In the struggle for Quebec independence, the Constituent Assembly, proposed by the Patriots in 1837 and by the États-généraux of 1966-69, seems more pertinent today than ever.
The PQ attempts to monopolize the struggle for sovereignty, despite the repeated failure of its strategy and the undeniable political plurality of the sovereignty movement. At last June’s PQ congress, numerous voices demanded a clear rupture from the “good provincial government” strategy that holds that once the “winning conditions” are attained, a referendum on sovereignty should be held. Instead, the congress more or less reiterated its referendum strategy. A sovereigntist coalition is envisaged, but only after the election of the PQ and with the purpose of supporting the referendum campaign that would ensue. Under this strategy, the government and, therefore, the PQ, reserve control of the overall process.
People’s sovereignty via the Constituent Assembly
In order to be legitimate, the process leading to Quebec sovereignty must be democratic, transparent and trans- partisan. The electoral campaign that brings a sovereigntist party or coalition to power should be focused on the process of achieving independence, a process within which the election campaign would only be the first step. The second step should offer people the opportunity to participate directly in a Constituent Assembly devoted to elaborating a Constitution. The election of a Con-stituent Assembly is therefore a democratic act par excellence, an act representing at once a rupture with the status quo of the Canadian federal regime and a truly founding act. A referendum would be later be justified in order to ratify the Consti-tution. This “empowerment” strategy proposed by pro-sovereigntists is perfectly compatible with the Law on the Quebec People’s Exercise of their Fundamental Rights and Perogatives, adopted by the National Assembly in response to the federal “clarity” bill.
The creation of a sovereigntist electoral coalition would permit us to hope for an absolute majority. For some, this majority is necessary to have the legitimacy that would be required in the National Assembly if it were to declare independence unilaterally. A coalition has the further advantage of demonstrating the maturity of the Quebec people in being able to agree on the institutions to create the basic political framework of ‘living together.’
The effective power of the Consti-tuent Assembly confers an undeniably democratic character. Composed of an equal number of men and women, elected through a universal, direct and proportional vote that represents the full range of democratic social movements and cultural communities, the Constituent Assembly could also include observers from the First Nations of Quebec. First Nations would be invited to create similar Assemblies with the goal of defining their own Constitutions within the context of a sovereign Quebec and in order to set the basis for nation-to-nation reconciliation treaties. A Constitution is not a negotiating man-date whose legitimacy, relevance and legality can easily be contested.
Perspectives for the Left
“A move towards authentic people’s sovereignty, linking social and national demands, would have a strong power of mobilisation.” For the Quebec Left, this mobilisation offers the opportunity to place collective rights front and centre, with economic and social rights enshrined in the Constitution. Besides defining the political model (republican is a likely bet), participatory democracy and economic democracy are themes that the Left will not neglect to address.
The struggle for Quebec independence must be seen within the context of long-term social struggles. A national project is not the project of one political party, nor even of a government or a parliament. It can only be elaborated by the people themselves, inspired by the maturity of political parties and the movements that represent them.
Meanwhile, the Option Citoyenne movement will hold an important national meeting on October 21 to 23, focused mainly on the national question. We have good reason to believe that they will adopt a position compatible with that of the UFP. If this is the case, a union congress between the two groups is foreseen for January, 2006. The new progressive party that results has a good chance of making an impact in the next general elections, thereby exercising significant influence among sovereigntist forces in favour of a Constituent Assembly.
This article appeared in the September/October 2004 issue of Canadian Dimension .