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Interview: Quebec's left-wing party


March 24, 2014

The mainstream media in English Canada have reacted to the upcoming Quebec election with hysteria about “separatism,” while ignoring the left alternative Québec solidaire. Socialist.ca spoke with Benoit Renaud, long-time activist in Quebec and QS candidate in Hull, about his party and the movements it supports.
 
1. In English Canada the NDP is shifting to the right, supporting tar sands and appealing to small business—despite the need and the desire for an alternative. What is QS's platform and how does it reflect the social movements?
 
Québec solidaire is putting forward an ambitious plan to eliminate the need for oil by 2030. This should prove to the environmental movement that we are serious about climate change. We call for a major reform of the taxation system in order to increase the amounts paid by richer individuals and large corporations. We put into question the advantages granted to pharmaceutical, mining and financial corporations. Billions of dollars could be saved by ending those massive subsidies, which would make possible significant improvements to social programs and an end to the neoliberal user fees model.
 
Among other things, we propose to eliminate tuition fees and increases in electricity and daycare fees. We are also the only party committed to ending poverty by means of a guaranteed basic income and improved social programs. Many of our members are social movement activists. This is clearly reflected in the platform.
 
2. There is renewed hysteria in the mainstream media about Quebec "separatism." Can you describe the aspirations for sovereignty, the difference in approach between the PQ and QS, and how people in English Canada can support QS and Quebec's right to self-determination?
 
The aspiration to self-determination is deeply rooted in Québec history. National oppression of the French speaking and Catholic population began with the British conquest of the territory, continued with the brutal repression of its first democratic movement in the 1830s and stabilized though the good old colonial strategy of co-opting the elites in order to overexploit the lower classes. This model began to break down in the 1960s with the modern nationalist movement, large labour struggles and the battles over language. Significant progress has been made since then, but like any other type of oppression, it renews itself by adapting to the changing political and economic landscape.
 
It is still difficult for a person who only speaks French to find a decent job in Montréal or Gatineau. And the Federal State still ignores Québec most of the time and uses threats and bribes to keep the province in line, as we saw during the two referendum campaigns in 1980 and 1995. National oppression is still a fact, political and socio-economic, and it deserves to be opposed.
 
But the QS approach to the question is radically different from that of the PQ. We believe that true self-determination rests on the sovereignty of the people, expressed through an elected Constituent Assembly. Françoise David said recently in an interview that our first law, if we formed the government, would be to institute that assembly. Its role would be to instigate and structure a vast consultation of the whole population in order to draft a Québec constitution. The referendum ultimately deciding if Québec will become independent would be about that constitution. In this way, we make it possible for independence to be about what kind of society we want, to give it some significant democratic, social and possibly environmental content.
 
The PQ is still trying to win the first two referendums in some abstract way, with vague appeals to national pride. But their policies in government mean they can’t rally new people to the cause. They also have nothing new to say about why and how we should achieve independence. This is why even some of the people who are for it don't want to have a referendum in the short term. They know the PQ would lose it.
 
3. Quebec self-determination and indigenous sovereignty are sometimes falsely counter-posed, but two of the most inspiring movements in recent years have been the Quebec student strike and Idle No More. Can you discuss solidarity between Quebecois and indigenous struggles and how we can support both?
 
First, everyone should know that the main student organization at the initiative of the 2012 strike, ASSÉ, has made solidarity with First Nations one of its priorities. The links between those two movements are direct. They are also both involved in preparing the Social Forum taking place in Ottawa in August.
 
Solidarity with First Nations’ struggles is another very clear distinction between QS and the PQ. We frequently invite spokespersons for First Nations to our regional or national meetings. Our policy is that their self-determination is just as legitimate as ours and that both should go hand in hand.
 
We are also strongly critical of the resource extraction economic model pursued by all three right wing parties and the detrimental effects this model has on First Nations, their rights and their living conditions.
 
4. Coming to power on the wave of the Quebec student strike, the PQ has used the Charter to provide a scapegoat for austerity. But there have also been protests against the Charter, and ASSE has called for a protest against the PQ on April 3. How successful has the Charter been and what are the prospects for resistance?
 
The PQ has played a deeply demagogic political game around issues of secularism and values. The election was called by Premier Marois because the PQ leadership believed it had won enough support around this so called Charter to win a majority. But we are now seeing strong signs indicating that this support was fragile, coming in part from deeply conservative electors who are more afraid of the possibility of a third referendum on sovereignty than they are of religious minorities.
 
So the issue of sovereignty, which the PQ was hoping to replace with fear mongering, is coming back to bite them. Marois is trying to play both sides of that issue, of mobilizing the sovereigntist base behind her, without mobilizing the federalist base behind the liberals. So far, she has only done the latter, which explains the Liberals taking a lead in the polls. Now she is appealing to the QS base (now at 10 per cent in the polls) to save her neck, but she has very little to offer them. After governing precisely like the Liberals for 18 months, what would keeping the PQ in power accomplish? Their only commitment on sovereignty is to engage in a large study of the question (livre blanc). This doesn't seriously address the strategic impasse the movement for sovereignty has been stuck in for almost 20 years because of the PQ. 
 
5. Can you describe the inroads QS is making in the labour movement, and how PKP running for the PQ has affected this?
 
We are proposing a ban on lock-outs, as opposed to recruiting the man responsible for half of all work days lost to lock outs over the past 15 years, like the PQ did with Péladeau. His arrival was a last straw for many union activists who were still calling for a strategic PQ vote in 2012, to beat the Liberals. We also want to make it easier to form unions. And we are the only party not proposing to further cut into public services but instead increase funding and improve them.
 
The two main labour councils in Montréal, both CSN and FTQ, have called to vote for us. Many union organizations who used to support the PQ are now staying officially neutral. The traditional links between unions and the PQ are extremely weak. Québec solidaire is now obviously the only rational option for workers.
 
The paradox is that by recruiting Péladeau, the PQ was hoping to mobilize its independentist base. But that base is also massively progressive. This is why their strategy is failing. When one remembers how the PQ in 1976 was running on a “favorable bias towards workers,” we can see how much the party has changed. The only political space remaining for the PQ is to divide the Right. And CAQ has actually been complaining about how both the PQ and the Liberals have been stealing their ideas. It seems electors will go for the real thing (the Liberals) rather than the copy (PQ).
 
Québec solidaire is now the only credible political option for the whole Left, for ecologists, for independence and for feminism and international solidarity. We are unifying struggles and bringing people together. The results of the April 7 election could be a turning point for Québec solidaire and towards a reshaping of our political landscape. 
 
For more information visit Québec solidaire's website.

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