Québec’s political conjuncture currently favours the integration of the struggle for national independence with other progressive social struggles. We may be headed for a historic rendez-vous that – this time – people will sure not to miss. For this to happen the different components of the sovereignty movement must agree on a common strategy and forge a national (Québec) alliance reflecting all elements of the population without any one party trying to monopolize the process. Will the principal actors concerned – beginning with the Parti-Québécois – be able to take on this historic task?
Halfway Through the Charest Mandate
The remarkable resistance to the Charest government’s efforts to “dismantle the State”, of which the springtime student mobilisations are a nice illustration, demonstrates Québeckers’ desire to maintain their social benefits. The population’s disapproval of the Charest government, exceeding 78%, is a clear message that nothing has improved in the last two years.
This resistance has not stopped important set-backs like unionisation rights and the privatisation of health and social services, but it has forced the government to do an about-turn on the following dossiers: the natural gas electricity generator in Suroît; the 100% financing of private Jewish schools; construction of the University of Montreal super-hospital in Outremont; and the $103 million cut to students loans and bursaries (partially recuperated). Recently, the government announced that all Quebec public schools would be secular by 2008.
The Gomery Commission and the Failure of Jean Chrétien’s “Plan B”
In Québec, the Gomery Commission is like a bomb that has thrown oil onto the flame of sovereignty. For Québeckers, this scandal epitomises the games played by Jean Chrétien. The changes promised to Quebeckers if they remained within Canada can be summed up by the unilateral repatriation of the Constitution (without Quebec’s agreement), the “Clarity Bill” and Jean Chrétien’s “Plan B”, itself a network of corruption engaged in public brainwashing campaigns to increase federal visibility and “block the Bloc”.
Mr. Chrétien, as well as his lieutenant Gagliano, confirmed as much during their appearances in the Commission. After the shock of the near-victory of the “Oui” in the 1995 referendum, they had to “save Canada” and “the end justified the means”. This is how Chrétien and the Liberal Party tried to “save Canada” after having “stolen” the 1995 referendum. This time around, it could be that Québeckers – 54% of whom currently support the idea of independence – decide not to give a “last chance” to Canadian federalism. At any rate, 75% of Quebeckers agree “Jean Chrétien and the Liberal Party of Canada betrayed us after the 1995 referendum”.
The Parti-Québécois, Quebec’s official opposition, continues to play it safe, seemingly biding its time, waiting for the election it hopes will bring it back to power. The leadership race brought about by Bernard Landry’s resignation could allow some renewal, at least in appearance. The election of Monique Richard, member of the PQ tendency “Trade Unionists and Progressives for a Free Québec (SPQL)”, as president of the Parti-Québécois might give the impression that the party can rally more troops. In a show of enthusiasm, Pierre Dubuc, a member of SPQL and editor of the progressive magazine “L’Aut’journal”, wrote an open letter to progressive English Canadians encouraging them to reflect on “what Canada might become without Québec and what type of relations might be possible between the two countries.” In short, the PQ in Québec and the Bloc-Québécois in Ottawa are on the warpath and one might get the impression that they have the final say when it comes to the struggle for independence. Yet, the Citizen’s Option movement will most probably take a stand in favour of sovereignty in the fall, as a prelude to its fusion with the Union of Progressive Forces (UFP) expected in January 2006. Already, these two progressive organisation have 4000 members and their founding congress will represent and unprecedented development for the Québec Left. This new political actor should favour a popular strategy for sovereignty (the calling of a Constituant Assembly) wich takes into account the right to self-determination of aboriginal peoples.
At a time where 40% of sovereigntists do not support the PQ, it is important not to take things for granted but rather to work towards unity among sovereigntists around a common strategy. This is a formidable task, given the ideological and socio-political divisions among them. The Sovereignty Council, supposedly an open forum, has not yet succeeded in creating such unity due to its unwillingness to open a true debate on the issue.
If the federalist strategy has backfired after having ignored, even betrayed, the aspirations of Québec, the PQ and BQ of Quebec run the same risk if they choose to ignore the progressive elements of the sovereignty movement and the aspirations of the aboriginal peoples of Québec.
This article appeared in the July/August 2005 issue of Canadian Dimension .