The confrontation between the Liberal government elected last April andQuebec’s popular movement has started. It was expected, it wasannounced, we all knew it was coming and now, it’s happening. The issue:the future of the $5-a-day popular community-owned day-carecentres, which were launched under the Parti Quebecois government two years ago.

The Liberal Party in Quebec is, indeed, a conservative party, led byex-Conservative minister Jean Charest and supported by a rainbowcoalition representing reactionary and conservative forces in Quebec.In this context, the April election was not just an election. Aroll-back of everything that came about from the revolutiontranquille — the quiet revolution — is on the agenda, from the scrapping of Quebec’s social services in health and education to the marginalizationof the large public sector that had dared to tame private capital.

Currently, confrontation is building up around the day-care business.In the last term of the PQ government, a day-care program waslaunched, allowing community-owned day-care centres to function withstate subsidies. Parents pay the small fee of $5 per day,and day-care centres are supported with various programs includinginfrastructure and training of employees.

Day-care workers were rapidly unionized, gaining access to standardized workingconditions, pension plans and other benefits. In brief, it was a situation wherebasic financial needs were assured by the state, while day-to-daycontrol and administration were given to the community and the day-care centres.In brief, it was a win-win situation, resulting from 30 years of hard struggleby day-care organizations and community movements.

This is what the Liberal government wants to destroy. First, it wants toterminate a universal program that does not fit with itsusers-oriented projects. Secondly, it wants to smash a program thatcontradicts its pro-private sector neoliberal ideology, where commercialday-care centres are supposed to take over. And finally, it clashes witha social consensus that was built around the PQ government involvingtrade unions and community groups.

Tactically, the Liberal government says that this program is tooexpensive. Fundamentally, it wants to terminate it and pass the burdento community (by increasing fees) and the private sector, which willoffer cheaper but less significant services.

The $5-a-day day care is therefore a point of confrontationrepresenting larger, more fundamental interests. If the Liberalgovernment wins on this, it is likely that the next step will includean all-out assault against the public sector, with massive privatizatonand deregulation. It is also likely that the government will want todismantle the jewels in the crown of the Quebec public sector, likeHydro Quebec, the Caisse de depots et de placements (the largestfinancial institution controlled by the State), the autonomousMouvement Desjardins (credit cooperatives) and the Fonds desolidarité de la FTQ — union funds directed at saving jobs in decliningfirms.

People who speak for the Liberal government are admitting it themselves: this is aturning point; the legacy of the revolution tranquille has to bescrapped and standard business practices have to come back, i.e. thedomination of the financial sector over the State and the economy.

But Quebec is not like other Canadian provinces. Here there is a strongsocial movement. The $5-a-day day-care centres were not a gift, but werethe result of prolonged community and trade union struggles. Othersocial institutions came about not because of an enlightenedoption from the ruling class but as a response to mass social andnational struggle.

So resistance will be swift. Already around the day-care issues, the Liberal government will find a large coalition blocking the way as it attempts to dismantle the system. The deal is not done. The popular movement is struggling, on the one hand,to keep its momentum, and on the other hand to digest the fall of the PQ towhich it was linked in many ways.

Around the $5-a-day day-care centres are shaping up the battles that willdefine Quebec in its next political phase. Will popular movements be able tostand up to the neoliberal aggressive government? Will they be able to launch new social alliances and forces?

Or are we doomed to face the discouraging setbacks that affected the Ontario and B.C. social movements under the governments of Mike Harris and Gordon Campbell?


Pierre Beaudet

Pierre was active in international solidarity and social movements in Quebec, and was the founder of Quebec NGO Alternatives, and Editor of the Nouveaux cahiers du socialisme. He blogged on in...