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Nora Loreto's blog

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Nora Loreto is a writer, musician and activist based in Québec City. She is the author of From Demonized to Organized, Building the New Union Movement and is the editor of the Canadian Association of Labour Media. She writes regularly for blogs and magazines, and wrote a chapter in Canada After Harper, released by Lorimer Publishers in August 2015.

A truly sovereign Quebec needs to be independent of a lot more than just Canada

| March 25, 2016
Image: Facebook/Québec Solidaire

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This past week, Québec Solidaire has been goading the Parti Québécois to show Quebecers their "projet société." Since the election of Pierre-Karl Peladeau, many have wondered aloud: what is an independent Québec in the eyes of Peladeau's Parti Québécois?

The exercise is meant, I think, to show to the remaining progressives who still support the PQ that if they want an independent Quebec that is progressive, they can't expect this from their party.

The PQ is a neoliberal party, like all the others. Over the past several years, it has demonstrated that it is more concerned with polls than it is with independence. They support sovereignty, sure, but the response to when, how and why have been consistently wrapped up in what polls say at a given moment.

While I understand the strategy driving QS to draw out these answers from the PQ, I worry that QS is approaching sovereignty in the wrong way: we're letting the PQ continue to drive the narrative.

This has its limits. For one, it means that journalists will continue to see Quebec independence through the eyes of the 1995 referendum: a single successful vote will be followed by negotiations and the other details will be sorted out later.

The problem with this notion of Quebec independence is that is isn't how QS would move toward sovereignty, and isn't what most Quebecers have expressed that they want.

The other problem is that it leaves aside the right-left axis of politics. With the federalist Liberals dismantling the public system and imposing austerity, the only group served by engaging in the PQ-driven frame of sovereignty are the Liberals. They can hide behind federalism while they slash and burn our public services.

Instead of trying to play a game designed by the PQ, QS needs to redefine Quebec sovereignty entirely. It has to popularize the party's vision and invite Quebecers to participate in the debates of what sovereignty means today, a full generation after the last referendum.

When we talk about Quebec independence, we need to talk about independence not just from the Canadian federation, but also from all external forces that disempower people. True sovereignty is freedom from oil extraction and transportation, freedom from international trade agreements, and freedom from Ottawa's pro-banks, pro-business policies that rob Canadians of our taxes.

True sovereignty also means true self-determination: for Indigenous people to have control over their traditional territories, fundamental say over political and economic decisions and resources to save and protect language and cultural practices.

None of this is possible in the current federal arrangement. The Canadian constitution was imposed on Quebec, but it was also imposed on all Canadians by a ruling class of men. Defending Canadian federalism means defending all that is rotten within it. You can't both hate the history on which Canada was built but love the structures that emerged from that history.

A true democratic process would allow all Canadians to re-evaluate their relationship with each other and find new ways to inject people power into their governing structures.

QS has to reframe the sovereignty discussion in this way: not to try and force the PQ to agree to a progressive vision of Quebec, but to show Quebecers that the only way forward to realize a more just society is through establishing a citizens' assembly to investigate and make recommendations on a new constitutional arrangement for Quebec.

And that every policy supported by QS: from transitioning the economy away from resource extraction, to free education at all levels of education, are policies that are part of a modern Quebec; a Quebec that, from the party's perspective, must be independent. But even that will be up to the people to decide.

I've written before that the question of Quebec sovereignty opens up new possibilities of organizing, new social structures and new forms of solidarity and good governance. But we can't allow right-wing forces to frame Quebec independence, whether it be journalists, right-wing nationalists, the PQ or worse, the Liberals.

There's a crisis of imagination in politics in the Western world. The time is now to blow open our visions of what's possible and blow up the status quo, Quebec independence included.

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Image: Facebook/Québec Solidaire



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