Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Québec Solidaire: A Québécois Approach to Building a Broad Left Party (Part II)

In Part I, I outlined how this party originated. In this, the concluding part, I describe how it functions and explore some major challenges it faces and how it is confronting them.

A work in progress

Québec Solidaire celebrated its fifth anniversary in February 2011. How has it fared? The balance sheet is uneven.

During its first year, Québec Solidaire’s membership rose from 3,000 to just over 5,000, about 50% of them women, but since then has remained fairly stable. The party has just over 70 local associations organized on the basis of their respective electoral ridings as well as some university campus sections. About one third of these associations are considered “very active,” another one third less so, while the remainder function only minimally.[1] In the last election, in 2008, the party nominated candidates in almost all of Quebec’s 125 electoral counties, or ridings.

Québec Solidaire strives for male-female parity in its structures and representation at all levels, and is headed by two “co-spokespersons”: Françoise David, the party president, and Amir Khadir, currently its sole member of the Quebec legislature, the National Assembly. The party has an office with a small full-time staff, a web site and members’ intranet, and makes ample use of modern communications media such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs and videos. However, it has no newspaper, although this deficiency is partially compensated by various independent alternative media published by members and sympathizers of the party.[2] The party lacks an internal discussion bulletin or email list, so there is little horizontal communication at the general membership level apart from organized pre-convention discussions, which are held in general assemblies in areas of greater membership density such as Montréal and Quebec City.

A national (i.e. Quebec-wide) Policy Commission is composed of a dozen or so theme committees, responsible for drafting papers and proposals for program development. A national Women’s Commission is composed of delegates from the various regions of Quebec, and is charged with ensuring adherence by the party to the values of feminism.

In the December 2008 general election, Québec Solidaire scored a major breakthrough. Despite an undemocratic first-past-the-post electoral system, it managed to elect a member to the National Assembly. The election of Amir Khadir in Mercier riding brought welcome media attention to the party. His effective interventions in the National Assembly have given the party considerable media exposure, and he has been able to speak out on many issues not previously associated with the left.[3] However, his high media profile and popularity — opinion polls recently rated him the “most popular” MNA in Quebec! — have not translated into corresponding support for the party as a whole. Although some recent polls have attributed 8-10% or more support to QS among the electorate, the overall score of its candidates in the two general elections since its founding (2007 and 2008) has been just under 4%. A handful of individual candidates, including David, have won electoral scores of between 10% and 30%, however; in each such case they are well-known activists in trade unions or other social movements.

Although it styles itself “a party of the ballot-box and the streets” — a party of mass action as well as elections — this has not been an easy balance to establish or maintain. The political context, at least until Khadir’s election, has been a difficult one in which to find opportunities to establish a visible presence in Quebec’s political landscape.

As in other parts of North America, Quebec experienced a general downturn in extra-parliamentary mobilizations after 9-11, with the notable exception of the massive antiwar actions prior to the Iraq war. Added to this was the political demoralization of many militants following almost a decade of neoliberal austerity under a Parti Québécois government that for many discredited the very idea of Quebec “sovereignty” as envisaged by the PQ. The trade union movement has suffered major defeats in the face of an antilabour offensive orchestrated since 2003 by the Liberal government. The student movement has been relatively quiescent since a successful mobilization against tuition fee increases in 2005. Although antiwar sentiment remains high, mass actions are fewer and smaller. Thus, Québec Solidaire has had to build itself in a period of general retreat for the very movements that generated its existence.

In addition, Québec Solidaire has found its attention, energy and finances absorbed by election organizing, often to the detriment of extra-parliamentary mobilization. In its first three years the party faced two general elections and more than a half-dozen by-elections. Besides meeting the demanding legal requirements of a registered party, it had to find and train candidates, raise funds, and hold successive delegated conventions to cobble together interim election platforms.

