from Socialist Voice, January 8, 2006
By Richard Fidler
Editors’ note: Socialist Voice #59 (“Election Challenge to the NDP”) condemned the New Democratic Party for lining up with the federal state against the national rights of Quebec but did not discuss the character of the NDP campaign in Quebec. That omission is made good in the following article by Richard Fidler, which completes his analysis of the elections in Quebec begun in Socialist Voice #61. We agree with Richard’s conclusion that the present federal NDP campaign in Quebec does not advance the cause of independent labour political action and is not worthy of support.—Roger Annis and John Riddell
In 2004 NDP leader Jack Layton, campaigning in Quebec, came out against the Clarity Act, Ottawa’s legislation arrogantly asserting its right to dictate the terms of a successful Quebec referendum on sovereignty. He was quickly disavowed by members of his own parliamentary caucus and some provincial NDP leaders.
In this election campaign, Layton has come out foursquare in defense of the Clarity Act. Speaking in Montreal on December 7, Layton said he had reversed his opposition to the Act and now considers it “acceptable”. He said, “It follows directly from the principles laid out by the Supreme Court….”
Layton’s comments were made in a speech setting forth the NDP’s conditions for supporting a minority government in the next federal Parliament. A key condition is the enactment of some system of proportional representation (PR).
Layton is careful to point out that PR will limit the representation in Parliament now enjoyed by the “separatists”. He told the Hamilton Spectator last August 24: “We think that with proportional representation in Canada, and in Quebec, you’d never have a referendum on separation again.” (Quoted in Le Devoir, December 16)
More recently, Layton has begun echoing Liberal leader Paul Martin’s warning that a Tory minority government will ally with the Bloc Québécois to help “to dismantle the Canadian state”, as he told reporters January 4.
For his part, Quebec NDP leader Pierre Ducasse, instead of appealing to Quebec nationalists to support the NDP as a party that fights for Quebec rights, is openly appealing to Liberals to support the NDP as the appropriate federalist alternative to their scandal-ridden party.
Indeed, any appeal to Quebec nationalists would be precluded by the statement adopted in 2005 by the Quebec Council of the NDP, “La voix du Québec: la voie d’un Canada différent (Fédéralisme, social-démocratie et la question québécoise)”:
This nine-page document resurrects the NDP’s “cooperative federalism” position of the 1960s, in the early years of the Quiet Revolution. It is ahistorical and abstract, containing virtually no references to the actual evolution of federal-provincial relations, the federalist offensive against Quebec (which is far more than the sponsorship scandal), and the real confrontation that now exists and is continuing to develop between the independence movement and the federal regime.
- The document presents the Bloc québécois as the obstacle to “the emergence of a united left in Canada.”
- It puts the Quebec NDP squarely within the federalist camp (“The NDP … will promote a united Canada”), and says most of its positions can be implemented within the present constitutional framework without any changes.
- It presents a “vision” of “asymmetrical federalism” that completely overlooks the real record of federal intrusions on Quebec’s constitutional powers. It cites the “Social Union” agreement of 1999 (signed by NDP premiers) as its model of cooperative federalism, although that agreement was widely criticized in Quebec, and even subjected to sharp criticism by some Liberals such as Claude Ryan for violating Quebec rights. The agreement was not signed by Quebec.
- It talks about “good faith” negotiations between Quebec and Ottawa, but fails to stake out a negotiating position or point of departure for Quebec. No trade unionist would want to enter negotiations on that basis.
- Quebec is a nation, the document says, but the NDP thinks it is not necessary or useful to legally or constitutionally formalize the right of self-determination.
- In a referendum on Quebec’s constitutional status, it says, fifty percent plus one is a sufficient mandate for change. But the statement is silent on the Clarity Act; the federal government’s responsibility, it says, is to “determine its own process”.
- It mentions that Quebec has not ratified the 1982 Canadian Constitution, but ignores the fact that the federal NDP and the NDP provincial governments did ratify it.
This statement, featured by Ducasse on his web site, appears to mark the definitive triumph of the Layton leadership over any residual autonomist stirrings in the Quebec NDP rump.
The NDP’s hostility to Quebec self-determination has placed it in frontal opposition to the national consciousness of most Quebec working people. As a result, the party’s popular support in Quebec is marginal and its ties with the labour movement almost non-existent. Although some individual NDP candidates in Quebec may hold differing views, their campaigns are inevitably burdened by the party’s official policies on Quebec and do not advance the cause of independent labour political action.