Proliferation of municipal parties becoming a distinctly Quebec trend


COMMENTARY by Peter Black

Local Journalism Initiative reporter

It’s no secret Quebecers love a good party – you know, the kind of party where folks eat and drink and dance and carry on. Then there’s that other kind of party Quebecers love – the municipal political party. You know, the kind of party where folks meet and develop a platform and campaign to win control of whatever village, township, town or city they inhabit.

This will come as a surprise to nobody who drove through or around the dozens of municipalities in Quebec during the period leading up to the Nov. 7 elections and witnessed signs posted everywhere for a bewildering array of candidates for a bewildering selection of parties.

In a trend starkly contrary to voter participation rates, the creation of municipal parties in the province is skyrocketing. Élections Québec reports there were 186 municipal political parties registered in about 100 municipalities for the 2021 elections. In the 2017 election, 117 parties were vying for office in 72 communities. That’s a 60 per cent increase in the space of only four years.

In this proliferation of parties, one finds a particular predilection for teamwork. Go team! Indeed, no less than 46 of the total number of parties are named Équipe, with most of those teams identifying a leader (captain?).

So, these équipes want Action (10), working Ensemble (six), or as a Coalition (three), to create a Mouvement (nine) to pursue a Vision (nine) or explore an Option (five) for a better Avenir (five). About 20 parties keep it simple and are named Parti Whatever or Wherever. About a dozen range from the exotic – Absolument Sainte-Sophie, to the daring – Beloeil Debut, to the banal – Union pour le changement.

No one knows precisely why there has been such an astronomical boom in the creation of municipal parties. It would seem, however, that would-be municipal movers and shakers have figured out that just as organized parties are the ticket to power at the federal and provincial levels, it follows that organized parties can pool resources and strategy and field candidates to capture enough seats to influence or dictate the direction of a municipality.

Montreal and Quebec City have been pioneers in the practice of running municipal parties, which were officially sanctioned in 1978 by the Parti Québécois government, but had existed for many years beforehand.

The legendary Montreal mayor Jean Drapeau was the leader of the Ligue d’Action Civique when he was first elected in 1954. He found himself with a minority of seats, and after losing the 1957 election, made a comeback in 1960, winning a majority of seats under the Civic Party banner.

In Quebec City, Progrés Civique, a business-oriented party, first came to power in 1965 under Gilles Lamontagne, a future Liberal minister of national defence and lieutenant-governor of Quebec.

The more left-leaning Rassemblement Populaire party under Jean-Paul L’Allier took over in 1989 and stayed in power until 2005. The election that year was an anomaly, with former Sainte-Foy mayor Andrée Boucher running and winning as an independent. When Boucher died suddenly less than two years later, Régis Labeaume ran his own independent campaign to succeed her and won the subsequent byelection.

Few other cities in the country have seen such a dramatic shift to political organization at the local level. Vancouver is a rarity, with three parties currently sharing the 10 council seats. Toronto, on the other hand, is run by a collection of independents, although their general allegiance to one mayoral candidate or another would be well known.

Here in Quebec City, newly elected mayor Bruno Marchand, who created his own party, has, as much out of necessity as magnanimity, named councillors from three opposing parties to the executive committee.

In Montreal, by contrast, one of the spoils of victory for second-term mayor Valérie Plante is that voters rewarded her with a majority of council seats for her Projet Montréal party.

Are municipal parties a good thing? It’s a debate, of course. On one hand, they add an element of coherence and transparency to specific policies. Parties also become a vehicle for encouraging diversity and gender parity among candidates.

On the other hand, parties reduce the chances of an independent with something important to contribute winning a seat at the table.

The good thing, perhaps, is that Quebec is not going the American way with local candidates tied directly to federal parties.

Proliferation of municipal parties becoming a distinctly Quebec trend was last modified: November 23rd, 2021 by qct_admin

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