Friday, December 28, 2007

A Reader's Notebook

The current issue of Labour/Le Travail No. 60 (Fall 2007) reports that this excellent publication, published twice-yearly, will soon have all its back issues online and searchable. It began publishing, as Labour/Le travailleur, in 1978. The current publisher, Athabasca University, will establish a one-year firewall, limiting online access of the two most recent issues to subscribers.

However, the Canadian Periodical Index,, currently publishes the full contents (minus book reviews) of the two most recent issues, as well as selected articles and book reviews from past issues going back a dozen years or so.

In addition, past issues since 2001 are available for free online on the History Coop,

The focus of many articles is often more “micro” than “macro” — reflecting the tendency of graduate students to focus their dissertations on discrete periods and particular experiences and organizations in the distant past, rather than tackling the “big picture” canvasses of the struggles and politics of the working class as a whole. But there are many other features of the publication that make Labour/Le Travail a valuable source for any serious socialist in Canada, and of interest to many elsewhere who are eager to learn from the history of the workers movement in a country with a relatively developed class structure and some major internal national questions.

One of the most useful features is the book review section, which usually covers a couple of dozen or so books on labour or the left, broadly defined, published in recent years.

The current issue features, among others, articles on the Victoria general strike of 1919 (inspired by the upsurge in Winnipeg, but much less known); two articles on childhood experiences in the Ukrainian-Canadian working class and left in depression-era Canada; and an article on “Transforming Worker Representation: The Magna Model in Canada and Mexico”, a timely piece that indicates many of the implications of the recent “Framework of Fairness Agrement” signed between Magna and the Canadian Auto Workers union.

Of particular interest to me is an outstanding “Research Note” by Larry Savage on “Organized Labour and Constitutional Reform Under Mulroney”. It is a fascinating account of how the Canadian and Quebec labour movement (actually two distinct labour movements, each with their own dynamic) developed policy in relation to the Quebec national question, the issue that dominated Canadian politics in the 1980s and 1990s. The article can be found on-line at or, and because it is rather lengthy I won’t reproduce it here.

The article provides many insights into the dynamics of the relationship between organized labour and the NDP, showing how the conflicting pressures each was under produced contrasting policies on a major issue. The labour movement, and in particular the Canadian Labour Congress, was torn between the increasingly pro-sovereignty positions of its Quebec affiliate, the FTQ, and the indifference or open hostility toward Quebec’s national demands in the labour movement in English Canada. The CLC eventually opted for a position that allowed the FTQ complete autonomy, in a relationship that is the labour movement’s equivalent of the “sovereignty/association” formula favoured by the sovereigntist Parti québécois. The NDP, in contrast, largely because it is much more enmeshed in the mechanisms of state power through its Parliamentary caucus and provincial governments, took the opposite course and hardened its opposition to Quebec self-determination.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A balance sheet of the Quebec Social Forum

In an article posted on Quebec’s L’aut’journal, a progressive on-line journal, Diane Lamoureux offers a critical assessment of the recent Quebec Social Forum (FSQ).

Lamoureux, a well-known feminist scholar with a long history in the Quebec left (including a stint in the Trotskyist movement in the 1970s), acknowledges the achievements of the Forum, which was held in late August: the broad participation (some 5,000 registrants), the mix of generations, the quality of many of the workshops and plenary sessions, and the “partial inclusion of the First Nations”. It was, she agrees, a “magical moment” that fully justified the huge effort made by many militants to get it together.

But she also criticizes the Forum on a number of points.

The first was its failure to reach out to the left in the rest of Canada. “At a time when the federal government... is not only (neo)liberal in its economic and social policies — we’re used to that by now! — but also militarist and socially and morally conservative, a certain joint action (concertation) between social struggles on both sides of the Ottawa River would seem to be called for,” she writes.

The demonstrations at the Montebello summit, on the eve of the FSQ, were an opportunity for such collaboration, she writes. But “apart from the presence of Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians at one of the evening roundtables, and a few other guests from Canadian NGOs, this necessary coordination of struggles could not really be manifested in the spirit of the FSQ, since the Forum was only Québécois.”

Another weakness, Lamoureux says, was the very limited involvement of the indigenous First Nations. “The Saturday night panels made some room for them, but the question of the relationship that the Québécois from the various migration processes since the 16th century and the members of the First Nations want to and can maintain was not at the heart of the FSQ’s reflections.”

There was a good mix of several generations of activists at the Forum, Lamoureux notes, including many students. “But the cross-fertilization of ideas did not manage to produce a synthesis that could help relaunch the militant struggles, as is demonstrated by the extremely general nature of the Declaration adopted by the Assembly of Social Movements, which launched a call for mobilization on January 26, 2008, the date set internationally at the most recent World Social Forum.”

Lamoureux notes that the WSF was originally intended to help spark some synergy among the various left, anti-imperialist, feminist, ecologist and antiracist currents. In Quebec, she says, many of these social movements are already involved in all kinds of coalitions. But the FSQ did not generalize this “networking” function any further.

One problem, in Lamoureux’s view, is the “smorgasborg” method of organization, linked to the “self-programming” phenomenon. But despite the useful brainstorming, the hundreds of workshops and plenary sessions were unable to overcome a certain parcellization of experiences: “Each attended to its own activity, and interactions could not really occur; the ecologists discussed the environment, and the feminists often found themselves talking among themselves.”

As a result, the concluding Assembly of Social Movements could only come up with a final declaration of good intentions, each group winning a general support for its projects, but so ecumenical as to lead to no meaningful common actions.

What the Quebec left really needs, Lamoureux argues, is an estates-general of the social movements in which we can set aside the “silo” vision and ask ourselves seriously what we can do together to fight the rise of the right in all areas of social and political life.

“These movements have developed the habit of talking among themselves, but they have ‘unlearned’ how to talk to the people, not only to convince them but also to hear their anxieties and try to respond to them in some other way than undifferentiated populists .”

Lamoureux’s call for “more targeted and more systematic thinking” may, as she says, be impossible in a format as dispersed as a social forum. Although she doesn’t say so, it seems to me that she is making the case for a broad party of the left. All the more surprising, then, that Lamoureux does not address her critical thinking to some proposals for Québec solidaire, the new left party that she herself supports.

Diane Lamoureux’s article appeared originally in the Jesuit magazine Relations, No. 721, December 2007,

Fidel Castro on Bali Conference

For info on Castro's reference to Jean Chrétien's "hurtful" remarks to him in 1998, see:
Castro rebuffs Canada's call for reform 6.51 p.m. ET (2252 GMT) April 28, 1998

and Castro's comment on his dialogue with Chrétien:
Fidel Castro talks about the Statement Made by Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien During the III Summit of the Americas

The reference to Niemeyer at the end of Castro's message is to Oscar Niemeyer, the Brazilian architect and communist who celebrated his 100th birthday on December 15 (coincidentally my late mother's 100th as well!). -- RF

A Message from Fidel Castro to Cuba's Prime TV Programme The Round Table

Havana, December 17, 2007.

Dear Randy:

I listened to the entire Round Table programme on Thursday the 13th, without missing one single second of it. The news about the Bali Conference, commented on by Rogelio Polanco, the Director of the newspaper "Juventud Rebelde", confirms the importance of the international agreements and the necessity of taking them very seriously.

On that small island of Indonesia, there was a meeting of many Heads of Government of countries of the so-called Third World; they are fighting for their development and they demand fair treatment, financial resources and transferrals of technology from the representatives of industrialized nations which are also being represented there.

The UN Secretary General, faced with the tenacious obstruction by the United States in the midst of the 190 representatives meeting there, and after twelve days of negotiations, stated on Friday the 14th, Cuban time, when it was already Saturday in Bali, that the human species could disappear as a result of climate change. And then he went off to East Timor.

That declaration transformed the conference into a shouting match. On the twelfth day of pointless persuasive efforts, the American representative Paula Dobriansky, after sighing deeply, said: "We join the consensus." It is obvious that the United States made moves to get around its isolated position, even though it didn't change the empire's dismal intentions one iota.

The grand show began: Canada and Japan attached themselves immediately to the American coat-tails, facing the rest of the countries that were demanding serious compromises on the emissions of gases that are causing the climatic change. Everything had been foreseen ahead of time between the NATO allies and the powerful empire which, in one fell swoop of deceit, agreed to negotiate during 2008 in Hawaii, U.S. territory, for a new convention project that would be presented and approved at the Copenhagen Conference in Denmark in 2009; this would take the place of the Kyoto Protocol which is due to expire in 2012.

