New leader of provincial NDP aims to give Quebec's 'political orphans' a home

The new leader of the New Democratic Party of Quebec says his party offers a viable alternative to long-suffering left-leaning, federalist voters in the province.

Raphaël Fortin chosen to lead left-leaning, federalist party into fall election

Raphaël Fortin is the leader of the provincial NDP. (Benjamin Shingler/CBC)

The new leader of the New Democratic Party of Quebec says his party offers a viable alternative to long-suffering left-leaning, federalist voters in the province. 

Raphaël Fortin, who was chosen Sunday to lead the upstart party, said he hopes to offer a full slate of candidates in the fall election.

"People who feel like political orphans have a home now," he said Monday in an interview with Mike Finnerty on Daybreak.

The provincial NDP was resurrected in 2014, after an earlier version of the party broke off from the federal NDP in 1989.

It doesn't hold a seat in the National Assembly, but Fortin, 37, is hopeful that will change. His party's full electoral platform will come together after a congress scheduled for April 28.

Fortin, who holds a bachelor's in business administration from the Université du Québec à Montréal, ran for a seat with the federal NDP twice before running for the provincial leadership.

Here is a transcript of his interview with Finnerty, edited for length and clarity.

What is the NDP Quebec and what link is there to the federal NDP?

I would say there's only two links — the name, and the fact that we share some progressive ideas. For the rest, there's no link. We have our own colours. We don't have any federal members involved in the party, but anyone is welcome to be a member of both.   

What's your view on Quebec's place in Canada?

I want Quebec to stay in Canada. But I think any government in Quebec should fight to ensure the federal government respects the constitution. 

There is, on the left of centre, the Parti Québécois, when it's not being led by Pierre Karl Péladeau, and there's Québec Solidaire. Why does Quebec need another left-wing party?

First of all, for me, the PQ is not left of centre anymore. I know it's not like Pierre Karl Péladeau, but they are running on the identical issues that, for me, are divisive. And Québec Solidaire is focused on sovereignty. So people who feel like political orphans have a home now. 

If you're successful, you may well hurt Québec Solidaire and split the left-wing vote and help the right-wing parties. Isn't that a danger?

I don't see it as a danger. For me, my opening in Quebec politics isn't Québec Solidaire. In fact, I don't want to fight against other parties. I want to propose ideas and attract the people who don't vote, the 35 per cent of people who, like I said, feel like orphans. If Liberals or PQ or QS decide to vote for us, I'm going to be happy.

Have you decided on where the party will stand on issues of identity?

We don't have a platform yet but I can tell you that there's consensus in Quebec, outlined in the Bouchard-Taylor report. For us, I think it will be close to that. I think so.

Except that Charles Taylor, who was part of that commission, has said that, with the passage of time, he no longer agrees with the conclusion of the Bouchard-Taylor report.

That's his opinion, but I think there's a consensus in Quebec that people in authority like a judge or police officers shouldn't wear religious symbols, but the for the rest ... It's a divisive subject. I don't think it's what people want to talk about. They want to talk about education and health care, not about religious symbols.

I think most people agree with what you just said. But it doesn't change the fact that you'll be pushed to adopt a position and it'll come under a lot of scrutiny.

Like you do this morning.

Absolutely (laughs). Well, let me ask you about education. I think for most people health and education are priorities. How do you think education is doing now in Quebec?

Well, there's a proof so far — a lot of people drop [out of] schools, especially guys. I think school wasn't made for the young guys. For the position of the party it's going to be later. But we want to make sure everybody has a chance to perform.

There have been a lot of reforms in health care in the past few years, a very activist minister in Gaétan Barrette. How do you think that's been going?

So far, people in the system say it doesn't work. I'm not a specialist in anything and as a leader your job is to listen to specialists. And so far, that government, and I don't want to attack the government, but it's the truth, doesn't listen to people who works in that field. When you're a good politician, your job is to listen to people who knows better than you — and not be dogmatic.

Who is Raphaël Fortin? What's your background?

I have a business degree that I completed while I was already working at a hotel. And I decided to stay there because I like to work with the public. I also worked for seven years helping people with mental disabilities.

Is there a Canadian politician you particularly admire?

For sure, Jack Layton, that I met in 2007 and 2008. He taught me to do positive politics. And Françoise David, of Québec Solidaire. She also brought positive politics. It's my mantra. I'm not going to do negative politics.