Tag Archives: Quebec

Quebec: CAQ in power, QS on the rise

by Robbie Mahood  (October 20, 2018)

For the past 45 years, governmental power in Quebec has alternated between the federalist Parti Liberal du Québec (PLQ) and the sovereigntist Parti Quebec (PQ). That political era has ended.

Both these parties were punished by the electorate. The Liberals fell to less than 25% of the vote, the lowest in its history. The PQ paid a high price for its support of neoliberal austerity and the parallel weakening of its commitment to independence. It could manage only 17% of the vote and went from 30 to 10 seats.

The Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ) takes up the reins of power with 74 of the 125 seats.   It is a right of centre party deploying a xenophobic identitarian nationalism to conceal more austerity, privatization and fossil fuel friendly policies.

The CAQ is a motley crew of disaffected former Liberals and PQistes under the leadership of Francois Legault, an ex-PQ minister and one-time airline CEO. During the campaign, Legault threatened to raise barriers to immigration and ban the wearing of the hijab in the civil service and schools.  The CAQ opposes independence but will pose as the best defender of Quebec ‘interests’ in negotiations with Ottawa and the other provinces.

Quebec’s small left party, Quebec Solidaire (QS), emerged as the other winner in this election. It more than doubled its popular vote to 16% and went from 3 to 10 deputies in the National Assembly, level with the PQ.

Among the plethora of minor parties, the Greens fared best with 1.68% of the vote followed by the Conservatives with 1.46 % and trailing badly, the newly launched provincial Quebec New Democratic Party (NDP) at 0.57 %. The NDP’s attempt to split the left vote failed miserably and deservedly so.

As elsewhere throughout the advanced and not so advanced capitalist world, Quebec is experiencing a populist moment.  There is the same disenchantment with what Tariq Ali calls the parties of “the extreme centre” – in the case of Quebec, the Liberals and PQ – and a polarization along right-left lines even if expressed in populist rather than clearly class terms.

Although more restrained, the CAQ bears comparison with the right wing xenophobic parties in Europe and with Doug Ford’s reactionary Tory regime next door in Ontario. It is noteworthy that Legault received a welcome tweet from Marie Le Pen, leader of France’s Front National, on the morrow of the CAQ victory.

QS provided a left response to the CAQ. After years of stifling neoliberal consensus, its high visibility campaign came as a breath of fresh air. It emphasized the diversity of its candidates and an anti-austerity program that highlighted universal dental insurance, free education from daycare through university, a transition to free public transit, opposition to fossil fuel extraction and rehabilitating the vision of an independent Quebec that would be inclusive, egalitarian and open to a new pact with the province’s indigenous peoples.

QS’s decision to spurn an electoral pact with the PQ, last year’s fusion with the small nationalist PQ breakaway, Option Nationale, and the linking of independence with social reform, struck a chord among politically more aware youth and sections of the francophone working class. It is now poised to displace the PQ, even to the extent of duplicating the latter’s early electoral success, starting in Montreal and then extending to the regions.

It seems unlikely the PQ can revive its fortunes. Not so the Liberals. They can recover as long as they monopolize the federalist vote.

What are the prospects for a new alternation between the CAQ and the Liberals? This depends on whether there is room for two parties, both of them neoliberal and federalist.

Many voted for the CAQ as a way of defeating the Liberals. But there is no denying the CAQ’s appeal to xenophobia. It will use nationalist and racist demagogy to divert attention from its mission to serve the needs of Quebec capitalists allied with Anglo-Canadian and transnational capital within the confines of the federal Canadian state.

Yet the CAQ has a weak mandate. It lacks the internal cohesion and reliable base of the outgoing Liberals. It is vulnerable to mass mobilization under vigorous and determined leadership. Will the unions and QS rise to this challenge?

The bureaucratic leadership of the unions is quite disoriented by this turn in Quebec politics. Its de facto alliance with the PQ is sinking. Yet it hesitates to support and intervene in QS.  It has not mobilized the ranks, even half-heartedly, for over two years.

