Municipal elections were held across Quebec on 1st November 2009. The results in Montreal are a further proof of the crisis of the bourgeois parties which has already been exposed at the federal and provincial level. The elections were plagued by accusations of corruption and mafia ties amongst the two main parties, Union Montréal and Vision Montréal. Projet Montréal, a fledgling left party, made historic gains. What is needed now is for the party to transform itself into a labour party, winning over the workers by making reforms that benefit workers, such as free public transportation, their central slogan.

Projet Montreal is a relatively new party launched by activists in May 2004. In the recent elections, it attracted widespread support from both NDP and Quebec solidaire militants. In fact, QS gave the party unofficial support to Projet Montréal with Nimâ Machouf, the wife of QS leader and National Assembly deputy Amir Khadir, running as a place-holder candidate to city council for mayoral candidate Richard Bergeron.

Projet Montreal, Quebec Solidaire and the NDP, three fronts of the same fight

What was astonishing about this campaign was the strength of the instinct for unity among the rank-and-file activists of Quebec solidaire and the NDP. Together, these were the main forces of Projet Montreal in the election campaign. On the basis of its program for free public transportation and expanded services on the island, the party was able to cut across the national question and put forward a campaign that united anglophones and francophones alike against the degenerated bourgeois parties.

Vision and Union Montreal attempted to distract voters at one point with typical rhetoric on the language question. Mayoral candidate Louise Harel of Vision Montréal publically refused to participate in English-language debates, for example. Projet Montreal, on the other hand, steered clear of these muddy waters and stuck to presenting its own program, and the results show that both the NDP and QS have much to learn from this experience.

The main issue in Quebec today continues to be the class question, and any policies to improve the situations of working people will draw support from both anglophone and francophone workers. NDP and QS activists need to take this lesson to their respective parties, and extend and deepen the ties that were built by this common campaign. The three parties must unite their forces and aims: to sweep aside the rotting bourgeois parties and bring forth parties of the working masses.

Free public transportation

The results show a clear surge of support for the party that stood for reinvestment in public transportation, expansion of the metro in working-class areas, the reduction of fares, etc. The party also stood for the building of new social housing, more park spaces, a light-rail system, and more bike lanes in the city. Even with this mild program, it was nonetheless able to mobilize real enthusiasm. This served as a good contrast to the main bosses’ parties’ corruption and the fact that the main bourgeois parties have always offered fare increases to “balance” the budget on the backs of the workers. Workers in Montreal rely heavily on the bus and metro network, but the price of the monthly pass has gone from nearly $40 in the 1990’s to $70 this year. On this basis, the party made significant gains over the results of the last municipal election. In 2005, Projet Montréal only won a single seat on the city council, and no borough seats or borough mayors. In this election, the party elected eight city councillors, two borough mayors, and four borough councillors. But in one area of the city, the party went further than calling for a reduction of fares, and here it had a convincing victory: Plateau-Mont-Royal.

Here the campaign office ignored the advice from the party brass. Its fliers were shaped like a metro pass, and placed in every mailbox in the borough. These fliers helped to sharply draw the differences between Proget Montréal and the two bourgeois parties. In other boroughs, party activists heard the line, “Don’t mention that part of the program, it’ll make us sound like loonies”. In Plateau-Mont-Royal, the local party showed in practice what absolute nonsense this kind of opportunism is. Although the party made serious gains elsewhere in the city, it was in pale comparison to their success in this part of Montreal. In Plateau-Mont-Royal, every single bourough and city council seat, and the borough mayoralty, were won. This proves the potential a radical program has to inspire the working masses.

No such thing as a “clean” bourgeois party

Projet Montréal was faced with a historic opportunity in this election, and at some points even looked like it was set to win the mayoralty as disgust gripped the masses who watched both the bourgeois parties expose their links to the mafia and corrupt construction contracts. Union Montréal, the ruling party, was under attack throughout the election. A Radio-Canada study estimated that 35% of the city contracts budget was wasted due to corruption. Union Montréal was under fire for a whole slew of allegations and this dominated the election.

It comes as no surprise to Marxists that the main bourgeois party, Union Montréal, was implicated in the so-called “water-metre scandal”. The water-metre contract was worth $355-million and had been granted to shadowy business man Tony Accurso’s company. Information surfaced in the lead-up to the election that Frank Zampino, a former member of Mayor Gerald Tremblay’s Executive Committee, had vacationed on Accurso’s yacht, and was later hired by a firm while it was co-managing the contract with the company. He was forced to resign his post with the firm, but the stench of corruption did not clear, and he still believed he had done nothing wrong. An audit into the contract, the largest in Montreal’s history, showed that the city overpaid by $150-million! Contractors have apparently been colluding with the mafia to drive up costs, but it would be childishly naive to believe politicians knew nothing of the scams of their campaign donors.

Louise Harel, a former Parti Québécois politician and the mayoral candidate for Vision Montréal, jumped on the opportunity to paint herself as the “anti-corruption” candidate. But the advantage was short-lived. After all, this was an established bourgeois party which has had its turn in power previously–and had its nose in the trough. Harel’s right-hand man, Benoit Labonté, had taken $100,000 for his leadership campaign from the same Tony Accurso, with an understanding that he would facilitate contracts if Vision Montréal gained a majority. At first, he denied the rumours, but after being expelled from the party and forced to drop from the race, he confirmed them and revealed that this was business as usual in city hall. In one interview with Radio-Canada, he estimated that 80% of city hall was owned by the mafia. “Is there a Mafia system that controls city hall? The response is yes,” said Labonté. This was a damning indictment of the entire ruling class, and all of their representatives.

It is in this atmosphere that Projet Montreal made enormous gains and began to be seen as a serious alternative.

Projet Montréal was the only party that rejected corporate donations, and listed all of its donors on its website. Basing itself on the small donations of regular people, it was able to pose itself as an alternative to the corrupt donations plaguing the bourgeois parties. Faced with the disgusting spectacle of two parties beholden to corporate interests and apart from the interests of the masses, workers began to look towards Projet Montréal in an attempt to find a party closer to themselves ideologically and financially; a party that based itself on the working masses, rather than raising itself above them. Though the petit-bourgeois leadership of the party did not put it this way, it is clear that this is what the workers saw in it.

Link with the unions, adopt a socialist program

This is not the first time that Montreal has had the chance to launch an alternative to the bosses’ parties. The main unions set up the Front d’Action Politique (FRAP), which unsuccessfully ran in the elections in 1970. But this kind of an opportunity is fleeting, and the party activists must place demands on the leadership to ensure that this party does not become just another instrument for the careers of bourgeois politicians. Already, Richard Bergeron has accepted a post in a “plural” executive with the other parties. This is a dangerous step on the road to absorption by the bosses’ parties.

There is only one way to guarantee the future of the party: tie it to the organizations of the working class, the trade unions. Only by organic links with the unions can the party be brought under the pressure of the class, to protect it against the pressure of the bosses and the crooks who will now be hovering, looking for a way to corrupt and co-opt the party and its representatives in order to neutralize the threat it poses to them. A party that can give expression to the frustrations and aspirations of the masses is a threat to the elites and mafiosi that run this city.

We should not be afraid to say whose side we are on. It is the workers who are being made to pay for the water-meter scandal, and will now be asked to pay for the metro system’s $30-million deficit. Free public transportation in such a context is impossible if we remain within the acceptable bounds of capitalism. We must make clear, if capitalism cannot pay for it, then we will make the capitalists pay. We need a socialist program. We need to fight back, and we need a party that will lead that fight.