The theatrical solution was reserved for Europe in the role of saviour of the world. Brown spoke, as did Merkel and other leaders of the European countries, requesting international gratitude. What an excellent present for Christmas and the New Year! None of the eulogists mentioned the tens of millions of poor people who go on dying of diseases and hunger each year given the complex realities of the present, just as if we were living in the best of all worlds.

The Group of 77, which includes 132 countries that are struggling to develop themselves had achieved consensus to demand from the industrialized countries a reduction of the gases that cause climatic change, for the year 2020, from 20 to 40% lower than the level attained in 1990, and from 60 to 70% in the year 2050, something which is technically possible. Furthermore, they were demanding the assigning of sufficient funds for the transferral of technology to the Third World.

We cannot forget that those gases give way to heat waves, desertification, the melting of the glaciers and the increase of the levels of the seas which could cover entire countries or a large part of them. The industrialized nations share with the United States the idea of converting foods into fuels for luxury cars and the other wasteful practices of the consumer societies.

All of this that I am stating was demonstrated when on that very Saturday, December 15th, at 10:06 Washington time, it was announced that the President of the United States had asked the Senate, which had then approved it, for 696 billion dollars for the military budget for the 2008 fiscal year; in this amount, 189 billion was ear-marked for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A feeling of sound pride came over me as I remembered the dignified and calm way in which I responded to the hurtful proposals directed to me in 1998 by the then Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. I harbour no illusions.

My most profound conviction is that the answers to the current problems of Cuban society which possesses an average educational level close to Grade 12, almost a million university graduates and the real possibility for its citizens to become educated with no discrimination whatsoever, require more varieties of answers for each concrete problem than those contained on a chess board. We cannot ignore one single detail, and we are not dealing with an easy path, if the intelligence of a human being in a revolutionary society truly needs to prevail over instinct.

My fundamental duty is not to cling to positions, much less to stand in the way of younger persons, but it is to bring experience and ideas whose modest value comes from the exceptional era that I had the privilege of living in.

Like Niemeyer, I believe that one has to be consistent right up to the end.

(Signed) Fidel Castro Ruz


Please include this letter in the Round Table programme that is announced today to be about Bali.

F. C.

5:16 p.m.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Quebec’s debate on ‘reasonable accommodation’ — a socialist view

In recent months Quebec has been immersed in a collective debate on its “national identity”. It erupted in 2006 when the mass media began making a fuss about a few incidents in which members of minority “cultural communities” — mainly Muslims, but also Jews, Sikhs and others — had requested and in some cases obtained measures to accommodate their particular religious beliefs.

Some Muslim students, pursuant to a complaint to Quebec’s human rights commission, had been allocated prayer space in an engineering school. A community health clinic had organized women-only prenatal classes for some Muslims. A school’s ruling that a Sikh student could not wear his kirpan, or ceremonial dagger, because it was a “weapon” was overturned by the Supreme Court, which recognized the kirpan as a religious artefact. Hassidic Jews had requested, and paid for, the frosting of the windows of a YMCA gym to shield teenage males at their neighbouring school from the sight of females working out.

These and similar incidents — all equally banal — were given greater weight when Mario Dumont, the leader of the right-wing Action démocratique party (ADQ), seized on them to campaign in opposition to “unreasonable accommodation” of such practices and in defence of “Quebec values and identity”. His message resonated in some circles. In one notorious incident, the council in Hérouxville, a small town north of Trois-Rivières, posted a “code of conduct” instructing prospective immigrants that they would not tolerate certain practices such as “the stoning of women”.

The opposition to “accommodation” of minorities was clearly motivated in part by the climate of fear of “others” generated by the “war on terror”, and the media attention was not unrelated to the Islamophobia that is part and parcel of the campaign in support of Canada’s military intervention in Afghanistan. But it soon became clear that this xenophobia — or “heterophobia” as some call it — also reflected some deeper concerns and insecurities about the status and future of the French language and culture within the native Francophone population, an 80% majority within Quebec but a 20% minority within Canada.

At first, the governing Liberals and (then) official opposition Parti québécois did little to resist Dumont’s demagogy. But the campaign raged on, and in February of this year, on the eve of the Quebec election campaign, Premier Jean Charest appointed a commission of inquiry to examine the issue of reasonable accommodation.

The Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences (commonly referred to as the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, after its co-chairmen, Professors Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor) was instructed to “formulate recommendations to the government to ensure that accommodation practices conform to Québec’s values as a pluralistic, democratic, egalitarian society,” and to deliver its report by March 31, 2008. Bouchard and Taylor commissioned various research reports and this fall held public hearings throughout Quebec.


Bouchard and Taylor

In all, some 3,300 persons attended the hearings, and 764 of them made presentations to the commissioners. More than 960 written briefs were presented; many of them are posted on the commission’s web site.

The hearings were given wide media coverage. The commission heard many presentations that were racist and xenophobic, especially in rural areas far from Montréal, where most of Quebec’s minority “cultural communities” are located. But when the hearings moved to Montréal, near the end, there were many strong and often moving presentations made by minority representatives themselves explaining the importance to them of their religious beliefs and providing much-needed context to the recent events.

The public debate tended to raise many issues that went far beyond the concept of “reasonable accommodation”, a legal concept that has traditionally referred primarily to special measures taken to aid pregnant women (special leave, lighter duties) or the handicapped and other disadvantaged persons (ramps, special education classes, etc.) and facilitate their participation with equal rights, if not equal circumstances, in society. At issue now were important questions addressed to the fundamental values and concepts identified with Quebec citizenship, and more specifically how immigrants and other non-native Francophone communities could be welcomed and integrated within Quebec’s predominantly French-speaking society. And the debate highlighted, once again, some important differences pertaining to these issues not only within Quebec but between prevailing conceptions of Quebec nationhood in Quebec and conflicting conceptions of Canadian citizenship promoted by the federal government.

(The Commission specifically excluded from its consideration the “rights and prerogatives” already accorded to Quebec’s English-speaking community, and “the political and legal status of the aboriginal peoples”, eleven of which are recognized as distinct “nations” in Quebec law.)

I’ll have much more to say in subsequent posts about this vast “débat de société”, which sheds some much-needed light on key issues relating to the Quebec national question. But readers will benefit greatly from considering what some Québécois themselves have to say on these questions. And in particular, what the socialists have to contribute to the debate.

A valuable contribution is an article by Benoit Renaud, a leader of the International Socialists, a recognized “collective” or political current within Québec solidaire (QS), the new party of the left. Renaud was involved in drafting the QS brief to the Bouchard-Taylor commission, and his article was published in mid-November as part of that process. The QS brief, which was presented to the commission on December 11, is now available (in French only) on the party's web site. I will comment on it later.

Renaud’s article appears in the November issue of the journal Résistance!. Here it is, my translation. – RF

Issues facing the Bouchard-Taylor Commission

By Benoit Renaud

November 16, 2007

This commission was established by the Charest government just before the elections last March, in the wake of a campaign led by the ADQ and relayed by the media to the effect that “unreasonable” accommodations of religious and cultural minorities were becoming so numerous as to constitute a threat to “Québécois values and identity”.

The reaction of the government (and the PQ) was initially to refuse to address the issue; they said the ADQ was exaggerating and that these questions should be left to be settled by mutual agreement or through the courts. But the increasing number of “cases”, which for the most part had nothing to do with reasonable accommodation in the strict sense (a legal decision based on the Charters and designed to avoid situations of indirect discrimination), ended up drawing the PQ, and the government, onto the minefield laid by the sensationalist media and fueled by ADQ leader Mario Dumont’s statements.

The ADQ positioned itself as the party that defended Quebec identity and culture against the threat represented by immigration and minorities. The other two big parties ended up adopting variable doses of the same medicine, combined with some empty liberal phrases against the dangers of racism. But no one stated clearly that this was a campaign about looking for scapegoats to blame for the very real crisis of the Quebec national project, the primary responsibility for which lies with the major political parties and our elites.

Islamophobia, immigration and sovereignty

Six years of “war against terrorism”, coming on top of a long history of colonialism in the Middle East, have fueled every possible prejudice toward Muslims and the peoples associated with them in the western imagination (including Arabs of Christian or atheist persuasion, Sikhs, Orthodox Jews, etc.). When the municipal council members in Hérouxville adopted their “code of life”, it was because it had been hammered into them for some years — in the mass media and through the mouths of political leaders like Stephen Harper and Tony Blair — that the evil fundamentalist terrorists are “against our way of life” and that we are in a “war of civilizations”.

