35 of 308 seats in the House of Commons.
But in Québec, the Liberals, under Premier Jean Charest, have managed to hold on to power – until now.
Earlier this year, the Charest government recommended raising university tuition by $1600/year, setting off the largest protests in Canadian history throughout the summer. Charest responded to the protests by enacting Bill 78, a bill that severely limited the right to protest and included “pre-notification” requirements. Initially, the majority of Québec citizens appeared to support the government as against the students, but the enactment of Bill 78 turned much popular sentiment against Charest’s Liberals. The Liberals were compared to the national Conservative Party (the Canadian version of the Republican Party in the United States, which hardly exists at all in Québec.) The Conservatives are grossly unpopular in Québec. Conservative Canadian Premier Stephen Harper inflamed French Québec this year by openly embracing the British monarchy. Harper's conservative, pro-British government in Ottawa created a leftist, French backlash in Québec, and Charest's Liberals have lost support because of it. (In the US, Liberals and Conservatives would never be seen as 'allies;' in Canada, that is not the case.)
If these troubles were not enough for Charest, a long-term investigation of a bribery scandal involving his cabinet members and the construction industry began to hit media outlets during the student protests, further souring even his own traditional supporters.
The Liberal Party’s troubles and a strengthened sense of French culture in Québec have catapulted the Parti Québécois (or PQ) to first place in all pre-election polls. Lead by Pauline Marois, the party is neither left nor right, as much as it is “French.” The party has embraced and exalts Québec’s unique French heritage, and, as such, appears leftist (even socialist) on economic issues, while holding to a very conservative line on social issues of a “French” nature.
The PQ has openly supported the students in their strike, embracing the very French notion of a low-cost, or even tuition-free, university education for all citizens. It has taken a harsh approach towards miners, announcing it will demand higher royalty payments; some have suggested that the PQ will shut down Québec asbestos industry altogether. But while liberal on social issues, the PQ insists on a conservative approach towards “French” issues: the PQ wants to tighten language laws to require greater use of French in business and government operations, and stronger laws preventing the purchase of Québec companies by foreign corporations.
The PQ recently called for laws outlawing the wearing of muslim head scarves as well as religious symbols such as crosses in government office buildings, similar to the militantly-secular culture found in France.
Ironically, it is in the city of Montréal where the greatest political discordance is found: Montréal is the center of the student protests, which the PQ has embraced; it is also the city with the greatest number of bilingual and non-French speaking people in Québec, who will be impactedthe most by the PQ’s stricter language proposals.
Enter the third party: The Coalition Avenir Québec, or “CAQ,” a new party headed by François Legault. CAQ describes itself as right-of-center (and "pro-entrepreneur") on economic issues, but liberal on social issues. It attempts to stake out a ‘middle position’ on Québec independence, rejecting both the separatist platform of the PQ and the Federalist platform of the Liberals. CAQ wants to ‘strengthen’ French language laws (especially in Montréal), and limit immigration, while promoting a French culture within the Canadian federation. Though new, it is outpolling the Liberals on the eve of the election.
Will Montréal voters (and English speakers) continue to embrace the scandal-plagued, anti-dissent Liberals in order to protect their multilingual heritage?
Will French speakers (constituting 80% of Québec’s voters) join the bandwagon to replace the Liberals with a markedly French Parti Québecois?
Or with they choose just a “slightly-less-French” CAQ in the hopes of taking a ‘middle way,” even though the CAQ is an upstart, unknown entity?
Can any of the three parties win a majority of seats in the Québec Parliament?
Nous allons savoir mardi.
Tuesday, May 08, 2012
By American standards – in fact, even by Canadian standards – the tuition that Québec students pay is very low. But the protest is not about the actual tuition figure, as much as it is about the principle of what education means in Québec society. The province’s notoriously low tuitions were instituted during the “Quiet Revolution” of the 1960s as a means of ensuring greater accessibility, especially among the francophone population that had long lagged behind the rest of Canada. Borrowing from the pages of America’s “Occupy” movement and the “Arab Spring” halfway around the world, the protests have come to embrace a wide spectrum of causes….and is coming to be known as the "Printemps Érable,” the “Maple Spring.”
And it is a movement that was launched by students – and by all measures, its growing.
Last week, the government negotiated an agreement with student leaders in an effort to end the 13-week walkout that included at $250 increase in tuition. But across Québec, the students who have been asked to approve the agreement are rejecting it in overwhelming numbers. As the possibility of finishing this semester looks less likely each day, students are delivering a message to the governing Liberal Party that they are not going to settle for a poor deal.
Observers blame Education Minister Line Beauchamp for extending the crisis by not responding more quickly to concerns that were raised about the agreement. Worse, students say that government officials bragged that they had won on the tuition issue, which outraged students who had negotiated in good faith.
As the protests grow, they take on more of the look of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Signs have appeared opposing oil sands drilling, supporting gender equality, opposing the privatization of public services, and opposing the government’s plan to extract resources in the northern Québec wilderness (“Plan Nord”).
And now, political parties and labor unions have joined the students. Concordia political science professor Bruce Hicks described it this way:
“There has been an element involved in the student strike all along that I think grew out of the Occupy movement….the student protest movement has tapped into outrage over the economy and society and government from more moderate individuals, creating a sort of hybrid between an anarchist movement, but also a socially progressive protest vote.” (Precisely the sometimes uneasy but purposeful alliance that has characterized the American movement).
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, the spokesperson for CLASSE, the largest and most militant of the three student federations orchestrating the strike, stated from the beginning that students’ fight was with Québec’s “greedy elite,” and that the strike would lead to a “much deeper, much more radical challenge of the direction Québec has been heading in recent years.”
“They can continue to count on our support in the future, we are against the tuition increase,” said Louis Roy, president of La Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux (CSN), one of the province’s largest unions.
Roy said his union, along with the Fédération des Travailleurs et Travailleuses du Québec (The Worker’s Federation of Québec) and the Centrale des Syndicats du Québec (CSQ), have been working with the students for more than 18 months. The unions and the student federations are part of a group called the Alliance Sociale, which was formed in the fall of 2009 to oppose the Liberal government’s budget.The unions have also provided sound systems for demonstrations and organizational support.
Roy applauded the student’s negotiating skills with the government.
“Their ability to communicate is very good. They are young, but they are not children. They don’t need to be held by the hand.”
They also know how to leverage Montréal’s transit system.
Just as Twitter, Facebook, and text messages have become communication catalysts, the Métro has become the student’s trump card for physical movement. Police complain that protesters are able to shift their actions from one part of the city to another more quickly than police motorcycles or squad cars can move through city streets.
Insp. Alain Larivière, head of the Montréal Police Dept.’s Métro division, claims that Police are merely protecting commuters from protesters.
“The métro may be open, but we can’t just let (passengers) go out while a demonstration’s been declared illegal, while there’s an intervention in progress by the officers or the cavalry…”
Larivière later admitted that all of the demonstrations that have taken place within the Métro have been peaceful. In fact, of the 190 demonstrations staged during the protests, not once has the subway system’s operations being disrupted by the students.