A common refrain right now in Quebec politics is how the province is full of so-called political orphans.
Quebec media regularly host polemics from these political vagabonds lamenting their disillusionment with an aging sovereigntist movement and fatigue with a Liberal party that has been in power for all but two years since 2003.
How many Quebecers feel this way is open to debate, but a prominent 26-year-old sovereigntist has been criss-crossing the province listening to their complaints and, not so quietly, preparing a new plan for Quebec.
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois rose to prominence after his media appearances on behalf of Quebec’s 2012 “Maple Spring” student movement, while his influence shone in 2015 when he helped raise $400,000 in one week to fight the Energy East pipeline proposal.
WATCH BELOW: Nadeau-Dubois kickstarts campaign against pipeline
Now, he says he’s ready to take “political action.”
Nadeau-Dubois, along with a small band of lesser well-known left-wing Quebecers, aptly described his meetings with average people as “kitchen assemblies.”
Over two months, they met roughly 10 Quebecers at a time in 174 kitchens across the province, he said.
The tour was dubbed “Faut qu’on se parle” (“We Have to Talk”) and Quebecers used a website to invite the team to their homes for an in-depth discussion on what is ailing the province.
“We received tens of thousands of proposals from people,” Nadeau-Dubois said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press in his own kitchen.
Aside from kitchen meetings, the tour held 18 assemblies from Iles-de-la-Madeleine to Montreal, gatherings Nadeau-Dubois said each attracted between 100 and 900 people.
He maintains the goal of the tour was not to spur the creation of a new political party, but admits “it’s an open secret” he’s been approached by politicians to carry their banner.
“I have come to the realization that what really drives me, what inspires me, is to get involved in political action in the large sense,” he said. “Will it be at the legislative level or with social movements is the question.”
Quebecers might soon have an answer.
Francoise David, one of three elected members of the left-wing sovereigntist Quebec solidaire she helped found, resigned a few days ago, meaning there will be a byelection in her Montreal riding this year.
Nadeau-Dubois’ apartment is located a few streets outside the boundaries of the riding and speculation has already begun he could run for the party, which is popular with young people but has yet to break out of Montreal.
Nadeau-Dubois didn’t respond to an email asking about his political future in light of David’s resignation.
The ideas he gleaned from the two months of political discussions he had across Quebec focused on primary and secondary education, which he said was by far the most prominent topic of concern.
What wasn’t on the radar was sovereignty, he admitted.
“I say this in all honesty, I expected a lot of people to talk about sovereignty,” he said. “And I have to recognize that this was one of the subjects that people talked about less.”
Another major issue was trade, he said, with many people — especially in the regions outside Montreal and Quebec City — saying they’d like to consume and produce more local products.
An example of a common complaint came from people northeast of Quebec City who said they were upset they could only find U.S. blueberries at the supermarket when local producers had a better-tasting product nearby.
“It didn’t make sense to them,” he said. “But I told them that in order to fix that we had to open up free-trade deals with the U.S. It’s not simple, it takes strong political actions.”
Left-of-centre political actors in the province have taken notice of the anti-free trade rhetoric simmering outside the big cities.
Parti Quebecois Leader Jean-François Lisée recently said he wants to introduce a “Buy Quebecois Act,” if he wins the 2018 election, as a response to any protectionist measures a Donald Trump administration might impose.
WATCH BELOW: Lisée shares his point of view on Trump’s proposed protectionism and how it might impact Quebec’s economy.
William Watson, acting chair in the department of economics at McGill University, says politicians need to be careful.
“It’s great to protect against American blueberries,” he said in an interview. “But what happens when New York State power producers say they don’t want to buy foreign power but support local hydro?”
Watson says he’s not surprised “people in kitchens” who face foreign competition want to be protected, “but they shouldn’t decide policy for the whole society.”
Despite his lack of economic credentials, Nadeau-Dubois says “there are many progressive people who can talk about the economy and to do it convincingly. You don’t need to be a businessman to talk about business.”