An aggressive drive by the CAQ for more austerity and privatization may shake Quebec labour out of its lethargy. But indispensable is a new leadership in the unions that recognizes it will take mass struggle to win and that Quebec labour must take the road of political independence, an opportunity that was missed in the 1970’s.

While QS is a left party, it is not a party of the working class. It is anti-austerity but lacking in clear class references. In part, this reflects the historic weakness of the Social Democratic and Stalinist traditions in Quebec.

Of more concern is that QS has been silent on two current union struggles, that of the locked-out workers in the aluminum industry and the strike of employees in the province’s liquor stores.

QS has much in common with other left populist formations such as Melanchon’s La France Insoumise, and Podemos in Spain. Although the contexts are different, Sanders in the US and Corbyn in the UK also provide points of reference.

QS’s populism was very evident in the campaign. When Manon Massé, the party’s dynamic co-leader, was pressed by journalists to clarify if she was a Marxist, she was evasive, refusing to say that she was a socialist or even an anti-capitalist. According to her, QS was above all such “isms”’.

QS presents itself as a party of the Quebec nation in which class and national aspirations are fused. Consistent with left populism, QS replaces a perspective of socialist transformation and workers power with the idea of a people or nation against a corrupt elite.

The leadership of QS has set its sights on an eventual parliamentary majority. Its program is divided between limited measures for adoption in a first mandate leaving more radical parts of the program for later implementation. This is reminiscent of the classic divide between minimum and maximum program decreed by European social democracy prior to the First World War. In this way the parties of the Second International transformed themselves into aspiring managers of the capitalist state with at best a limited reform agenda and at worst support for repression at home and imperialist war abroad.

In contrast to social democracy’s absorption by the capitalist system, what is needed is a party that agitates outside parliament for transitional demands that point the way to radical anti-capitalist measures undertaken by a workers’ government.

Many socialist groups in Greece had their fingers burned by their support for the left party, SYRIZA, in 2014. We should be no less guarded in our approach to QS. As the party gets closer to winning a majority in the National Assembly, the pressure to adapt and retreat will be enormous.

Should socialists work within or from outside QS? Is QS on the way or in the way?

The Ligue pour l’Action socialiste (LAS) offered critical support to QS in this election.  We urge the building of a socialist tendency that pushes the party to become an opposition not only in the National Assembly but also in the streets where it must work closely with the unions and allied social movements.  Without an organized tendency, the efforts of individual socialists in QS will be dissipated.

Legault can be expected to pursue more cuts in health care, education and social services, give a green light to fracking and additional suburban auto-routes and introduce measures that further stigmatise immigrants. Will he follow through on his threat to invoke the not-withstanding clause in Canada’s Constitution to ban the hijab in the public service, among teachers, or by anyone in a position of authority such as judges or doctors?

Solidarity with the weakest members of our class is a litmus test for socialists and the labour movement. Forcing a retreat by the CAQ on its anti-immigrant policies will stimulate resistance on other fronts, notably against austerity and degradation of the environment.

The election reveals a nation that is more divided than ever under the weight of decaying social conditions and the bankruptcy of the neoliberal order. A period of political uncertainty and contestation lies ahead. Class divisions are more clearly expressed than at any time in the past 50 years.

That is not to say that the national question has disappeared.

Sentiment for independence is certainly at a low ebb, but the obituary sought by those favouring the federal tie is premature.  The PQ dragged the independence option through the mud of racism and neoliberal reaction. Besides marshalling sentiment against austerity, QS has quietly but perceptibly rescued independence as a means of realizing the social aspirations of the Quebecois. True, the content is vague. But a genuine struggle for independence will of necessity confront the need for a rupture with Anglo-North American capital and its junior partners in Quebec.

This election reveals popular discontent with the status quo and a rejection of the old political order.  Quebec has a long tradition of popular struggle and the highest union density in North America. There is a potential for mass mobilization waiting to be tapped.

