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The Quebec Left and the federal election: Lost in translation?

After years of division and conflict, the Quebec left came together when over 1000 people gathered to create a new political party in February 2006. The moment was electric, because it seemed that Quebec Solidaire could combine the good traditions of radical struggle with hard-thinking on intervention in the political sphere. A lot of this success came from the courageous initiative of Françoise David, the former president of the Fédération des femmes du Québec who had initiated back in 1995 and in 2000 the hugely popular marches of women against poverty and violence. Other creative leaders were Amir Khadir, a popular Iranian-born medical doctor well rooted in community and immigrant organizations, François Salliant, the President of FRAPRU (the most important housing network), François Cyr, former vice president of the Fédération nationale des enseignants et des enseignantes du Québec and countless others representing mass organizations and decades of struggles. During the electoral campaign in 2007, thousands more came out to canvass and organize and although the overall result was not great, at least QS showed its forces in many Montreal districts where it came second after the PQ.

Since then, the process continues. But there is alot of anxiety. At the macro level, the prospect is that the «war of position» is at this time heavily in favor of the dominants and more over, of the hard right. If ever we would have to face an unholy alliance of McCain, Harper and Charest, it would not be nice, to say the least.

Then comes another serious problem. Dispirited working and middle classes are tempted by the populist demagogy more than by our «rational» post capitalist and post neoliberal rhetoric. The battle of ideas is not easy with a growing sector of the population who believes that the PQ, immigrants and trade unions are the enemy! Of course, one has to put this in perspective. The society in Quebec is still in majority in favor of progressive ideas, but there is trend, a drift, some sort of a slippery move that escapes most of the analysis.

The list of challenges does not stop here. How to reconcile intervening in the political sphere with the consolidation of a post capitalist project? Are we not condemned to limit our pitch to some sort of a social-democratic platform, slightly left of the PQ? How can we maintain the political party «in the streets» while orienting it to electoral battles?

A positive point is that the questions are debated, which is a huge advance in comparison with the past when the «correct line» was defined in opposition to dissenting voices. But nonetheless, it does not give QS a clear direction.

Last but not least, the eternal Quebec national question. At the origin, QS decided wisely (in my view) to downgrade this dimension while integrating the sovereignty idea with social justice: Sovereignty as a means to reinvent a Quebec based on its peoples (in the plural). On this, the consensus continues although some sections, ex-Péquistes among others, would like QS to take the nationalist lead in using the PQ's ambiguity to its advantage.

All of this seems light years away from the federal election. But it is not. The fact is that there is not a strong mobilization against the Harper threat, a sort of anything-but-Harper call of arms. Partly because of internal hesitations. Partly because of nationalist ambiguities. Party because the organization is still fragile and reserves its ammunitions for the forthcoming provincial election. It could be a serious mistake. A future Harper government will be the cornerstone of reactionary politics both in Quebec and in Canada. The most rightwing factions inside the provincial Liberal Party and the ultra right ADQ will be comforted in a big time.

Against this inertia are currently two options. One is favored by QS activists mostly outside Montreal who are arguing that social movements and QS should campaign for the NDP. I don't agree with this because it seems an ideological, meaning non-political position. I think we should mostly campaign for the Bloc, not because we like them, but because they can oppose Harper seriously.

We will see how it goes but so far, everything is quiet on the eastern front.


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