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An interview with Claude Généreux, national secretary-treasurer of CUPE. By Robert Lamoureux

Robert Lamoureux: The NDP’s results in Quebec were the big surprise of the May 2 federal election. How do you explain the orange wave?

Claude Généreux: Halfway through the campaign, nobody could have predicted it. I think the orange wave was the result of several factors, and there’s a cumulative effect. Voters don’t see federal elections in isolation from other levels of government. They think about provincial and municipal elections, as well. At the federal level, Quebecers were tired of Harper. Rejecting the Bloc represents a reconfiguration of the electorate. For 40 years in Quebec, there’s been a call for national unity, without taking the needs of the workers into account. What we‘re seeing now is a labour front. There’s a polarization between the left and the right. Quebecers got tired of sitting around while their values as workers were put on hold.

RL: What can we learn from this surprising campaign? What lessons can we take from it?

CG: Firstly, you have to remember the cumulative effect on the electorate, who consider elections at all levels of government. There will be six provincial elections this year. The second lesson is a historical lesson, and we need to remember it: the Bloc is not dead. Not that long ago in the ‘90s, the Conservative Party under Kim Campbell was reduced to two seats. And now, less than 20 years later, the Conservatives have a majority. The third lesson is the radicalization of voters. We have a clearer picture of a party in power that wants to appeal to big companies. And the NDP needs to represent our interests in Parliament if it wants to retain the support of the workers.

RL: In this new context, what should be the priority issues of the NDP as official Opposition?

CG: Our new Official Loyal Opposition should act as a watchdog against financial handouts to big businesses, which lower revenues and, as a result, stifle public services. The NDP will have to defend health care, adequate pensions and transfer payments to the provinces. They will have to sound the alarm against free trade agreements, such as CETA, which would help private companies get their hands on our public services.

RL: What would be your advice to trade unions for the next four years?

CG: The election results are not the end of our work, but the beginning. It would be a mistake to think that our work ends with the election. We put our hopes into this party, and now we need to contribute our energy. We need to participate, by urging, and criticizing them if necessary. We need to help the NDP influence Parliament in the right direction.

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