The 2007 election platform,[4] was limited to modest reforms that (as the party admitted) could be implemented within the “neoliberal and provincial framework.” It featured proposals for modest social reforms, free education, a publicly-owned pharmacare (prescription drugs insurance) agency, repeal of antilabour legislation, electoral reform through institution of proportional representation, tax reform, nationalization of wind power and expansion of public transit. However, this platform did not even reflect the minimal basis of agreement between the party’s founding components. For example, it called for a constituent assembly to determine Quebec’s political and constitutional future, but did not call for sovereignty or independence.

The 2008 platform[5] was much more elaborate. It called for “making Quebec a country by way of popular sovereignty,” and included detailed proposals on language rights, intercultural secularism and international solidarity (for example, replacing free trade agreements with “new international treaties based on individual and collective rights, respect for the environment and a widening of democracy (such as the ALBA[6]).” But it also contained some notable omissions; for example, it opposed “Canadian imperialist intervention” in the war in Afghanistan but did not mention NATO or Canada’s other military alliances.

In the 2008 election, more than half of Québec Solidaire’s 122 candidates were women — a first for a party in Quebec and possibly in Canada. The party was endorsed by the Montréal Council of the CSN, and some candidates were endorsed by other unions.

Adopting a program

In 2009 the party launched a lengthy process aimed at producing a formal program setting out Québec Solidaire’s proposals for a “democratic transformation of the whole of society over the medium and long term.” The program is distinguished from an election platform, which applies to a single government mandate, or an emergency program, a plan of action addressed to a specific context or issue.[7]

Over a three-year period, culminating before the next Quebec election, a series of delegated conventions are being held, each to debate and adopt sections of the program organized according to subject matter. The first convention, in November 2009, adopted resolutions on the national question, electoral reform, immigration policy and secularism. A second convention, held in March 2011, was addressed to the economy, the environment, and labour. Other topics — health and social services, education, social and formal justice, culture, agriculture, and international solidarity and altermondialisation — will be addressed in subsequent conventions.

Under the complex procedure the party has chosen for conducting its program debates, initial written submissions by the members (or by “citizens’ circles” composed of both members and non-members) must not exceed 800 words in length. The policy commission then compiles a “perspectives booklet” presenting concise demands based on what it considers the “principal orientations” in these submissions. These are discussed and amended or added to by QS local associations and general assemblies, following which the policy commission produces a “synthesis booklet” that arranges the revised demands by topic and, where appropriate, lists differing resolutions addressed to a particular issue as “options” (a half-dozen or so, in some cases) for debate and decision at the convention — first in topic workshops, then in plenary session, where delegates are limited to two or three minute interventions from the floor.[8]

At each stage the draft documents are published on the members’ intranet. (In the lead-up to the first convention, written contributions to the debate by individual members or groups of members were published on the QS web site; however, it appears this practice is no longer being implemented.)

Whatever the democratic merits of this procedure – and there are some, to be sure – it effectively precludes lengthier written contributions within the party structures that could outline a general strategic or programmatic framework on the given subjects and allow a broader debate among opposing approaches. As noted earlier, the party has no public or internal discussion bulletin or even an email discussion list that would allow such debates.

The main topics for debate at the first program convention, in November 2009, were the national question and reform or creation of “democratic institutions.” The three hundred delegates agreed, by large majorities:[9]

  • that the Quebec “nation” includes all residents of Quebec, and is based not on ethnic origin but on voluntary membership in the political community, with French as the common language of public communication; this nation being composed historically by the successive integration of people originating from other communities, including the Anglophone community. QS also acknowledges the sovereignty of “the ten Amerindian peoples and the Inuit people who also inhabit Quebec territory,” and their fundamental right to national self-determination, however they choose to exercise that right.
  • that “Canadian federalism is basically unreformable. It is impossible for Quebec to obtain all the powers it wants and needs for the profound changes proposed by Québec Solidaire.” A new relationship with the rest of Canada can only be negotiated once the Québécois have clearly established their intent and ability to form an independent state.
  • that independence should be achieved through a process of participatory and representative democracy, through election of a Constituent Assembly composed equally of women and men, with “proportional representation of tendencies and the various socio-economic milieus within Quebec society.” The Assembly would conduct an extensive consultation of opinion and, following its debates, its conclusions — in effect, a draft Constitution — would then be put to a popular vote in a referendum.

