MONTREAL — It has been just over two months since they were elected to the legislature, and new Quebec solidaire members have not yet succeeded in their goal of replacing capitalism. But they have launched an assault on business attire that is making waves in the provincial capital.
Since the legislature resumed sitting last week, some members of the left-leaning party have been spotted at the national assembly wearing tank tops, jeans, heavy boots, tuques and running shoes.
"Institutions change over the years," said 36-year-old Catherine Dorion, who on some days wears green Dr. Martens boots to work.
"If they didn't, we would all be wearing white wigs, and women wouldn't be allowed in the legislature."
The newcomers' fashion sense has caught the attention of Speaker Francois Paradis, a member of the governing Coalition Avenir Quebec party. He told reporters Wednesday he wants to modernize the legislature and welcomes a debate about its dress code.
"I am happy because this reflection is essential and healthy," Paradis said. "This reflection is happening everywhere in the world."
Quebec solidaire members take pride in their radical policies — they talk openly of nationalizing some industries and moving "beyond capitalism." But the party's 10 members also believe their recent electoral success shows citizens are ready for a different kind of politician.
Sol Zanetti, 36, elected for the first time in the Oct. 1 vote, told reporters he wore jeans last week during question period, and no one seemed to notice.
He said politicians should be allowed to wear what they want — within reason. The 500-page legislature rule book says members must "contribute to the maintenance of decorum," but it does not dictate a dress code.
"You have to have confidence in people," Zanetti told reporters at the legislature. "If we came dressed as a chicken or a giraffe, then we would be harming decorum. But as of now, we are dressing in a comfortable way."
Quebec solidaire also eschews the traditional party structure.
It doesn't have "leaders" in the formal sense, but rather, one male and one female "spokesperson."
Politicians are regularly accused of not relating to young people, Dorion said, adding that dressing in a diverse fashion might get new people interested in politics. She gave her election victory speech wearing a pink T-shirt with flamingos printed on it.
"Why not go and attract more people by representing a larger palette of people?" she asked.
Quebec solidaire increased its seat total to 10 from three in the election, winning beyond Montreal for the first time with seats in Quebec City, the Eastern Townships, and northwestern Quebec. For many, it has replaced the Parti Quebecois as the voice of a young, progressive, sovereigntist movement.
Martin Ouellet, a PQ member of the legislature, rejected the idea that more formal attire somehow prevents him from representing everyone in his riding.
"If I come here wearing a suit and tie, do I represent less well the people of my riding?" he asked. "My riding is full of people who work in factories, who work hard. If I came here in work boots and factory clothes, would I be more authentic? I'm not convinced."
— With files from Caroline Plante