It’s been a busy few days in Quebec politics, as is to be expected in such a short election season. Let’s start with some observations on the Face a Face leader’s debate Thursday night (it was in French, so all quotes are translated):

  • Best line of the night goes to Québec solidaire (QS)’s Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, when speaking to Premier François Legault of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ): “You’re proposing managing the climate crisis a bit like Mr. Duhaime would have managed the pandemic.” A reference to Conservative Party of Quebec (CPQ) Leader Éric Duhaime opposition to pretty much any health restrictions.
  • Biggest screwup also goes to Nadeau-Dubois, for when he let Parti Québécois (PQ) Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon goad him into saying a racial slur which is part of the title of a book considered by some to be a seminal part of Quebec literature. While many voters might not care, the QS base who do the door-knocking, phone banking and signage surely do. And there’s no political upside for QS, as the ‘right to racism’ (or ‘anti-woke above all’) crowd won’t vote for a party that opposed Bill 21 (nor the PQ, for that matter, Legault and Duhaime have that vote sown up), regardless of whether Nadeau-Dubois had said the word or refused to.
  • Overall, though, Nadeau-Dubois gave a strong performance. He was confident and reserved most of his attacks for Legault. He also clearly articulated the party’s message of changing times with respect for “the generation that built Quebec”. It’s unfortunate that his screwup might detract from that strength and his message.
  • Quebec Liberal (PLQ) Leader Dominique Anglade did better than I, or the polling, expected her to. She came across as an earnest underdog and I almost forgot that she was representing one of the
  • Duhaime, as opponents jokingly suggested, is looking to win some votes on the West Island. With COVID restrictions and Vaccine Passports now months in the past (for now), railing against them won’t bring the electoral bounty he once thought it would. And he knows he can’t beat Legault on general right-wing issues, so why not try and reach out to right-leaning anglos. His vocal opposition to Bill 96 played like a last-minute switch, albeit a bold one to make in a French debate.
  • If St-Pierre Plamondon’s goal was to weaken QS with progressives without taking back the votes they lost to them last time, mission accomplished. If it was to win back relevancy and maybe power, his debate performance was a total failure.
  • As for Legault, he came across as, well, Legault, which is all he needed to do, really.
  • On systemic racism, Anglade, the only person of colour (and the only woman) on stage, came out strong against the myth, or the spin, that it doesn’t exist. Duhaime and St-Pierre Plamondon towed the “racism is bad, but let’s not say it’s baked into the system, it’s just words, let’s all get along” (not a direct quote) line.
  • Legault tried to make the argument that the “problems in Joliette” (where Atikamekw mother Joyce Echaquan recorded racial slurs by hospital staff before dying) were resolved (more on this later) and therefore no systemic racism. Nadeau-Dubois countered that Legault wasn’t Premier of Joliette and the problem still exists across Quebec.
  • Anglade attacked Nadeau-Dubois for voting for Bill 96 (something QS has tried to distance themselves from) and Nadeau-Dubois attacked Anglade for waffling on the same bill (first trying to toughen it, then voting against it because it was too tough).
  • On protecting the French language, four of the five leaders argued for some variation of the “stick” approach: the stick, or Bill 96 (Legault), a bigger stick, or a tougher Bill 96 (St-Pierre Plamondon), a smaller stick, or Bill 96 lite (Anglade), and a different stick, a law that left the historic anglos out of it and focused on immigrants (Duhaime). Nadeau-Dubois opted for the “carrot” approach, or free on-the-job French courses and a $500 voucher for French music, theatre and cultural production for all new immigrants.

Whether or not this debate swayed any voters has yet to be seen. But the campaigning continued.

Problem Not Solved in Joliette According to Atikamekw Community

Remember how François Legault argued during the debate that changes made at the Joliette hospital where Atikamekw mother Joyce Echaquan died were proof that the problem was solved in Joliette and that there was no systemic racism in Quebec? Well, the Manawan Atikamekw Council, the Atikamekw Nation Council and Joyce Echaquan’s spouse, Carol Dubé, released a statement saying that the situation had not been fixed, even in Joliette.

Dubé also sent a letter, through his lawyer, stating that “if the premier had bothered to meet with Ms. Echaquan’s family over the past two years, or if he had simply taken the time to read the report of coroner Gehane Kamel tabled in September 2021, he would have realized that the systemic problems that led to Ms. Echaquan’s death are not of a nature that can be ‘solved’ by essentially cosmetic changes.”

Legault responded on Saturday, saying that: “They want to come back to the issue of systemic racism…they want to make a debate of words instead of ensuring that we solve the problems on the ground.”

So it’s now not just Nadeau-Dubois and Anglade that the Premier is arguing with about systemic racism, but a victim’s family and community as well.

