Monday, July 31, 2017

Venezuela's Chavistas register highest vote since 2012 in Constituent Assembly election

The National Constituent Assembly elected in Venezuela yesterday with the sole support of the Chavistas registered more than 8 million votes, or 41.53% of the electorate. This was substantially more than the 7 million votes for Nicolás Maduro in the 2013 presidential elections and much more than the 5.5 million votes for the Chavista coalition in the 2015 legislative elections, when the opposition won 7.7 million votes largely thanks to the abstention of some two million former Chavista supporters. The country’s opposition parties, currently in control of the National Assembly, boycotted the election.

Among the 545 constituentes elected were First Lady Cilia Flores, the first Vice-President of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) Diosdado Cabello, and the former foreign minister Delcy Rodriguez. The results were announced by the president of the National Electoral Council (CNE) Tibisay Lucena around midnight last night. So many Venezuelans lined up to vote that the electoral process was extended to 10:30 p.m.

The newly elected Constituent Assembly is made up of 364 members elected by territorial constituency -- one per municipality, two per state capital and seven per Capital District (Caracas) -- and 181 according to social or class sector (24 students, 8 peasants and fishers, 5 business people, 5 disabled, 28 pensioners, 24 communal council representatives, 79 workers and 8 indigenous (the latter to be elected this Tuesday in assemblies to be held in three states).

The National Constituent Assembly (ANC) will begin sitting 72 hours after the official declaration of those elected. Maduro has indicated that it will be tasked with reforms of the economic and justice systems, reaffirmation of the pluricultural character of the country, the “preservation of life on the planet,” and the constitutional recognition of all the government social and cultural missions and the Communal Power. In popular assemblies held throughout the country during the three months prior to yesterday’s vote some 22 sectors and social movements (communes, workers, cultural and environmental collectives, etc.) debated and adopted proposals for action by the ANC.

Maduro, in his victory speech last night, said the ANC will, among other tasks, take action against the "parasitical bourgeoisie," largely held responsible for the country's current economic crisis. (La Razón, Correo del Orinoco.)

For more on the election and the immediate tasks facing the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, see

George Ciccariello-Maher, Which Way Out of the Venezuelan Crisis?

Joe Emersberger, Trump Is Not the Venezuelan Supreme Court

Boaventura de Sousa Santos, In Defence of Venezuela

-- Richard Fidler

Thursday, July 20, 2017

‘If I were Catalan, I would have no choice but to vote yes to independence’

Jaime Pastor, interviewed by Josep Casulleras Nualart

Introduction

On October 1, by decision of the Catalan government, the region’s voters will be asked in a referendum “Do you want Catalonia to become an independent state in the form of a republic?”

Manifestación 11 Setembre

The referendum, which is the culmination of years of mass mobilizations by Catalans in favour of independence, has come under sharp attack by the Spanish government headed by Mariano Rajoy, which in recent years has used the Constitution, the central parliament and the courts to deny the Catalan people the right to determine independently the constitutional status of their nation. This is a case of longstanding oppression. Under the regime of General Francisco Franco, which emerged triumphant in the Spanish Civil War, Catalans were even denied the right to use their own majority language, Catalan.

A recent article published in the web-based daily Público entitled “Legitimacy and legality. With the right to vote on October 1” attracted considerable controversy. The author, Jaime Pastor, an influential Marxist activist and intellectual, criticized leaders of Spain’s new left party Podemos who have aligned themselves with the dominant Spanish nationalism in attacking the October 1 referendum in Catalonia. Pastor is the author of, inter alia, a book on the national question, the Spanish state and the left that in my opinion contains one of the best explanations anywhere of the historical development of the Marxist approach to the national question.[1]

Pastor’s article focused in particular on the prevalent misreading in Spain of the international jurisprudence on the exercise of self-determination by minority nations within existing states. In the following interview he defends the Catalan referendum and addresses some of the major political implications of the October 1 vote.

Jaime Pastor is a political science professor at the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia [National University of Distance Education] in Madrid and editor of Viento Sur, a journal of ideas and analysis. The interview was first published in Catalan. I have translated the Spanish text, which was published in Viento Sur.

Of particular interest to Canadian socialists attempting to understand the Quebec national question is the fact that Pastor speaks as a leftist in the dominant nation, Spain, who advocates a vote for independence in the dominated Catalonia. The reasons he gives — above all, the inability to remedy Catalonia’s inequality under the existing Spanish constitutional and political regime — could apply, mutatis mutandis, in Canada, where outside of Quebec (and now the indigenous communities) there is an historic unwillingness to even discuss, let alone accommodate, the demands of Québécois and indigenous peoples for autonomous status as distinct nations within or without the Canadian social formation.

Most recently, the modest request by Quebec premier Philippe Couillard, a staunch federalist, for a dialogue with Canadians aimed at eventually re-opening constitutional talks in the hope of finally getting Quebec’s approval of the 1982 Constitution was met with a prompt No by Prime Minister Trudeau, who had not even read Couillard’s 200-page book.[2]

Following Pastor’s argument, which I find compelling, I would argue that the historical record proves that the Canadian left, and indeed consistent democrats, must go beyond the defense of the right of self-determination and support the demand of most progressives in Quebec (including in the left party Québec solidaire) for independence, even if only to provoke a public rethinking of the undemocratic nature of Canadian state structures and how they might be reconceived and reconfigured, with or without Quebec, to facilitate the pursuit of a progressive social agenda and solidarity among the constituent peoples within the existing state.

This is timely reading during the official celebrations of what the dominant authorities term the 150th anniversary of “Canada” — in fact, the granting by the British monarchy in 1867 of home rule to four of its overseas colonies in North America, with the definitive denial of nationhood to the Francophone and indigenous peoples.[3]

Richard Fidler

Interview with Jaime Pastor

You said “If I were Catalan, I would go to vote.” What would be your vote?

I am not an independentist, but I recognize that the attempt to federalize the Spanish state has proved impossible. And I recognize that there is no desire for a federal agreement among the majority of the Spanish parties. In that context, I would have no choice but to vote yes. It would be desirable if the yes to independence were to lead to some kind of confederal arrangement or a free state associated with the various peoples in the Spanish state, although not with the Spanish state as such. That is, it would be a question of forcing, on the basis of the vote in Catalonia, an opening in the “nut” at the core of the constitutional debate, and the opening of constituent processes. And in that context, arriving at a confederal arrangement. I defend the option of separation in order to allow negotiations between equals.

Where you surprised by [Podemos leader] Pablo Iglesias’ criticism of the October 1 referendum?

Yes, because I think that this time he acted hastily, given the position of Podem Catalunya [the Catalonian Podemos], and the fact that the debate on the referendum was still going on in the communes.

What do you attribute this to, Iglesias’ misgivings about the referendum?

There are two factors. On the one hand, there is a basic problem which is that although Podemos has been talking about plurinationality, it still holds to a vision in which the idea of the Spanish nation prevails over others. And I think that there is an underestimation of the evolution of a major part of the Podemos electorate. Perhaps they overestimate the weight that is still exercised by a Spanish nationalism that pays little attention to the fact that recognizing the plurinational reality also means recognizing the right to decide. Perhaps there is the weight of electoralist considerations in opposition to the consistent defence of the right to decide. Perhaps they were thinking that outside of Catalonia defending participation in this referendum would not be understood. But there are recent articles and studies indicating that among the Podemos voters there is a growing oppenness toward being consistent, that is, that there are indeed several nations, and that the Partido Popular [PP] government is blocking the exercise of a referendum, and given that the path to an agreement is closed the only type of referendum that is possible is this one.

Is Podemos also a prisoner of the complex of not being sufficiently Spanish?

That’s a factor. There is a certain fear of being accused of having placed themselves on the side of those who want to break up the unity of Spain. That is the discourse of Pablo Iglesias, that they are in favour of a referendum but that they would defend remaining in Spain. There is a fear of appearing to oppose the idea of the unity of Spain. On the other hand, we see that the entity that does the most to challenge that unity is the PP itself. Of even greater weight is the fear of being consistent with the defense of plurinationality, and not only in cultural terms as the [Social Democratic] PSOE says but in political terms. That is, recognizing Catalonia as something differentiated from the rest of Spain.

You were also surprised by [United Left leader] Alberto Garzón’s attack on October 1. He says it means legitimizing the Catalan right wing.