These positions mark a major advance in the party’s understanding of the national question, when compared with the minimal agreement on this question at its founding. And they clearly delimit it from the PQ’s sovereignty-association and ethnic nationalism, as well as its referendum strategy which limits popular input to a vote on a question negotiated between the parties in the National Assembly.

The convention also addressed another of Québec Solidaire’s founding “values” — laïcité, or secularism — basically, separation of church and state. This is a hot-button issue in Quebec, where right-wing ideologues, narrow nationalists, and some leftists and feminists have campaigned in recent years against “reasonable accommodation” of ethnic minority practices. Those particularly targeted include Muslim women wearing “ostentatious symbols” of their religious faith such as the hijab, or scarf, which are deemed threats to national identity or challenges to women’s rights. The QS delegates ratified the party leadership’s concept of “open” and “intercultural” secularism and opposed proposals for state-enforced dress codes that would effectively outlaw the wearing of symbols of religious belief. Debate continues in the party on some related issues such as the growing demand by many nationalists and feminists that the government adopt a “Charte de laïcité,” a charter to control more generally the expression of religious beliefs in the public sphere.

The convention also adopted progressive proposals on measures to integrate immigrants into Quebec society and on democratic reform of electoral institutions. In regard to the latter topic, QS advocates a system of proportional representation that would elect 60% of MNAs as individual riding representatives, the other 40% of the seats being allocated to the various parties in proportion to their respective shares of the popular vote.

The second program convention, held in March 2011, focused on environmental, economic and labour issues.[10]

Environment. The 350 delegates voted for a major turn to “green energy,” including:

  • A reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% by 2020 compared with 1990 levels, and by 95% by 2050. Abandonment of fossil fuels by 2030.
  • Opposition to carbon taxes, carbon trading and storage schemes, biofuels, and geo-engineering.
  • “Public control” over energy firms, defined as majority participation of the state up to and including 100% nationalization as needed.
  • Prohibition of any new hydro-electric development. Production of renewable energies: solar, geothermal, wind, to limit to the maximum any supplementary resort to hydro-electricity.
  • An end to all exploration and development of fossil fuels, such as petroleum in the Gulf of St. Lawrence (Old Harry), shale gas, and LNG ports. Elimination of Quebec’s nuclear reactor system, and an end to the exploration and development of uranium mines.
  • Development of electrified transportation to ensure the accessibility, universality “or even gratuity” of public transit.
  • Support for a new, legally binding international agreement, and participation in the world movement linking climate and social justice. It was noted that this movement is inspired by the alternative peoples’ summit on the environment held at Cochabamba, Bolivia in April 2010.

Natural resources. The convention voted by large majorities that the mining and forestry industries should be placed under “public control,” with up to 100% nationalization “as needed.” In addition:

  • All resource industries to be subject to strict environmental regulations, and no project to be approved without meaningful public consultation in the communities concerned and a veto by local or regional authorities over development plans. Mining royalties to be increased and shared equitably between the resource region and the government.
  • In the forest industry, elimination of laws allowing clear cutting and cutting in the boreal forest north of the 49th parallel. A reduction in disparities between natural and managed forests, and a need for prior agreements with the indigenous people in all regions under aboriginal treaties or land claims.
  • Fresh water, whether surface or underground, to be considered a “non-commodified common good accessible to all but the property of no one,” with the state as guardian. Water used by industry and businesses to be considered a “loaned” public property subject to royalties and post-treatment controls.

