Editorial: The Cynical Path of Martine Desjardins

Graphic Graeme Shorten Adams

As the province prepares for yet another election, more names that made headlines during the Maple Spring have been announced to appear on the ballot.

Anarchopanda will gleefully run under the Parti Nul banner, essentially a formal—and legal—way of spoiling your ballot if you’re dissatisfied with your options and live in Hochelega-Maisonneuve.

But while such dissident political aspirations are expected from the revolutionary mascot, another carré rouge celebrity’s campaign stinks at least of hypocrisy—and at worst of betrayal.

Former Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec president Martine Desjardins is running for office in the riding of Groulx—located just north of Montreal—under the banner of the Parti Québécois.

It’s a move that leaves no question that she’s abandoned the progressive values she championed for during the Maple Spring, choosing instead to use her celebrity to get a spot in the party expected to form the next government.

For the PQ, she’s another brick in their quest for a majority. For Desjardins, it’s a good shot at a fairly cushy job when the conversation has switched back to identity politics.

Desjardins joins Léo Bureau-Blouin, who was the president of the Fédération étudiante collégiale du Québec during the student movement and was elected under the PQ banner during the September 2012 elections, which were called following an impasse in tuition negotiations between student leaders and the Liberal government.

Just a year ago, Desjardins was calling out the government for instating an indexation on tuition, reportedly even refusing to shake Premier Pauline Marois’ hand at the time of the Summit on Higher Education. She’s staying mum on the issue for now, but her hypocrisy remains when running under the banner of the party that left many students feeling betrayed by the decision.

Desjardins’ position becomes even harder to defend with the announcement that media mogul Pierre Karl Péladeau will also be running with the PQ.

How can former student leaders justify running alongside a man who has a reputation for union busting? It’s especially egregious given that Péladeau will almost certainly become a minister if the PQ forms the next government.

As the PQ moves more to the right, it’s disheartening to see former student leaders follow suit—especially one as significant as Desjardins. As president of the FEUQ, she represented all of Concordia (although the School of Community and Public Affairs has since affiliated with the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante, the most militant of Quebec’s student unions) when debating with the government over tuition. Now we’re left with someone whose opportunism trumps their conviction.

We expected this type of behaviour from Pauline Marois, but not from Desjardins.

An advocate of the pro-Charter “Jeanettes” movement, Desjardins clearly shares her party’s opinion on identity politics. With her testimony in front of the National Assembly talking of creeping Islam and how religious symbols could prevent free discourse in the classroom, she seems willing to stoke fears of the “other” for Quebec’s overwhelmingly white, Francophone majority.

But when her party puts more burdens on low-income citizens—through changes to state-subsidized daycare, employment insurance and tuition, to name a few—she looks like a sellout, ready to be a cog in a government preoccupied with legislation against boogeymen here to destroy Québécois culture.

If Desjardins was hoping to make any significant changes to Quebec—or even to have significant power—the PQ is the wrong place to go; instead, she’s only received a jumpstart to her career provided by the Maple Spring.

We turned her into a celebrity, and she abandoned us.

After having given her voice to so many progressive causes, why is she putting her name behind a party that’s quickly abandoning them?