Unfortunately, a culture that has been dominant in the Communist Party of Spain still weighs heavily on Izquierda Unida [United Left], which defends the right of self-determination but still only in the federal framework. It has not stopped defending the right of self-determination as the right to separation. But on the other hand in this case the part is taken for the whole. One can be critical of the PDeCAT [Partit Demòcrata Europeu Català, a nationalist Catalan government party] but I think this is an excuse. We cannot say that we defend the referendum only if it is a radical and consistent Left that hegemonizes this demand. It seems to me an idea of the Left that basically obscures the weight of a culture that still thinks there is one nation above all of the others.

Are they unaware of the Catalan reality?

There is a certain lack of understanding, yes. We see that EUiA [United and Alternative Left, the Catalan counterpart of the United Left in Spain] is prepared to participate in a mobilization. The United Left in Spain is unaware of the enormous plurality and diversity that exists in the whole of this majority of Catalan society that is demanding a referendum; whether or not it is possible through an agreement, it can be done within the given possibilities. There are sectors that want to go beyond an independence that does not alter the social situation in Catalonia and there are those who want to go further like the CUP [Candidatura d'Unitat Popular, a leftist Catalan party]. Yes, there is some misunderstanding, and the old culture that has not stopped taking its distance from the idea of a nation of nations.

The Catalonian communes also have a mistrust of the referendum. They talk of guarantees.

They are waiting for the government to clarify what the list of registered voters will be, how the election will be audited, what international observers there will be, etc. I think it is legitimate to demand more guarantees, whatever can be done to ensure that the referendum is given international reocognition. In the meantime, it must be supported; I would be a partisan of the minority position within this convergence, which is to support critical participation in the referendum and to ask that the questions that are not sufficiently clear be clarified. It seems to me legitimate that there are doubts, but this does not appear to me to be enough to bar support for this referendum and a call to participate in it.

You say the referendum is legitimate and legal.

Of course. That is certainly true if we understand that international jurisprudence prevails in those constitutions that explicitly undertake to accept those international agreements. Take, for example, the ruling of the International Court of Justice in Serbia’s appeal in the case of Kosovo. There is an evident recognition that in some particular situations the referendum can have all the legal guarantees if it is conducted peacefully, if the attempts [by the minority nation] to reach an agreement with the state have been exhausted, and if the decision to separate has been taken by a majority of the affected society. Now, the big challenge of Catalan society is to demonstrate that in this referendum a majority of the population participates.

What consequences will the referendum have in the Spanish state?

If the referendum is held and there is substantial participation, it will be an important blow to the ’78 regime.[4] That’s why I say to the various peoples of Spain who are critical of the Spanish state that we have an interest in supporting the referendum. Furthermore, let us not forget that the question to be asked proposes the formula of a Catalan republic. Accordingly, it would be the opening of a definitive breach in the regime, and not only in the self-governing state but also in the monarchy as the cornerstone of this regime. And we ought to see how Spanish society would react.

How would it react?

Keep in mind that Spanish society is concerned not with the independence of Catalonia but with the cutbacks in social spending, health, education, etc. It would help even more if, along with the referendum, there were a determination to overcome the cutbacks that Catalonia, too, has suffered. We have already seen the guaranteed income and the annulment of the Francoist sentences approved by the [Catalan] parliament. If Catalonia shows that it not only wants to vote in the referendum but also that they are challenging the policies of austerity, solidarity with the democratic demand outside of Catalonia would increase further.

Could there be a situation of regression?

If the referendum were blocked through repressive measures, that would imply a democratic regression in the Spanish state as a whole. We see how free speech is being criminalized as in the harsh use of the criminal code with the gag law, the contempt for the anti-Francoist legacy, and the process of recentralizing the police; this would also be to the detriment of the Basque country and Galicia.

Better that we get it right…

Yes, yes. What is at stake is the road toward a break with the ’78 regime and toward a radical democratization of Spanish society. Or, on the contrary, toward a more authoritarian course.

What will the PSOE do?

The PSOE has tried to take its distance from the possible use of the repressive article 155 of the Constitution.[5] It cannot close ranks with the PP in opposition to the demand for a referendum but neither can it appear to be questioning the unity of Spain. And the PSOE’s problem is that it lacks the credibility to be able to demonstrate that the sort of proposals it makes is viable. It will be important to see how Catalan society evolves and how the [Catalan social democratic] PSC comes to see that it must allow some type of recognition of the referendum. Now, within the PSOE there are positions like those of Pérez Tapias or Odón Elorza, who have defended a clarity law like the one in Canada. They still have time to present an emergency measure in the Congress, as they did when they imposed neoliberal austerity. Now there is sufficient urgency to come up with a possible organic law on the referendum.

And after October 1, won’t the PSOE close ranks with the PP to preserve the unity of Spain?

The PSOE will reject the result of the referendum if it does not have massive participation. This could create a profound crisis in the PSOE, and we will then have to see what position the PSC takes. If the PSOE lines up with the PP it will become a subaltern force of the PP, which is what [PSOE leader] Pedro Sánchez has sought to avoid. It would be the old tradition of [former PSOE leader] Felipe González that would emerge triumphant.

13/07/2017

Further reading

Dick Nichols, Showdown in Catalonia: Can the independence referendum actually happen?

Dick Nichols, Catalonia versus the Spanish state: the battleground in 2017


[1] Jaime Pastor, Los nacionalismos, el Estado español y la izquierda (2012: Viento Sur, Madrid), now in its second printing. Online. See in particular the first chapter, “Una perspectiva histórico y teórico.”

[2] In its English translation, Quebecers: Our Way of Being Canadian.

[3] For more on this, see A Québécois view of Canada’s 150th by the indigenous constitutional lawyer André Binette.

[4] The Constitution adopted in 1978 adopted by the PP and PSOE after Franco’s death. It fails to recognize the right of self-determination of Spain’s constituent peoples or nations.

[5] This article allows the Senate, where the PP has a majority, to suspend a regional government if it fails to comply with the Constitution or “seriously jeopardizes the general interest of Spain.”

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Left and Venezuela

By Claudio Katz[1]

June 12, 2017

SUMMARY

The media keep silent about the violence of the Venezuelan opposition and the prevailing repression by the right-wing governments of Latin America. The Right’s strategy of an institutional coup faces serious limits, but the Left must address this new threat, supporting anti-imperialist decisions and making a distinction between the capitalist boycott and the government’s ineffectiveness.

Adhering to social-democratic standards, the post-progressive “critical left” objects to Chavismo, dismissing the danger of a coup, and mistakenly identifying authoritarianism as the main danger. The dogmatists overlook the main enemy and converge with the conservatives or slip toward passive neutrality.

The Right only wants elections it is sure it will win. In these very adverse conditions, the Constituent Assembly re-opens opportunities and points to a re-encounter with radical intellectual thought.

supporters_of_venezuelaxs_president_nicolas_maduro_participate_in_a_rally_in_support_of_the_national_constituent_assembly_in_caracas_jpg_1718483346

Supporters of President Nicolás Maduro participate in a rally in Caracas in support of the national Constituent Assembly.


[1] Economist, researcher with Argentina’s National Council of Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET), professor at the University of Buenos Aires and a member of the Economists of the Left (EDI). His web page, where this article first appeared, is at www.lahaine.org/katz.

Full Text (pdf): https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B0Q-0xxlqzOeT1lxdDdZQ3hyQWM/view

Monday, June 19, 2017

Cuba responds to Trump’s roll-back of its bilateral relations with United States

The following statement was issued June 16 by the Revolutionary Government of Cuba. Here is the official English translation, modified very slightly for punctuation and syntax. The original text, in Spanish, is here.

Declaración del gobierno revolucionario

On June 16, 2017, in a Miami theater, US President Donald Trump delivered a speech full of hostile anti-Cuban rhetoric reminiscent of the times of open confrontation with our country. He announced his government’s Cuba policy, which rolls back the progress achieved over the last two years since December 17, 2014, when Presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama announced the decision to re-establish diplomatic relations and engage in a process towards the normalization of bilateral relations.

In what constitutes a setback in the relations between both countries, President Trump gave a speech and signed a policy directive titled “National Security Presidential Memorandum,” which provides for the elimination of private educational “people-to-people” exchanges and for greater control over all travelers to Cuba, as well as the prohibition of business, trade and financial transactions between US companies and certain Cuban companies linked to the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the intelligence and security services, under the alleged objective of depriving us of revenue. The US president justified this policy using alleged concerns over the human rights situation in Cuba and the need to rigorously enforce the US blockade laws, conditioning their lifting, as well as any improvements in US-Cuba bilateral relations, to our country’s making changes inherent to its constitutional order.

