For decades, the political scene in Quebec has been in a quagmire. The national question has dominated the discourse, replacing the left-right axis found almost everywhere else with a sovereigntist/federalist one.
Two parties have benefited both greatly and equally from this setup – The Parti-Quebecois (PQ) and the Liberal Party of Quebec (PLQ) have been in power since the 1960s.
At first, many progressives felt they had no choice but to park their vote with the PQ, knowing that a better and more just world would always take a backseat to sovereignty, language and national identity. Federalist progressives, on the other hand, could either vote PQ and hope there wasn’t a referendum or hold their nose, push their ideals to the side, and vote Liberal.
Recently, other options have emerged, most notably Quebec Solidaire (QS) and a re-born provincial Green Party. Unfortunately, the two-party system seems too powerful to break. If there was ever a time for someone to come along and prove, once and for all, that the PLQ and PQ were just two sides of the same coin, neither being a place for progressives to park their vote, now would be that time.
Looks like the savior of Quebec politics may have just arrived. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Pierre-Karl Péladeau, or PKP as his friends, enemies and pretty much everyone else knows him.
A Short Honeymoon
Since becoming PQ leader, at least officially (as if it was really a contest), PKP has enjoyed some positive numbers. Support for the PQ is up and so is support for sovereignty.
Not surprising, really. A party that was down in the dumps after losing badly now has a leader with name recognition beyond the political sphere. He’s an avowed sovereigntist, too.
Who can forget him almost shouting “Je veux un pays!” It is, after all, the moment that pretty much derailed the Marois campaign.
He is a businessman, known for getting what he wants. He wanted a national right-wing cable news network, he got one. He wanted to raise our cable and internet rates, he did that, too.
You can see how some have faith that this businessman who wants to make Quebec a country can achieve that goal, too. They can ignore the fact that their new savior of Quebec is famous for creating a network accused of Quebec bashing on many occasions as long as he gets the job done.
The honeymoon, however, may be short-lived, and cracks in his armour may begin to show sooner rather than later.
Not a Great Business Man
One of the issues the PQ has had to deal with constantly over the decades is that their nationalist ideals were out of touch with economic reality. And an independent Quebec would spell financial catastrophe. In the early days, the party took an approach that opposed the capitalist system, so unconventional economic ideas were possible. Things have changed.
The PQ now wants to show that separating from Canada is possible and good for business. Who better to lead this initiative than a businessman with a proven track record, right?
Well, if you look at PKP’s track record as a businessman, it’s really not that great. Sure, Quebecor is a powerhouse, but it’s the house Pierre Péladeau, PKP’s father built. Since PKP took over, Quebecor has underperformed most major media companies in Canada and failed at international expansion with Quebecor World. Not to mention the fact that Sun News is no more, after just under four years in operation.
Is this what the PQ is basing their pro-business future on? At this rate, he’ll get his country, but it will only last three years and a bit.
Not a Union Man
The PQ has always relied on union support to win power. Not only does their new leader lack any pro-union cred, his name is as reviled in union circles as the Trudeau name is hated in sovereigntist ones.
No matter how corrupt Quebec politics may be, selling the man who locked out workers for over a year to union membership is just a non-starter. This is when the recognition factor starts to work against Péladeau.
The unions really don’t have many other options. The Liberals, the party of austerity and pension cuts are out of the question. Will they actually bite the bullet and back QS, a party with only three seats? Time will tell.
Without union support, the PQ will be desperate to pull any type of progressive allies they can. PKP is also the man who directed his media outlets to discredit the student protests in 2012. So a Marois-style appeal to more radical elements of Quebec society is out of the question.
One Issue Party
René Lévesque was first elected on two promises: to make Quebec a better place to live through progressive social policies and to hold a referendum. He delivered on both.
He wanted to show just what kind of a country Quebec could be before giving people the chance to make it his dream a reality. Lévesque must now be rolling over a homeless man in his grave.
PKP wants a country, too, but it’s the same sort of country Quebecers already have through Harper. His nationalism is purely ethnic and linguistic with no hint at being progressive on any other fronts.
A Smaller Base
The PQ has always had two main bases of support: progressive sovereigntists and conservative nationalists. Marois clearly favoured the latter and risked alienating the former, but PKP has no chance with the former to begin with. The only support he will get from progressives will come from those who want a country at all costs.
It is a much smaller base to pull from. If the union support is out, he’ll just have to wrap himself in the Quebec flag and pray for a miracle. The best he can hope for is opposition or maybe a minority government if the Liberals really screw up bad.
But where will all that formerly potential PQ support go? It won’t be to the Liberals for sure. Progressives may just not turn up to vote, or possibly it will galvanize behind another party, one that puts actual societal change at the forefront, leaving the national question on the backburner.
If that happens, and the discourse in Quebec politics shifts to a new axis, people will have one man to thank: Pierre-Karl Péladeau.