The presence of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan is based on this colonialist ideology, which holds that women and children in the Muslim countries need the protection of Christian white men against the irrational and violent men of their own society. It is necessary, therefore, to escape this logic of war as fast as possible and make Quebec a place of welcome for those men and women who are fleeing imperialism, whether they are Iraqi or Afghan refugees or U.S. soldiers who refuse to go and fight for the wealth and power of their leaders.

In all Western societies, immigration is used in the interests of economic growth without much thought being given to the genuine social, cultural and political integration of these new people. The effect is to reinforce tendencies to ghettoization on the one side and xenophobia on the other — irrespective of one’s theoretical model of citizenship, whether it is the French concept of jus soli or right of the soil, the U.S. concept of the “melting pot”, or Canadian multiculturalism.

There is no alternative but to break with the neoliberal logic in its entirety if we are to develop a vision of immigration that is based on both the rights and needs of immigrants and the collective aspirations of the host society.

The sovereigntist project, which for forty years was embodied in the Parti québécois, has been undermined from within by the PQ’s enthusiastic embrace of neoliberalism and its strategy of accommodation with imperialism as a means of facilitating recognition of a sovereign Quebec following a referendum victory. But the very idea of national independence becomes meaningless if such a victory does not allow Quebec society to defend itself against the effects of globalization and to withdraw from the criminal military alliances led by the United States.

What we tend to forget is that the “renewed federalism” defended by the Liberal party of Robert Bourassa and Claude Ryan until the Charlottetown Accord has likewise failed. What has carried the day, in practice, is the centralizing federalism defended by Trudeau and Chrétien. While the Quebec Liberal party (PLQ) of Jean Charest embodies acceptance of this defeat (hence its declining popularity among Francophones), the ADQ has attempted to resuscitate the project in alliance with the federal Conservatives. But the credibility of this autonomist option is extremely limited and suffers from its association with the right-wing, militarist Harper regime.

Tolerance or struggle against oppression?

The weakness of the liberal response to the xenophobic wave has been amply demonstrated by the hearings of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission. You cannot respond to a people who are in profound disarray, overwrought and continually assailed by discourses based on fear by simply saying that we must be kind and that diversity and openness are better values than homogeneity and withdrawal into a collective autism.

The kinds of questions that are now being put to the B-T Commission are all caught between the two poles of liberal tolerance and conservative intolerance. No one is talking in terms of oppression, whether of Quebec or of its racialized minorities, or of a struggle (ideally, a common struggle) against these oppressions. Very few people evoke, even in passing, the context of the “war against terrorism” and its ideological consequences, or its effects on our society and the way in which it has managed immigration through 25 years of neoliberalism. No one dares to refer to the two referendum defeats, the two counter-offensives of the federal state that ensued (the Constitution Act, 1982 and the “Clarity” Act), or the strategic impasse in which the sovereigntist movement now finds itself. There is talk of “laïcité” or secularism in terms of individual behaviour or the exclusion of this or that type of clothing or accessory in certain public places. But no one denounces the fact that our government is massively subsidizing faith-based schools.

The logical political consequence of the present polarization would be the election of a majority ADQ government in the next general election (probably next spring) and the election of a majority of Conservative MPs from Quebec in the next federal election. In fact, the conservative, narrow defence of identity has become the alternative to the disoriented sovereigntist project, and the rise of intolerance weakens the determination of the Québécois to oppose the war in Afghanistan and Harper’s militarist regime. The disarray of the centre-right parties (PQ, Canadian and Quebec Liberals, Bloc Québécois) is benefiting almost exclusively the hard right (ADQ and federal Tories).

The response of Québec solidaire

Québec solidaire (QS) had the right idea in denouncing this demagogy based on fear of others. But until now we have maintained a certain ambiguity on the question of accommodations, strictly speaking, and on what is or is not reasonable. This ambiguity was necessary in part so as not to presume the result of our internal discussion process on the topic. But in doing so, we have in fact occupied a position that is simply a bit more liberal (in terms of political theory) than the one held by PQ leader Pauline Marois or Premier Charest, and this has served to keep the debate on the continuum of “reasonableness”.

The tabling of the QS brief to the B-T Commission will be a golden opportunity to stake out a distinct position for our party within the political landscape. But to do so, Québec solidaire’s intervention must be based on clear statements and bold proposals.

In the first place, it will be necessary to make the link between this debate and the context of the “war against terrorism” and to denounce the irrationality of Islamophobia. Secondly, we must try to clarify the discussion by distinguishing what is truly reasonable accommodation (a legal concept based on rejection of adverse discrimination) from private arrangements (which should not even be matters for discussion), and from policies for the management of cultural and religious diversity in the public sphere, including the workplace.

Reasonable accommodation, strictly speaking, is an application of the individual rights, including freedom of religion, enshrined in the Charters. Challenging this reality would mean abandoning any notion of rights in order to impose the wishes of the majority without regard for individual freedoms. An about-face of this nature would effectively amount to the abandonment of one of the foundations of what we propose as a democratic society.

As for public policies, it would be appropriate to establish some guidelines for the protection of the rights of each and every one, including freedom of religion and expression, without creating any hierarchy among these rights. We ought to define more precisely our model of “laïcité” or secularism on the basis of the orientations already adopted by Quebec in matters of education, language and management of cultural diversity.

For example, for the schools (which were the central issue in the most recent election campaign in Ontario), Quebec might establish a single secular public school system within which the various religions and cultures could coexist. There is nothing to prevent a public school from providing hallal or kosher (or vegetarian) menus, offering optional courses in Hebrew, Arabic or Greek, or allowing young people to wear clothing or accessories associated with their particular religion or culture. But within this public and secular school, everyone would learn together about the history of Quebec, the sciences, arts and the foundations of all the great religions and philosophies of humanity. Quebec could become a society in which the world’s diversity not only coexists (and is tolerated) but meets, within a perspective of creating something new, right here, and in French!

What resolution for this crisis?

A satisfactory and lasting solution for the problems at the origin of the present debates over accommodation must therefore include (1) Quebec’s withdrawal from any participation in the supposed war on terror, (2) a set of policies of resistance to neoliberalism and in defence of social rights and public services, (3) a language policy capable of advancing French as the language of work and the language of adoption of immigrants, and (4) an immigration policy based on recognition of the rights and aspirations of the newcomers and their genuine economic, social and cultural integration in a Quebec society that is in constant evolution.

These policies are conceivable only in a sovereign Quebec. Indeed, foreign and military policy is within Ottawa’s jurisdiction. So also are the major issues of economic policy and international trade. And the Canadian Constitution of 1982 is a major legal obstacle to any strengthening of our language legislation. Finally, the federal government itself is a major employer, especially in the Outaouais region, and its language of work is generally English, even in the Ottawa-Gatineau area.

It is the continuation of Quebec’s minority status within Canada that precludes the success of the inclusive and pluralist national project that emerged in the 1960s, was affirmed in the Charter of the French Language (Law 101) and has now entered into crisis as a result of the failure of the two referendums and the embrace of imperialism by the major sovereigntist parties. The political struggle of the future in Quebec will be between the conservative fallback on “identity” represented by the ADQ and the renewal of the struggle against national oppression in solidarity with the struggles against imperialism abroad and against racism at home. It is on this terrain that Québec solidaire must take its stand.

(From issue No. 43 of the newspaper Résistance!)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Quebec view of Venezuela's referendum

The Quebec web publication Presse-toi-à-gauche carries a report on Venezuela's referendum result by David Litvak, writing from La Grita, Venezuela. The title, "Un référendum à la québécoise" refers to the close vote, roughly 51-49% against the proposed constitutional changes -- almost identical to the thin margin separating the successful No from the Yes in Quebec's 1995 sovereignty referendum.

Litvak, who writes as a supporter of Hugo Chávez and the proposed reforms, notes at the outset of his analysis that "the major implication" of the vote is that under the Constitution as it remains the Chavista movement will have to find another candidate to replace Chávez in the next presidential election, in 2013. This, he says, may well prove to be a good thing, as it will force the movement to "depersonalize" itself and develop a more collective leadership. He cites Chávez: "On other occasions, we have managed to convert apparent defeats into moral victories, which then were turned into political victories."

