Everyone here knows that Harper’s neo-conservative government represents a serious threat. In the last election the Conservatives elected only five MPs (out of a total of 75) and there is nothing to suggest that this massive rejection by Québec voters is about to change. The latest polls show support for Harper at less than 12 per cent. Naturally, the Québec left — both the people active in social movements and those involved in progressive politics (mostly Québec Solidaire) — is in sync with popular opinion on this score. The question, however, is what options remain for the left beyond an ‘anything-but-Harper’ position.
Judging from facts and history, the NDP and the Bloc Québécois share similar though not identical politics. Both parties are centre-left, with the emphasis on “centre”’ rather than “left.” Most of their policies are consistent with those of former social-democrat parties elsewhere in the world which have veered towards social-liberalism, that is, neoliberalism with a human face. The main difference between the NDP and the Bloc pertains to the national question in Québec. Despite having added some water to its federalist wine, the NDP still stands for a “strong and united” Canada. This position was tempered several years ago by the Sherbrooke Declaration which acknowledges Québec’s right to self-determination. This position runs contrary to the NDP’s support, back in 1999, for the Clarity Act, a Liberal government law that sought to impose federal constraints on any future referendum. In any event at this point, the national question in Québec isn’t a major issue for the impending federal election: This is what the NDP is counting on. As for the Bloc, it’s back is to the wall. All the Bloc can bank on is reviving support for the sort of nationalist project that has been led unsuccessfully by the PQ for decades. While the idea of independence remains still widely shared in many quarters, including the left, it’s not a proposition that can gain much traction during the federal election because most people, whether they support Québec independence or not, don’t see it as the key election issue and feel that the struggle for independence has to take place in Québec and not at the federal level.
Regardless of the national question, the left in Québec is not enamoured with either party. However there is concern that Harper could squeeze through were the NDP to lose a part of its substantial Québec caucus. For some people, the logical conclusion is to vote strategically to avoid the worst. Others stand on principle when it comes to the question of Québec sovereignty and advocate support for the Bloc. The vast majority of activists take a pragmatic position, depending on what riding they are in. This was the stance adopted recently by the FTQ, which encouraged its 500,000 members to vote for candidates who have a real chance of defeating the Harperites. And in most cases that means voting for the NPD candidate. This is something of a sea change because in the past the FTQ was always allied with the Bloc (and the PQ, at the provincial level).
At the end of the day, there is nothing pleasant about voting for the lesser evil. The left in Québec does not believe in the NDP, and not only because of the party’s ambiguity on the national question. When it comes to social, economic and environmental issues, there is a strong suspicion that an NDP government at the federal level would not behave very differently than did the provincial NDPs in Ontario and Manitoba (which is pretty much the same as how the PQ governed in Québec). We cannot expect much in the way of progressive policy from NDP leader Tom Mulcair, a former Liberal minister and friend of Québec’s current rightist Liberal premier. Of the 54 NDP MPs, a handful hail from the trade unions and the social movements, such as Alexandre Boulerice, Nycole Turmel, and Guy Caron. As for rest of the NDP’s Québec caucus, little is heard from them. Of course that does not mean that they are incompetent, as Harper recently charged, but it does mean that they have not been and are still not part of “the movement.” In any case, Mulcair can rest easy: the NDP will still get the support of most voters in Québec, but only by default. And the left will content itself with sidelining the Harper threat.
And after that, what else is to be done? Here in Québec, Québec Solidaire is pursuing its slow but steady advance, based on a broadly progressive platform that is not explicitly anticapitalist, but brings together social-democrats, socialists, feminists and environmentalists. Mulcair wants to create a provincial NDP, a counter-productive plan that would serve only to create further divisions on the left. But QS is progressing. In addition, there is a clear desire on the part of the Québec left to work more closely with Canadian social movements and Indigenous communities. The ice was broken, so to speak, at last year’s People’s Social Forum, and since then there have been several efforts to continue the dialogue and even pursue common strategies concerning current struggles (the opposition to pipelines in particular), and even on political issues. This nascent cooperation depends on a sincere and concrete recognition and acceptance of our differences by everyone involved and that means, especially, support for the right to self-determination of Québec and Indigenous Peoples
Fighting the right requires more than defeating Harper. It demands a fundamental rethinking of the Canadian state at the level of the grassroots, and not partial accommodations or constitutional reform. The vast majority of the Québec left will never accept the Canadian State, built from its inception on domination and exploitation. It needs to give way to a new political architecture that has yet to be developed. Is this feasible? That remains to be seenWe have to keep on struggling on it..
Next week in Montreal (August 20-23), 300 activists from progressive social movements and the left will be gathering for the annual People’s University organized by the Nouveaux Cahiers du socialisme in conjunction with various groups. The federal election will be one of the hotly debated issues and we will be reflecting on ways to build solidarity among our nations. We have a line-up of about 70 speakers. In addition to Québec intellectuals and activists, we will be hearing from guests from English Canada and First Nations as well as friends from Greece, Spain, France, Brazil, China, etc.
Everyone is welcome!
French-to-English translation will be available
Photo source: Source: https://coifferieparadiso.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/quebec_canada-flags.jpg