Trump also abrogated Presidential Policy Directive “Normalization of Relations between the United States and Cuba,” issued by President Obama on October 14, 2016. Although said Directive did not conceal the interventionist character of the US policy nor the fact that its main purpose was to advance US interests in order to bring about changes in the economic, political and social systems of our country, it did recognize Cuba’s independence, sovereignty and self-determination and the Cuban government as a legitimate and equal interlocutor, as well as the benefits that a civilized coexistence would have for both countries and peoples despite the great differences that exist between both governments. The Directive also conceded that the blockade is an obsolete policy and that it should be lifted.

Once again, the US Government resorts to coercive methods of the past when it adopts measures aimed at stepping up the blockade, effective since February 1962, which not only causes harm and deprivations to the Cuban people and is the main obstacle to our economic development, but also affects the sovereignty and interests of other countries, which arouses international rejection.

The measures announced impose additional obstacles to the already very limited opportunities that the US business sector had in order to trade with and invest in Cuba.

Likewise, those measures restrict even more the right of US citizens to visit our country, which was already limited due to the obligation of using discriminatory licenses, at a moment when the US Congress, echoing the feelings of broad sectors of that society, calls not only for an end to the travel ban, but also for the elimination of the restrictions on trade with Cuba.

The measures announced by President Trump run counter to the majority support of US public opinion, including the Cuban emigration in that country, to the total lifting of the blockade and the establishment of normal relations between Cuba and the United States.

Instead, the US President, who has been once again ill-advised, is taking decisions that favor the political interests of an irrational minority of Cuban origin in the state of Florida which, out of petty motivations, does not give up its intent to punish Cuba and its people for exercising the legitimate and sovereign right of being free and having taken the reins of their own destiny.

Later on, we shall make a deeper analysis of the scope and implications of the announcement.

The Government of Cuba condemns the new measures to tighten the blockade, which are doomed to failure, as has been repeatedly evidenced in the past, for they will not succeed in their purpose to weaken the Revolution or bend the Cuban people, whose resistance against aggressions of all sorts and origins has been put to the test throughout almost six decades.

The Government of Cuba rejects political manipulation and double standards in human rights. The Cuban people enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms and can proudly show some achievements that are still a chimera for many countries of the world, including the United States, such as the right to health, education and social security; equal pay for equal work, children’s rights as well as the rights to food, peace and development. Cuba, with its modest resources, has also contributed to the improvement of the human rights situation in many countries of the world, despite the limitations inherent to its condition as a blockaded country.

The United States are not in the position to teach us lessons. We have serious concerns about the respect for and guarantees of human rights in that country, where there are numerous cases of murders, brutality and abuses by the police, particularly against the African-American population; the right to life is violated as a result of the deaths caused by fire arms; child labor is exploited and there are serious manifestations of racial discrimination; there is a threat to impose more restrictions on medical services, which will leave 23 million persons without health insurance; there is unequal pay between men and women; migrants and refugees, particularly those who come from Islamic countries, are marginalized; there is an attempt to put up walls that discriminate against and denigrate neighbor countries; and international commitments to preserve the environment and address climate change are abandoned.

Also a source of concern are the human rights violations by the United States in other countries, such as the arbitrary detention of tens of prisoners in the territory illegally occupied by the US Naval Base in Guantánamo, Cuba, where even torture has been applied; extrajudicial executions and the death of civilians caused by drones; as well as the wars unleashed against countries like Iraq, under false pretenses like the possession of weapons of mass destruction, with disastrous consequences for the peace, security and stability in the Middle East.

It should be recalled that Cuba is a State Party to 44 international human rights instruments, while the US is only a State Party to 18. Therefore, we have much to show, say and defend.

Upon confirming the decision to re-establish diplomatic relations, Cuba and the United States ratified their intention to develop respectful and cooperative relations between both peoples and governments, based on the principles and purposes enshrined in the UN Charter. In its Declaration issued on July 1, 2015, the Revolutionary Government of Cuba reaffirmed that “these relations must be founded on absolute respect for our independence and sovereignty; the inalienable right of every State to choose its political, economic, social and cultural system, without interference in any form; and sovereign equality and reciprocity, which constitute inalienable principles of International Law”, as was established in the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, signed by the Heads of State and Government of the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC), at its second summit held in Havana. Cuba has not renounced these principles, nor will it ever do so.

The Government of Cuba reiterates its will to continue a respectful and cooperative dialogue on topics of mutual interest, as well as the negotiation of outstanding issues with the US Government. During the last two years it has been evidenced that both countries, as was repeatedly expressed by the President of the Councils of State and of Ministers, Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, can cooperate and coexist in a civilized manner, respecting the differences and promoting everything that benefits both nations and peoples, but it should not be expected that, in order to achieve that, Cuba would make concessions inherent to its sovereignty and independence, or accept preconditions of any sort.

Any strategy aimed at changing the political, economic and social system in Cuba, either through pressures and impositions or by using more subtle methods, shall be doomed to failure.

The changes that need to be made in Cuba, as those that have been made since 1959 and the ones that we are introducing now as part of the process to update our economic and social system, will continue to be sovereignly determined by the Cuban people.

Just as we have been doing since the triumph of the Revolution on January 1st, 1959, we will take on every risk and shall continue to advance steadfastly and confidently in the construction of a sovereign, independent, socialist, democratic, prosperous and sustainable nation.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Quebec sovereigntists debate fallout from Québec solidaire’s decisions on alliances

As I explained in my previous report on the Québec solidaire congress, it was disclosed after the congress that the QS central leadership had disavowed the signatures by its representatives on a proposed “road map” to independence drafted in April by the coalition OUI Québec, which includes all the pro-independence parties including QS.

That decision, not reported to the QS congress delegates in late May, has since given rise so far to several articles, all of them published in the Montréal nationalist daily Le Devoir. I have translated them below. They include, in order:

· an explanation of its decisions by the QS national leadership, signed by the party’s newly-elected president Nika Deslauriers;

· an explanation and defense of the QS conception of its proposed constituent assembly, the major point of contention, by Daniel Raunet, a former union leader;

· a reply to Raunet by two OUI Québec leaders including its president Claudette Carbonneau, former president (2002-2011) of the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN); and

· a comment by Sol Zanetti, the leader of Option nationale (ON).

Zanetti is replying to the release by Quebec Liberal premier Philippe Couillard on June 1 of a 200-page book he has sponsored — titled in its English translation Quebecers: Our Way of Being Canadian — calling for re-opening of constitutional talks with the rest of Canada in the hope of finally getting Quebec’s approval of the 1982 Constitution, disavowed at the time by a near-unanimous vote of the members of Quebec’s National Assembly.

Zanetti’s article is his party’s first official statement following the QS congress’s vote to move toward a possible fusion with ON. And it is also, as expected, a challenge to QS to “review the mandate it wants to give to its constituent assembly proposal.”

Richard Fidler

* * *

Québec solidaire rejects the catastrophic scenario of the Liberals’ inevitable re-election

by Nika Deslauriers, President of Québec solidaire

Le Devoir, May 26, 2017

At our congress — busy, but stimulating — the members of Québec solidaire made some important decisions. Our party’s program is now complete, we have two new spokespersons with the wind in their sails, we have chosen to undertake negotiations toward a fusion with Option nationale.

Of course, much ink has spilled over the contentious issue of electoral pacts with the Parti québécois. The discussions were intense, our members debated them for several months, on many occasions, in various bodies. So it was after much thought that we chose to have confidence in our means and to offer all Québécois a chance to vote for Québec solidaire. We refused to let ourselves be discouraged by catastrophic and hasty scenarios that, absent electoral pacts, prophesize the inevitable re-election of the Liberal party. Our ambition is to prove they are wrong.

That is also the perspective from which we want to address the issue of Quebec independence and it is therefore with optimism that we anticipate the work ahead with civil society and the sovereigntist parties notwithstanding the tumult of recent days. It is our opinion that we should not confuse the question of electoral pacts for 2018 with the question of the mechanics for accession to independence. Yes, we have chosen to run QS candidates in all ridings in 2018. But this decision is not in contradiction with continuing work on the road map to independence. We are aware, however, that this decision may have disappointed the other parties in the OUI Québec talks. That is why we think, as does the OUI Québec president Ms. Claudette Carbonneau, that it is a good thing to put the discussions on ice for now.

Room for collaboration

Moreover, we wish to reaffirm that we will continue to collaborate in the work of OUI Québec at the appropriate time. Collaboration of various parties on issues of common interest to them is perfectly desirable. We will all emerge stronger. That is the case, for example, on the issue of proportional representation on which all of the parties other than the Quebec Liberal party have agreed thanks to the initiative of the Mouvement démocratie nouvelle.