This, says Litvak, is an "important, but not insurmountable, challenge" and the PSUV, the new party of the socialist revolution that is now being organized, can probably be the uniting and driving force behind this democratic exercise.

Like many other observers, Litvak notes that a major factor in the high abstention rate was the confusion over the nature and scope of the reform. This enabled the opposition -- a broad front ranging from the church hierarchy to university professors, orchestrated by the mass media -- to spread all kinds of disinformation about it. He also attributes the lack of clarity to the linking of the issue of presidential re-election with other proposals that would help lay the basis for deepening the Bolivarian revolution. In effect, Litvak says, the referendum had two components: a de facto plebiscitary question on Chávez's political future, and a constitutional dimension embodying a distinct political agenda for the country. As a result, this "national magna carta" became inextricably bound up with "a particular circumstance, that of a man in power".

Litvak also notes that the total number of votes in favour of the reform, 4.5 million, was less than the 5 million persons who had signed up to join the PSUV. This reflected in part the defection of the social-democratic party, Podemos, and the former Defence minister Raúl Baduel, from the ranks of the Chavistas, as he notes. But it also revealed, of course, the immense political challenge facing the PSUV militants as they participate in the debates and grassroots activities that will select the cadres to found the party on a firm political basis.

In Litvak's view, the proposed reforms "did not go far enough". There was "nothing really revolutionary" about them, he says. "It was a step, not a leap. The reform proposal did not resolve the problem of inequality, [control of] the media, or the problem of [people's ] power."

He does not explain how a mere constitutional reform, no matter how radical on paper, could do these things. For that, the masses of Venezuelans will have to continue in their difficult process of self-organization and mobilization in the barrios, factories, farms and the streets, developing much more experience in collective action, decision-making and leadership. There is no reason to think that this process will not continue, under a leadership chastened by the lessons of this setback but committed to deepening Venezuela's national and social revolution.

David Litvak's report can be read at Presse-toi-à-gauche.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Solidarity with Mapuche political prisoners in Chile


Among the major areas of interest on this blog are the Quebec national movement, the developing national and social revolution in Latin America, and struggles by indigenous peoples. It is appropriate, therefore, that our first posting is centred on an appeal by prominent Québécois indigenous and sovereigntist leaders in defence of a Latin American indigenous people, the Mapuche of Chile.

The Mapuche, Chile’s largest indigenous people, are currently involved in an important struggle against government and private industrial projects that rob them of their ancestral lands, threatening their culture and their very existence as a people. Dozens of their leaders are now jailed on charge of “terrorism” as a result of protests in defence of their lands. Some have been on a hunger strike since October 10.

Earlier this year, Mapuche leaders met with Chile’s president, Michelle Bachelet, to present her with their “Proposals by Mapuche Territorial Organizations to the State of Chile”, a 51-page document that sets out their demands for self-determination, recovery of lands, economic development, education, health, lawmaking and justice.

A report by Daniela Estrada on the IPS press service reported:

One of the main aspirations of the Mapuche people is “self-determination, expressed in some form of territorial or political autonomy, or according to any other formula.”

Pending a decision on the best way to implement self-determination, they propose the recognition of a national Mapuche parliament able to take binding decisions, modification of the present electoral law so that members of this indigenous people can win seats in the Chilean Congress, and elections by popular vote for regional authorities (mayors and governors).

They are also demanding the “restitution of usurped land” by means of expropriation, and the “control, possession and use” of the natural resources in “Mapuche territory,” defined as the Araucanía region and adjacent districts (comunas) in the Los Lagos and Bío-Bío regions, between 600 and 800 kilometres south of Santiago.

The Mapuche people also want stimulation of their economy, by means of local development plans in their territory -- under the leadership of their own organisations û, conservation of native flora and fauna, and research and development of alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar energy.

In order for income distribution to be more equitable, they are proposing that the state pay them compensation for the investment projects that have had a negative impact on their way of life, and argue that they should receive tax exemption for access to technology. They want a bank, to be managed by themselves, and financed with taxes on large companies located in what they consider to be Mapuche territory.

They are also requesting tax exemption for Mapuche producers, and for native peoples to be protected in any free trade treaties signed by Chile.

In regard to education, they are demanding an autonomous institutional structure for education, in charge of defining educational policies. They consider it essential that their language be officially recognised, that “wise Mapuche elders” be incorporated into educational centres, and programmes to promote postgraduate study among Mapuche professionals be created.

Another request is that their health system, based on a balance between the person, nature and the supernatural, should be recognised, protected and respected, although they do not reject allopathic (conventional Western) medicine. They state that the recovery of native forests, the source of a great many medicinal plants, is vital for the development of their health system.

The same is true of their justice system, which has territorial peculiarities.

They urge the authorities to approve and ratify all international treaties for the protection of indigenous peoples, not to apply anti-terrorism laws in Mapuche conflicts, and to free what they call Mapuche political prisoners.


To date, the Mapuche have received no response from President Bachelet’s “Socialist” government other than further jailings of their leaders.

On November 21, some prominent Québécois politicians and indigenous leaders published in the Montréal daily Le Devoir the following appeal in solidarity with the Mapuche people and their political prisoners, including the hunger strikers. My translation. – Richard Fidler

In solidarity with Mapuche political prisoners

Le Devoir, Wednesday, November 21, 2007

When touring Europe and North America, as she often does, Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet habitually presents her country as the foremost democracy in Latin America. In Geneva last June, she reminded a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council of her detention in the clandestine prison of Villa Grimaldi during the Pinochet dictatorship; its members were clearly moved by her speech.

However, locked up in the prisons of Michelle Bachelet’s democratic Chile are dozens of Mapuche indigenous leaders whom the former Judge Juan Guzmán — the prosecutor whose proceedings led to Pinochet’s arrest — himself characterizes as “political prisoners”. That a judicial authority of this stature is of this view simply confirms what we have observed since Michelle Bachelet’s investiture: nothing is being done to stop the dangerous spiral of increasing resort to military, police and judicial violence in the treatment of the aboriginal question in Chile.


These Mapuche men and women have been sentenced as “terrorists” to ten years in prison and fined hundreds of thousands of dollars. They were alleged to have set fire to several dozen hectares of land, once part of the vast territory from which their ancestors were driven, the remainder of which General Pinochet had distributed to his close friends in the military junta. While big landowners and forest operators prospered, some making it into the notorious Forbes list of major world fortunes, the Mapuches were confined by force within tiny reserves far too cramped for them to eke out a subsistence.

The special legislation intended today to neutralize these dangerous “Mapuche terrorists” was enacted and used by the Pinochet regime to repress opposition to the junta. Even today, they are the most terrible weapons in the Chilean legal arsenal. Paradoxically, these dictatorial laws were amended by the post-dictatorship governments to strengthen their enforcement, for example by incorporating such common offences as “arson or terrorist threats”, which were already in the country’s Criminal Code.

In its March 2007 report on Chile, the UN’s Human Rights Committee emphasized its concern about the charges of terrorism laid against some Mapuches “in connection with protests or demands for protection of their land rights”.

It noted as well that the application of these laws limits the guarantees of a regular procedure in matters involving the Mapuche; for example, the use of “faceless” witnesses testifying anonymously behind screens and speaking through voice-distorting microphones. These practices, it said, are in fundamental contravention of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the American Convention on Human Rights, both ratified by Chile.

On two occasions, the Supreme Court of Chile has intervened to overturn judgments in which the Mapuches had been acquitted at trial. Seeing their procedural guarantees violated in this way, several dozen Mapuches charged with “unlawful terrorist association” decided not to appear in court and have been forced to go underground.


Notwithstanding her speeches about the return to democracy, Michelle Bachelet struggles to hide the violence of the repression against the Mapuches from the international community. This violence has become systematic during her term of office and strangely resembles the climate that reigned during the black years of the dictatorship. Many international human rights organizations (among them Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights) have recently denounced the disproportionate police actions in the Mapuche communities: helicopters, armoured vehicles, hundreds of “special forces” officers conducting raids in traditional earth and wood dwellings while armed with tear gas canisters and weapons of war. Children wounded by bullets, elderly persons beaten up, men and women assaulted and beaten amidst racist insults, dwellings destroyed and property confiscated; such actions are commonplace. Nothing stops the forces of “law and order” in their obsessive search for Mapuche underground “activists”.

Concerned about her image abroad and subject to the growing pressure of the demonstrations in her country, the President undertook last year to stop invoking the “anti-terrorist” laws in trials linked to land claims when ordinary offences are involved.