Trade union and labour rights. Among the programmatic demands adopted by the convention — usually by large majorities, in some cases unanimously — are the following:

  • Constitutional protection of the right to join unions, bargain and strike, including the right to political and solidarity strikes (strikes for political objectives and in solidarity with striking workers and students).
  • Prohibition of lockouts, and strict controls on layoffs and shutdowns — including mandatory justification before a government agency, protection of company pensions, compulsory retraining and re-employment in similar jobs, etc. State assistance to employees wishing to form local worker coops when companies relocate.
  • Union rights for farmworkers and self-employed workers, and the right to multi-employer certifications.
  • Right of full employment in safe, stable, socially useful, ecologically sound work free of discrimination, with social protection in case of loss of employment, incapacity and ageing. Affirmative action for women, disabled, visible minorities and indigenous.
  • Immediate reduction in the workweek to 35 hours, and “gradual” transition to 32 hours with no loss of pay, compensatory hiring and no speed-up in workload or pace. Legal restrictions on the use of overtime work.
  • An immediate increase in the minimum wage to the low-income (poverty) threshold for a person working full time, with a “gradual” increase to 50% over this threshold, indexed to the cost of living. This would mean a gradual increase from $10.66 to $15.99 per hour.
  • Expanded public employment in social services, construction, infrastructures maintenance and environmental clean-up.
  • Accessible programs for job retraining, free and funded by employers and government.

Virtually all of these demands have been raised by the unions and social movements; Québec Solidaire sees itself as their political and electoral representative.

Beyond capitalism?

Introducing the preconvention debates, the policy commission asked QS members to consider a question that goes to the very heart of the party’s conception of its overall objective:

“As we work on our program, we should spell out the nature and limits of the system, and ask ourselves the following question: isn’t the capitalist system, based as it is on maximizing profit and irresponsible exploitation of nature, the main obstacle to social progress and a healthy relationship to the environment? We need a serious debate on the question so we can determine whether our social problems can be corrected by reforms that respect the logic of the system or if we need to adopt the perspective of going beyond the system.”[11]

This was also the question put by the Québec Solidaire leadership in a Manifesto issued for May Day 2009, entitled “To emerge from the crisis, should we go beyond capitalism?”[12] The Manifesto’s anticapitalist rhetoric met with a very favourable response in QS ranks.

This defining issue was debated briefly during the preconvention period, although not in official party publications. Some members argued that QS should remain a “rainbow coalition,” fighting “for immediate changes realizable within the framework of the present capitalist state and system.” Others, however, argued for a more radical perspective: “ecosocialism,” and an explicit attention to “the class interests of the workers’ movement.”[13]

Judging from the debates at the March convention, these questions remain open for “serious debate” in Québec Solidaire. In the plenary session on “general orientations,” delegates voted by a large majority for a statement declaring that “QS ultimately intends to go beyond capitalism,” and calling for a “plural economy” and “an eventual socialization of economic activities, based on a strengthened public economy (state-owned companies and nationalization of major enterprises in some strategic sectors), a greater role of the social economy (cooperatives, community-owned firms), and a controlled private sector, with much greater emphasis on promoting small and medium enterprises (SMEs).”

No relative weight was assigned to any of these sectors. A number of delegates objected that many SMEs are low-wage sweatshops, the proprietors being bitter opponents of trade unions. Their alternative motions were outvoted after brief debate.

Delegates voted as well that:

  • Nationalized enterprises are to be operated in a framework of national and democratic planning, with decentralized management including representatives of employees, the community, and First Nations where applicable. Forms of self-management are to be promoted in place of bureaucratic oversight.
  • Economic growth must cease to be considered an objective in itself. A QS government will take immediate legal, regulatory, fiscal or other measures to discourage over-production, over-indebtedness, and over-consumption.

The emphasis on the “social economy” is not surprising, perhaps, given the traditional prominence within Quebec society of farming co-operatives, the caisses populaires (originally, parish-based credit unions), and similar service-based not-for-profit organizations, with self-defined “social missions” and relatively democratic decision-making structures.[14] The attention to the “domestic economy” reflects as well the traditions and roots of many QS members in the feminist movement and its recognition that many important economic functions of society go unpaid or underpaid relative to other economic sectors.