As was the case for reform of the electoral system, we are delighted that the social movement and some other parties have rallied to our project. In the case of independence, there is now a consensus on the constituent assembly as the way in which to become a country, and this is excellent news. This option, which we have been defending for years, is making headway. We are very hopeful that the continuation of work with OUI Québec will enable us to convince the other parties and independentist movements in civil society that we gain from aiming for a broad, democratic and unifying popular consultation in order to make Quebec a country.

We all emerged from this great congress with a lot of pride and enthusiasm. And we have no illusions as we set about the colossal task awaiting us: winning as many people as possible to our project of a country. We will spare no effort in publicizing our positions, our program, and in convincing Quebec that our hope for change is within reach. Based on our more than ten years’ experience in politics, we are confident that hundreds of thousands of people share our vision of an independent Quebec that is fairer and greener.

We want to share this reaffirmed confidence in our party with the whole of Quebec. We want the population to regain possession of its powers and its democracy. We hope that, like us, the Québécois can forthrightly claim what is owing to them: free and quality healthcare and education, an economy that serves the people, decent conditions of life and work, a healthy environment, a democracy that works. We want those who believe in a better Quebec to act on that belief and to work with us to make it a reality. We need not be ashamed of our legitimate demands, our realizable aspirations, our political option. The election of a left government in Quebec is not only desirable, it is eminently possible and it will be beneficial to its citizens.

The real pitfall: the constituent assembly on independence alone

by Daniel Raunet, retired journalist, former president of the Radio-Canada communications union, and member of Québec solidaire

Le Devoir, May 27, 2017

How to convince the 15% or 20% of Québécois who consistently fail to support the call for independence? The present crisis in the sovereigntist camp obscures two fundamentally different responses to this question.

Before tackling it, my training as a journalist constrained to keep to the facts obliges me to acknowledge that my party, Québec solidaire, acted in a completely bureaucratic and opaque way in this affair. The QS claim to do politics differently has just suffered a crushing blow with the disavowal of the signature of its negotiators at the bottom of the OUI Québec road map toward independence. Were Andrés Fontecilla and Monique Moisan mandated to sign this document? Were there other persons within the QS national coordination committee aware of what was coming? After weeks of omertà, the party members and congress delegates like me did not have the honour of a clear explanation. So much for our anti-system flights of oratory.

That said, beyond the necessary clarifications on who did what, when and why, it seems to me that the fundamental reason for the crisis between OUI Québec and the QS leadership was lost in the tempest. And that is that the central element in the road map endorsed by all the other sovereigntist parties is in flagrant contradiction with the official program of Québec solidaire. This program provides for the creation of a constituent assembly elected by universal suffrage without a pre-determined mandate as to the national future of Quebec. An “open” constituent assembly in which federalists and autonomists are welcome. The other parties in OUI Québec have rallied to another formula, Option nationale’s, an assembly with a “closed” mandate, the drafting of the constitution of an independent Quebec. From that perspective, federalists are in theory welcome, but what are they going to do in a constituent assembly that works on a project they reject?

How to win over the unconvinced

How to win over the unconvinced? That’s the nub of the problem facing all the independentists. Who are these recalcitrants? The majority of the Anglophones, but also some Francophones almost everywhere, in Quebec City, the Beauce region, the Outaouais. And above all some citizens from immigrant communities, the cultural communities.

The classic strategy of the Parti québécois, Option nationale and the Bloc québécois has remained the same since the sovereigntist movement began. The unconvinced have not understood, we are going to hammer the truth into them and they will see the light. And after a few weeks of a referendum campaign we will ask them to vote on a project drafted by the sovereigntist clan, government or closed constituent assembly. They will only have to vote yes or no to our marvellous project.

Unfortunately, they voted no in 1980 and in 1995 and, if the polls are right, they will vote no again now. For a very simple reason: the adversaries of independence have no obligation to get involved in the substantive debate. They only have to denigrate the sovereigntist project, even conduct a campaign of fear and call on the electorate to vote no. The worst of strategies, from their standpoint, would be to say what they propose in order to resolve Quebec’s national question.

Now, once you scratch a bit, you discover that the federalist camp is deeply divided on this question. There are the classic Trudeauists who think there is only one nation that counts, the Canadian one, and that Quebec should sign the 1982 Constitution as is. There are also the federalist but nationalist Québécois, who on the contrary have never digested the abandonment of the theory of two nations and who question the present constitutional order. These include some Liberals nostalgic for the Allaire report, and of course the autonomy supporters of the Coalition Avenir Québec, which has its shopping list of powers to be conceded by Ottawa: Quebec authority over language, culture and immigration, tax points and limits on the federal government’s taxing authority, increased control over the appointment of Supreme Court judges, a right of veto for the provinces, reform of the Senate, etc. And then there are the hypocrites and the discreet, the Couillards of this world, those who perpetually say the fruit is not ripe. Like the minister of health Gaétan Barrette, they protest from time to time against Ottawa’s encroachments on provincial jurisdiction, but for the most part they are silent.

A single strategy

Québec solidaire’s “open” version of the constituent assembly is, in my opinion, the only strategy currently available that can help break the façade of unity of the federalist camp. Let us suppose for a moment that an independentist government creates a constituent assembly, the mandate of which, based on the sovereignty of the Quebec people, consists in defining the future national status of Quebec without predetermining the response. The federalists who are used to saying no will have a choice between participating in the process or boycotting it. Whatever the hard-line Trudeauists decide to do, the debate, which will last for many months, will be truly national and each person will be obliged to plumb the depth of his or her thinking. The people can finally judge on the actual evidence. English Canada will react and we will see, I am sure, that the shake-up of the Canadian system advocated by the autonomists is of interest to almost no one on the other side of the [Ottawa] River. Much more effectively than with the classic referendum approach, the independentists will be able to argue that outside of submission to the Canadian constitution and the denial of self, there is only one outcome, independence.

This debate, as we can see, is closely mingled with the debate on possible fusion between QS and Option nationale. The road map of OUI Québec tends to settle the question without debate. That is why, in my opinion, the national leadership of Québec solidaire disavowed its negotiators. Over and beyond the legitimate bitterness of the other partners, the independentists must go back to the basic issue and forget their quarrels, which are almost theological for the average person. How to convince the unconvinced? That is the question.

The Constituent Assembly: A necessary clarification

By Claudette Carbonneau and Jason Brochu-Valcourt, President and Vice-president of Organisations unies pour l’indépendance (OUI Québec)

Le Devoir, May 30, 2017

We read with interest the letter published in Le Devoir last May 26[1] on the advantages of an open Constituent Assembly, that is, without a predefined mandate as to the type of country that is sought. We do not share this choice but we thank the author for contributing to the debate. He makes some very correct observations. He urges us to take into account the lessons of the past and to join in some strategic and pedagogic thinking. He notes that the federalists are not monolithic and that many aspire to a renewed constitution. He wants to leave the largest latitude possible to the Constituent Assembly. These are concerns that inform our approach as well.

The OUI Québec members are not new arrivals in this debate on a Constituent Assembly to give more substance to the proposal for a country and to get Quebec out of the dead-end in which it is stuck. For a long time we have been calling for this change of paradigm. We have held Estates General on the question, publishing our thinking in Forger notre avenir.[2] Above all, we had the audacity to propose to the independentist parties that they undertake an effort to reach agreement on a common path for achieving independence.

This was a big challenge. We took this responsibility seriously. We read, reflected, discussed and brought the best experts together. The cooling-off period we have called for should not have the effect of putting this thinking in the freezer! The public debate that is now opening on the fundamental issues is welcome and we hope to contribute actively to it.

To proceed to independence, we must gain additional support. In this sense, to interest federalists and open the debate with them is certainly of strategic and democratic interest. This question was moreover a real concern of the OUI Québec participants during the proceedings conducted with our partners in the Parti québécois, Québec solidaire, Option nationale and the Bloc québécois.

Despite the importance that we give to these strategic concerns, we must avoid two digressions. On the one hand, putting the independence project at risk and further dividing the supporters of independence. On the other hand, disappointing the federalists who have expectations about a renewed Canada by proposing a way to change the Canadian constitution that simply will not work. [...][3]

Drawing on republican thinking, the Constituent Assembly is alien to the Canadian legal system. And this gives the Canadian government and its Supreme Court some significant advantages of which we should be aware. Canada is governed by the rule of law. Whether we like it or not, we are a part of it, and it will not give us any gifts. The Supreme Court has already ruled that the Canadian Constitution applies to Quebec notwithstanding the unanimous rejection by the National Assembly. The federal government is not inclined to overlook this.

These considerations mean we cannot cross our arms but must fight for a Constituent Assembly with the mandate to draft the constitution of Quebec as a country. Without a clear mandate, we would dangerously weaken ourselves in the ferocious fight for legitimacy that will open up in Canada. [...]