But in a highly contradictory way, Bachelet’s government continues to engage in an increasingly criminalization of Mapuche social claims by the daily use of the law enforcement authority to repress them on the ground. The many incidents of police wrong-doing against the Mapuche, denounced by human rights organizations, remain unpunished by the government.

Similarly, although her government supported the recent UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, she proposes a vague constitutional recognition process for the aboriginal peoples of Chile that is well below the international standards on such matters.

Hunger strike

To assert the rights that Chile refuses to their people, Patricia Troncoso Robles, José Huenchunao Mariñan, Jaime Marileo Saravia, Héctor Llaitul Carillanca and Juan Millalén Milla, now jailed at Angol, have had no recourse but to stop feeding themselves since October 10. On October 15 they were joined in this hunger strike by Ivan Llanquileo, a leader of the Millahual community of Contulmo, who is incarcerated in the Concepción prison, and by Waikilaf Cadin in the Santiago high security prison.

They are seeking the unconditional release of all the Mapuche political prisoners, an end to the repression, and the demilitarization of Mapuche communities fighting for their political and territorial rights.

Amnesty International and the World Organization Against Torture have expressed their concern about the state of health and the effects on physical and psychological integrity of the Mapuche hunger strikers. Both organizations cite the “disproportionate criminal policy” applied in these cases.

Speaking from Geneva, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, has urged the Chilean government [Translation] “to implement every means in its power to reach an agreement allowing a way out from the crisis posed by the Mapuche prisoners”, and suggested “amnesty for the defenders of aboriginal rights convicted under anti-terrorist laws”. Many intellectuals, including Noam Chomsky and José Saramago, a Nobel laureate in literature, have appealed to Michelle Bachelet on the Mapuche question. Up to now, there has been no response.

In this month of November 2007, the Mapuche people will mark the fifth anniversary since the assassination of Alex Lemún, a young Mapuche, aged 17, shot by a bullet in the head by the Chilean police while he was participating in the peaceful occupation of ancestral lands. Alex is one of the victims of this incomplete democratic transition which, in recent years, has been stained by the blood and suffering of the families who dare to arise to claim their rights. The policeman who fired the fatal shot has never been tried or even penalized. He was promoted to the rank of major.

Release sought

We hope that Michelle Bachelet’s “democratic” Chile will not become liable for a new death by remaining deaf to the demands of the political prisoners conducting a hunger strike in its prisons.

For that reason, we ask that she release all of the Mapuche political prisoners and put an end to the criminalization of the Mapuches’ social and political demands.

And we also appeal to the government of Canada, which, through the voice of its Minister of Indian Affairs, recently declared in the pages of this newspaper that “the situation of the aboriginal peoples throughout the world justifies taking concerted and concrete international measures.” We ask that he stand by his words and appeal to the government of Chile about this matter.

Initial signatories: Françoise David, spokeswoman for Québec solidaire; Richard Desjardins, performer; Henri Jacob, chair of Action boréale; Serge Mongeau, writer; Roméo Saganash, Grand Conseil des Cris; Daniel Turp, MNA (PQ) for Mercier; Alexis Wawanoloath, MNA (PQ) for Abitibi-Est.

Finally, we invite everyone who wishes to join in this appeal to visit the following web site:, where they can sign the on-line petition.


Further information on the Mapuche

Mapuche Indians in Chile Struggle to Take Back Forests (NYT)

Mapuche Political Prisoners Face Their Deaths

A Quebec solidarity web site (Trois-Rivières) with articles on the Mapuche

Mapuche Indians to Bill Gates: hands off our language

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Declaration of Indigenous Congress in Bolivia

First published in English in Socialist Voice, October 24, 2007

* * *
The struggle is unceasing, we will continue our resistance until our time comes!

A Formal Summons to World States by Indigenous First Nations and Peoples

Declaration of the World Encounter
‘For the Historic Victory of the Indigenous Peoples of the World’

Chimoré, Cochabamba, Bolivia,
October 12, 2007

From the heart of South America, on this 12th day of October, 2007, the delegates of the indigenous first nations and peoples of the world, meeting in the World Encounter “For the Historic Victory of the Indigenous Peoples of the World,” to celebrate the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, hereby declare:

That, after 515 years of oppression and domination, here we stand; they have been unable to eliminate us. We have confronted and resisted the policies of ethnocide, genocide, colonization, destruction and plunder. The imposition of such economic systems as capitalism, characterized by interventionism, wars and socio-environmental disasters, a system that continues to threaten our ways of life as peoples.

That as a consequence of the neoliberal policy of domination of nature, the search for easy profits from the concentration of capital in a few hands and the irrational exploitation of natural resources, our Mother Earth is fatally injured, while the indigenous peoples are still being displaced from our territories. The planet is warming up. We are experiencing an unprecedented change in climate with ever-stronger and more frequent socio-environmental disasters, affecting all of us without exception.

That we are trapped in a great energy crisis, with the Age of Petroleum coming to an end, and without having found a clean alternative energy that can substitute for it in the necessary quantities to maintain that Western civilization that has made us totally dependent on hydrocarbons.

That this situation may be a threat that will leave us exposed to the danger that neoliberal and imperialist policies trigger wars for the last drops of the so-called black gold and blue gold, but may also give us the opportunity to make this new millennium a millennium of life, a millennium of balance and complementarity, without having to take advantage of energies that destroy Mother Earth.

That both the natural resources and the lands and territories we inhabit are ours for history, for birth, in law and for ever, and that the power to determine their use is fundamental to our ability to maintain our life, sciences, learning, spirituality, organization, medicines and food sovereignty.

That a new era is beginning, promoted by the original indigenous peoples, and bringing again times of change, times of Pachakuti,[1] in the times of the culmination of the Quinto Sol.[2]

That we welcome the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which is essential for the survival and well-being of the more than 370 million native peoples in some 70 countries of the world. After more than 20 years of struggle, it is responsive to our historical demand for self-determination of the peoples and recognition of ourselves and our collective rights.

The adopted declaration contains a set of principles and norms that recognize and establish in the international regulatory system the fundamental rights of the Indigenous Peoples, those that must be the basis of the new relationship between the Indigenous Peoples, states, societies and cooperation throughout the world. In addition, therefore, to the other existing juridical instruments governing human rights, the declaration is the new regulatory and practical basis for guaranteeing and protecting indigenous rights in various spheres and at various levels.

We call on the member countries of the United Nations and encourage the indigenous peoples to implement and comply with this important instrument of historical significance. We censure those governments that have voted in opposition to the Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples, and condemn their double standards.

That we pledge to support the historic effort being led by our brother Evo Morales, President of the Indigenous Peoples of Abya Yala,[3] in the construction of a new plurinational State. We will be vigilant in the face of any threat, internal or external, to the process in Bolivia and we call on the peoples of the planet to lend their support and solidarity to this process, which ought to serve as an example so that the Peoples, Nations and States of the world continue along this path.

Accordingly, the Indigenous Peoples and Nations of the world demand that the States fulfill the following mandates:

  1. To construct a world based on the Culture of Life, in the identity, philosophy, world view and age-old spirituality of the original indigenous peoples, applying the aboriginal knowledge and skills, strengthening the processes of interchange and brotherhood among the nations and respecting self-determination.
  2. To make national and international decisions to save Mother Nature from the disasters that are being brought about by capitalism in its decline, as manifested in global warming and the ecological crisis; reaffirming that the original indigenous culture is the only alternative means of saving our planet earth.
  3. To replace the present models of development based on capitalism, commodities, the irrational exploitation of humanity and natural resources, the squandering of energy, and consumerism, with models that establish life, complementarity, reciprocity, respect for cultural diversity and the sustainable use of natural resources as the principal priorities.
  4. To implement national policies governing food sovereignty as a principal basis of national sovereignty, in which the community guarantees respect for its own culture as appropriate spaces and modes of production, distribution and consumption consistent with the nature of healthy pollutant-free foods for the entire population, eliminating hunger, because food is a right to life.
  5. To repudiate schemes and projects for the generation of energy such as biofuel, which destroy and deny food to the peoples. Likewise, we condemn the use of transgenic seeds because it replaces our ancient seeding process and makes us dependent on agro-industry.
  6. To recognize and re-evaluate the role of the original indigenous woman as the vanguard of the emancipatory struggles of our peoples in accordance with the principles of duality, equality and equity of relationships between men and women.
  7. To adopt the culture of peace and life as a guide for resolving the world’s problems and conflicts, renouncing the arms race, and to initiate disarmament in order to guarantee the preservation of life on this planet.
  8. To adopt the just legal transformations that are necessary for the construction of systems and means of communication and information based on our world view, spirituality and communal philosophy, in the wisdom of our ancestors. To guarantee recognition of the indigenous peoples’ right to communication and information.
  9. To guarantee respect for and the right to life, health and bilingual intercultural education, incorporating policies of benefit to the indigenous first nations and peoples.
  10. To declare water to be a human right, a vital element and social property of humanity and not a source of profit. Likewise, to encourage the use of alternative energies that do not threaten the life of the planet, thereby guaranteeing access to all basic services.
  11. To solve cases of migration between countries in a mutually responsible way, adopting policies of free circulation of persons in order to guarantee a world without borders in which there is no discrimination, marginalization and exclusion.
  12. To decolonize the United Nations, and move its headquarters to a territory that dignifies and expresses the just aspirations of the peoples, nations and states of the world.
  13. Not to criminalize the struggles of the indigenous peoples, or demonize or accuse us of terrorism when we reclaim our rights and advance our ideas on how to save life and humanity.
  14. To release immediately the indigenous leaders imprisoned in various parts of the world, and in the first place Leonard Peltier in the United States.