However, many of these undertakings operate in low-wage ghettos, and they often serve to legitimize the privatization of public services. And although some sectors, as in the childcare industry, have managed to unionize, some major proponents of Quebec’s “social economy” are heavily implicated in collaborating with the trade union-sponsored investment funds such as the FTQ’s Solidarity Fund or the CSN’s Fondaction, which have served as a major economic and ideological bulwark for the conservative union bureaucracy.[15] The “social economy,” as it actually functions in Quebec society, is an integral part of its capitalist economy. And some of its components, such as the massive Desjardins Movement, a dominant player in retail banking and insurance in the province, are major institutions of “Québec Inc.,” the new Francophone corporate elite.

A packed agenda did not allow time for debate on important resolutions on banking and the financial industry — where some draft proposals called for complete expropriation — and taxation, where proposals included, inter alia, rejection of consumption taxes and radically shifting the tax burden from individuals to corporations. These topics were left for future debate and decision.

A party of the ballot boxes... and the streets?

Aware that “politics” is conventionally viewed as electoral and parliamentary activity, Québec Solidaire has established itself as an officially recognized party under Quebec law. Since its founding, and particularly since Khadir’s election in 2008, the focus has been increasingly on a strategy of building the party through the ballot box, to the neglect of extra-parliamentary action “in the streets.” A “development plan” adopted at a National Council meeting, in June 2010, summarized the objectives for the next two years as “advancing our ideas in the population, gaining a greater presence in public debates, electing more MNAs and appreciably increasing our percentage of the vote in the next general elections.”

A draft resolution of the QS policy commission, still to be debated and adopted in a future convention, addresses “the relations between Québec Solidaire, the trade-union movement and the social movements in general.” The draft text outlines a strategy by which QS, “as a party and as a government, should seek to strengthen the capacities of the social movements, encourage their unity in action and participate in them on the basis of a program of social transformation.” It proposes that QS members who belong to the various social movements be encouraged to “network” within the party — that is, coordinate their activities within the unions and other movements around a strategy of reciprocal reinforcement of the movements and the party while respecting “the organizational and political autonomy of the social movements.” This draft text addresses an important lacuna in Québec Solidaire’s activities.

Québec Solidaire works alongside the unions and some social movements in a number of coalitions, such as the pro-independence Conseil de la Souveraineté. But its modest campaign in relation to the public-sector unions’ negotiations with the Quebec government last year, labelled “Courage politique,” failed to mount a clear defense of the unions’ demands and was largely confined to arguments in support of existing social programs and opposition to privatization. The party has no organized presence as such in the unions.

As the policy commission puts it, the conquest of political power requires “a structured political organization whose program integrates the demands of the social movements and an overall projet de société [program for society].” And thus it is important to think in particular about the party’s relation with “the trade-union movement, which occupies a central place within Quebec’s social movements.”

The undemocratic first-past-the-post system in Quebec (as in every other jurisdiction in Canada) poses some formidable obstacles to a new party with radical ideas facing a hostile mass media in a multiparty environment. Québec Solidaire promotes a detailed proposal for a system of proportional representation, but recognizes that there is no early prospect of its adoption. With this in mind, the party leadership asked delegates to the March convention to consider whether QS should seek electoral agreements with other parties under which each party would agree not to contest certain ridings in which the other stood a better chance of electing its candidate. Two options were on the table: (a) a possible tactical agreement with the Parti Québécois and/or the Verts (a small Green party); or (b) a possible tactical agreement with the Verts alone, a “strategic alliance” with that party being deemed conceivable if based on the Global Greens Charter, but ruled out for “practical reasons pertaining to internal decisions of the Verts in Quebec.”

After an intense debate, the delegates rejected any such alliances, despite appeals from both Amir Khadir and Françoise David, among others, in support of either option. Opponents noted that such alliances would blur Québec Solidaire’s programmatic differences from the other parties, particularly the PQ, and in any case were impractical — the PQ is apprehensive of the growing popularity of QS among many of its traditional supporters, and PQ governments have always resisted implementing any form of proportional representation. The vote also reaffirmed the members’ determination to build Québec Solidaire as an independent left-wing political alternative to the Parti Québécois.

