Quebec Independence -- A Key to Building the Left in Canada

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin .... No. 1478 .... September 6, 2017

Quebec Independence – A Key to Building the Left in Canada

Richard Fidler

The 2017 edition of the Université populaire (the People’s University), meeting in Montréal August 17-19, included a panel of speakers from Quebec and English Canada on the possibilities for building a convergence of left forces in both nations.

It was chaired and introduced by Andrea Levy, a Montréal-based editor of Canadian Dimension, and included André Frappier, a former president of the Montréal postal workers and now a leader of Québec solidaire; Kevin Skerrett, a leading activist in Solidarity Ottawa; Corvin Russell, a Toronto solidarity activist and recently co-author with Andrea Levy of an excellent paper, "Mapping the Canadian Left: Sovereignty and Solidarity in the 21st Century" and myself. I am a... member of both Solidarity Ottawa and Québec solidaire.

The conference program introduced the topic as follows:

"The Canadian State is a common obstacle faced by progressive forces in Québec and Canada that makes the creation of alliances as much a necessity as a virtue. However, both in Québec and Canada, the left is mired in narrow ideological perspectives and lacking real involvement in day-to-day struggles. The growing resistance of Indigenous peoples is a game changer for both sides as it calls into question the very foundations of the Canadian State. This session proposes to look at how we might build toward a new convergence of forces. How can the Canadian left support the struggle for national and social emancipation in Québec? What are the weak points in the Canadian State and among the elites seeking to maintain power. What sorts of struggles can we engage in jointly? How can progressive organizations in Canada and Québec develop a common strategy of international solidarity with Indigenous peoples in Canada? What means can we use to fulfill these aims?"

Levy and Frappier spoke in French, the rest of us in English, with simultaneous interpretation. The panelists’ contributions were followed by some stimulating exchanges with members of the audience. Unfortunately, the session was not recorded.

The following is a slightly expanded and edited version of my presentation. Readers will note that, contrary to some assertions in the above note by the conference organizers, I make some important distinctions between the lefts in the two nations.

— Richard Fidler

The program introduction speaks of "convergence" as the goal. And it speaks of an impasse between the lefts in Quebec and Canada, implying a divergence. So I’ll begin by exploring this. In what follows I will focus on what can be termed the political left, seeking political solutions to the problems addressed more generally by the various social movements. And I will treat the New Democratic Party (NDP) as a part of the broad "left" in English Canada, for reasons I explain later.

Generally speaking, the socialist project is to "change the world by taking power" – that is, building powerful anticapitalist social forces and parties capable of winning control of the state and using government to help build a new anticapitalist popular sovereignty based on decentralized grass-roots participatory democracy.

However, how we think of "taking power" differs between the lefts in Quebec and the Rest of Canada (ROC). In Quebec, socialists have historically oriented to breaking from Canada and creating a sovereign state. In the rest of Canada the left seeks power in Ottawa, hoping at best to use the central government to reform, not dismantle, the central state. To understand this difference, which is crucial, we need to understand how the existing state is viewed in Quebec.

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