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September 15, 2012

Quebeckers Vote

Reuel S. Amdur

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Quebec politics is taking some interesting twists and turns.

A provincial election is set for September 4, and in addition to the usual two-way race between the Liberals and the Parti Québécois there is a new right-wing party, the Coalition pour l’avenir du Québec.  The CAQ is stealing votes from the other two.  Recent polling puts the PQ at 34%, the Liberals at 32%, and CAQ at 24%.  The result could be a minority government.

CAQ is a strange amalgam.  Its leader François Legault is a former PQ cabinet minister, but he is now calling for a ten-year truce on the subject of separation in order to give room to deal with other issues such as the economy.  Corruption is also central to the CAQ campaign.  A number of former Liberal supporters have joined Legault.

Legault’s recruitment of anti-corruption crusader Jacques Duchesneau to run for the party is one factor in the CAQ uptake in the polls.  Jacques Duchesneau has been called Mr. Clean. He was a Montreal police chief and a defeated mayoral candidate.  Back in the 1980’s, when he was a sergeant-detective on the Montreal drug squad, he arrested his own boss for stealing drugs from the evidence lockup, resulting in a lengthy prison sentence.

Corruption in the Quebec construction industry is an issue that gains traction from time to time.  As far back as 1974 and 1975, a provincial commission of inquiry, the Cliche Commission, collected information and issued a damning report about corrupt union practices in the industry.  More recently, Duchesneau was appointed by Liberal Premier Jean Charest to investigate allegations of corruption in the industry.  Duchesneau produced the report but Charest refused to release it.  He also resisted its call for a provincial commission of inquiry.  Duchesneau contended that most of the funds for the Liberals and PQ came from kickbacks in the construction industry. In the face of Charest’s stonewalling, Duchesneau leaked the contents of his report to the press, forcing Charest to appoint the commission.

Charest had to call an election at some point, and he decided on September 4.  He hoped to capitalize on the student strike, because the general public has been on his side on the issue.  It is not clear how strongly they feel on it and on how that sympathy will translate itself into votes.  However, the fact that Duchesneau is now running for the Quebec National Assembly has done much to shift attention from the student strike onto the corruption issue.  Charest was counting on that issue being put to rest for the time being, since hearings of the Commission are to resume only after the date of the election.

Then came another clap of thunder.  Radio-Canada reported on a brief meeting in 2009 between Eddy Brandone, a union boss—former head of the Quebec Federation of Labor Construction Division—and Charest.  Brandone was a friend of Johnny Bertolo, a murdered Mafioso, as well as other persons of questionable reputation.  Brandone is a long-time Charest supporter, going back to the time that Charest was running to head up the federal Conservative Party in1993. It is reported that Brandone crashed a conference on Inuit affairs and briefly buttonholed Charest.  After that meeting, police suddenly stopped tailing him.  Was there a connection?  Charest denies any interference with the police activity and is furious with Radio-Canada for its timing.  In spite of his denial, CAQ is gaining ground, and the Brandone story could well be part of the reason for the momentum.  

The last federal election shook up the scene in Quebec, with the NDP, a federalist party, sweeping 58 of the 74 seats in the province.  However, the provincial scene is different.

On August 10, Quebec Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, spoke to English-speaking voters in Wakefield.  He told them, “The Liberals are the only party in Quebec that appeals to all sectors of the population.  It is the only party in Quebec that is unequivocally federalist.”  He is quite right.  There is no left-wing federalist party in the province and no party other than the Liberals, with the possible exception of the CAQ, really courts English-speakers.  According to Cantley Mayor Stephen Harris, “Supporters of the NDP tend to vote for the Parti Québécois provincially.”

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