From Protest to Partisan Politics: When and How Collective Actors Cross the Line. Sociological Perspective on Quebec Solidaire

Article excerpt

The main objective of this article is to examine the complex relationships between the protest and partisan fields of collective action by analyzing the emergence of a new left political party, Quebec Solidaire (Quebec solidaire), founded in Quebec in February 2006. How and when did this collective actor decide to cross the line and become active in partisan politics? We adopt a social movement perspective of political party emergence to make a case that the decision to become a political party was linked to two processes of change that occurred in Quebec society between 1995 and 2006: (1) changes in the political context and (2) changes in relationship dynamics among political and social actors.

From the late 1960s until 1993, Quebec's political party system was organized around a central issue, i.e., Quebec's political status. Two dominant parties went head-to-head during provincial elections: the Quebec Liberal Party, a supporter of Canadian federalism, and the Parti quebecois (PQ), an advocate of Quebec sovereignty. However, two new parties have since been created, making the political equation more complex. In 1993, the Action democratique du Quebec (ADQ) emerged from internal disputes within the Quebec Liberal Party during the 1992 federal referendum on the Charlottetown constitutional agreement and Quebec's status under the Canadian constitution. In 2006, another party, Quebec solidaire (Quebec solidaire), emerged at the provincial level. One could argue that analyzing Quebec solidaire is of little interest, considering the results this new party obtained at the polls in the 2007 provincial elections, where it received less than 4% of the total vote and did not succeed in having a single candidate elected. However, we are not interested in Quebec solidaire as a potential political challenger to other political parties. (1) Instead, we consider Quebec solidaire as a sociological subject. From the collective action perspective, this marginal party in the political arena (yet supported by thousands of activists) is a very fascinating topic.

The building of this new party is intriguing for several reasons:

1. Political sociology literature has documented a new trend in western democracies, i.e., political parties are considered to be in a state of crisis (Perrineau 2003; Manin 2000; Norris 1999), while renewed interest appears to be developing in protest politics (Norris 1999; Ion 1997; Pechu and Filleule 1993). In this context, the building of a nonextreme left party by social-movement actors might appear unseemly, especially in a North American context where "left" politics have long been eyed with suspicion.

2. Quebec solidaire was not created from a schism of former parties, but rather from the merger of two groups: a left political party, Union des forces progressistes (UFP), which itself resulted from the merger of tiny extreme-left parties, and a group of activists that formed a political movement, Option citoyenne. Therefore, Quebec solidaire was driven in part by activists who traditionally showed reluctance toward partisan action and institutional politics. They originally chose to contest institutional politics by becoming involved in contentious politics, preferring the street as a medium for presenting their claims to the National Assembly. Their strategy was usually considered quite successful, with the governing structure in Quebec being relatively open to social demands (White 2003; Laforest and Phillips 2001; Belanger and Levesque 1992). Why did these activists choose to enter the electoral arena in 2006?

3. Quebec solidaire emerged in a provincial context where electoral rules are extremely hostile to third parties. Quebec, like the other Canadian provinces, uses the single-member district plurality voting system, which is notorious for creating a system of two dominant parties (Duverger 1951). In addition, the local scene was rather discouraging for left parties. …