Any ambiguity about the objective that is sought would allow Canada to claim that the Assembly’s proceedings can only produce an internal constitution of Quebec as a province, or vague demands for amendments to the Canadian Constitution. In short, a real disaster as to the objective sought, and a nameless legal quagmire. There are limits to providing all the space to strategic considerations to the detriment of a desired result. To miss our independence by over-reaching is the worst of solutions!

As good democrats, our federalist compatriots are invited to participate in the Constituent Assembly upheld by the electorate, as well as in the referendum that will close the process. We invite them to join in the public consultation that would organize the Assembly concerning the guidelines of the new State, its political institutions and the distribution of powers with the regions. A pedagogic exercise about independence is a large order in itself. Letting the federalists think that a constituent assembly is a practical way to amend the Canadian Constitution is an illusion that we reject.

To conquer our independence, it is indispensable to carry out a break with the Canadian constitutional order. There can be no ambiguity about this. Canada will fight tooth and nail. Meech, the stolen referendum, the Gomery Commission[4]... Does that remind you of something? The legal activism of the federal government to get the courts to invalidate Law 99,[5] which defines us a people with the right to self-determination, provides an indication of their willingness to obstruct this. We cannot behave as if we were conducting this battle as a cosy debate that is happening strictly among us.

Our proposals must be consistent. We must sustain hope by opening a real space for emancipation. That is the task OUI Quebec participants have set for themselves.

The independentists will have to make common cause if the constitutional debate opens

by Sol Zanetti, Leader of Option nationale

Le Devoir, June 2, 2017

Philippe Couillard is not launching a debate on constitutional negotiations as an attempt to divert attention from the disclosures of his links to Marc-Yvan Côté.[6] It’s a fortunate coincidence for him, but he could not have drafted a document of 200 pages in one week just for that. It’s a project that he had been pretending to put on ice, but one that he has been preparing for a long time.

If he had first reached an agreement with Mr. Trudeau to make it work, it would have been a stroke of genius. In the first place, he would have gone seeking that part of the CAQ[7] electorate that wants more power for Quebec within Canada. Secondly, his traditional adversary on this battlefield, the Parti québécois, is bound by its promise not to propose independence in the 2018 election.

However, the day after this news appeared, Mr. Trudeau whacked him down, assuring everyone that there will be no opening of the Constitution. If that is true, Mr. Couillard’s initiative falls through and he has made an enormous blunder. He has acknowledged that the status quo is unsustainable, while getting the road blocked to a transformation of Canada.

Four actions

If the Canadian prime minister’s response is sincere, Mr. Couillard is a very poor strategist. If, however, Mr. Trudeau’s refusal is just a set-up and he expects to change his mind in order to give everyone the impression that Mr. Couillard has gained politically, four actions will then become necessary.

The PQ will have to review its absurd promise not to undertake any independentist strategy in 2018.

Québec solidaire will have to review the mandate it wants to give to its constituent assembly proposal, for it will have to have a clear position in order to oppose this attempt at constitutional “bafflegab.” If the opening of the Constitution becomes the key issue in the next election, those with a middle ground, allowing an interpretation with 50 nuances perhaps, will find themselves between two chairs and will be shunned by the voters.

The negotiations on the OUI Québec road map will have to succeed, for the independentists will need a common strategy more than ever. If we present too many different options in a debate that will be so polarized, we are going to lose. If Canada agrees to give Mr. Couillard just half of the five conditions he has posed, he will accept that instead of losing face. He will then sign the Constitution without a referendum, on the strength of his parliamentary majority elected by 29% of the registered voters.

Then QS and the PQ will have to envisage the idea of temporary electoral pacts at the dawn of a new conjuncture. I know that no one wants that, but on this the superior interest of the nation is going to require it more than it ever has since the 1990s.

Why? Because signing on to the Constitution Act of 1982 would have terrible consequences. First, it would give an appearance of legitimacy to this regime designed to deny Quebec democracy and truncate our difference. Second, because signing this law would entail a further reversal for Law 101, giving constitutional support to the right to English schools for immigrants from the Anglo-Saxon world.[8] The consequences for the future of French in North America could be irreversible. Is that really what we want?

Perhaps I am exaggerating the threat of this Liberal attempt to get us to sign the Canadian constitution. Philippe Couillard may be a very poor strategist. But whatever the case, we have a duty to begin thinking through all the possible outcomes.


[1] Apparently a reference to the op ed article published in Le Devoir on May 27, not May 26: “Le véritable écueil: la consituante sur la seule indépendance” [translated above]

[2] Extensive excerpts from this book are on-line (French only) at http://www.wikiquebec.org/Forger_notre_avenir.

[3] The ellipses in this article are Le Devoir’s. It is unclear whether they indicate that a part of the text has been omitted here.

[4] Respectively: the federal-provincial Meech Lake Accord on reform of the Constitution, rejected by two provinces (Manitoba and Newfoundland) in 1990; the 1995 Quebec referendum on sovereignty narrowly defeated through federal intervention in violation of Quebec law; and the federal inquiry condemning Ottawa’s illegal and corrupt public funding of pro-federalist propaganda in Quebec.

[5] An Act respecting the exercise of the fundamental rights and prerogatives of the Québec people and the Québec State, adopted by the National Assembly in response to the Clarity Act of the federal parliament imposing limits on the exercise of a future Quebec referendum on independence.

[6] This is an implicit reply to Québec solidaire’s Amir Khadir, who dismissed Couillard’s move with this allegation tied to the latest scandal involving the premier.

[7] The CAQ (Coalition Avenir Québec) is now ranked second in opinion polling, slightly ahead of the Official Opposition PQ.

[8] Zanetti is referring here to section 23 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “Minority Language Educational Rights,” which is part of the 1982 Constitution. Law 101 is the Quebec Charter of the French Language.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Québec solidaire: No to an electoral pact with the PQ, Yes to a united front against austerity, for energy transition and for independence

Delegates at May 2017 QS congress

by Richard Fidler

MONTRÉAL – As expected, the 500 delegates to the congress of Québec solidaire (QS), held here May 19-22, voted to work toward a fusion with Option nationale, debated and adopted the remaining part of the party’s draft program with few major amendments, and elected a new leadership headed by “co-spokespeople” Manon Massé and Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois.

Most of these achievements, however, were overshadowed by the debate on a proposal by some of the outgoing leadership that the party attempt to negotiate an “electoral pact” with the Parti québécois (PQ) for the 2018 Quebec general election, as offered by PQ leader Jean-François Lisée, that would entail an agreement to abstain from standing candidates against each other in some counties (ridings) deemed “winnable” by the other party. After a passionate debate the congress voted by more than two-thirds to reject this proposal (Option B, as amended) and in favour of a resolution (Option A, as amended) proclaiming that “Québec solidaire aims for a genuine united front against austerity, for energy transition and for independence.”

But no sooner was this debate over than Québec solidaire was confronted with the need to clarify its own scenario for achieving independence and the strategic forces it looks to for this purpose. More on that later, below.

In six points, the adopted resolution sets out these goals, which it presents as the QS response to a debate recently opened among the parties promoting independence, a debate usually referred to as one on “sovereigntist convergence.” That debate, conducted within a coalition of parties (including QS) in “OUI Québec (Organisations unies pour l’Indépendance),” is not addressed specifically to electoral strategy in 2018, however. Instead, it is focused on developing a common strategy for a long-term fight for independence, the PQ having postponed debate on its pro-sovereignty option to a future election, probably in 2022.

Québec solidaire, the adopted QS resolution says, “takes the opportunity offered by the debate on sovereigntist convergence”

1. “to reaffirm the principles underlying its existence as an alternative to the neoliberal policies implemented for the last 30 years in Quebec”;

2. “to reaffirm that it rejects policies of cultural, ethnic or racial exclusion”;

3. “to reaffirm that its political project aims not for the separation of a country but for the independence of a people through a political project that cannot be totally realized within the framework of Canadian federalism”; and

4.”to reaffirm that it will link the national question with the issues of reform of our democratic institutions, the energy and climate transition, the protection of public services and social programs, and the fight against poverty and inequality on the basis of a feminist, inclusive and civic vision of the Quebec nation and in solidarity with the First Nations and their right to self-determination.”

The resolution adds:

5. “Québec solidaire announces forthwith its intention to make the independence of Quebec one of the issues in its struggle during the 2018 general election and invites Option nationale to ally with it around this perspective. Québec solidaire rejects the proposal of the PQ and its scheduled postponement of the fight for independence for many years”;

6. “Failing a mutual agreement with Option nationale, Québec solidaire will run candidates in all 125 Quebec ridings promoting parity of women candidates, including in major ridings. It will not form an alliance with parties that subscribe to neoliberal practices or policies of exclusion.”

