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The CAQ is attacking artists by ending lease transfers, and artists need to step up

An editorial on Bill 31 and the CAQ’s neoliberal social and economic policies and white nationalist version of Québécois identity.

The recent move by the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government to attack lease transfers, coded into proposed housing legislation Bill 31, must be resisted by artists in this city. Lease transfers are an important means by which tenants in Montreal can express solidarity and mutual aid, and have been a key factor in helping to keep rents relatively low. This legislation, which to date has faced protests, is an attack on the right to affordable housing and will, if passed, ultimately force many to leave the city. 

Critically, Bill 31, if implemented, will have a devastating impact on countless thousands of independent artists working to create outside of market-driven frameworks in the arts, the types of creative experimentation that has made this city a beacon for groundbreaking experimentation across artistic genres. 

Over recent decades, artistic experimentation has been able to flourish in this city due to relatively affordable rents, and an end to lease transfers is a direct attack on many artists. Also the fluid connections between social movements and the arts, which has also been central to the groundbreaking culture from this city, would also be undercut in an urban context of high rents, forcing artists to prioritize the bottom line. 

Earlier this year, the CAQ launched another attack on affordable housing in Quebec by cutting AccèsLogis, one of the few programs set up to fund social housing units. These cuts essentially cancelled many social housing projects that were being planned in Montreal and other cities in Quebec, erasing thousands of deeply needed affordable housing units.

All these major moves by CAQ to undercut the rights of tenants and low income people in Montreal and throughout Quebec speak to the dangerous neo-liberal economic agenda that drives the Legault government. CAQ Housing Minister France-Elaine Duranceau is currently facing an ethics investigation for meetings with a business colleague, Annie Lemieux, who is a lobbyist and real estate industry big shot with LSR GesDev — which also runs CHSLDs, the private senior care homes that were extremely deadly due to unsafe conditions at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The introduction of Bill 31 must be a major turning point in rallying public opposition to the CAQ government. Artists can play a major role in the process of challenging CAQ housing policies. There is a good chance that with sustained and organized opposition to Bill 31, including demonstrations, artistic expression, direct action and many other protest tactics, the government will be forced to back-step. Given that artists in this city deeply depend on relatively affordable rents, joining the growing opposition movement to the proposed bill is key, as this proposed legislation is a direct assault on the economic viability of life for many creators in the city. 

Critically, Bill 31 also highlights the economic violence at the heart of CAQ policies. Since coming to power, Legault has moved intentionally to distract and divide people through racist legislation like Bill 21. This legislative attack by the CAQ on many immigrants and racialized communities openly illustrates how the government has been willing to deploy open racism, dispatched from the highest levels of political power in Quebec, to cynically mobilize votes while also toxifying the political landscape. Instead of focusing on urgent realities like gender-based pay inequality in Quebec, the lack of affordable housing, the threats to the environment posed by the many mining corporations in Quebec, the CAQ government instead has moved to distract with divisive populist racism. 

Beyond the racism driving CAQ distraction politics, it is essential to also look at the corporate interests that are at the heart of Legault’s policies. Today, the presence of the corporate real estate industry in CAQ policies is made clear by recent legislative action. Bill 31 also illustrates the broader political restructuring that CAQ is constructing in the long term. Through exploiting Québécois cultural insecurities and encouraging racism toward immigrant communities, the CAQ is playing a deadly game. Legault is both mobilizing the Quebec state to enforce institutional racism, as seen in Bill 21, while also empowering a political environment where deadly violence targeting minorities, particularly Muslims (as seen in Quebec City), is also a part of the landscape. 

The connection to Bill 31 here is that Legault is continuously working to remodel Quebec and a key part of this process is demolishing the progressive wins of Québécois social movements in the past. Projects like the CLSC network, social housing programs, the strong presence of unionized workers, the existence of strong student unions (as seen in the 2012 student strike) and excellent community-based popular education spaces, like the Carrefour d’éducation populaire de Pointe-Saint-Charles, were all built by local organizing. This local activism has worked over generations to push Quebec society away from the colonial capitalist model of economic development that has so strongly defined North American governments, especially since the Regan/Thatcher/Mulroney era. Right now, Legault is attacking and working to erase the progressive legacies of radical social movements in Quebec that have successfully won some important gains for working people. The current attack on housing rights is part of this process. The CAQ government refuses to address these points with an open presentation of their extreme neoliberal social and economic policies while continuing to play up a white nationalist version of Québécois identity that targets immigrants, while enacting policies that are in tune with the economic vultures of Bay Street and Wall Street — such as Bill 31.

The CAQ government is very dangerous to our collective wellbeing in this city and throughout Quebec. It is essential that Bill 31 is defeated, and artists can play a key role in this process. I encourage all artists to create music, make posters, write poems, organize protests, speak-outs and creative actions that disrupt the violence that the CAQ government is attempting to unleash against us all today by making this city more unaffordable for the majority. ■

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