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Quebec doesn't need its own NDP

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Gibeau Orange Julep in Montreal, Quebec.

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On Saturday night, the NDP-Quebec (or, NPD-Québec) is holding a rare public event in Quebec City. Hosted by former MP Jonathan Tremblay, the event is a public discussion about the future of a provincial NDP.

The discussion is timely: at the last NDP-Quebec convention, it was resolved to run NDP-Quebec candidates in the next election.

Despite having an officially constituted provincial organization since January 2014, the NDP hasn't run candidates provincially since 1994. But the NDP has had a long history in Quebec: the party was founded in 1963 by the FTQ and the Quebec branch of the CCF. The party mainly focused on federal politics.

During the mid-1990s, socialists who were operating under the NDP brand formed the Partie de la democratie socialiste. Tensions existed between the provincial party and the federal party when Paul Rose became its president.

After the PDS was formed, it merged, and merged and shifted to eventually form part of Québec Solidaire. QS currently has three seats in the National Assembly and outflanks all other provincial NDPs to the left by a long way.

I've been a member of QS since I had the right to vote in this province.

If the NDP enters Quebec politics, it will not be the most progressive party. It will instead fight the Parti Québécois for control of the centre, while QS continues to occupy the left.

Does the NDP really need another centrist provincial wing?

Politics in Quebec have fallen along the federalist-sovereignist axis for decades, but after the NDP breakthrough in 2011, it was clear that another axis: the more traditional left-right axis was compelling people to vote a certain way. Despite the NDP's defeat during the last federal election, the broad support that the Liberals won, especially in some traditionally sovereignist ridings, demonstrated that there is still support for progressive politics, at least superficially.

Provincially, the Liberals have unleashed a ruthless attack on the public sector: think accelerating the sum of Ontario Liberal cuts into just a few years.  

The Official Opposition Parti Québécois, who aside from their stance on sovereignty, are tentative in their public policy demands. This is partly due to how weak Pierre-Karl Péladeau has proven to be as leader and his incongruence with the party's traditionally social democratic leanings (at least, before neoliberalism set in firmly in the late 1990s).

Where would a provincial NDP fit into this? They would have to set their target on Liberal supporters who vote Liberal because of their love of Canada, rather than their love of Liberal policies.

It's a crass political play that won't work. The Liberals are a rooted, institutional party in Quebec. They're politically smart. To jump into the provincial field only to take on the Liberals seems like a recipe for disaster: just how well is that working for provincial NDPs where there is a Liberal option?

Most NDP members would say that the usual strength of their party is their progressive platform and vision of Canada. But in Quebec, they will always be outflanked by the policies of QS. Even the question of sovereignty cannot be untied from progressive politics: there is nothing inherently progressive about defending the supremacy of the Canadian federation. In fact, defending federalism is rarely progressive.

While many Canadians opine for an NDP that is truly progressive, or talk amongst themselves of forming a new political party to challenge the rightward drift of the NDP, Quebecers are past that debate. With QS firmly established, the real question for the left in Quebec is how do we create a political movement that is in-step with social movements? How can you construct a party that can challenge the status quo while bringing forward the political aspirations of social movement organizations? What does it mean to be a political party "of the streets and of the ballot box?"

The NDP-Quebec isn't going to sort out any of these issues. It will draw resources into a campaign to try to take down the Liberals with a campaign goal of being "Liberal-lite."

While annoying, an NDP-Quebec won't really pose a threat to QS on the ground; attacking the Liberals can't happen enough. But progressive members of the NDP need to be aware that electoralist gains aren't worth the inevitable selling out of progressive politics under the NDP brand.

This will happen. With strong social and labour movements, progressive movements institutionally tied to a sovereignty project, and a competing left-wing party with a progressive take on sovereignty, an NDP-Quebec will be limited in how far from the centre it will be able to move.

This is the question that Canadians (that is, non-Quebecers) need to contend with if faced with supporting the aspirations of the NDP-Quebec at the upcoming National Convention: do you really want to endorse a weak, middle-ground provincial party that carries the NDP brand?

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