Opinion | Jérôme Blanchet-Gravel on the fate of Quebec’s provincial Conservative Party

Eric Duhaime, the party's newly elected leader, is set to shake things up in the Conservative Party of Quebec and turn it from a marginal party to a true political force. Journalist Simon Leduc from Québec Nouvelles interviewed essayist Jérôme Blanchet-Gravel on the subject.

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Simon Leduc: In your opinion, will the Quebec Conservative Party become a political force in the next few years?

JBG: That prospect obviously depends on a number of factors, starting with how much time is left for lockdown and health measures of all kinds. Will the Legault government be forced to open up the economy under pressure from the liberated American states, or does he already want to make the next election a kind of referendum on the “health security” of Quebecers? Or, more simply, is he banking on what he sees as an exceptional performance on his part in managing the pandemic? It’s hard to say.

If the Legault government insists on making Quebec a world leader in zero risk, then it is clear that Duhaime could quickly turn the PCQ into a true emerging party. It should also be noted that the end of measures will not mean the end of injuries. Similarly, the safe and comfortable shift undertaken by Quebec could take other forms than sanitation. There may be a temptation to offer even more guarantees via the state to citizens who are clearly more and more anxious. The federal government could also play a role in this: towards an extension of the field of ECP?

It is important to understand that the health crisis has only reinforced a strong and unfortunate trend in Quebec: its difficult relationship with risk and adversity, a relationship that borders on intolerance. It is now the case that great visions of society as a whole are confronting each other: it is not only a debate on containment and vaccination, but a discussion on the kind of society we want to live in.

It is important to remember that Eric Duhaime’s agenda is far from being limited to health issues. He has made a name for himself on economic issues, and post-pandemic Quebec could remain stuck in its own little comfort zone that is hostile to development worthy of the name. On the other hand, it is clear that an earlier deconfinement than one might think would not give him an advantage in the next election.

Simon Leduc: So what does the leader need to do to move his party forward?

JBG: Éric Duhaime must continue to strengthen the credibility of his party among voters who are not used to a more American vision of liberalism. In Quebec (and elsewhere), the right wing does not have a good reputation in general and in order to impose itself in the public arena, it must always ignore the insults that are hurled at it by the left. On the other hand, we can see that the health issue tends to transcend the old divisions. Incredibly, some former socialist party members could end up working for the Quebec Conservatives.

The advancement of the party will also depend on the recruitment of good candidates for the next election and, I think, the development of a more “intellectual” image. Not that Éric Duhaime is not an intellectual – he is one – but he may have to work to break the caricature that makes all right-wingers into lovers of naked girl calendars or uneducated “toothless”. It’s a very trendy cliché. Éric Duhaime must promote the intelligent right.

Simon Leduc: Does the leader of the PCQ have to present Quebecers with a solid nationalist program?

JBG: At the launch of his campaign for the party leadership, Duhaime has already placed himself in the nationalist camp. On the question of identity, I think we can expect the PCQ to adopt positions close to those of the CAQ, which would be consistent electorally and ideologically.

On the other hand, the party would gain nothing by developing a hollow and angelic discourse on the nation that would tend to deny the problems that we have seen amplified by the pandemic. Whether these problems are social (disregard for social and family ties/exacerbated Baby Boomer egocentrism) or economic and organizational (systemic unionism and corporatism/bankruptcy of the health care system). During the crisis, most nationalist columnists ignored major discomforts such as the one generated by the defense of children’s masks in an attempt to preserve the image of a tightly knit and united Quebec (a myth today). In short, Duhaime needs to be a nationalist who is more realistic than romantic.

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