Fruits & Votes spotted in Quebec!

Anything like this will surely catch my eye.

A politician in an orchard. This is hard to beat!

The article also has interesting angles in Party Personnel and federalism. The politician profiled is André Lamontagne, currently the Quebec Minister of Agriculture for the government of the Coalition Avenir Québec. In his pre-political career Lamontagne was, among other things, a supermarket owner. He is referred to in the article as “a rare minister interested in how food is processed and sold, rather than just how it’s grown.”

He is currently deeply involved in federal–provincial–territorial (FPT) bargaining over a better deal for food suppliers, touched off by fees imposed by Walmart that trade association Food Health and Consumer Products of Canada called “diabolical“. Other big companies in the food retail business sought to join suppliers to initiate policy changes that would lead to a code of conduct for how much grocery chains could charge suppliers for “for a range of perks or infractions, including product promotions and penalizing late or incomplete shipments.”

Implementing such a thing, however, was a bit harder, even as political pressure mounted. Conservative agriculture critic Lianne Rood repeatedly asked about the subject in question period, but the government determined a code was out of federal jurisdiction, since regulating terms of sale is a provincial issue.

…The thought of 10 different regulations stretched across a national food supply chain wasn’t appealing, so [federal] agriculture minister [Marie-Claude] Bibeau suggested the federal government could help coordinate a more coherent response across the country.

To do that, the feds needed a provincial ally to help champion the issue through the FPT.

Minister Lamontagne says, “For me, it was very easy to understand what was happening,” given his background. So he became that provincial ally. His involvement in this issue thus offers a mini-case study in how parties might harness the prior experience of their politicians to advance a given policy reform, as well as a good case of the role of federalism in the political economy of food.

Quebec election campaign 2012

Quebec’s National Assembly (i.e. provincial) election is 4 September. It is a three-way race, which is always interesting–and potentially anomaly-generating–under plurality (first-past-the-post) rules.

The incumbent is a majority government of the Liberal Party, re-elected most recently in 2008, with the Parti Quebecois (PQ) as its main opponent. The newly created party in the mix is the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), and there are other smaller parties as well.

The CAQ is trying to make a splash by bringing Jacques Duchesneau, a “celebrity whistleblower” (as the Ottawa Citizen described him) into the contest as one of its candidates. This personnel strategy by an upstart party is an excellent example of attempting to use a high-profile individual to signal something about the party as a whole.

The PQ is attempting as well to use a newly recruited candidate to help re-brand the party. The “sovereigntist” message of the party is in danger of not resonating with younger voters who have grown up under policies implemented by past PQ governments, and continued by Liberal ones. So to try to counter this lack of appeal, it has nominated Léo Bureau-Blouin, a 20-year-old leader of the recent Quebec student strike. As Konrad Yakabuski comment in the Globe and Mail: “Mr. Bureau-Blouin’s candidacy brings much more to the PQ than a chance at picking up a seat. It sends a message to Quebeckers that the party and its mission will live on.”

As for the three-way race, Eric Grenier notes in the Globe and Mail, even before Duchesneau’ entry, “the CAQ, even at these low levels of support in the polls, could still win as many as 11 seats, Québec Solidaire as many as two, and Option Nationale one, making it possible for either of the two main parties to form some sort of working arrangement or formal coalition in order to govern if they do not win a majority on their own.”

Quebec had a real three-way race in March, 2007, when the largest party was the Liberals, but with only 38% of the seats on just under a third of the vote. The Assembly elected then lasted only about a year and a half, and new elections were held in December, 2008, producing the majority that is attempting to defend its position now.

A leader of a past (Equality Party, 1989) attempt at third-party politics, Robert Libman, has made an appeal for strategic voting:

“Anglophones… should perhaps, in order to send a message to the Liberals, consider voting for the CAQ,” said Mr. Libman, “(but) only in areas where there is no danger of splitting the vote and electing the PQ.”

The ridings Mr. Libman has in mind are largely located in Montreal’s west end, with a few more in western Quebec. There are also a handful of ridings where any wavering by Anglo voters could spark big swings in close local races.

With so many outcomes being plausible–including a majority government by either major party–and dependent on results of key districts (ridings), this will be a contest to watch.