The “conservative” Prime Minister Jean Charest has tried to justify his re-engineering project in an open letter addressed to the men and women of Quebec published two days ago. Quebecois have become increasingly disturbed by a right-wing current that threatens to undermine the remaining social rights in this province.
Invoking the “common good” to defend the budgetary cuts announced or in the works, he has tried to present himself as a defender “of the historic interests of Quebec” At the same time he attacks trade unionists and pressure groups who oppose “change” as ” immovable defenders of corporate interests.” The guardian of the chicken coop holds the door open for the wolf and allows it to devour not only the chickens but the owner to boot.
The Charest government has thought it timely to adopt this course just six months after assuming power and just before the opening of parliament next week in an autumn which is certain to be conflicting. The anger brewing in trade union and popular ranks is more and more evident since the government launched its attack on many fronts.
Here’s a partial list: increases in child care rates, increases in electricity bills, questioning pay equity, refusal of the right of child care and family care workers to unionize despite favorable court decisions, announced modifications of the labour code to favour even more contracting out , penalizing those refusing to conform to unemployment insurance rules which force people to enroll in programs that do not lead to real employment, threats to increase the cost of an education.
We know that sub-contracting from the government that does exist does not save public money, that private companies already paying very little have received further tax holidays. We know too that the announced massive tax cuts only benefit the rich and only serve to increase the gap between them and the poor.
The government is having difficulty disguising its project of re-engineering. It fear popular resistance. That is why it chooses to prepare the ground one more time with this open letter which in reality is only a set of empty phrases of ideological, indeed, demagogic propaganda. According to the opinion of most experts it is Jean Charest who has broken with a historic tradition maintained by Quebec Prime Ministers for forty years by agreeing to make Quebec re-enter the ranks of the “Council of the Federation” making Quebec ” a province just like the others.” Indeed, he himself proposed this.
This is the same Quebec that Canada does not recognize as a nation, which refused to recognize the Canadian Constitution of 1982 by a unanimous vote of the National Assembly. It is this man who today appeals to the notion of safeguarding the historic interests of Quebec. This operation has a name: it is called demagogy!
Mr. Charest warns us that if we refuse “change” like vulgar reactionaries “the Quebec model will become nothing more than a relic.” Isn’t it reassuring (we aren’t fools) to note that the liberal (sic) government is defending “the Quebec model?” Isn’t it ironic furthermore that at the onset of this maneouvre Prime Minister Charest cites the introduction of the Facal Report, a report drawn up by someone who, while a Pequiste minister, recommended the abolition of many government agencies and even ministries?
There is thus a certain continuity with the neo-liberal policies of the previous government. The PQ can play the role of offended virgin sitting in the ranks of the opposition. It is not well positioned to criticize the Charest government.
On the one hand, this present government allows itself to renege on certain of its electoral promises like a law on poverty, electoral reform and free prescriptions for the poor. On the other hand, it claims to have an electoral mandate to unilaterally totally restructure the Quebec state and the social contract.
The fall, winter and spring will be full of conflict. Yes Mister Charest, the public interest is gravely in danger as are social peace and the historic interests of Quebec. There will be a unified response by the Quebec people on all fronts. The defense of the public interest and the historic interests of Quebec demand it. As part of this response our party, The Union of Progressive Forces (UFP) will be supporting every initiative towards building a united mass opposition movement to the irrational and retrograde politics of this government.
This article appeared in the November/December 2003 issue of Canadian Dimension .