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Hard left is a risky strategy for the PQ Add to ...

Why has the new Marois government veered so far to the left?

This evolution is puzzling since previous Parti Québécois governments always made sure to have reasonably good relations with the business community and with those the PQ now dismissively calls “the rich.” Pauline Marois herself, when she was a cabinet minister, was anything but a radical. So what’s happening?

By abandoning its traditional social democratic niche, the PQ is openly prospecting on the territory of the leftist Québec Solidaire, a small party that received 6 per cent of the vote in last month’s provincial election.

This surprising turnabout is due to a few PQ strategists who wield a strong influence on Ms. Marois. They believe that the PQ must form an alliance with Québec Solidaire to win a majority in the next election. (Which could happen sooner than later, since the two major opposition parties are resolved to prevent the government from increasing taxes on capital gains and high-income earners; if no compromise is found, the government risks losing a confidence vote on the issue.)

At first sight, the PQ strategy looks bizarre. Québec Solidaire’s share of the popular vote increased by roughly 2 per cent since the 2007 election. The tiny Option Nationale, made up of hard-line left-leaning separatists, received 1.89 per cent of the vote, and the Green Party of Quebec 0.99 per cent. Total of the vote to the left of the PQ: 8.9 per cent.

To the right of the PQ is the Coalition Avenir Québec, with a centre-right platform. It received 27 per cent of the vote. Among those who voted for the CAQ were disenchanted Péquistes who stopped believing in sovereignty or didn’t like the party’s turn to the left or were disgusted by the PQ’s irresponsible dalliance with the student rebels who spent last spring demonstrating against a modest hike in tuition fees. A mid-campaign CROP poll showed that both the Liberals and the PQ were losing moderate supporters to the CAQ.

Wouldn’t it be more logical for the PQ to try to recapture centrist voters from the CAQ?

The PQ strategists look at other numbers, instead. In as many as 20 ridings, they calculate, the Québec Solidaire vote, although very small, was enough to prevent the PQ candidate from winning against the CAQ or Liberal candidate.

In any case, it’s too late for the PQ to change tactics. If it tried to move back to the centre of the political spectrum, it would infuriate its militants. The PQ’s radicalization started several years before the last election, culminating in a platform that positioned the party to the left of the NDP and at a par with militant environmentalist groups. (Ms. Marois, whose leadership over her notoriously fractious party has always been fragile, chose to follow her troops rather than confront them; she can’t change course yet again.)

But the strategy of chasing the leftist vote might backfire. Nothing says Québec Solidaire will lose support; its supporters are driven by ideology more than by a thirst for power. Its two MNAs – Amir Khadir, a likeable firebrand, and newly elected Françoise David, a popular figure – are likely to perform well in the National Assembly (and both are sweethearts of the media), while the PQ, caught with the constraints of power, might lose steam.

The biggest risk of the PQ’s strategy is that it could drive away even more of its moderate supporters – and in Quebec, as anywhere else in Canada, political success lies around the centre.

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