QS’s Rail and Bus Proposal

On Friday, Québec solidaire unveiled what could be its most ambitious proposal this election season: a $13 billion investment in public inter-city train and bus transit. Here is what it would look like:

  • Two new public bodies will be created to administer it: Québec-Rail and Québec-Bus.
  • The rail network will be comprised of five lines: Matane-Quebec, Quebec-Montreal, Quebec-Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke-Montreal and Montreal-Gatineau.
  • Existing rail lines would be used, three of them are currently under provincial jurisdiction and two are federal. Some tracks would need to be doubled and some passenger cars constructed and a deal worked out with CN.
  • The bus network would cover 4000 kilometers not served by the train network.
  • The initial investment would be $2 billion a year and there would need to be investment from a different level of government.

One of the things we know QS would cut, even before announcing this project, is the Legault-backed Third Link tunnel project for the Quebec City region. So we have two different transit visions as well as two different takes on systemic racism.

The debate may have ended, but the debating continues, as do the various campaigns. Until next time.

If one could describe the Quebec Elections with one word, it would likely be disillusionment. Many voters agree that Premier Couillard has been doing a lousy job, but many within that camp will vote for him anyway due to fear of separatism and/or the exacerbation of ethnic and language tensions that would likely come from a Parti Québécois or Coalition Avenir du Québec government. Québec Solidaire is an appealing option for others, but their sovereigntist stance is a big turnoff for those of us tired of hearing it.

One could always vote for a smaller political party. It’s a risky move, not only because these parties are less likely to get seats in the National Assembly, but also because it takes votes and influence away from a major party which you might actually agree with on a few things. One could even argue that it’s throwing your vote away.

That said, it’s a free country, and knowledge is power so I’m going to give you a crash course on some of the smaller parties running in this election. There are lots of them, so for the purposes of this article, I will be talking about the three that are campaigning just as hard as the larger parties: the Quebec Conservatives, the Quebec NDP, the provincial Green Party. Plus I’ve included the Bloc Pot, as we are on the eve of marijuana legalization.

As per the previous article, I plan to focus on their positions on health care, the economy/education/employment, culture, and the environment.

Health Care

The Green Party of Quebec is distinct from the Federal party of the same name and identifies itself as Leftist Federalist. Their healthcare platform focuses on prevention. Here are some highlights of their plan:

  • Institute a province-wide campaign to reduce meat consumption given its effects on health
  • Encourage doctors and pharmacists to suggest physical activity and healthy eating instead of medication – a plan that has its merits but runs the risk of alienating and harming people with conditions that require regular medication
  • Reduce ER overcrowding by boosting walk-in clinics and hiring more staff for them
  • Faster access to psychiatric services and follow-ups and increased access to mental health services for First Nations

The Conservative Party of Quebec is also distinct from the federal party of a similar name and claims as its core value “the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual against the encroachments of the all-powerful State”. Here are some of their proposals for our struggling health care system:

  • Pay hospitals per treatment as per an activity-based funding model – with revenue depending on how many patients they attract
  • Allow doctors to work in the private sector provided they work a minimum of thirty five hours a week in the public healthcare system
  • Encourage new forms of hospital management and ownership including hospitals belonging to non-profit cooperatives or for-profit businesses
  • Establish a public ranking of hospitals to be published annually with performance indicators including clinical outcomes, quality of care and hospital services
  • Allow hospitals to sign contracts with their physicians to establish doctors fees and working conditions

The Bloc Pot is the political party calling for a sensible and comprehensive province wide drug policy. Here’s their stance on health:

  • Encourage research on the positive effects of medical marijuana and it’s legitimate medical uses
  • Recognize patients’ right to obtain cannabis to treat their illnesses even illegally

The NDPQ is another party separate from its federal counterpart, but like the Federal NDP, they are a social democratic party. Their healthcare platform is one of the most comprehensive, and includes:

  • Giving the CLSCs the means to be primary healthcare providers with their own programs developed to address the particular needs of their communities
  • Establish maximum wait times for receiving treatments for medical problems according to available scientific research
  • Make sure that medical services are available 24/7 in urban areas
  • Create multi-disciplinary teams to address chronic illnesses
  • Create a new hospital to serve the Nunavut and James Bay areas

Education, Employment, and the Economy

Green Party:

  • Free public education from preschool to university including school supplies for elementary and secondary school students
  • Guaranteed minimum income of $1200/month with a six-hundred-dollar exemption for people who want to work part time
  • Create a new CEGEP focused on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math with a requirement that fifty percent of its students be women
  • Increase the minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour with laws forbidding employers from cutting benefits to finance the increase in wages

Quebec Conservative Party:

