By Richard Fidler
The October 1 general election campaign in Quebec unfolded as two distinct contests. One was the competition between the Liberals and Coalition Avenir Québec for control of the government. The other was a battle between the Parti québécois and Québec solidaire for hegemony within the pro-sovereignty movement.
In the end, the CAQ replaced the Liberals in government on a platform that claimed to offer “change” but in substance promises even more of the same capitalist austerity inflicted on the Québécois under successive governments since the mid-1990s. PLQ support is now heavily concentrated in its minority Anglophone enclaves of western Quebec.
The real change, however, was registered in the surge of support for Québec solidaire, which more than doubled its share of the popular vote and elected 10 members to the National Assembly, one more than the PQ’s total under the vagaries of the first-past-the-post electoral system. Although the PQ received slightly more votes, it was a crushing defeat for the party founded 50 years ago by René Lévesque that as recently as 2014 had governed the province. Jean-François Lisée, defeated in his own riding by the QS candidate, immediately announced his resignation as PQ leader.
In part, this split in popular support reflected a generational shift; pre-election polling showed QS in advance of the PQ among voters under the age of 35. But it also reflected to some degree a class divide, a rejection among younger voters of the PQ’s record as itself a party of capitalist austerity and its regressive catering to white settler prejudice in sharp contrast with Quebec’s increasingly pluricultural composition, as well as a growing determination among many that Quebec sovereignty, to be meaningful, must be integrally connected with the quest for fundamental social change.
QS: A Political Force in Contention
Throughout the campaign, the mainstream media featured the argument that this was the first election in which Quebec sovereignty was not at issue. But they largely missed the significance of these shifts within the pro-sovereignty movement as it continues to radicalize.