The struggle is unceasing, we will continue our resistance until our time comes. We proclaim the 12th of October the “day of commencement of our struggles to save Mother Nature”. From our families, homes, communities, peoples, whether in government or without, we ourselves are determining and directing our destinies, we ourselves are assuming the will and responsibility to live well that has been bequeathed to us by our ancestors, to expand, from the simplest and least complicated to the greatest and most complex, to construct horizontally and mutually, each and every one, the culture of patience, the culture of dialogue and fundamentally the culture of life.

By the dead, the heroes and martyrs that lend meaning to our lives through their utopias and longings, we strengthen our identity, our organizational processes and our struggles to build the unity of the peoples of the world and to restore the balance, saving life, humanity and the planet earth.

We confirm our support for the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to brother Evo Morales for his ongoing and unconditional dedication to the good of humanity, the peoples, the planet and world peace.


[1] “Pachakuti is a Quechua word with multiple meanings. Literally meaning turning or returning (kuti) of the earth (pacha), it is translated alternatively as ‘new beginning,’ ‘reawakening,’ ‘revolution,’ or ‘renovation.’ … It has replaced Tupaj Katari as the key symbol of indigenous resistance in the Andes, as demonstrated by its use in indigenous political parties’ names in Ecuador (Movimiento Unido Pluricultural Pachakutik) and Peru (Partido Inka Pachacúteq), as well as Felipe Quispe’s Movimiento Indígena Pachakutik. Pachakuti is also the name of a prominent 15th-century Inca leader who ruled during a time of territorial expansion (personal communication, José Antonio Lucero, 4 Dec. 2002).” – Donna Lee Van Cott, “From Exclusion to Inclusion: Bolivia’s 2002 Elections”, J. Lat. Amer. Stud. 35, 751–775, p. 764n.

[2] Literally, the Fifth Sun. See

[3] “Continent of Life”. See

Translated from America Latina en Movimiento for Bolivia Rising by Richard Fidler. Footnotes added by the translator.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Proposal to Fund Separate Faith-Based Schools Endangers Ontario Public Education

These articles were first published in Socialist Voice, September 24, 2007

by Richard Fidler

The issue of government support for faith-based schools, a perennial question in Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, is once again a topic of public debate. With a general election scheduled for October 10, the opposition Progressive Conservative (PC, or Tory) party is calling for direct government funding of non-Catholic, faith-based schools “in the same way” as Ontario already funds a separate Roman Catholic public schools system.

The Tory proposal has been characterized by the big business media as the “defining issue” in the election. It has elicited fierce polemics on call-in shows and in letters-to-the-editor. Newspaper columnists and editorials debate the pros and cons. Where do the interests of working people lie in this debate?

The Conservatives, of course, are clearly plumping for votes among ethnic and religious minorities. But the Tory proposal, while limited to faith-based schools, is widely and correctly perceived as a further step toward weakening the public school system and lowering the quality of education available to Ontario citizens. It would open the door to further extension of private educational institutions at all levels and result in increased segregation of students and inequality of standards and facilities. And there are wider implications as well.

What about the Catholic “public” schools?

Just over 50,000 students in Ontario attend private faith-based schools. About half of them are in fundamentalist Christian schools. Another 20% are in Jewish parochial schools, and fewer than 10% in Islamic schools.

However, a whopping 600,000 students — about 30% of all Ontario elementary and secondary students — attend government-funded separate Catholic schools. What this means is that about 93% of all faith-based schools in Ontario are already fully funded by the province!

But among the major parties only the Greens call for an end to the separate Catholic schools and for one publicly funded universal public school system open to all.

(The public system would maintain the present French-language schools — currently divided between public non-denominational and Catholic boards. Ontario’s Francophone population is a national, not ethnic minority that historically waged a hard-fought struggle to overcome a ban on French schools. Of Ontario’s 72 school boards, 12 are French-language (8 Catholic and 4 public), with a growing proportion of enrolment in the public schools.)

The governing Liberals and the third-largest party, the social-democratic NDP, oppose the PC proposal but find it embarrassing. Their support of continued public funding of separate Roman Catholic schools, while opposing similar funding for other faith-based schools, clearly favours one religion over others. In 1984, both parties supported the then PC government when it extended the Catholic system to include all high school years.

On two recent occasions (1999 and 2005), Ontario’s discriminatory funding formula has been denounced by the United Nations Human Rights Committee. As the UN committee states, “… if a State party [Canada] chooses to provide public funding to religious schools, it should make this funding available without discrimination.” That is, either provide equal public funds for all religions or no public funds for any.

The Tory response is to create more government-funded separate school systems. The Tories make the preposterous claim that their proposal is “inclusive” — and neither the Liberals nor the NDP have challenged that claim. In fact, it is the opposite, dividing students from each other according to their parents’ religious beliefs (and, for many, according to ethnic origin).

Working people, in contrast, have every reason to promote the integration of students in one publicly funded school system and the elimination of all government funding for separate and private schools, whether faith-based or not.

What kind of ‘public’ education do we want?

To be credible, however, a defence of public schools must also address the sorry state of today’s schools and, more generally, of public education under late capitalism.

The educational system as a whole is a microcosm of class society, with all its divisions and inequality, and the education of children is an important terrain of class struggle. The capitalist rulers have always had their own exclusive schools for the education of their children, their legatees. The public schools, for the rest of us, are institutions for instilling the capitalist conception of society and creating a compliant labour force for the employers. This class bias is reflected in every aspect of the public system, from the streaming of students between trades and professional orientations to the content of core curriculum, particularly social studies.

Of course, no great importance is accorded to the quality of physical infrastructure, cultural and sports activities, or to staff relations within the public system. Under the neoliberal capitalist offensive, the public schools are increasingly underfunded, “extra-curricular” and special education programs are eliminated, and teacher unions are under constant attack.

Working people benefit from an educational system that furthers their unity, not their division. They need education that builds the knowledge, consciousness and confidence of the toiling classes in their collective capacity to manage the affairs of society. Teachers should be encouraged to use their professional skills to help broaden the cultural and scientific horizons of their students.

The issue of religion in the schools must be approached on the basis of a critique of capitalist education and an alternative conception of universal public education.

For a variety of reasons, faith-based schools — Catholic or non-Catholic — are popular in Ontario. For example, some ethnic and religious minorities, not least among the rapidly growing immigrant population, feel alienated from a “secular” public school system that makes no attempt to acknowledge their religious beliefs or accommodate their religious practices.

Many parents turn to personal and sectarian solutions, and the capitalist education system is only too willing to accommodate them in that regard through provisions for charter schools, vouchers, tax credits, etc. Such practices are widespread in the USA and, increasingly, in some of the more conservative provinces of Canada such as Alberta. In Ontario, the previous Conservative government voted a tax credit for parents who send their children to private schools. While the tax credit was overturned in 2003 by the newly elected Liberals, there are prominent members in both of these traditional capitalist parties who favour some form or other of government funding for private schools.

Some, like Tory leader John Tory (yes, that’s his name!) are even prepared to allow public funding of schools preaching “creationism” in opposition to the science of evolution — a clear sop to a particular layer of right-wing Christians who play an increasingly important role in government circles in both the USA and Canada. (The current federal minister in charge of police and prisons, Stockwell Day, for example, is on record as believing that dinosaurs coexisted with humans.) No such indulgence has been displayed toward Islam, however.