A ‘country of projects’

The unexpected surge in support for the New Democratic Party in the May 2 federal election, and the sharp decline in the Bloc Québécois vote,[16] have underscored the volatility of the Quebec electorate and stimulated hopes in Québec Solidaire, which does not run for federal office, for major gains in the next provincial election. It has also given a powerful boost to the party’s campaign “for a country of projects,” launched in mid-April of 2011 pursuant to a resolution adopted at its November 2009 convention.[17] The campaign web site sets out the party’s vision of sovereignty and the approach it favours for achieving it. It also outlines the party’s approach to strengthening the status of the French language, especially in Montréal. As the web site explains:

“Some of these projects can be achieved here and now, without affecting Quebec’s constitutional status. However, the people’s ambition to realize many other projects will soon be hobbled by the total or partial absence of any latitude for Quebec in areas as fundamental as the environment, foreign policy, foreign trade and even language. The full mastery of our destiny is therefore indispensable for achieving all of the projects of our dreams.”

Associated materials (all on-line) include a historical survey that dates a Québécois quest for sovereignty back to the 18th century, a critique of Canadian federalism and the failure of past efforts to reform the system, and a critique of “the impasse of the PQ and its referendum strategy,” to which it counterposes Québec Solidaire’s proposed grassroots campaign to build support for sovereignty and, eventually, the election of a democratic non-partisan Constituent Assembly to adopt a constitution for an independent Quebec. Associated articles describe parallel “inspiring experiences” in Bolivia, Ecuador and, most recently, in Tunisia.

In the fall of 2011, the campaign will feature a tour of Quebec by QS president Françoise David and public meetings “on themes chosen by local party associations.”

This campaign has the potential to boost Québec Solidaire’s profile as the left wing of the independence movement, with a “project for society” and a “country of projects” that points toward an anticapitalist alternative vision that breaks sharply with the PQ-Bloc strategy for independence — a strategy “based on alienation from Canada,” and “fuelled by resentment,” as Amir Khadir described it in a recent analysis of the federal election results.[18]

21st century socialism?

The rightward evolution of the traditional sovereigntist parties, the PQ and BQ, has left a very broad space to their left, one that Québec Solidaire aspires to fill. The party has managed to cast a wide net, encompassing leading activists from the women’s movement and community social action groups, veterans of previous but unsuccessful attempts to found viable parties of socialism and a Marxist left, and some trade unionists.

It cannot (yet) be classified as anti-capitalist, or a party of 21st century socialism as that concept has generally been conceived. But it is clearly much more than a Québécois version of the federalist NDP, notwithstanding hopes expressed by QS leaders that the NDP will some day prove a valuable Canadian interlocutor for Quebec as it moves to independence.

Québec Solidaire’s support of Quebec independence means that its strategic framework is not limited to the existing form of the state; it opens the party’s imagination and perspectives to conceiving another, very different Quebec based on the “values” or principles upheld by the party. This is not a line of march that facilitates accommodation with the Canadian bourgeoisie or its Quebec component. This independentism is one of Québec Solidaire’s strongest programmatic assets, offering it the potential to build a party that encompasses and represents the driving forces for progressive social transformation within the Quebec social formation.

There are other important features of the party, however, that underscore its sui generis nature in the Quebec, and indeed Canadian, political landscape and that offer hope for its evolution and development into a mass socialist party with deep roots among Quebec working people.

The party’s strong commitment to feminist principles has given it a compass in navigating through the shoals of the public debate over Quebec identity and “reasonable accommodation.” Despite some backsliding by the party leadership,[19] QS has generally stood firm behind its support of “open secularism” in the face of harsh criticism from some on the left. The near parity of women with men in the party’s membership and structures is unique in Quebec, and in Canada.

Québec Solidaire’s internationalism has been given limited expression in its opposition to capitalist trade and investment deals, its opposition to the war in Afghanistan, and in its sympathy toward progressive governments in Latin America. The party has been harshly attacked in the mainstream media for its participation in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israeli apartheid, which the delegates to its November 2009 convention voted unanimously to endorse — a position that demarks Québec Solidaire from the NDP’s strong support of the Zionist state.[20]

The party’s commitment to defence of the environment, if adhered to consistently, points it toward anti-capitalist solutions and the formulation of a radical ecosocialism that can link up with the worldwide movement developing in the wake of Bolivia’s Cochabamba conference of 2010.