Heading into the next period our watchwords should be:

– Quebec Solidaire in the National Assembly but not of the National Assembly. The party’s elected deputies should act as tribunes of the people accountable to the working class, social and climate justice movements.

– Win QS to a Workers’ Agenda. Win the unions to QS.  Quebec needs a fighting party of the working class and its allies.

– Block the CAQ, starting with its racist anti-immigrant agenda and clear the path for mass action against austerity, a halt to climate vandalism, for real climate amelioration, and in support of workers’ and popular struggles.

Les Québécois vont aux urnes

par Robbie Mahood

Le 1er octobre sera jour d’élections au Québec, une première en vertu d’une nouvelle loi qui exige un nouveau mandat tous les 4 ans.

Alors que la population se lasse des coupures dans les services de santé, l’éducation et les services sociaux, le gouvernement du Parti libéral de Philippe Couillard pourrait subir une défaite.  Mais ce ne sera pas aux mains de leur rival traditionnel, le Parti québécois (PQ).

Le PQ nationaliste bourgeois est en crise. Il est à l’origine des deux référendums sur l’indépendance du Québec en 1980 et 1995. Mais il a reporté un autre référendum à un avenir indéfini, si à jamais. Perdant sa raison d’être en tant que parti de la souveraineté, il perd son appui principalement à la Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), un parti populiste de centre-droite maintenant en position de renverser les Libéraux. Sous l’ancien ministre du PQ, François Legault, un gouvernement de la CAQ approfondirait l’austérité tout en se servant des immigrants comme boucs émissaires et en se présentant comme le meilleur défenseur des « intérêts » du Québec dans ses négociations avec Ottawa.

Il reste donc le petit parti de « gauche », Québec Solidaire (QS). En mettant de l’avant un programme pro-indépendance et anti-austérité, QS espère rallier les souverainistes et les électeurs de la classe ouvrière aux dépens du PQ. Mais avec 10 % des intentions de vote, il ne peut s’attendre qu’à ajouter quelques députés de plus à sa liste actuelle de 3 députés sur 125 à l’Assemblée nationale.

Cette élection témoigne de la stagnation de la politique parlementaire bourgeoise au Québec.  Un consensus idéologique étouffant entoure les Libéraux, la CAQ et le PQ. Pour la plupart des électeurs, le choix est de se débarrasser d’une bande de politiciens réactionnaires corrompus et de les remplacer par une autre. Seul QS fournit une certaine forme de soulagement.

Cela reflète l’accalmie actuelle des luttes sociales et de classe au Québec. C’est le prix à payer pour le poids mort du leadership bureaucratique des syndicats québécois. Après avoir pesé de tout leur poids dans le projet nationaliste bourgeois du PQ dans les années 1970, ils se retrouvent maintenant dans une position très affaiblie après des années de concessions et de recul.  Les dirigeants syndicaux ont limité leur intervention dans cette élection à « interroger » les trois partis qui pourraient gagner. Leur horizon stratégique se limite à s’assurer une place à la table lorsque les politiciens néo-libéraux s’assoient avec les gens d’affaires du Québec.

Les dirigeants syndicaux ne sont toujours pas prêts à accepter une rupture définitive avec le PQ, ne faisant que signaler leur intention de voter contre les Libéraux et la CAQ.

Et ce, malgré un programme électoral de QS que les syndicats peuvent certainement soutenir : soins dentaires publics, suppression du financement public des écoles privées, scolarisation gratuite de la maternelle à l’université, recentrer les soins de santé primaires au sein du secteur public, suppression des frais à payer pour placer les enfants dans les garderies, promesse de financer les transports en commun et transition rapide vers un salaire minimum à 15 dollars de l’heure.