No pact this time, or ever?

Much of the debate on the respective options centered on the record of the Parti québécois, both in and out of government, as a party that since its founding in 1968 had abandoned its promise of making Quebec an independent sovereign and inclusive country with a progressive social agenda. Many delegates, particularly young women from minority ethnic communities and activists in the party’s anti-racism committee, denounced the PQ’s sponsorship while in government recently of a “charter of Quebec values” that was designed primarily to impose a dress code on Muslim women if they were to be eligible for social services that are otherwise available to all Quebec citizens.

As I reported in a recent article, the debate on these options in the party in recent months has revealed a deep and wholly understandable reluctance of QS members to any association with the PQ which, they say, would tend to mask Québec solidaire’s identity as a progressive alternative to the neoliberal parties, including the PQ, and undermine the QS attempt to build alliances between the party and “some social and political movements that share the same inclusive vision.”

This vision, as defined by the party’s National Council in November 2016, included

Quebec independence, an end to austerity, equality between men and women, recognition of the diversity of Quebec’s population, support of First Nations and Inuit self-determination, an ecologist transition including an end to hydrocarbons development, and reform of the electoral system that would include representation of parties in the National Assembly in proportion to their respective share of the popular vote.[1]

For many members this list of criteria, consistent with the pursuit of broader links to the indigenous population and progressive social movements, simply excluded the Parti Québécois as a partner in an agreement like the one proposed by the PQ and the Option B supporters.

During the debate, a young delegate wearing the Muslim hijab said this was her first party congress but now, for the first time with the adoption of Option A, “I can see myself as an independentist.” A young woman of East Asian origin said she was a former PQ supporter but Option B was just “a gamble.” Urging other delegates to vote for Option A, she said to tumultuous cheers that if it prevailed “I’m sure [PQ leader] Jean-François Lisée will blame it on the ethnics.”

The QS congress was preceded by a very public campaign by the PQ and its supporters — not least the daily newspaper Le Devoir[2] — to influence the QS debate in support of Option B.

What the PQ proposed

Early in May, PQ leader Jean-François Lisée issued an open letter to Québec solidaire signed by the PQ’s executive council promoting his proposal of an electoral pact between the parties that would help to elect the PQ to government with the promise that if elected the PQ would introduce a proportional representation regime for subsequent elections similar to the one proposed by Québec solidaire, although without providing any details. However, since the 2018 election would be held under the existing first-past-the-post electoral regime, he said, the parties should sign his proposed pact.

“This pact,” he said, “would be made around some common well-identified proposals, in particular the rejection of lower taxes, a reinvestment in health, social services, education for families, and justice; rejection of the proposed Energy East pipeline, and the establishment of robust measures to accelerate the ecological transition away from oil; ratification of the UN convention on aboriginal rights, strengthening of French as the language of work, and, as mentioned previously, reform of the electoral system.”

Noting that an Option C in the QS debate proposed postponing a decision on an electoral pact to the QS convention next November, Lisée urged Québec solidaire members to adopt his proposal at its May congress. Any delay, he said, would pose “almost insurmountable obstacles” since the PQ hoped to endorse the promised agreement at its congress in September when it would be adopting a revised program for the party that had already been adopted by its leadership.[3]

Amir Khadir’s position

Shortly before the QS congress Amir Khadir, a QS member of the National Assembly and a supporter of Option B, published his own conception of the possible division of seats under an agreement with the PQ. It would have QS refrain from running in 21 ridings that the PQ considered “winnable,” while the PQ would not run candidates in nine ridings that QS deemed “winnable”— five in Montreal and four in regions outside the Metropole. This, Khadir said, was a one-off tactical proposal for 2018 aimed at possibly winning a proportional representation regime for subsequent elections. Québec solidaire would be free at any moment to break this agreement if the political context and the decisions of the PQ, which he admitted could be problematic, necessitated it. However, he argued that the electoral mathematics had forced the PQ toward “a less toxic progressivism on the identitarian plane and sometimes seems to make important concessions.” (As to the claim of the PQ’s “less toxic” appeal to identity politics, see my note 3 below.)

Khadir acknowledged the fear by many QS members that an alliance with the PQ such as the one he supported would be perceived by many QS allies as an opportunist compromise, but he compared this maneuver to two recent experiences. One was French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s probe of a possible agreement between his party France insoumise with the Socialist party candidate Benoît Hamon prior to the first round in the 2017 election. Although unsuccessful, France insoumise had demonstrated that the Socialist party, with its disastrous record in office, could not represent an alternative to France’s “catastrophic political situation.”

Khadir’s other example of electoral maneuvers was Bernie Sanders’ campaign within the Democratic party’s presidential primaries which he said, had brought many issues and progressive demands into public debate. And Sanders had never refrained from criticizing the record of the Democrats and the Clintons while they were in office. Similarly, he thought, Québec solidaire could maintain an uncompromising critique of the PQ before, during and after the election.

All to no avail. Speaking midway through the congress debate, Khadir repeated these arguments but without the passion and determination for which he is known, admitting that he had been “strongly affected” by the members’ critique of the PQ during the debate and the confidence they displayed as to Québec solidaire’s potential to project a real alternative to the neoliberal parties.

A will for real change

That was also the spirit conveyed by the party’s new leaders after the vote on alliances. “Our congress,” said Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois,

“opted for change. Our members decided to create a vast movement to transform Quebec. They decided to work with people who want a real change, working to achieve a government that is really progressive and independentist. The members don’t want Québec solidaire to serve as a stepladder to the Parti québécois to help it attain power.”

GND did not speak for or against either option during the congress debate, although he had earlier indicated his support for Option B, adding that he was prepared to await the next congress to settle the matter.

Manon Massé added that “by voting for Option A [as she did at the last minute] the members told us today that it is not through electoral calculations that we will beat the Liberals in 2018. In some ways it is a vote of mistrust toward the Parti québécois and its leader Jean-François Lisée. But it is also a vote of confidence toward Québec solidaire as a party of the future....

“During our weekend debates, the delegates who rejected pacts with the PQ did so mainly on the basis of principled arguments. Those present noted this. Now we are aware of the responsibility that falls to us to explain this decision and to propose a new way to dislodge the neoliberals from power. That is why we hope to build a vast political movement that brings together the progressives well beyond Québec solidaire. It is time to turn the page on the idea of electoral pacts.”

Reactions to the vote

Predictably, the congress decision was met with a storm of criticism, even derision, by PQ leaders and their supporters in the media. Le Devoir editorials and columnists speculated that now the PQ would be inclined to turn in its search for allies to the right-wing Coalition Avenir Québec, a party with a large clientele among former PQ and Liberal supporters — an indirect acknowledgement of the opportunist nature of Lisée’s failed proposal to Québec solidaire.

The critics also included some liberals of a progressive disposition who have worked with QS on election reform, such as the Mouvement Démocratie nouvelle (MDN), which maintained a booth at the congress. Among others were two members of the panel headed by Nadeau-Dubois (Karel Mayrand and Alain Vadeboncoeur) that had toured Quebec months earlier to hear ideas from ordinary Québécois on how Quebec could advance in the coming months and years.[4] Mayrand, who is Quebec head of the David Suzuki Foundation, told Le Devoir that he was “enormously disappointed with a party that wants to do things differently but reacts exactly like all the others.”

In a Le Devoir op ed piece Jean-Pierre Charbonneau, a former PQ minister and speaker of the National Assembly, expressed his feeling of “betrayal” by Québec solidaire. He had worked for a year with the MDN to get the PQ and CAQ leaders to agree to put proportional representation in their platforms for the next election, and now QS was renouncing a pact with them on the grounds that beating the Liberals was not a radical social agenda (projet de société). Well, “scrapping the old election procedure and creating a new political culture that would induce more collaboration through governmental coalition was for me a change of paradigm, indeed a projet de société.”

Some critics were more measured in their response to the QS congress decision.

Feminist blogger and columnist Francine Pelletier saw the debate on alliances as one between Idealists and Pragmatists, awarding them respectively a score of 1-0. Although she seemed more sympathetic to the QS “realists” who favoured an alliance with the PQ — a “recurring debate like the cuckoo in the clock” — she noted that “more women than men held to the hard line against the PQ.”

“If ever you were still looking for proof that the PQ made the error of its life by playing the identity card, it was fully on display here. How can we ally with a party that arrays a part of the population against the others?, they said. More than mere wariness, among these women — notably racialized, and among the Anglophones — there was a palpable feeling of anger, fully shared by the meeting.

