Reluctant federalist briefly becomes Verdun election issue

By Tracey Arial

Despite announcements by election candidates about potential investments in schools (Parti québécois), hospitals (Liberal), social housing (Québec solidaire and Coalition pour l’avenir du Québec) and bridges (all parties), the person who got the most attention in the riding of Verdun last week was Mary Ann Davis.

Davis is an Anglophone, a union organizer, a housing activist, a lesbian and a feminist. She was also a borough mayoralty candidate in the municipal election last year and she lost to current mayor Jean-François Parenteau.

Last week, she became Verdun’s most prominent federalist too, although she doesn’t feel comfortable carrying the mantle.

“I can’t even call myself a federalist,” says Davis. “I’m not a sovereignist either, but I’m sympathetic to the cause. Do I want Quebec to separate? No. Do they have the right to organize to do so? Of course. Why do we have to be one or the other? There’s a spectrum. I don’t feel like a federalist, but I’m not a sovereignist.”

When the current provincial election was called, Davis volunteered to manage the election campaign for Rosa Pires, the Verdun candidate for Québec solidaire.

“I went with Rosa because of the charter,” said Davis. “She did a lot of work against the charter and that’s why I wanted to help her win. Her analysis on it was really poignant and her leadership of the Groupe des souverainistes against the charter thrilled me.”

Pires happily accepted her offer. She knew that Davis was unsure about sovereignty but neither thought it would become a campaign issue.

For her part, Davis has always been comfortable working closely with people who are for an independent Quebec. “Even the way Québec solidaire was presenting sovereignty—I was okay with that,” she said. “Those of us who don’t believe in sovereignty in the separatist parties just figure that if there’s a referendum, we’ll just vote no.”

Pires’ and Davis’ comfortable working alliance broke when Davis posted a note on Facebook at 5 p.m. last Tuesday night. She accused Verdun mayor Jean-François Parenteau of campaigning with PQ candidate Loraine Pintal.

She finished her French language post with: “Hey, you anglos of Verdun. What do you think?”

Then her cell phone died.

The post went viral on social media. Davis didn’t see the firestorm her post created for five hours. By the time she plugged her phone in again, Québec solidaire organizers were asking her to remove the post and angry members were sending her hate mail accusing her of being a ‘federalist saboteur.’

By then, she too regretted her hasty comment, which she couldn’t prove anyway.

It was too late. The damage to her reputation was already done and she spent the rest of the week facing criticism and anger on Facebook, in Twitter and on blogs. Davis resigned from the Québec solidaire campaign, but she also got scared and refused to leave her home for two days.

Meanwhile, Verdun Mayor Jean Francois Parenteau denies Davis’ accusation outright.

“It’s a big joke!” he responded by cell phone. “I never made campaign with anybody. Do you think I have time for that?”

“But, I’m always open to discuss Verdun with all candidates. I have seen Lorraine Pintal and Jacques Daoust last Friday at my office.
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