QS incarne des éléments contradictoires.  C’est un parti progressiste ou “de gauche”, mais loin d’être un parti travailliste ou socialiste. Son évolution est de plus en plus déterminée par des calculs électoraux. Le programme parfois radical du parti est souvent rogné par la direction pour ne pas trop s’écarter du consensus capitaliste libéral du Québec. Par exemple, QS a atténué son engagement envers l’objectif de la COP 21 de réduire les émissions de carbone de deux tiers d’ici 2030, afin de diminuer l’écart avec la position des partis néo-libéraux.

Par contre, QS a rejeté catégoriquement un pacte électoral avec le PQ. Et son programme s’incline vers la gauche, le démarquant de ses concurrents. QS représente une rupture partielle avec les partis de la classe dirigeante et pourrait offrir une vraie alternative, en ralliant les syndicats au parti et en proposant un programme clair pour la classe ouvrière.

C’est dans cette perspective que la Ligue pour l’Action socialiste lutte à l’intérieur et à l’extérieur de QS et lance un appel aux citoyens de se prononcer en déposant un vote critique pour QS.  Nous déplorons la décision du NPD provincial, récemment relancé, de présenter des candidats contre QS lors de cette élection. Cela divisera l’électorat de la classe ouvrière. Cette décision ne peut être motivée que par un réflexe sectaire et nationaliste fondé sur la loyauté envers l’État fédéral anglo-canadien. Le NPD provincial cherche à enlever des voix à un autre parti beaucoup plus établi de la gauche réformiste simplement parce qu’il offre une vision et un programme progressistes (mais, comme le NPD, à peine socialistes) dans le cadre d’un Québec indépendant.

Quebecois go to the polls

by Robbie Mahood
October 1 is election day in Quebec, the first under a new law that requires a new mandate every 4 years.

As the population wearies of cutbacks in health care, education and social services, the Liberal Party government of Philippe Couillard is facing defeat. But this will not be at the hands of their traditional rival, the Parti Quebecois (PQ).

The bourgeois nationalist PQ is in crisis. It was responsible for calling Quebec’s two referenda on independence in 1980 and 1995. But it has consigned another referendum to the indefinite future, if ever. Losing its raison d’être as the party of sovereignty, it is bleeding support mainly to the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), a populist right of centre party, now poised to oust the Liberals. Under former PQ Minister, Francois Legault, a CAQ government would deepen austerity while scapegoating immigrants and posing as the best defender of Quebec’s “interests” in negotiations with Ottawa.

That leaves the small ‘left’ party, Quebec Solidaire (QS). By pushing a pro-independence and anti-austerity agenda, QS hopes to win over sovereigntist and working class voters from the PQ. But at 10% in the polls, the most that can be expected is adding a few more deputies to its current roster of 3 out of 125 in the National Assembly.

This election testifies to the stagnation of bourgeois parliamentary politics in Quebec. A stifling ideological consensus envelops the Liberals, the CAQ and the PQ. For most voters the choice is whether to toss out one band of corrupt reactionary politicians and replace them with another. Only QS provides some measure of relief.

This reflects the current lull in social and class struggles in Quebec. That is the price for the dead weight of the bureaucratic leadership of Quebec’s unions. Having thrown their weight behind the PQ’s bourgeois nationalist project in the 1970’s, they now find themselves in a greatly weakened position after years of concessions and retreat. Union leaders have confined their intervention in this election to ‘interrogating’ the three parties that might win. Their strategic horizon is limited to securing a seat at the table when neo-liberal politicians sit down with Quebec’s business class.

The union brass is still not willing to countenance a definitive break with the PQ, only signalling to vote against the Liberals and the CAQ.

This is despite a QS election programme that the unions can certainly support: public dental care, ending public funding of private schools, free education from pre-school to university, re-orienting primary health care to the public sector, abolishing the fees families must pay to place their children in the province’s daycare centers, a promise to invest in mass transit and a quick transition to a $15 per hour minimum wage.
QS embodies contradictory elements. It is a progressive or ‘left’ party, but far from a labour or socialist party. Its evolution is increasingly determined by electoral calculations. The sometimes-radical party programme is often trimmed by the leadership so as to stay within Quebec’s liberal capitalist consensus. For example, a commitment to the COP 21 target of a 2/3’s cut in carbon emissions by 2030, was scaled back so as to close the gap with the position of the neo-liberal parties.