Last but not least, the pluralism of Québec Solidaire, its desire to include within its ranks all those in Quebec who wish to fight for another, better world, opens space for revolutionary socialists and Marxists to join the party and to fight for their perspectives within the party as organized “collectives” democratically recognized by the party’s statutes although not represented as such in its leadership bodies. Although they have maintained a rather low profile so far, some of these collectives could play a leading role in helping to bring theoretical understanding and clarity to the evolving debates on the party’s program and its activities. Perhaps more importantly, they could help to overcome a glaring deficiency in the party: its lack of any coherent organized educational effort among its members and the larger left constituency.

This paper has described in considerable detail the process of formation of Québec Solidaire because it has features that can serve as guides for other processes in other settings.

The left groups that initiated the process recognized a shift in the objective situation — in this case the growing disillusionment with the PQ, the new vibrancy of the women’s movement, and the appearance of a new altermondialiste movement mobilizing young people in opposition to capitalist oppression and injustice. They laid down a minimal set of principles for regroupment and consolidation:

  • a strategic framework of striving for the independence of Quebec;
  • feminism, both programmatically and organizationally (as in male-female parity in party structures);
  • pluralism, inclusion of all who agreed to support and work to implement the party’s “values” and general orientations, and respect for minority opinions including the right of members with particular perspectives to organize within the party in support of their views;
  • internationalism — placing anti-imperialism, solidarity and global justice at the core of the new party’s politics.

And throughout, they were willing to let the process follow its own rhythm. As Pierre Dostie said, in describing the UFP’s approach to fusion with Option citoyenne, the latter “had to comply with its own process, [so] we sought areas of convergence and we entered into a dialogue.” (note 15, supra)

The goal is to build a party that encompasses and represents the leading militants in all those movements that are, in various ways, engaged in struggles against capital.

The future of Québec Solidaire is closely linked to its ability to become more integrated in Quebec’s broad labour-radical subculture, and to develop the “reciprocal relationship” with the trade union and popular movements that is outlined in the policy commission proposal.

To the degree that it does this, the social and ethnic composition of the party will change. QS is still a “white” party, for example. Neither its membership nor its leading bodies reflect the diverse ethnic and immigrant composition of Quebec. It is no accident that its major achievements so far, the election of Amir Khadir, an Iranian-Québécois with deep roots in the independence movement, was scored in one of Montréal's most ethnically diverse constituencies.

Québec Solidaire cannot yet be characterized as an anticapitalist party. But it is fair to say that it is much more than a Québécois version of, say, the federal NDP. Some important features of the party underscore its sui generis nature and offer hope for its evolution and development into a mass socialist party with deep roots among Quebec working people.


This article is scheduled for publication in a forthcoming issue of the journal Alternate Routes. It is an expanded and updated version of a presentation to the third annual conference of the Critical Social Research Collaborative, held March 5, 2011 at Carleton University, Ottawa, on the theme “Varieties of Socialism, Varieties of Approaches.” I thank John Riddell and David Mandel for their critical comments on an earlier draft. The usual caveats apply. Published with the permission of Alternate Routes. – Richard Fidler

[1] Information provided at the party’s Fifth Convention, November 2009.

[2] Presse-toi-à gauche (on-line webzine), À Bâbord ! (bimonthly magazine), and Nouveaux Cahiers du Socialisme (semi-annual journal, which also hosts a webzine).

[3] To see Khadir’s interventions in the Assembly (there are hundreds of them since his election), click on http://www.assnat.qc.ca/fr/deputes/khadir-amir-25/interventions.html.

[4] Engagements Électoraux De Québec Solidaire. Summarized in “Québec Solidaire Adopts a Program for Government,” Socialist Voice No. 103.

