Trying to Beat the Odds

Québec Solidaire makes moves outside the media glare

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What Quebec Solidaire (QS) may be lacking in the polls, they make up for in confidence. Not necessarily confidence that they will make their break through in this election, but that the new, left wing party will grow in the minds of Quebec voters the more they get to know what the party is about and what it represents.

“Everybody loves us, but the problem is many don’t believe we can make the difference, that we can deliver what we have promised” says Amir Khadir, one of two spokespeople for QS and candidate in Montreal’s Mercier riding. “And that’s our task: to make sure they believe we have the capabilities to deliver. In fact, [when it comes to real change on issues like the environment and health care] we have the only realistic choice.”

While Khadir may seem a bit overly-ambitious, the rookie party can already point to at least one first for North America: more than 50 percent of the party’s candidates are women. “We are the only party that can say we truly put in practice the equality of men and women,” he says.

But even if they feel they have covered all their bases, it remains difficult for them to get their message out to the public. “[We] know for sure that the media, when we become relevant and become sufficiently important in public opinion to disturb [the status quo], they are very tough with us,” he says.

As an example, Khadir points to the day after the announcement of their budgetary plan. The party ensured they had verified the cost of their promises and had accounted for where the money would come from – something Khadir says a progressive party hasn’t done in decades. The big story in Quebec media, though, was that QS wanted to nationalize the pharmaceutical industry.

In addition to not being the message the party had hoped would get out, says Khadir, the media got it wrong. As part of their broader plan to find money to reinvest in hiring more doctors and providing more beds, the party would change how the government negotiates with pharmaceutical companies.

Khadir, who is also a doctor at the Centre hospitalier Pierre-Le-Gardeur in Lachenaie, says Pharma-Quebec would serve as a body to bargain with the large pharmaceutical firms to ensure a better price for the medication bought by the RAMQ. The move, which reflects the way a consortium of hospitals already makes their purchases from pharmaceutical companies, would save the government around 30 percent, or about one billion dollars.

The party has not been helped, either, by the fact that they, along with the Green Party, have been excluded from the major televised debate. But amidst this adversity, Khadir puts on a strong face. The real debate, he says, is happening in people’s kitchens. People are coming up and saying that they are interested in voting for the new party, but feel they don’t know enough about it yet. “It is a breach in the credibility of the broadcasters to refuse the participation of two parties that, even if electorally disadvantaged, represent important ideas that need to be brought to the public attention,” he says. “We’ll fight in the streets if they don’t want us to bring our ideas to television.”

While they have done much to establish themselves for a party that has only been in existence for a year, there is still a long road ahead of them. Although the party is running candidates in all 125 ridings, only about half will be real, on the ground campaigns. The others will be visibility campaigns only, consisting of a few election signs and media work.

The party is definitely not without its critics, and some say they will end up being a spoiler, allowing the more conservative Liberals back in by taking votes from the PQ, which has traditionally wrapped itself in the flag of progressive social values.

But Khadir makes the distinction that for Quebec Solidaire, the issue is to take sovereignty out of the hands of the government and put it in the hands of people. To do so, they would establish a constituent assembly, with representatives elected from various communities, to discuss not only the place of Quebec sovereignty but how Quebecker’s govern themselves as a people, including issues of immigration, education, language and health care.

“For us, as a sovereigntist group, the sovereignty of people is the principle. The decision at the end – do we want to remain in Canada or not – that’s not important. If we decide collectively that that’s better for us, that’s great. For us, the idea of independence, of sovereignty is popular sovereignty.”

-With files from Sabine Friesinger