Integration requires reasonable accommodation

Educating children within a common social and institutional environment is probably the most important integrative device at the disposal of any society. As proof, we in Canada need only look to the powerful effect Quebec’s establishment of a single public and predominantly French-language school system has had in reinforcing the defining French character of that nation and integrating youth of non-Francophone and immigrant origin as fully functioning citizens of Quebec. (See sidebar at end of article.)

If minority religious communities are to be attracted to the public education system, however, that system must be receptive to their concerns. Where parents feel that religious beliefs and practices must be an integral part of the educational process, there is no a priori reason why some at least of those needs cannot be accommodated within a universal public system. This could involve such things as providing prayer rooms for practicing Muslims, providing non-pork diets in schools attended by Jews and Muslims, and so on. A court ruling that a child could wear the Sikh kirpan, a religious symbol, despite a school ban on this ceremonial dagger as a “weapon,” allowed Sikh children to be accommodated within the French-language public school system in Quebec: See Socialist Voice #71)

Some instruction in particular religions might even be made available to children whose parents so request — especially parents in immigrant communities often suffering discrimination and oppression on the basis of their religious identity.

The overriding consideration should be the need to encourage all parents to have their children educated within the common school system where they can be exposed to a diversity of ethnicities and religions and introduced to the widest range of beliefs and values, and receive generic education about world religions as a component of courses in world cultures and civilizations.

Such accommodation must be reasonable, of course. John Tory’s willingness to fund schools preaching “creationism” is unreasonable. Religious instruction should not trump science.

Widen the public debate

Issues such as these, however, illustrate the need to open up a wide-ranging public debate over the role and scope of public education, including what if any accommodation should be available for religious belief and practices within the public schools. In particular, we need critical input from progressive parents and educators, teachers, and their unions — all of whom have many proposals to advance on how to rescue public education from its current disrepute and disrepair.

Teachers, for example, have some important contributions to make in this regard.

In Quebec, the militant teachers union, the CEQ, published in the 1970s radical critiques of capitalist education, such as the pamphlets L’école au service de la classe dominante (1972) and École et lutte de classes au Québec (1974). In 1979 the CEQ implemented its alternative concept of progressive education through a major campaign in Quebec schools to raise funds and provide material aid to the mass literacy campaign undertaken by the new Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

In Ontario, in the 1960s, radical teachers caucused within their unions and published a journal, This Magazine is About Schools, that offered a left critique of capitalist schooling. Today, the Canadian Centre on Policy Alternatives publishes a teacher-edited quarterly journal, Our Schools / Our Selves, that to some degree resembles the earlier publication. Some of its material is on-line.

Supporters of public education need to engage with these issues in the current public debate on separate schools, by discussing and developing an alternative conception of education that is focused on the interests of the child and the child’s need for exposure to the vast diversity of people and ideas within our society.

Quebec’s Approach: a Secular, but Constitutionally Fragile, Public Education System

Defenders of Ontario’s discriminatory system invoke a “historic compromise” entrenched in the country’s Constitution of 1867, which gave minority (“dissentient”) Catholic schools in Ontario the same entitlement to public funding as minority Protestant schools in Quebec. However, this constitutional restriction can be removed by a simple amendment with the support of the Ontario legislature and the federal Parliament. In 1997 Quebec got a similar amendment by Parliament to remove the constitutional requirement for a separate Protestant public school system.

The Protestant school system in Quebec had functioned essentially as an English system that ghettoized Anglophone children and (because of its attraction to many immigrants) served in practice to hinder the integration of new immigrants with the province’s Francophone majority. As Quebec moved to affirm French as the sole and universal language of public communication and discourse, it was obliged to integrate the separate public school systems into one largely secular system that is overwhelmingly French (albeit with an English component for the children of parents previously educated in English in Canada who choose to have their children instructed in English).

Removing French-language public education from the grasp of the Catholic hierarchy facilitated the enrolment of non-Catholic youth — both immigrants and native born — in the Francophone system. It eased the acquisition of French language skills among non-Francophones, making them more comfortable within the majority French culture of Quebec.

Within this public system, Catholic and Protestant religious education was continued for a transitional period. However, beginning in September 2008, that curriculum will be replaced by a course in ethics and religious culture that will include studies of six world religions, among them Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and “the spiritualities of the Aboriginal peoples”.

The Quebec department of education states: “By bringing [children] together in the same classroom, instead of separating them according to their beliefs, and by promoting the development among them of attitudes of tolerance, respect and openness, we prepare them to live in a pluralist and democratic society.”

However, Quebec’s reform is still incomplete and under constant attack. The Quebec government partially funds private schools, which account for almost 10 percent of total elementary and secondary enrolment, the highest proportion in Canada. These private schools, many of which are faith-based, are disproportionately English. Moreover, the province’s Court of Appeal ruled in August that children who are otherwise ineligible for instruction in English may attend English public schools if their parents first send them to an unsubsidized English private school. The Court used the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to overturn a provision of Quebec’s Charter of the French Language.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Sovereigntists Open Debate on Quebec’s Post-Election Prospects

These articles were first published in Socialist Voice, April 16, 2007

By Richard Fidler

Quebec has entered a new period of political instability in the wake of the March 26 general election. For decades, the province’s politics have been polarized between the federalist Liberals (PLQ) and the sovereigntist Parti Québécois. Now the sudden ascension of a relatively new right-wing “autonomist” party, the Action Démocratique du Québec, has reduced the governing Liberals to minority status in the National Assembly. The PQ, which entered the campaign with polls giving it a credible chance to regain power, is now the third party. The PQ’s share of the popular vote is its lowest since the early 1970s.

Elections in capitalist democracies reflect the underlying trends within society with all the accuracy of a fun-house mirror, especially in an undemocratic first-past-the-post system like Quebec’s. All the more so in a period when the nationalist and labour mobilizations that have periodically shaken Quebec since the Sixties are in ebb. What if anything do these elections tell us about the evolution of Quebec society, and the state of the sovereigntist movement?

The end of “separatism”?

The parliamentary geometry is clear. The makeup of the National Assembly has shifted further to the right. There are now two federalist parties for voters to choose between. As Canadian Prime Minister Harper was quick to note, the results likely rule out the prospects for a new referendum on Quebec sovereignty in the near future.

Quebec general election results, 2007



Popular Vote










































Adapted from Wikipedia
* Marginal parties and independent candidates omitted.
‡ Results for Québec solidaire are compared to the 2003 results for the Union des forces progressistes.

But PQ losses do not necessarily translate into gains for the federalists. The ADQ is nationalist albeit not pro-independence. Its federalism is conditional. The ADQ was allied with the PQ on the yes side in the 1995 referendum. It arose out of the split in the Quebec Liberals in the early 1990s when ADQ leader Mario Dumont (then the PLQ youth leader) joined with senior party members led by Jean Allaire in support of a proposal to give Quebec exclusive jurisdiction over 22 areas of government policy, taking over many areas now assigned to the federal government under the existing Constitution.

The ADQ platform in this election highlighted its proposal for “Quebec affirmation without separating”, calling for “reopening of constitutional dialogue with the federal government and the other provinces”, the adoption of a distinct “Quebec Constitution” and Quebec citizenship, designation of Quebec as the “Autonomous State of Quebec”, defence of “our areas of jurisdiction” and strengthening Quebec’s “financial autonomy”. Quebecers must overcome their “minority complex”, the party said.

The legislative agenda of Charest’s Liberals is now dependent on the votes of either the autonomist ADQ or the sovereigntist PQ. And ADQ leader Dumont has expressed the hope “that we could rally some kind of unanimity at the National Assembly around an autonomist vision.”

Harper sought to shore up the Quebec Liberals and defuse demands for constitutional change through shoveling money to Quebec in the federal budget just a week before the election — “the mother of all sponsorship campaigns”, wrote one wag. But will tactics like this satisfy those favouring more substantial changes in Quebec’s relationship to Canada? They are a majority in Quebec. During the election campaign, polls registered popular support for sovereignty at well over 40% with or without a formal association with Canada. Evidently, the ADQ tapped into some of that sentiment.

The fact is that the ADQ proposals, whatever their specifics (and they are vague) are likely non-starters in the rest of Canada. It is one thing to pay lip service to recognition of Quebec, or the Québécois, as a “nation” as the federal Parliament did in November. It is quite another thing to give that notion some substance through real constitutional reform. Any serious proposals to alter the framework of federalism will most probably encounter a cold reception from the Canadian political establishment, including the NDP leadership.

