Quebec solidaire, a new provincial political party, was formed over the weekend after more than 1,000 delegates from Option Citoyenne (OC) and Union des Forces Progressistes (UFP) merged their two parties.

The UFP, which has already had modest electoral success, was created four years ago in 2002 after the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City, as an amalgamation of four small left-wing parties: the Rassemblement pour l’Alternative Progressiste, the Parti de la démocratie Socialiste, the Parti Communiste du Québec and the Quebec-based membership of the International Socialists.

Option Citoyenne was founded even more recently as the brainchild of Françoise David, the former head of the Fédération des Femmes du Québec (FFQ). The combined membership of the new party is about 4,000 — a fraction of the Parti Quebecois’ 140,000 members.

Quebec solidaire believes its stated commitment to ecology, universal social programs, feminism, international solidarity and diversity, along with its (secondary) demand for Quebec sovereignty will win the party support from disaffected members of the PQ, which in recent years has drifted towards the right of the political spectrum. The new party also hopes to benefit from Quebec’s more progressive electorate.

After significant media coverage of the party’s foundation, Quebec solidaire members were excited that the PQ is beginning to worry (publicly) about its left flank. Convention delegates’ enthusiasm will likely be tempered by some harsh realities.

Hoping to split the sovereigntist and “left” vote the arch-reactionary Montreal Gazette editorial board applauded the party’s formation. But positive corporate media coverage will not last long, especially if the party pushes a radical message. More importantly, it will be difficult for Quebec solidaire to gain support from Quebec’s relatively influential union movement. A number of prominent Montreal area union activists were in attendance at the founding convention; however, most unions are closely tied to the Parti Quebecois. Breaking the PQ’s lock on union support is a major challenge. It is unlikely that Quebec solidaire can significantly reshape Quebec — let alone win some seats — without significant support from the union movement.

The convention may have brought out some labour representatives, but there was little of the party’s much coveted “diversity.” Though it took place in multi-cultural Montreal, there were few non-white faces in attendance. One way for Quebec solidaire to reach “cultural communities” is to become active on international affairs.

For instance, much of the progressive sector within Montreal’s 100,000 strong Haitian community voted in the recent federal election on the basis of Canada’s policies in their country of origin. Yet neither UFP nor OC — both of which believe in an independent Quebec foreign policy — have done much to oppose Quebec-based politicians, companies and NGOs that are at the forefront of Canada’s brutal intervention in Haiti. Quebec solidaire spokesperson Françoise David, who recently traveled to Haiti, failed to publicly denounce Canada’s support for the violent coup, police/UN killings and political imprisonments.

A more substantive concern regarding the party’s future is its goal. Is it to win seats? Will Quebec solidaire measure its success, as some party members have said, based upon its ability to expand the voice of Quebec’s social movements? Will the party take on the long-term project of convincing the public to work towards a progressive vision of society?

These tensions between electoralism and grassroots activism were present during the convention. Similarly, there are concerns about the party’s vision, which is supposed to be fully defined over the next year.

A friend active with the UFP recently complained that the party was unwilling to use the word capitalism to describe current economic/social problems, preferring words such as neo-liberalism. Speaking to the press, Françoise David distanced herself from the idea of class struggle although in the 1970s, she was a member of the Marxist-Leninist En Lutte group, which placed independence secondary to class struggle.

While discussion at Quebec solidaire’s founding was progressive for our hyper-capitalist era, the party failed to commit to articulating a post-capitalist vision of society. Certainly many Quebec solidaire activists identify as anti-capitalist, yet members seem unprepared to endorse, for instance, workplace democracy and public ownership of the means of livelihood as long-term objectives.

David and former UFP candidate Amir Khadir, a physician at Le Gardeur Hospital and a spokesperson for the UFP, will act as the party’s spokespeople until a leader is chosen for the next provincial election.

Time will tell whether Quebec solidaire becomes a significant progressive force in Quebec. Certainly many of those involved are people doing good work on a variety of issues. Electoralism, however, has the tendency to channel people’s energies into, say, putting up posters promoting individuals rather than ideas.

Yves Engler

Dubbed “Canada’s version of Noam Chomsky” (Georgia Straight), “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I. F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), “part...