  • Gradually reduce payroll taxes to make the rates competitive with the rest of Canada
  • Create a public education funding method based on school vouchers worth the same amount of money per child that would allow parents to choose a public or private school in their district or a neighboring one
  • De-regulate tuition fees for all universities except the University of Quebec and any universities belonging to the reseau of the University of Quebec
  • Restrict welfare accessibility to a maximum period of five years
  • Eliminate “closed shop” provisions of the Labour Code that force employers to only hire unionized employees

NDPQ:

  • Invest four-hundred million dollars over five years to collective organizations and co-ops
    Create public companies charged with the planning and development of large infrastructure projects
  • Rewrite and merge the Quebec Labour Code, the Act Respecting Labour Standards, and the Act
  • Respecting Retraite in Quebec following consultations between the government, unions, and employees
  • End public subsidies and tax credits to private schools in Quebec
  • Free tuition for all levels of education

Bloc Pot:

  • Promote industrial production of hemp and hemp-based products
  • Judicial non-intervention for responsible marijuana users to eliminate employment and travel barriers

Environment

NDPQ:

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by fifty percent in the transport sector by 2030
  • Prioritize areas of intervention that reduce the production of greenhouse gases such as industrial livestock production, electrification of transportation methods, and better waste management
  • Investing government funds in research projects such as developing clean energies, cleaner industrial practices, and agricultural methods with less environmental impact
  • Ban the building or expansion of any natural gas pipelines on Quebec territory
  • Work with municipalities to develop cleaner waste management strategies

Green Party:

  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by fifty percent by 2030
  • Construct a network of high speed electric trains to connect Gatineau, Laval, Montreal, Trois-Riveres, Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Saguenay, Matane, and Drummondville with low cost fares, thus reducing the need for cars to travel throughout Quebec
  • Discouraging the purchase and use of large vehicles such as vans and SUVs by making them more expensive and more difficult to register
  • Require car-free zones in the downtown core of Quebec’s 30 largest cities
  • Nationalize the logging industry and create Forests Quebec to run it

The Bloc Pot:

N/A – their platform revolves around better drug policies and therefore does not address environmental issues

Quebec Conservative Party:

  • Lift existing moratoriums on the exploration of minerals, gas, and oil resources in Quebec while using methods that minimize their effect on the environment
  • Make it easier for Quebec farmers to find new uses for their agricultural waste
  • Science-based environmental policies
  • End the QST on the sale of used consumer goods including automobiles to encourage their re-use
  • Abolish the refunds on bottles and cans to encourage Quebeckers to put them in the recycling bin – a move that would hurt many urban poor who collect and return cans to supplement their incomes

Language, Culture, and Environment

I have once again saved this topic for last because it is here that we hear terms like racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia get thrown around. What makes the smaller parties unique is that they all call for cultural changes, but not the changes one would expect to hear about during Quebec election season.

The Bloc Pot’s focus is on responsible drug strategies and proposes judicial non-intervention for cannabis users. Their goal is to be able to open discussion on cannabis without fear of repression. Their strategy has nothing to do with language or ethnicity but rather is about eliminating the cultural stigma associated with marijuana that can limit employment, travel, and research.

The Green Party’s cultural stance appears to be about righting past wrongs. Their platform includes the implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to integrate the topics of colonialism and residential schools into Quebec’s high school history curriculum. They also seek to include historical information on genocide and the contributions of women and ethnic minorities in Quebec history classes. As for language, the Green Party supports existing language laws.

The Quebec Conservatives are the most right-wing of any of the parties discussed in this article. Their platform includes “welcoming policy” for immigrants to Quebec in which learning French, as well as Quebec history and traditions will be considered essential, though the primary factor in deciding eligibility will be their economic integration according to the needs of Quebec’s workforce. Their stance is strongly in favor of a secular state, but rather than a distinct charter of values, the Conservatives want the Canadian and Quebec Charters of Rights to be their guide. Though they call for reasonable accommodation conducted with “patience, education, and empathy” their platform also says that “there is no reason for us to encourage radical fundamentalism”, language that is generally associated with Islamophobia.

The NDPQ does not address the issue of culture directly among their platforms, limiting said platforms to the topics of agriculture, First Nations, the economy, education, the environment, health, and the LGBTQ++ community. Their policy with regards to LGBTQ++ community does call for a cultural change, but not with regards to ethnicity, religion, or language. Their platform involves fighting homophobia and transphobia and the stigma associated with HIV. They want to ban conversion therapy in Quebec, encourage the establishment of gay-straight alliances in schools, and publicly recognize sexual diversity. They also want to eliminate barriers to assisted procreation methods such as artificial insemination and In-Vitro Fertilization as well as surrogacy to allow LGBTQ++ to have children if they want them.

Election day is October 1. You have a say. Go vote.