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What’s next for Québec solidaire?

March 9, 2012

Benoit Renaud is Responsable à la mobilisation for Québec solidaire, the party of the left in Quebec. We asked him about Québec solidaire (QS), its history, its successes, and the challenges in the months ahead.
QS is only a few years old. How did it form, and how do you explain its success?
The founding of Québec solidaire was a long process of emergence and convergence of political forces on the left, starting with the Quebec New Democratic Party taking a position for independence in the early 1990s and changing its name to Parti de la démocratie socialiste (PDS).
The sharp right-wing turn taken by the Quebec government in 1996 with the zero-deficit policy gave impetus to the process, with the founding of Rassemblement pour une alternative progressiste (RAP), which included many union activists.
Then, the rejection of most demands of the World March of Women in 2000 led many activists in the women’s and anti-poverty movements to consider getting involved in party politics, which led to the creation of D’abord solidaires and then to Option citoyenne (OC).
The Summit of the Americas and the campaign against the Free Trade Area of the Americas in 2001 created the momentum allowing the formation of Union des forces progressistes (UFP) the following year, which included PDS and RAP.
Québec solidaire was formally a merger between Option citoyenne and UFP. But there was more to it. There were a thousand people at the founding convention and 7,000 members in the first year. Many of these members used to be in the Parti québécois or radical left groups. But many others had never been involved in a political organization of any kind before joining UFP, OC or QS.
The success of what is the largest party of the left in Quebec history rests, in my opinion, in the fact that it is rooted in the struggles against the employer’s offensive of the past 30 years, what we sometimes call neoliberalism. It is the most concentrated and politicized aspect of that mass resistance.
What are the big successes of the past years in your view?
Our biggest achievement is to have brought together these thousands of members from all over Quebec. We have truly united the left. These are people involved in all kinds of democratic organizations, campaigns, community groups, etc.
It is a network of activists who discuss political questions, are trying to agree on a program, and work together to give a voice to the left in Quebec elections. This makes it possible for us to play a key role in building solidarity with specific struggles from unions or students, give more resonance to campaigns on environmental or international solidarity questions, etc.
Obviously, having managed to elect Amir Khadir as a Member of the National Assembly (MNA) has made a big difference, putting our party on the political map and proving that we are not a marginal phenomenon.
With his team working in parliament in Quebec City, coordinating with our national office in Montreal and maintaining regular communications with our network of associations and members all over Quebec, we have a greater ability to influence events and make our ideas known. Amir’s recent parliamentary successes were a factor in bringing four PQ MNAs to resign and led hundreds of new members to join our party.
What are the next challenges the party will face?
In part due to our own efforts, the political landscape is currently changing in significant and unpredictable ways. The election of a majority Conservative government in Ottawa could lead to the demoralization of social movements, and what would have a negative impact on a party which comes out of those movements and is still linked to them in many ways. It could also inspire a wave of struggles, which would be very good for us.
The unprecedented success of the NDP could contribute to a left/right polarization of the political scene, instead of the federalist/sovereigntist divide that dominated for the past 40 years. But it could also give the left a bad name if the NDP adopts the centrist stance of a government in waiting.
The crisis in the Parti québécois could be considered good news for us, since we have been struggling for decades with that party’s hold on the progressive and sovereigntist segments of the electorate.
But it also poses dangers, chiefly the demoralization of its base.
And flowing from that, there is the announced emergence of a new party of the right, led by former businessman and PQ minister, François Legault. His movement unites business people, bureaucrats and right-wing intellectuals in a coalition that puts aside the national question and presents itself as good managers for the province. There is a strong appeal for that kind of politics from sectors of the population that are tired of both the corrupt Liberals and the uninspiring PQ.
The Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ)—a nationalist split from the Liberals in the early 1990’s—could merge with that new party or become simply irrelevant.
The challenge for QS will be to occupy a large enough section of the political terrain and be well rooted enough to resist the potential wave of support for that new party (not unlike the orange wave of May 2). We believe our ideas are clear and strong enough and our base committed enough to increase our popular support and elect more MNAs at the next general election. That election should take place in late 2012 or early 2013.
QS supports Quebec independence, but you also support Aboriginal self-determination. Many on the left outside of Quebec don’t know why Quebec still talks about separating. Can you tell us about QS’s perspective on Quebec oppression?
We currently have a campaign explaining that (see For us, the national struggle is inseparable from our aspirations for a more democratic, just and ecological society. We want a different society with institutions formed from the ground up and not handed down from the monarchy
.The Canadian state was founded on the exclusion of First Nations and the marginalization of French-speaking nations (Quebec and Acadians) and minorities. This colonial arrangement has been key in binding the exploited classes of English Canadian society to their own ruling classes, through Canadian nationalism.
We don’t believe this system can be reformed through incremental constitutional amendments and changes in the policies of the federal government. From the War Measures Act of 1970, to the failures of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown accords and the adoption of the Clarity Act, we believe that the impossibility of significant reform has been demonstrated.
We want to break away from that fragment of the old British Empire and found a new state through the election of a constituent assembly representing the diversity of Quebec society. We welcome First Nations who currently share the territory of the Province of Quebec with us to go through their own self-determination process and/or participate in ours. We believe that equality of all nations and international solidarity are only possible against the current Canadian state, not through it.
We also think that creating an ecological and just society can’t be done without a democratic transformation of how decisions get made in our society. Just replacing the current political leaders with better ones isn’t good enough.
What can progressive people outside of Quebec do to support QS in its campaigns?
You can make Québec solidaire known in your areas of work, invite us to speak at events outside of Quebec and come to our own meetings (we have a convention scheduled for from December 9 to 11). Interviews and articles in your publications are obviously a great idea. So I thank you for this opportunity!

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