Tag Archives: bill 78

Sovereigntist PQ leader Marois walks a fine line on tuition fees in Québec

The day after Jean Charest, Québec’s premier, launched a snap election for September 4, his principal rival, Pauline Marois, came out in clear contrast to Charest on perhaps the most high-profile issues in the election (short of Québec’s sovereignty): tuition hike fees for students.

Marois (pictured above, right), the leader of the leftist, sovereigntist Parti québécois (PQ), promised to take a radically different approach to tuition fees in the province: cancel the planned hikes, revoke the controversial emergency protest law (Bill 78) and convene a summit within 100 days of election on the issue of university funding.

While Marois is taking a very understated position on Québécois sovereignty and any future referendum on an independent Québec, she is not shying away from embracing a contrast to Charest on the student tuition issue.  Indeed, one of the most impressive and eloquent of the student leaders from those negotiations, Léo Bureau-Blouin (pictured above, left), at age 20, is among the PQ’s marquee candidates in the upcoming election — he’ll be running against a junior minister in Charest’s government in a riding in Laval, a suburb of Montréal.

Earlier this year, a battle between Charest’s government and student protesters ended in somewhat chaotic protests throughout Montréal.  Students protested the hikes, which amounted to a $1,625 increase over seven years — a 75% increase over what Québec students pay today (although the total would be far less than what students in other Canadian provinces pay).  Ultimately, Charest’s education minister, Line Beauchamp, resigned over the impasse with student leaders in negotiations over the hikes, and Charest’s current education minister is not running for reelection.

Charest responded to the protests by passing Bill 78, which makes any gathering of over 50 people illegal unless they tell police in advance the start time, finish time and route of such gathering.  Although the bill is just a temporary measure, expiring on July 1, 2013, it brought international condemnation as an unconstitutional restraint on protesters’ rights.

With the protests dying as summer approached, however, the issued faded in both provincial and international headlines.

Polls have shown that Québec’s electorate is essentially even — they may not like the increasingly heavy-handed approach that Charest took with protesters, but nor were they especially keen on protester shutting down schools (not to mention entire neighborhoods) in Montréal.

So it’s not without some risk that Marois has embraced the student movement — by doing so, she is hoping to energize Québec’s young voters and otherwise capitalize on doubts about the Charest government’s effectiveness without alienating other voters who support Charest’s approach and who take a wary view of the student protests.

Charest, who has been premier since 2003, is looking to win a fourth consecutive mandate for his federalist, centrist Parti libéral du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ).  Polls show the PLQ and the PQ tied for first place, with the center-right Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) polling a strong enough third place to make it likely that Québec’s next government will be a minority government.

Charest makes it official: Québec goes to the polls September 4

Jean Charest, Québec’s premier since 2003 (pictured above), has dissolved his province’s Assemblée nationale and called a snap election for September 4 — just 33 days away.

His Parti libéral du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ) will be seeking its fourth consecutive mandate and Charest will be leading the PLQ for the fifth consecutive time since 1998, when he first left Canadian federal politics for Québecois provincial politics.  He’s been a decade-long fixture of the province’s government, and he starts out the race with even odds at best.

His main opposition is the sovereigntist (and leftist) Parti québécois (PQ), who leader, Pauline Marois, makes Charest look like a star campaigner.

But further to the right is former PQ minister François Legault, whose Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), a new center-right party formed only earlier this year, will attempt to pull votes from both the PQ and the PLQ.  Further to the left, Québec solidaire will also attempt to pull seats from the PQ and, to a lesser extent, the PLQ.

So what are the starting positions for the parties? Continue reading Charest makes it official: Québec goes to the polls September 4

As snap election looms in Québec, what accounts for the charmless success of Jean Charest?

Almost every commentary on Canadian politics seems certain that Québec premier Jean Charest is set to launch a snap election in La belle province in the early autumn — with an announcement as soon as August 1.