“And that was certainly the best argument for rejecting an alliance. Eleven years after its founding, the ‘little left party’ has some solid bases where the Parti québécois is lacking: among the minorities, among more and more Anglophones and among young people. It casts a wide net although not a deep one. Forming an alliance with the PQ risked endangering this diversity in addition to demotivating members who have laboured in the shadows for many moons. And agreeing to do ‘the big mambo with the PQ,’ wasn’t that precisely making the error charged against it? To turn one’s back to one’s principles out of pure electoral calculation.”

On the other hand, Pelletier said, the men tended more to advance strategic arguments: the proposed alliance would bring electoral reform that in the long run would get Québec solidaire into “the temple of power.” Between Options A and B it was, she thought, a Hobson’s choice (une dilemme parfaitement cornélien).

QS activist Pierre Mouterde, writing in the pro-QS online journal Presse-toi à gauche immediately after the congress, expressed concern over the emotional attacks on the PQ. Mouterde was a supporter of Option B although he had urged the vote be postponed until the next QS congress.

“Whatever the option each may have finally privileged... it must be recognized that the debate, in the little time available (100 minutes), took a strange turn, swept and then engulfed by the identitarian questions raised by the militants of the anti-racist committee, who... exacerbated a visceral anti-PQ sentiment that cut short any political, cool and deep thinking about the type of relationships it would be possible to have with it in the circumstances of 2018.

“This emotional drift over identity issues, moreover, could in the medium term — if it is not skilfully handled — be rather problematic for QS. For after all, this appeal by the anti-racist committee members to take into account the aspirations of the so-called “racialized” cultural minorities also has its necessary obverse: how to achieve this concretely when at the same time we are an independentist party that is fighting for a common language, secular values shared collectively... in favour of the same positive vision of life in common and the sharing of economic resources? And on that, apart from the blackmail about tearing up one’s membership card if Option B passed [a reference to a threat by one participant in the debate], it was radio silence!”

Mouterde thought the congress, in adopting Option A, had missed an opportunity. By voting to go it alone, “we also shut ourselves off from the hopes for unity and social change that exist outside the QS ranks....”

And the social movements?...

What, then, of the other side of the November QS national council resolution, which had proposed not only an opening of discussions with other pro-sovereignty parties about electoral alliances but also an attempt to consult progressive social movement activists outside Québec solidaire on their ideas about how to overcome the obstacles they encounter in the present political context?

QS member and social housing activist François Saillant reported to the congress on the work of the party’s committee on “Political Renewal.” It had held two regional meetings in late March in Sherbrooke and Saguenay. Although they attracted only 25 persons, the majority were not QS members. They came from trade unions, community, feminist and ecologist organizations, municipal politics, and cultural and farming communities. Overall, the participants’ response was very positive to Québec solidaire’s initiative, Saillant reported.

“They identified the principles and issues that could be contained in common platforms... In terms of principles, a green and interdependent [solidaire] economy, redistribution of wealth, participative democracy, inclusion, recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples. Among the concrete issues identified were reform of the electoral system and a Constituent Assembly. In Saguenay there was a consensus on strong advocacy of Quebec independence... but not in Sherbrooke where the pertinence of advancing this issue in the next election campaign was openly questioned.”

In both locations, Saillant reported, possible agreements with other parties were discussed. Some participants were keen on this, others more critical.

A committee member had also led a workshop on “The Spring of Alternatives” at a Quebec City regional social forum.

Attendance at these events has been modest, but participants were positive to the QS approach, and the committee intends to continue its consultations with social and political movements, the next stage being a national (Quebec) meeting on June 13, Saillant said.

A disconcerting moment

That the debate over relations with other pro-sovereignty parties is not finished was brought home in the closing minutes of the congress, on May 22, when outgoing co-spokesman Andrés Fontecilla reported on the party’s participation in OUI Québec, the coalition of pro-sovereignty parties (PQ, ON, QS and the Bloc québécois) working to develop a “convergence” on a common strategy in the fight for independence beyond 2018. For reasons that were unclear to most delegates, they were asked to vote that the session be held behind closed doors, and media observers were excluded. A written report was handed out, and then recollected following the report, which was read aloud by Fontecilla.

The gist of the report was that Québec solidaire had been successful in convincing the other parties that a popular referendum on sovereignty should be accompanied by the appointment of a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution, a proposal championed by QS for years. Fontecilla alluded to some outstanding differences over the nature of this Constituent Assembly, but gave few details. “We were isolated,” he said.

That evening, after the congress had closed, Radio Canada revealed that all four parties in OUI Québec had reached an agreement several weeks previously on a “road map” (feuille de route) for accession to independence. It had been signed by the representatives of all the parties, including Andrés Fontecilla and Monique Moisan for Québec solidaire. According to the chair of OUI Québec, Claudette Carbonneau, Québec solidaire had requested that the agreement be kept secret until after the QS congress vote on electoral pacts for the 2018 election, which was not the subject of the “road map.” However, Québec solidaire had not yet disclosed the existence of that agreement.

The Parti québécois leaders now turned their anger at Québec solidaire  against the party leadership’s alleged concealment of the “road map” toward sovereignty. “Sabotage,” chimed in Le Devoir. Some QS members too were disconcerted. The party’s proceedings in OUI Québec had not been discussed during the pre-congress debates, and the party leadership had issued no report on them prior to the congress. And why the secrecy about the report?

On May 24 Radio-Canada disclosed the existence of an email by Andrés Fontecilla on behalf of Québec solidaire informing OUI Québec that the QS national coordinating committee was opposed to the agreement he had signed in good faith. And on May 25 the chair of OUI Québec, expressing her exasperation, released the text of the agreement as duly signed by Fontecilla and Moisan on behalf of Québec solidaire. I have translated the full text into English; it is appended to this article.

Manon Massé offers a clarification

Also on May 25, QS spokeswoman Manon Massé released a statement explaining that in the national leadership’s opinion the party’s co-signatories of the agreement had “misjudged the situation” in signing it in good faith. The question of an electoral pact was one thing, the question of convergence on the process of accession to independence was another. The congress had addressed the first issue and left the second for later debate. Even the PQ, by relegating the question of a referendum on sovereignty to a second mandate, had removed that issue from the proposed 2018 pact. Option A, she implied, had confused the issue by presenting its response to the proposed electoral pact as a general response to the debate on sovereigntist convergence.

As to the party leadership’s objection to the all-party agreement, Massé explained, “it does not require a sovereigntist government to hold the constituent assembly during its first term in office and it does not propose a projet de société, for example.” Massé urged supporters of Quebec independence to “follow the example of Catalonia, to conduct a real campaign to promote a projet de société for a sovereigntist Quebec....

“We should stop putting the cart before the horse. We must all do better, QS included, on this front. We must first convince the Québécois of the benefits of independence, that’s the real urgency and that is why in our opinion the question of a projet de société is essential if we are to win those who are not convinced.”

Once again, the mandate of the Constituent Assembly

But are these the only reasons why the QS leadership rejected the text their representatives had signed? With one exception, there is really nothing in the text to which QS could object. That one exception, however, directly contradicts the QS position on the Constituent Assembly, which Manon Massé aptly describes as “one of the pillars in our project.” And that is the text’s assertion that the Assembly’s mandate is to develop “the constitution of an independent Quebec.” That phrase appears four times in the text. QS has consistently refused to impose such a mandate on the Assembly, preferring to leave the question open as to whether the “constitution” to be drafted is that of an independent state... or merely of a province within the federal system, however reconceived. On this it differs with all the other independentist parties.

This issue is now clearly on the agenda for debate within Québec solidaire. The QS representatives who signed the proposed “road map” are experienced politicians who must have known what they were doing. As I explained in an earlier article, the issue will come up again if Option nationale accepts the QS invitation to engage in a rapprochement pointing toward fusion in one party. And the party’s new spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois has indicated he favours assigning the Constituent Assembly with a clear mandate to design the constitutional framework of an independent state.

In fact, the adopted resolution on the proposal of fusion between QS and Option nationale states (point 4) that “in this process of discussion leading to fusion, QS undertakes to discuss in its authoritative bodies the development of political campaigns on the independence of Quebec and the means by which to accede to it.” The move toward closer relations with ON is a clear indication that QS is prepared to collaborate with other political forces genuinely committed to building an independent Quebec with a professed interest in doing so around a progressive social agenda.

