One Péquiste turns right

PQ - le temps de l'audace

Privatize Hydro-Québec. Stop setting up costly social programs. Change the Canada Health Act to allow in the private sector. Make sure francophone kids become bilingual in elementary school. Put an end to lifetime job security in the civil service. Stop subsidizing farmers. Move toward the complete abolition of tax on corporations.
This aggressively right-wing agenda doesn't come from any of the usual suspects. It originates from the top echelons of the Parti Québécois, which has always identified itself with social democracy. Only six months ago, its author, Daniel Audet, was a senior adviser of the PQ's former leader, André Boisclair. Moreover, for years he was a special economic adviser and trusted friend of Bernard Landry, the former PQ premier, who was always a staunch partisan of state intervention in the economy.
In the current issue of the magazine L'actualité, Daniel Audet is holding nothing back. He says that "Quebec is ready for a Big Bang," is capable of "achieving an economic miracle" and "must invest in productivity and the creation of wealth." What's more, he insists he doesn't speak only for himself. He points out that - as shown by the electoral success of the Action Démocratique du Québec, a right-wing party that has replaced the PQ as the province's Official Opposition - "the centre of gravity of Quebec society has moved to the right."
Mr. Audet has been active in various fields, in the media as well as politics and business, and has friends and acquaintances in many different circles. "What I'm advocating," he writes, "is what many leaders from all walks of life are saying privately, around dinner tables. However, when the time comes to voice these ideas publicly, they back off because they're afraid of being seen as sellouts."
Two years ago, when the former PQ premier Lucien Bouchard and a group of high-profile figures signed a manifesto calling for the revision of the social-democratic "Quebec model," they were denounced by the unions and the left as heartless capitalists. But now, Mr. Audet goes much further. "Compared to you, Lucien Bouchard looks like Che Guevara!" the Radio-Canada radio host Christiane Charette quipped during an interview.
What may have pushed Mr. Audet "to come out" is that last spring, at 46, he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. Fighting for his life, he couldn't care less what people think of him.
Mr. Audet wants the health-care system changed into a public-private mix, along the lines of those in countries such as France, Germany and Sweden. This view, he says, is held by everyone he knows. He wants compulsory training for people on social assistance who are able to work. He wants civil servants to be recruited and paid according to merit, and those who don't perform to be fired. He wants the energy sector, including Hydro-Québec, to be partly privatized. This is among his most controversial suggestions, since Hydro-Québec, created in the 1960s under the leadership of René Lévesque, then a Liberal cabinet minister, is the most potent symbol of the Quiet Revolution.
Considering these views, one wonders why Mr. Audet spent so much time working for the PQ. The answer, according to one of his closest friends (himself a federalist), is that "Daniel is an unreconstructed sovereigntist."
Surprisingly, Carole Beaulieu, the generally left-leaning editor-in-chief of L'actualité, is not hostile to Mr. Audet's proposals. She writes that the Quebec model has to be questioned and that his suggestions are useful contributions to the debate, "even though his essay will certainly irritate those who believe that all solutions must come from the state."
She concludes by quoting approvingly from the former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who told the adversaries of China's slow move toward capitalism that he didn't care whether a cat was white or black as long as it caught mice.

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