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The impasse deepens as Lisee leads PQ.

THE PARTI QUEBECOIS' second leadership race in less than two years ended with the victory of Jean-Francois Lisee, revealing once again that the party remains mired in a crisis of political direction, particularly with respect to the question of sovereignty. Already, in 2014 the PQ scuttled any chance of winning a referendum by running an identity-based campaign aimed solely at winning the election.

In this context, Lisee had to reaffirm his determination to lead the struggle for independence, while postponing its realization indefinitely. He is not a saviour who will rekindle passion for the sovereigntist project; on the contrary, he is someone who knew how to articulate and dictate the only possible way out of the PQ's political stalemate.

With Lisee at the helm, the struggle for independence will not be on the agenda in the next election. Instead, the PQ will campaign on getting rid of the Liberal government of Philippe Couillard. To this end, Lisee has made it quite clear that it will be necessary to forego a referendum on sovereignty in a first term. He argues that loose talk about a referendum could pose more of a risk than just losing the election; it could reduce the PQ to third-party status in the Assemblee Nationale. Lisee's strategy is to undermine the federalist case against the PQ so as to pave the way for the election of as many sovereigntist MNAs as possible. Quebecers, he tells us, do not want a referendum.

But this shift hasn't gone smoothly. Since Lisee became leader, support for the PQ has dropped from 30 to 25 per cent. On the day he was elected, half of the executive of the Verdun riding association--then preparing for a by-election--resigned in protest.

Nevertheless, the leadership decision of a majority of PQ members reflects a clear political preference: to put winning power in 2018 ahead of any other consideration. In an effort to do so, the sovereigntist strategy is being replaced by an identity-based politics that promotes curbing immigration and a conception of secularism (laicite) that revolves around banning the display of religious symbols in the civil service and even in public spaces.

The dominant tendency within the PQ is clear. To win the election, the party plans to capitalize on the popular discontent borne of major setbacks in every realm of social and economic life. This is actually the same strategy that the PQ adopts every election. And Lisee is now calling on progressives (and no longer on sovereigntists) to support him. He claimed recently that even if the leadership of Quebec solidaire sees both the Liberals and the PQ as neoliberal parties, QS voters believe that the priority is to oust Couillard.

It is interesting to see the PQ defining itself as progressive considering that, when it was in power, the party did not hesitate to slash public expenditures, chop social assistance, commit Quebec to oil and gas development on Anticosti, adopt Jean Charest's private development schemes for the far north, propose abolishing tax deductions for students and support free trade and the transportation of tar sand oil, all the while promoting an ethnic nationalism that has whipped up racial prejudices.

All of this will put immense pressure on Quebec solidaire. Daniel Boyer, president of the Federation des travailleurs et travailleuses du Quebec (FTQ), has already said that his union federation would support strategic voting. The FTQ will back candidates who are in a position to defeat Liberals (with the exception of those running for the Coalition Avenir Quebec). Under the circumstances, this means support for the PQ with little room left for QS.

At a National Council meeting in November, QS members decided to take the initiative of engaging social movements, unions, and local communities in a discussion not only of what it will take to beat the Liberals, but also about how to fight neoliberal policies and their advocates. After all, the point is to change society, and not just usher in a changing of the guard. TRANSLATED BY DAVID HUGILL

ANDRE FRAPPIER is a regular contributor to Dimension. He also serves on the editorial board of the online weekly Presse-toia gauche and has been a member of the FTQ Montreal Labour Council for many years. Andre ran for Quebec solidaire in the riding of Cremazie.

Caption: AT RIGHT: Montreal, Sept. 14, 2013: Thousands march to protest PQ Charter of Values. Photo posted on ecumenical news, com; by Christinne uschi/Reuters.
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Title Annotation:Quebec Communique; Jean-Francois Lisee
Author:Frappier, Andre
Publication:Canadian Dimension
Geographic Code:1CQUE
Date:Jan 1, 2017
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