Manon Massé reiterated Québec solidaire’s commitment to continue working within OUI Québec. But she said she agreed with Claudette Charbonneau, who had proposed putting these discussions on hold for now. “We hope that in the near future we will be in a position to agree with the partners in OUI Québec and that we will be able to table a work proposal which, I hope, will be adopted by our members.”

After 11 years, QS now has a program, or almost

As to the debate on the final tranche of the party’s program, which occupied most of the congress’s time, the draft programs covering justice issues, agriculture, regional development and international policy and solidarity were largely adopted with few major amendments.[5] In the haste to process many proposed amendments, however, it was hard to avoid some confusion on what exactly was being proposed.

An unfortunate example was the fate of a section of the international policy draft resolution that called for an independent Quebec to withdraw from the imperialist military alliances NATO and NORAD. A proposed amendment by QS Gouin riding would replace this demand with the words “will exclude participation in international bodies contributing to militarism and to interventionism without a UN mandate.” NATO does in fact act sometimes under UN mandate, as it did recently in its bombing of Libya, to cite only one example. The delegates adopted this amendment by majority vote. But then they adopted, also by a majority, an amendment proposed by QS Capitale-Nationale (Quebec City) that denounced the growth in Canadian military budgets and called for “Canada’s immediate withdrawal from NATO and NORAD.”

After some debate a much-anticipated proposal that an independent Quebec be “a country without an army,” with differing options as to whether a proposed national civil defense force should include a military component, it was agreed to postpone further debate on this until after the 2018 Quebec election.

By adopting (finally) an international component to its program the party adds an important dimension to its perspective, one that reinforces its identity as a pro-sovereignty party.

The party hopes to publish its complete program by September of this year. A QS congress in November will select which demands it wishes to highlight in the platform it will present in the 2018 election.

A final thought...

This was an important congress for Québec solidaire. But it left hanging many issues that the party will have to confront in the near future, and not only the ongoing issue of sovereigntist convergence. There is still a naive illusion in the party that majority support for independence can be won largely through advancing compelling arguments, and there is a dangerous tendency to discuss the independence project without reference to the inevitable opposition by the federal state and the need for a strategy to confront it. Bernard Rioux, an editor of Presse-toi à gauche, alluded to this toward the close of his report on the congress. I quote:

“We need a party that understands the need to confront the domination of the economic and political oligarchy and that conceives its construction and alliances starting from that imperative. A party that understands that victory against the oligarchy depends on the unity and mobilization of the social movements and their capacities to put an end to the neoliberal offensive....

“Building a political alternative to neoliberalism and the Canadian state means participating in a reconfiguration of civil society and the strengthening of all the anti-systemic forces so they can oppose the demands of the ruling class. For real power is not confined to government services or the parliament. It is concentrated as well in the economic apparatus, the banks and the major corporations, in the state bureaucracy, the apparatuses of repression and the state ideological apparatuses. A true resistance front posing an end to austerity... can only be achieved through strengthening capacities for struggle of the various social movements and expressing this readiness to struggle in a party that is capable of resisting the pressures ... of the ruling class.”

The congress vote on alliances was a step in that direction, said Rioux.

* * *

Appendix

Draft Proposal on a Common Procedure for Accession to Independence

Revised, amended and adopted on April 10, 2017

Introduction

The delegations of the Parti québécois, Québec solidaire, Option nationale and the Bloc québécois, parties that are committed to promoting the independence of Quebec, met between January and April 2017 under the aegis of the Organisations unies pour l’indépendance (OUI Québec) to draw up together a common procedure for accession to independence, the content of which appears below.

Constituent elements

1. Common approach for accession to independence

The procedure for accession to the independence of Quebec is based on the principle of popular sovereignty and includes:

  • the adoption of a transitional fundamental law that will serve as a legal framework in Quebec and will chart the steps toward independence:
  • the establishment of a Constituent Assembly with responsibility to develop a draft constitution of an independent Quebec pursuant to broad public consultation;
  • a referendum that will enable the Québécois to state their position both on Quebec’s political status and on the draft constitution of an independent Quebec developed by the Constituent Assembly.

These elements are now an integral part of any procedure leading to the independence of Quebec.

2. Creation of the Constituent Assembly

The Constituent Assembly is established by a law of the National Assembly that determines its duration, mandate, methods of appointment, terms of functioning, and powers.

This project, which must be carried out within a single term of governmental office, will first be subject to a strong electoral commitment by the independentist parties which, in this scenario, constitute a parliamentary majority.

3. Mandate of the Constituent Assembly

The Constituent Assembly has the following mandate:

To organize an extensive public consultation, to hear from specialists it considers appropriate, and to draft [1] a proposed constitution of an independent Quebec which addresses the following themes:

  • Values, principles, rights and responsibilities to be provided for in a Quebec constitution;
  • Division of powers between the Quebec state and the regions, to ensure the development and fulfilment of the Québécois;
  • Institutions and political system of the Quebec state;
  • Relations with the First Nations and Inuit; and
  • At the conclusion of its proceedings, to convey the draft constitution, its report and its recommendations to the National Assembly.

At the end of the process, the National Assembly undertakes to publish the draft constitution, report and recommendations of the Constituent Assembly within a period provided by law, and will ask the Chief Electoral Officer of Quebec to organize a referendum that will enable the Québécois to state their position both on the political status of Quebec and on the draft constitution of an independent Quebec developed by the Constituent Assembly.

4. Composition of the Constituent Assembly and appointment of its members

The composition of the Constituent Assembly must ensure an equitable representation of society that reflects the following criteria:

  • Parity of men and women (threshold 50% women)
  • Representativity of administrative regions
  • Representativity of social groups
  • Representativity of diversity
  • Representativity of the historic Anglophone minority

Pursuant to the resolutions of the National Assembly of March 20, 1985 and May 30, 1989 recognizing the rights of the First Nations and the Inuit, they are respectively invited to participate in the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly with a status and a role to be determined with them.

The members of the Constituent Assembly will be designated according to the following methods:

To guarantee the equitable representation of society provided for above, the National Assembly will widely solicit nominations for appointment of members of the Constituent Assembly [3].

The parties will continue their proceedings in order to determine consensually another mode of appointment of members of the Constituent Assembly, which might include, for example, election by universal suffrage or any other mode of designation*.

* * *

The delegations of the following political parties have agreed on this proposal, which they have agreed to submit for adoption to their respective party congresses:

For the Parti québécois: Véronique Hivon and Alain Lupien

For Québec solidaire: Andrés Fontecilla and Monique Moisan

For Option nationale: Sol Zanetti and Viviane Martinova-Croteau

For the Bloc québécois: Kédina Fleury-Samson

These proceedings were conducted under the aegis of OUI Québec represented by Claudette Carbonneau and Jason Brochu-Valcourt, respectively president and vice-president of the organization.

Signed at Montréal, April 10, 2017 [2]

[1] The draft constitution will be written in accordance with the gender-sensitive spelling rules defined by the Office québécois de la langue française.

[2] The original version signed by the representatives of the delegations cited above shall serve as proof thereof.

[3] The number and proportions of the members of the Constituent Assembly designated by one or another of the methods provided above remain to be determined. Furthermore, members of the National Assembly are excluded from the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly.

Translator’s note: I have followed the numbering and location of the notes as they appear in the original French text. The asterisk (*) in the text is not accompanied by any corresponding note.


[1] Richard Fidler, “Major decisions face Québec solidaire at its forthcoming congress.”

[2] On the eve of the QS congress, Le Devoir and Le Journal de Montréal (the latter a part of the media empire owned by former PQ leader Pierre-Karl Péladeau) published a poll they had sponsored which purported to find that 87% of voters identifying with either the PQ or QS favoured an alliance of the two parties to defeat the governing Liberals.

[3] It is worth noting that this program promises that a PQ government would “amend the burden of proof in matters of religious accommodation in order to put an end to unreasonable religious accommodation,... require that all officials, employees and agents of the state have their faces uncovered in the performance of their duties,... require all citizens to receive state services with their faces uncovered,... prohibit employees in the public and parapublic sectors, during their working hours, from wearing clothing covering their entire body other than the face... in particular the chador,... prohibit persons in authority, educators in childcare facilities, teachers in the preschool, elementary and secondary schools to display their beliefs, including religious convictions.” These are precisely some of the divisive provisions of the PQ charter of values that were denounced by feminist and human rights proponents.

[4] The panel, Faut qu’on se parle (literally “We must speak to each other”), produced a book Ne renonçons à rien (freely, “Don’t give up on anything”) with its findings. Ironically, of the eight “priorities” in Québécois concerns that they listed, none mentions Quebec independence.

[5] For an English translation of the original draft of the resolution on altermondialisme, see Québec solidaire: a global justice party.