On the other hand, QS decisively rejected an electoral pact with the PQ. And its programme tilts leftwards, demarcating it from its rivals. It represents a partial break with the ruling class parties and there is potential for it to become a class alternative, by seeking union affiliation to the party and advancing a clear working class agenda.
That is the perspective the Ligue pour l’Action socialiste fights for within and outside of QS and the basis for our call for a critical vote for QS. We deplore the decision of the newly relaunched provincial NDP to put up candidates against QS in this election. This will divide the pro-working class electorate. The rationale for this decision can only spring from a sectarian and nationalist reflex based on loyalty to the federal Anglo-Canadian state. The provincial NDP seeks to take votes away from another much more established party of the reform-minded left just because it offers a progressive (yet, like the NDP, hardly socialist) vision and platform in the framework of an independent Quebec.

The Common Front and the Fight Against Austerity in Quebec

by Robbie Mahood
Since it was elected with a majority in 2014, the Quebec Liberal government of Philippe Couillard, has embarked on an aggressive austerity drive aimed at liquidating the social gains remaining from the class and national insurgency of the 1960`s  and 70`s.  Slashing budgets, opening up contracts to raid the pension plans of municipal employees, imposing new or higher user fees for public services, increasing the workload of teachers and nurses, eliminating programmes to safeguard health and the environment or provide assistance for vulnerable citizens — the government has cut a wide swath, targeting even privileged groups such as doctors.

Quebec Legalizes Euthanasia

by Robbie Mahood
In June 2014, Quebec became the first jurisdiction in the Canadian State to legalize euthanasia. Entitled “An Act respecting end-of-life care” the bill passed by a substantial majority in a free vote in the National Assembly.  Quebec joins three American states, plus Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland in legalizing some form of assisted dying. The new law would allow a doctor with the consent of the patient to administer medication to cause death.
The euthanasia debate in the Canadian state has been periodically re-ignited by high profile cases. More than 20 years ago, a former left-wing NDP MP, Svend Robinson, campaigned eloquently for a British Columbia woman, Sue Rodriguez, who in the terminal phase of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease) wished to end her life.
The decision of the Quebec government reflects a shift in public opinion.  In the presence of intractable suffering, a strong majority across the Canadian state supports the option of euthanasia or assisted suicide. Not surprisingly, support for legalization is highest in Quebec. Attitudes are consistently more liberal in Quebec than in the rest of Canada on many contested health and social questions, from abortion to the treatment of youth offenders.

