Another problem we have in Quebec is that everyone who comes to power in
the province thinks it’s the job of government to blunder around picking
winners and losers in the economy, awarding contracts and distributing
grants and tax credits willy-nilly as if that could possibly be done in
a way that did not involve favouritism and corruption.
The idea that something might be done to put an end to the
state-corporate collusion that makes the province a goldmine for
insiders and cronies is the farthest thing from any politician’s mind.
Instead we have each party competing to assert its credentials as an
exemplar of “economic nationalism.” Steps must be taken to prevent the
foreign takeover of the hardware chain Rona! (Why?) The Liberals were
wrong to prop up the province’s failing asbestos mining industry, but of
course we have to create a government commission to investigate the
prudence of allowing it to disappear. (Why?) The connection between
“economic nationalism” and corruption seems to be lost on everyone
The PQ has so far been less specific about its plans to combat
corruption, which is no surprise: Pauline Marois plainly expects her
party to ride public dissatisfaction to victory as the default
alternative to the Liberals, so she has confined her comments to quips
and pot-shots. Speaking about the scandal of officials allegedly taking
bribes in exchange for valuable permits to open daycare centers,
said, “With the Liberal Party, daycares were one envelope, one permit.
With the Parti Québécois, it will be one child, one space.”
As confident as Marois may be that she can eliminate corruption by
decree without eliminating any of the incentives that produce
corruption, she seems even more confident that her party will be the
primary beneficiary of Charest’s misfortune, but there she may be
mistaken. If the polls are correct, she is currently in three-way race
that will not yield a majority for any party.
One way she can expect to gain is to encourage the students to vote. In
spite of official declarations to the contrary, it has been clear for
some time that the students who supported the boycott of classes in
protest against the Charest government’s proposed tuition increase all
intend to vote PQ. When the former president of the Fédération étudiante
collégiale du Québec (FECQ) entered the race as a candidate for
Laval-des-Rapides, he was merely continuing a fairly obvious political
trajectory from student “radical” to party apparatchik.
Let's Do the Time Warp Again
Charest is probably counting on the “silent majority” of people opposed
to the student uprisings to count in his favour, but his high-handed
bungling of the whole affair has probably alienated as many non-students
as students. Bill 78, the preposterous “special law” against public
assembly, deserved all the public resistance and international derision
it received, and Charest was lucky that summer came along to give his
shambolic government a breather before things got really hairy. The
whole thing risks flaring up again, and there’s no reason to expect the
Liberals to handle it any better this time around. In any case, this
generation of CEGEP and university students regards Jean Charest as a
supervillain to be defeated at all costs.
For its part, the PQ is treating the students like its useful idiots and
can clearly afford to do so as long as the CAQ offers a watered-down
version of the tuition increase. Will the PQ keep its promise to peg
tuition increases to the rate of inflation? Who knows? If it wins a
minority, it can plausibly claim to be powerless against the imperious
demands of the CAQ. If it wins a majority, well, all bets are off.