[5] Engagements 2008 de Québec Solidaire (in English). Discussed in “Québec Solidaire scores major breakthrough in Quebec election.”

[6] Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America), a progressive economic and social alliance for fair trade and mutual assistance initiated by Venezuela and Cuba, which now comprises eight countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.

[7] See Québec Solidaire, “Définition du programme politique,” http://programme.quebecsolidaire.net/definition.

[8] In the most recent discussion, prior to the Sixth Convention held in March 2011, the policy commission received about 150 submissions. Following publication of the perspectives booklet, members submitted about 600 amendments and new proposals or comments from about 40 local associations or committees entitled to representation at the convention. (Introduction to the Cahier Synthèse – Programme) This suggests that most of the internal preconvention discussion was on the basis of the perspectives document, with its succinct specific demands.

[9] For a full report, see “Quebec left debates independence strategy,” Socialist Voice, December 3, 2009.

[10] See “Beyond capitalism? Québec Solidaire launches debate on its program for social transformation,” http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/491.php.

[11] Québec Solidaire, “Pour une société solidaire et écologique...”, Cahier de participation au programme, Enjeu 2, June 2010, p. 5.

[12]Pour Sortir de la Crise: Dépasser le Capitalisme? Manifeste de Québec Solidaire,” May 1, 2009.

[13] For excerpts, see “Beyond capitalism? ...,” note 28.

[14] In Quebec as a whole, the “social economy” comprises more than 7,000 “collective enterprises (cooperatives and non-profits)” employing 125,000 workers and accounting for 8% of the province’s GDP. See Chantier de l’économie sociale, Définition. A recent study of the “social economy” in Montréal alone lists close to 4,000 establishments with $2 billion in revenues and employing more than 65,000 salaried workers (women occupying about 59% of full-time and 66% of part-time jobs). They encompass a wide variety of undertakings: housing cooperatives, child-care centres, caterers, domestic care agencies, as well as some major operations in the retail, finance and insurance sectors. See “Portrait statistique de l'économie sociale de la région administrative de Montréal,” available at http://www.chaire.ecosoc.uqam.ca/.

[15] See, for example, “Integration with trade unions is key to the success of Social/Solidarity Economy initiatives,” an interview with Nancy Neamtam, available at http://www.chantier.qc.ca/?module=document&action=get&uid=1059.

[16] The NDP took 43% of the popular vote in Quebec, electing 59 of the province’s 75 MPs. In 2008 it had polled only 12.2%, electing one MP. The Bloc vote fell from close to 40% in 2008 to less than 24%, and it elected only 4 MPs, although it had elected a majority of Quebec’s MPs since 1993. See The federal NDP’s electoral breakthrough in Quebec: A challenge to progressives in Canada, and More on that election. The Bloc’s collapse has touched off a profound crisis within the Parti Québécois and traditional pro-sovereignty movement: see Behind those resignations from the Parti Québécois.

[17] See “Quebec left debates strategy for independence,” http://lifeonleft.blogspot.com/2009/12/quebec-left-debates-strategy-for.html. The interactive campaign web site may be accessed at www.paysdeprojets.org.

[18] “Après les élections fédérales – Le Québec qui nous attend,” Le Devoir, May 14, 2011. Translated in More on that election.

[19] QS has given critical support to the Charest government’s Bill 94, which would deny government-funded health care, education and child care services to all whose clothing prevents disclosure of their face, and would bar them from government and public-service employment. The bill patently targets a tiny number of Muslim women who wear niqabs or burqas. And when some Sikhs sought to appear before a parliamentary committee to express their opposition to Bill 94, Amir Khadir added his vote on a PQ motion, supported by the other parties, to exclude them from the National Assembly because they were wearing their ceremonial dagger, the kirpan. This action is arguably inconsistent with the resolutions on laïcité adopted a year ago, mentioned in this paper.

[20] Québec Solidaire was a strong supporter of the recent “Boat to Gaza” solidarity project, delegating a QS leader, Manon Massé, to participate personally on the party’s behalf in the international attempt to breach the Israeli blockade of the Palestinian statelet.

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