Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

The case for an NPD-Q

A year, now, since Québec first crested the Big Orange Wave, and still, the NDP continue to thrive. It prompts a brand-new big idea: isn’t it time to build a provincial New Democratic Party in Québec?

Will six be enough for the thirsty masses?

There used to be one, though we’re forgiven to have forgotten. The federal party prompted a divorce from its wayward disciple (and forced a name change) years ago, as the provincial NDP-Q narrative became too nationalistic, its friends too unsavoury, and its aims too divergent from the English Canadian federal party.

Those conditions have changed. The NDP is no longer an English Canadian federal party. It’s a binational, bilingual, federal social democratic party that proves it can appeal directly to, and draw strength from, Quebecers. It’s the kind of party that many of us want the country to effectively be. And so?

And so, it’s a fool’s errand, some will say. Once you fracture the federalist vote between the provincial Liberals and a would-be high-profile NDP-Q, you give the Parti Québécois all the room in the world to dominate provincial politics for a generation and more. You virtually guarantee another referendum, and that’s just irresponsible.

Maybe. But I think that oversimplifies the complexities of Québec’s electoral landscape, and denies trends we’ve seen emerge in the sovereigntist camp itself, which is evolving towards several discrete left-right identities, manifest in distinct and new partisan agents. Can federalists be so bold?

Politics in three dimensions

Québec fascinates through its multidimensionality. You aren’t trapped within one of those false left-wing/right-wing 2D dichotomies, you’re also forced to consider your sovereigntist/federalist position. And your place in one spectrum need not have any bearing on your place in the other, creating all kinds of exotic creatures. Federalist socialists and separatist neoliberals might seem rare specimens, but they aren’t – they just don’t have their own parties.

This is changing, at least on the sovereigntists’ side. There are evolutions in how they self-identify. Québec federalists continue to organise as federalists, while the sovereigntists are beginning to organise as leftists, or rightists, or safe centrists. There’s no longer a sovereigntist coalition – hence, we witness the CAQ over there on your right, the PQ holding the fort left of centre, and QS on the chaise longue with the Karl Marx teddy bear.

Just a theory, but this partisan diversity may have emerged precisely because the Parti Quebecois stopped prioritising its sovereigntist identity, and started prioritising its identity as a broadly left/centre-left party. Something that could strip social democratic federalist votes away from the PLQ. It works – that happens. But the strategy will have angered Péquistes who wanted sovereignty front and centre – and it’s driven them to forge new parties, which can then only be organised and differentiated along distinctive left/right lines.

That Québec federalists continue to huddle together in uncomfortable left/right coalition might strike us as savvy and electorally advantageous. But it doesn’t appear to be working at the mo. The apparent fracturing of the sovereigntist vote isn’t hurting the PQ’s position – indeed, they are in safe majority territory. What can smart federalists do?

Play the Péquistes at their own game, and recognise that you can fight for soft nationalists and soft federalists at once. That’s what the Orange Wave was.

A New Democrat Backdraft

A provincial NDP could go to the student protests and say “We’re with you. You don’t have to go to Québec Solidaire to voice dissent against neoliberal policy, you can do it with us.” It could go to the provincial Liberals and say “most of you are more progressive than you let on. Come on, all you Mulcairs, come on in.” It could pull soft federalist social democrats back from the PQ as well as pulling support from the Liberals – something QS and CAQ aren’t in reach of doing. Besides, the very novelty of a provincial NDP could win it quick and early rewards from a public that’s in a very up-for-anything, disestablishment-minded mood. The trick, from there, is to hold such rewards – but the federal NDP are doing it pretty impressively.

Coalitions such as the Parti liberal du Québec are sustainable only insofar as there is a coherent opposite threat – look at the B.C. Liberals! That motley crew of Socreds, Tories and federal Liberals sought nothing more complex out of life than to suppress the B.C. NDP. But that coalition looks set to dissolve into incoherence, merely because an upstart actual Conservative party has entered the provincial scene.

