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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It’s sword-fall o’clock

Gordon Campbell’s about to make an important announcement of some kind, and one can safely bet he’s not about to confess a longstanding addiction to cigarettes, or Scrabble. No, he’ll be playing seppuku alright, but there shall be no triple word score for Mr. Campbell.

Nothing ultimately surprising for a premier with 9% approval ratings. I am, however, quietly (well, not anymore) devastated in a way that Campbell shall be forced out so long before a provincial election. Carole James will be crying the loudest tonight – BC Liberal fortunes can only rise from here. If the BC NDP can keep a strong “same old Liberals” message for the next couple of years, it might not hurt their prospects too badly. But it’s not going to help too much either.

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Farce majority

Do you ever take a swig of sour milk and say to yourself “Gawwww, goddammit this is awful!” And then you take another swig and say it again? And then you continue guzzling, grimacing, unable to stop yourself? Because if you do, I’ll bet you’re a fan of first-past-the-post.

New Brunswick’s new Premier, David Alward of the provincial Tories, has taken the legislature by 42 seats to the Liberals’ 13. Sounds like a drubbing, although the Tories had just 48.9% of the vote. Congrats to David on your tsunamic victory!

NB has 55 seats in its legislature, meaning that 48.9% Tory support led to 76.4% of the seats in the House. The Liberals, while certainly losing squarely, managed 34.4% popular support, handing them 23.6% of the seats. How many ways can we spell undemocratic?

This is a topical example of FPTP’s psychedelic mathematics, but it is not at all the most extreme example. What of it when Canada’s Greens take 6.8% of the popular vote in the 2008 federal election (just under one million people, or worth a city the size of Calgary), yet they win zero seats for their effort? What of the NDP effectively doubling the number of votes won by the Bloc Québécois in that same election, yet instead of being rewarded for their truly federal vision and their nationwide, 308-constituency campaign, they are indeed punished for it with fewer seats in the House?

This is all old news, I know. Yet, with each swallowing, the taste does not improve. The bulk of people generally tolerate our broken system through any blend of disinterest, confusion, or suspicion that people who talk electoral reform have a trick up their sleeve, and it’s probably some kind of socialistick thing. But surely it’s not a lefty weirdo partisan perspective to look at the electoral arithmetic under FPTP and conclude that the system is patently unfair.

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