COVER

FRANCE TAKES A LEFT

BRUCE WALLACE June 9 1997
COVER

FRANCE TAKES A LEFT

BRUCE WALLACE June 9 1997

FRANCE TAKES A LEFT

Nothing illustrates the road travelled by Canadian voters in the 1990s as clearly as the contrasting result in the French election last week. In Canada, only Alexa McDonough’s New Democrats waved an economic goody bag, promising two million new jobs underwritten by about $20 billion in good oldfashioned government spending. In France, where unemployment is nearly 13 per cent, the opposition Socialists campaigned for the June 1 parliamentary election on an even more generous economic platform. The difference was that the Socialists won.

At times, the rhetoric in France sounded like Canada in the 1960s. The state was still the solution to economic woes, the Socialists argued. Privatizations would end. And the government

would create 350,000 new public sector jobs, with 350,000 more jobs to come by slicing four hours from the 39-hour work week— without anyone having to take a cut in pay.

Despite the impracticality of those proposals in a nation fighting a ballooning debt, voters bought in. Rejecting President Jacques Chirac’s attempts to modernize the economy, they tossed the centre-right parliamentary coalition out on its austerity plans and gave the keys to the treasury back to the Socialists and their Communist party allies. In Canada, the Liberals founded their reelection bid on their success in reducing the budget deficit. By the end of the French campaign, the desperate government was apologizing for even having tried. French voters looked at Canadian-style sacrifice—and chose nostalgia.

BRUCE WALLACE in London