A Whole New Mosaic

B.C.’s Liberals are a mosaic made with cheap glue, and if social democrats in Québec are bold enough, they’ll find that Charest’s Liberals are in a similar condition. His internal coalition could be just as easily usurped by a challenger that is able to establish a different kind of coalition – one that’s more coherent, and involves Québec’s mass of federalist/soft nationalist social democrat orphans in a meaningful way.

An NDP-Q would be risky, would ruffle feathers, and would rumble the status quo. Sounds like a goer.

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Québec: Factor Orange

It’s St-Jean Baptiste Day! So, vive le Québec, vive le Canada…… and while we’re at it, vive le Brasserie Unibroue!

I can think of no better occasion to pore through a new EKOS poll of Canadians’ voting intentions (bottle of Maudite may be required), however sad it seems. But there’s an interesting feature in Québec, so I think it’s perfectly justified.

Overall, it’s a well-worn tale. Tories on 31%, Liberals on 27.7%. NDP on 16.5%, Green on 13% (again, if the NDP-GPC could get together and consolidate their demographic, would we not have a real fighting progressive party that’s statistically tied with the ruling Tories?). And the Bloc down on 9%.

So far, so uninteresting. But EKOS finds something that I (at least) would love to explore a lot more – page 5 of the survey report, regarding voters’ second choices.

There appears to be some predictable love between LPC and NDP supporters, as well as between NDP-Green. But while 38.7% of NDP supporters would back the Liberals as their second choice (unsurprising), a full 34.5% of NDP supporters would back the Bloc as their second choice. I thought this was quite wowwy.

This is good and bad news for the NDP, though, depending who’s doing the spinning. 🙂

Harper-For-Life types will love this news as it draws a link between “socialists and separatists.” Who could trust Jack Layton to babysit your kids, when 35% of his fans are also fans of Gilles Duceppe?

But NDP supporters have to be happy to learn that this means they’ve got a verifiable surge in Québec, and in the nationalist community as well. What seems quite astonishing is that the survey seems to suggest that, if a third of NDP supporters back the Bloc as a second choice, than at least a third of NDP supporters are living in Québec. No longer is La Belle Province the exclusive bastion of the Liberals and Tories when it comes to federalist support.

But there are problems for the NDP in these numbers too. The Liberals and Conservatives can fight over anglo federalist Montréal and the banlieues, but the NDP is charting new territory in nationalist areas. It’s good news in many ways, but this support must remain locked in the deep freeze of stalwart Bloquiste ridings that don’t appear likely to turn federalist soon. Or could they?

We first have to ask how the NDP, a party that errs on the side of a more centralised Canadian federation, are managing such support in the francophone Québec nationalist community.

Layton’s personal appeal in Québec is a big part of this, but we can’t forget the fact that a good number of Bloc voters are not actually anti-Canada “separatists” – they are just French-speaking, left-of-centre social democrats who like the Bloquistes’ daycare plans and like their policies on public investment in health and education.

And if they don’t believe a referendum is winnable or on the table anyway (CROP in April concurs – only 14% of Quebecers believe an independent state is on the cards), then this only empowers francophone progressives in Québec to “safely” give voice to the Bloc based on their social democratic credentials, and nothing else. I think that’s the logic in a lot of Québec.

So, after all, it may be the case that the NDP aren’t winning over Québec nationalists – they’re winning over social democrats (and soft nationalists at best) who just don’t fully identify with “distant” federal parties. So the question for the NDP is, how they convince francophone progressives that their natural home should be Team Orange, not Team Bleu?

Hard to do when identity is such a major feature of Québec voting trends. But if the NDP presents a respectable, federal, social democratic face to Québec, this has got to be good for unity. It says that there’s at least one well-regarded federal alternative in Québec amongst the soft-nationalist community, and that the federalist option isn’t necessarily the “stuffy, squareheaded” option.

Jack Layton should spend some serious time in Lac-St-Jean and the Townships this summer. Unless he’s there already for the Fête-Nationale?

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