C2C Journal

C2C: A veiled threat to the NDP in Quebec

If any province is likely to confound the pundits and embarrass the pollsters on October 19, it is Quebec.

At the outset of the 2011 federal election most predicted the separatist Bloc Québécois would take a majority of the province’s seats, as they had in every election since their creation in 1993. Instead, the BQ was decimated by the NDP, a party that had previously held just one seat in Quebec. Political historians are still trying to fathom the Orange Wave, as it was called, but most agree it had much to do with NDP leader Jack Layton, who wowed Quebecers with his performances in the national leaders’ debates and a popular Francophone talk show – even as he was fighting the cancer that would kill him within a few months of the election. Many thought the NDP win was a fluke; with “Le bon Jack” gone, surely the Wave would recede.

Instead, eight weeks into the 2015 campaign, polls are promising a repeat performance from the NDP. Leader Thomas Mulcair, the holder of that lone Quebec seat in 2011, has apparently consolidated his party’s hold on the province. His 58 rookie MPs there have far exceeded the very low expectations that accompanied their arrival in office, and despite running to the right of all his competitors except the Conservatives on fiscal policy, Mulcair appears to have constructed a sturdy bond between his party and the province’s dominant constituencies of leftists and nationalists.

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C2C Journal

C2C: A new quiet revolution in Quebec?

For two decades Quebecers have been electing governments that promise to put the province’s fiscal house in order and nurture a stronger market economy. Post-election, however, the political will to implement these reforms almost invariably succumbs to fierce public protests. It happened to former Liberal Premier Jean Charest and his bold plan to “re-engineer” the state in 2003, and before him to former Parti Québécois Premier Lucien Bouchard. Bouchard tried again as a private citizen in 2005 with his “pour un Québec lucide” manifesto. It so antagonized the bureaucracy, unions and the left that it inspired the creation of a new extreme left-wing nationalist party – Québec Solidaire – that now has three seats in the National Assembly.

As a result of this prolonged paralysis of political will and policy reform, Quebec now has by far the largest provincial debt in Canada. It is also one of the highest-taxed jurisdictions in North America and a laggard on just about every measure of economic performance. But there is some evidence that Quebec’s stubbornly statist political culture has reached a tipping point. Ten months ago Premier Philippe Couillard’s Liberal party won a majority government on familiar promises of fiscal responsibility and market-led economic growth. Today, unlike many of its predecessors, the government’s political will seems to be holding up, even after last summer’s violent trashing of Montreal City Hall by unionized city firefighters protesting provincial pension reforms, while unionized city police stood by and did nothing.

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