New party could fill vacuum on left


Friday, March 05, 2004
There could be a new player on the political scene in the next Quebec election. This May, feminist and left-wing stalwart Françoise David is poised to publish a manifesto and announce the creation of Option Citoyenne, a socially progressive movement that aims to turn into a full-fledged party by next year.
The former president of the Fédération des femmes du Québec plans next fall to discuss a coalition between Option Citoyenne and the Union des forces progressistes. She outlined this timetable Sunday at the UFP's general council meeting. This could change the political landscape by creating a larger, single left-wing party with a media-savvy leader for a change.
David is a media darling and has always been a general, never a soldier, so it's a safe bet if the UFP accepts her proposal, David will end up the leader of this new party. For one thing, her more mainstream social-democratic stance on social issues could be presented as more sellable to the electorate than the UFP's clearly defined left-wing positions.
More important, the highly visible and popular David could easily rack up more memberships by fall than the 1,800 members the UFP has now. If she does, it could be more of a takeover of the UFP than a coalition.
David is moving to partisan politics to help defeat Jean Charest's Liberals, which also happens to be what the Parti Québécois wants, although the PQ hopes actually to form the next government.
Another group of left-wing activists, unlike David, plans to join the PQ to work against Charest. Pierre Dubuc, director of the left-wing newspaper L'Aut' Journal, wants to form an official faction within the PQ he hopes would be part of a future government.
Dubuc thinks the UFP is going nowhere fast, so he prefers to work on the creation of a "political club" of union activists and social democrats who first would work from outside the PQ, but end up as a faction within it. A possible name for it could be Syndicalistes et progressistes pour un Québec libre.
Dubuc argues without proportional representation in the National Assembly, left-wing activists should demand a sort of proportional presence in the PQ.
So while David and Dubuc both want to oust Charest, they differ greatly on to how to do it. David wants to stay outside of the PQ, at least for the moment. But Dubuc wants to play with the big boys.
Guess what? Bernard Landry would gladly take in Dubuc's group in at some point. First, it would help him capitalize on the unpopularity of Charest's policies by having a few candidates whose social-democratic credentials appear more credible than his own. Still, the presence of Dubuc and other high-profile activists inside the PQ would be much more profitable for Landry than for Dubuc's ideas.
That's because the PQ leader knows that once they're in, they'll have to toe the party line like everyone else. Dubuc might balk, but Landry has enough experience to understand it's a lot simpler to control dissent within a disciplined party structure than from outside. The PQ, in fact, is quite expert at that. So chances are Dubuc's group, however well intentioned, will end up as a guppy inside the PQ's belly.
David and Dubuc also differ on another major issue: sovereignty. Dubuc believes Landry when he says he'll hold a referendum if elected and says independence remains the only way to create a more progressive society.
Whether or not she believes Landry's promise, sovereignty isn't a priority for David. In an interview, she refused to commit herself: "The national question and the question of sovereignty are two different things. It's one thing to say we're a nation, we have rights and we want to have the means to have a better society. But must we become a sovereign country to do this? It's a good question. But for the moment, I won't answer it."
Should she elect to remain silent on sovereignty and choose not to join Landry in a strategic electoral alliance, David could become a thorn in the sides of both Charest and Landry.
Against Charest, she will project a more popular and credible left-wing voice than the PQ could, with or without Dubuc. As for the PQ, it would be faced by a social-democratic media darling who wouldn't consider independence as a prerequisite to greater social justice.
In a context where Charest's policies are whipping up the kind of dissatisfaction that is an opposition party's dream, and where Landry will use the promise of a referendum as the carrot to get more sovereignists to vote PQ, Françoise David's message is the last thing Landry needs to hear.

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