Charest, whose Parti libéral du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ) has controlled the Québec provincial government since 2003, must call an election before December 2013.  But with Québec’s education minister, Michelle Courchesne and its international relations minister Monique Gagnon-Tremblay both announcing that they will step down at the end of the current term of the Assemblée nationale du Québec, and with a politically-charged Charbonneau Commission set to resume hearings on whether Charest’s government awarded government construction contracts in exchange for political financing, speculation is electric that Charest will call an election for early September.

The predominantly French-speaking Québec is Canada’s second-largest province with almost one-quarter of its population, so an election could well have national consequences.

An autumn election would follow a particularly polarizing spring, when student protesters rocked Montréal over a proposed hike in university tuition fees.  The tumultuous protests, which hit a crescendo back in May, have already resulted in the resignation of a previous education minister, Line Beauchamp.  Although Quebeckers seemed divided fairly equally in sympathy between the government and the student protestors, the battle has essentially cooled off as students depart for the summer.  Nonetheless, the government’s decision to enact Bill 78 — which provides that any gathering of over 50 people is illegal unless reported to police in advance — was less popular, leading many voters (not to mention national and international human rights advocates) to decry Charest.

For all of the stability he may have brought to Canadian federalism in the last decade, on the face of it, it would seem a rather difficult time for Charest to win a fourth consecutive mandate.  Charest’s Parti libéral recently lost a by-election in June in the riding of Argenteuil in southern Québec, a Liberal stronghold since 1966.

And yet — through all of this — Charest and his Parti libéral are, at worst, even odds to win a fourth term, an electoral achievement unprecedented since the era of Maurice Duplessis and his Union Nationale in the 1940s and 1950s.

Say what you will about Duplessis, his presence is unrivaled in 20th century Québec — he is synonymous with the province’s internal development, a staunch anti-Communist, French Catholic conservative whose rule over Québec was nearly unchallenged for two decades.

Which is to say: Jean Charest is no Maurice Duplessis.

Yet the always-impressive ThreeHundredEight blog’s latest forecast shows Charest’s PLQ with 60 seats to just 55 seats for the more leftist and separatist Parti québécois (PQ).  The newly-formed center-right, vaguely sovereigntist Coalition Avenir Québec, meanwhile, would win just 8 seats, and the radical leftist Québec solidaire would win 2 seats.

What can explain Charest’s staying power?

To understand Charest’s career is to understand that his political saga is an “only in Canada” story. Continue reading As snap election looms in Québec, what accounts for the charmless success of Jean Charest?

Watershed moment for longtime premier Charest amid Québec student protests

After 100 days of protests from students against a planed tuition fees, and after passing Bill 78, a specific emergency law designed to curb the excesses of the protest (even though polls show that two-thirds of Québec residents are in favor of the government’s position and not the students), with The Globe and Mail quoting signs that read “Québec is becoming a dictatorship,” and with oddsmakers giving military rule in Québec only 5.5:1 odds, well, it might be a sign that Jean Charest’s longtime government may be coming to a denouement.

It’s stunning to think that the leader of a party that was a precursor to Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party has been the premier of the traditionally more progressive, statist Québec for nearly a decade.

Charest was the leader of the Progressive Conservative party from 1993 to 1998, when it held anywhere from two to 20 seats in the House of Commons, and long before its assimilation into the Canadian Alliance, and Harper’s conservative majority.  (Remember that in Canada, provincial parties are not merely extensions of federal parties, even if they share the same name: in the April Albertan election, for example, many federal Conservatives supported not the Progressive Conservatives, but the Wildrose party.)

Yet, Jean Charest has been running Québec’s government since 2003, and he has headed Québec’s Liberal Party since 1998, all without ever becoming terribly popular — and indeed, Charest has spent most of his time as Québec’s premier fairly unpopular — for the better part of a decade, it’s been Québec’s uncannily undead government.

But in the fight over student tuition fees, as a potentially explosive  corruption inquiry also gets underway this week, Charest may have found his Waterloo. Continue reading Watershed moment for longtime premier Charest amid Québec student protests