In contrast, physicians in their majority have traditionally opposed euthanasia. This reflects in part the conservative mentality in the profession. More significantly, the Hippocratic injunction to ‘do no harm’ was understood as an obligation to always preserve and extend life. However, medical and social investment  in end-of-life care has modified this view. The palliative care movement has brought death and dying out of the shadows. This has resulted not only in better techniques to relieve suffering, but an appreciation of the limits of medical intervention and an affirmation of the needs and wishes of the dying patient.
Professional opinion has shifted. For example, the Canadian Medical Association in a recent statement on euthanasia recognized that a more open approach was necessary, even if it stopped short of recommending de-criminalization.
It remains to be seen whether the Harper regime in Ottawa will lauch an appeal. The federal government fully backs the ban on euthanasia in the (federal) criminal code.  Quebec is  determined to defend the new law based on provincial jurisdiction over health care.
In any case, there will certainly be a court challenge from anti-euthanasia forces in Quebec.  The Canadian Supreme Court is also set to rule on another case of assisted suicide which will expose the federal criminal statute, once again, to legal scrutiny  The Court’s last ruling in 1993, upheld the constitutionality of the ban on euthanasia.  In the meantime, however, both public and medical opinion has shifted as has the composition of the Court.  Were the Supreme Court to rule in Ottawa`s favour, this would pose a direct challenge to the new Quebec law, and in the process raise the question of Quebec`s national rights.
Euthanasia is a contentious issue bringing out a variety of strongly held opinions, both personal and philosophical.  It can divide those who would otherwise make common cause.  For example, the Montreal-based Physicians for Social Justice, staunch defenders of publicly funded health care, are vehemently opposed to the new provincial euthanasia law.
Not surprisingly, the anti-abortion lobby, together with the Roman Catholic Church and various Protestant sects, are opposed to de-criminalizing euthanasia.  But many who are not influenced by religious doctrine fear that sanctioning euthanasia will prove to be the  ‘slippery slope’ to a generalized ‘cheapening’ of human life leading to abuse of  vulnerable groups such as the  elderly and disabled. The eugenics movement of the first part of the twentieth century, reaching its apogee in the crimes of the Nazi era, is often invoked.  However, those who favour legalization can also stake a claim to compassion, arguing that assisted dying provides relief of suffering and embodies respect for individual choice.
What position, if any, should socialists adopt on this question, and how should we participate in the debate?
A first step should be to support de-criminalization. Euthanasia already occurs outside the law. Legalization would bring the whole question into the open and allow critical inquiry to shed light on practice.
In several studies, a substantial proportion of palliative care patients wanted to have the choice to end their lives if their condition became unbearable. Yet, in those jurisdictions where euthanasia has been legalized, the option is exercised infrequently (less than 1% of deaths in Oregon, for example).
References to Nazi atrocities should not be ripped out of historical context.  With the exception of some libertarian currents, today`s right wing is opposed to legalizing euthanasia.  Expanding end-of-life options, up to and including assisted suicide, is part of a trend toward greater individual rights and less control by the state and organized religion, a trend that socialists and the labour movement should support. 
At present, only a minority of patients (25-30% in Canada) have access to specialized palliative care at or near the end of life. The claim is made by some that legally sanctioned euthanasia would divert attention from the need for more services, or could even lead to cutbacks to palliative care.  Cutbacks, in turn, could increase the pressure to euthanize, whether from health care providers, patients or their families.
The potential for abuse should be squarely faced. A criticism of the new Quebec legislation is that it opens the door to abuse because it gives exclusive power to doctors to authorize and carry out euthanasia. Indeed, for this reason, many palliative care physicians are uneasy about the new law.
With or without de-criminalization, there is potential for abuse. We have only to recall the events at New Orleans’ Memorial Medical Centre during Hurricane Katrina. Twenty-three patients were apparently euthanized by medical staff after evacuation was refused by Tenet Healthcare, the owner of the hospital. Under duress, all of the class and racist assumptions endemic to capitalist society came to the fore, and combined with the arbitrary power of the medical profession, and a profit-hungry corporate health care conglomerate, and resulted in the killing of vulnerable patients (cf: Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, by Sherri Fink, Atlantic).
Making the case for de-criminalization, the Canadian ethicist, Arthur Schafer, points out that “not all slopes are slippery”. He notes that the gradual acceptance of so-called ‘indirect’ and ‘passive’ euthanasia (withholding or withdrawing life support and the priorization of symptom relief even if it might hasten the patient’s death), far from brutalizing end-of–life care has been accompanied by a greater sensitivity to patient needs and respect for their autonomy.  He argues persuasively that “Canadians (and Quebecois) should be able to choose from among a full range of options, including first rate palliative care and physician-assisted suicide…with  proper safeguards to ensure openness and accountability.” (“The Great Canadian Euthanasia Debate”, A. Schafer, The Globe and Mail, Nov 5, 2009)
What would constitute “proper safeguards” may therefore become an important issue. But it should not alter the position in favour of de-criminalization.  We should agree with Schafer, that there is no contradiction in fighting for greater access to high-quality palliative care, with euthanasia as a last resort where the overall goal is to provide `death with dignity`.