The likely prospect, then, is for renewed confrontations with Ottawa in Quebec’s ongoing quest for national affirmation and self-determination.

Labour, social movements in retreat

With three more-or-less neoliberal parties dominating politics and media attention, there is a danger that too much will be read into the shifts in voter preference, especially when the re-allocation of parliamentary seats exaggerates the actual change in the popular vote.

The ADQ’s gains were largely at the expense of the Liberals. The ADQ platform sounded most of the social themes so dear to right-wing ideologues: family allowances in place of state-subsidized childcare, school autonomy and job-oriented curricula, an increased role for private healthcare, tougher law and order, lower taxes, etc. But in most respects, this program does not differ qualitatively from Charest’s agenda. Québec solidaire leaders Françoise David and Amir Khadir were probably correct to state, in a post-election news release, that the PLQ and ADQ “will be as thick as thieves when it comes to privatizing health care, increasing student fees, refusing to index social assistance and imposing [worse] working conditions on public sector workers.”

In fact, public disaffection with the Liberals was generally attributed to precisely this policy direction, which the Charest government had been pursuing since its election in 2003 in defiance of mass opposition.

In their first year in office, the Liberals unveiled legislation dismantling healthcare unions, restricting and even denying bargaining rights to many public sector workers, increasing contracting out to non-union employers and removing minimum wage standards in some industries. This legislation was rammed through the National Assembly in the face of massive protests by workers throughout Quebec — the largest union mobilizations since the general strike that swept the province in 1972.

On May Day, 2004, 100,000 workers marched in Montréal, many of them demanding a general strike to defeat the government offensive. The union leaderships worked to cool the growing confrontation, however, frustrating and ultimately demoralizing many militants.

In December 2005, faced with escalating strikes and rallies by a union common front of half a million public sector workers who had been without a contract since June 2003, the Charest government successfully imposed a takeback contract to run to 2010, with stiff fines for any further strike action. These and other antilabor moves were accompanied during Charest’s term in office by substantial cuts in childcare funding, higher fees for publicly funded daycare and threats to remove a freeze on post-secondary tuition fees. In 2005, students struck colleges and universities and marched in tens of thousands in the largest such actions in Quebec history.

However, these powerful mobilizations by workers, students and others were unable to defeat the Liberals’ assault, although they did force some retreats on the government. A major obstacle facing the government’s opponents was their lack of a political alternative. The Parti québécois offered at best tepid opposition to Charest’s agenda and the new PQ leader André Boisclair refused to commit to re-opening public sector contracts or repealing much of the Liberals’ anti-union legislation. The last year saw a sharp decline in mass actions while PQ support slowly declined in opinion polls.

With no major party presenting any perspective for reversing these setbacks, Quebec’s political discourse became increasingly dominated by symbolic issues that fed on insecurities over national self-definition and identity. The ADQ proved particularly adept at exploiting this trend.

ADQ works the “identity” theme

Until recently, the ADQ’s electoral base was in Quebec’s largely rural hinterland. But its support increased dramatically when ADQ leader Mario Dumont began attacking policies to accommodate the right of religious minorities, mainly Muslims, to express or practice their faith in public (for example, dress codes allowing hijabs or kirpans in the public schools, or the provision of prayer space for Muslims in unoccupied classrooms). Most of the incidents around which these issues arose have occurred in Montréal, but the ADQ’s reactionary claim that “reasonable accommodation” of such practices challenged Québécois identity seemed to have its greatest resonance outside the metropolis. The ADQ appears to have tapped into some deep-seated discomfort among many Québécois, to whom cosmopolitan, multiracial and socially tolerant Montréal seems alien to their perception of Quebec culture and sense of personal security.

The ADQ’s opposition to religious minority practices meant that it campaigned in favour of “secularism” — in sharp contrast to the staunchly Catholic right-wing forces of the past such as Maurice Duplessis’ Union Nationale or Réal Caouette’s Créditistes. This opened the way to support from urbanites for whom religion plays little or no role in their sense of national identity.

Although the ADQ exploited these largely symbolic issues to its advantage, all parties have in fact played on fears of minority contamination of Quebec values. One of the first manifestations of such concerns came in the form of a joint Liberal-PQ motion, adopted unanimously in the National Assembly in 2005, condemning a proposal (in Ontario!) to extend legal recognition of private arbitration of family law disputes to Moslems — even though Quebec’s Civil Code already bars such private arbitration. (See Socialist Voice #78) And during this election campaign it was PQ leader André Boisclair who insisted that women with burkas would have to unveil in order to vote!

Has PQ forgotten its raison d’être?

Issues of national identity have featured prominently in post-election commentary by sovereigntists as they assess the PQ’s electoral debacle. The party’s left-wing “club” of trade-unionists and progressives, SPQ-Libre, attributed the cultural insecurity it sees in Quebec primarily to capitalist globalization and its devastating impact on the province’s regional economy and social structure. It said the PQ’s response to the ADQ “identity” campaign should have emphasized “the defence and promotion of the French language and culture”, issues “at the heart of the Quebec national movement”.

Others echoed this theme. Jean Dorion, president of the nationalist Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society, says the PQ is the party that talked least about language during the campaign. When in government, it failed to implement legislation adopted in 2003 that proclaimed French the sole language of government communications.

“Dumont roused consciousness of identity in a very unhealthy way,” says Dorion. This distracted people from some really important questions “such as the bilingualism in our society and the hegemony of English”. He cites the fact that half the new megahospital infrastructures being built in Montréal will be administered in English.

Pierre Renaud, a former leader of the RIN, the PQ’s independentist predecessor, argues that the PQ has focused too exclusively on its promised referendum on sovereignty. “Instead, we have to talk to them about the reasons for achieving independence. It was never for reasons of money, but we kept talking about how profitable it would be. That was a mistake. We want to form a country for issues of culture, language, pride, identity, history, etc.”

Former PQ minister Yves Duhaime agrees. “We just talked about the referendum, we didn’t talk about sovereignty…. Yes, we have to put the figures on the table, but achieving sovereignty is not an accounting exercise, especially when Mr. Charest himself said Quebec had the means to do it.”

Historian Éric Bédard, who headed the PQ youth organization at the time of the 1995 referendum, says Boisclair left the issue of Quebec identity to the ADQ. He draws an interesting historical parallel: in 1969, the Union Nationale lost the election after it had enacted “free choice” of language in education (Bill 63). Similarly, he says, the PQ’s pro-sovereignty views have become “denationalized”.

French language still under pressure

In fact, the question of French language rights continues to be front and centre in the consciousness of many Quebec working people. Just days after the March 26 general election, the Quebec Federation of Labour (FTQ) held a major symposium on Quebec’s stalled language law reforms and the ongoing problem of anglicization of business and industry in the province. The FTQ released studies showing that about one out of every two Francophones working in both languages in the private sector must communicate primarily in English with Anglophone superiors, colleagues and subordinates.

Former PQ cabinet minister Louise Beaudoin, a featured speaker, said it was unacceptable that 30 years after the enactment of Law 101, the Charter of the French Language, language transfers in Quebec were still predominantly toward English; given the option, immigrants, Anglophones and even some Francophones tend to choose English instead of French as their language of choice. A major problem, she said, is that “there is still no real francization program in firms with fewer than 50 employees”, where most immigrant workers are concentrated.

And Beaudoin was scathing in her criticism of PQ leader André Boisclair for not raising the issue of language and culture in the election campaign. “How is it,” she asked, “that in a two-hour debate of the party leaders, in which all the major issues in Quebec society should be aired, not a word was said about the French language and Quebec culture?”

The FTQ had motivated its endorsement of the PQ in the election on the basis of the party’s formal commitment, in its published platform, to “promoting identity, language and culture”, promoting the right to “work in French” and “achieving the sovereignty of Quebec”. At the same time, the FTQ criticized the party’s demand for a new referendum on sovereignty and Boisclair’s recent call to end the “copinage” (cronyism) between the PQ and the unions.

A new sovereigntist coalition?

Interviewed by Le Devoir on his reaction to the election results, Gérald Larose, a former leader of the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN) and now chair of the Conseil de la souveraineté, the umbrella council of pro-sovereignty organizations, noted that the PQ could no longer be said to monopolize the sovereignty movement. He called for creating a “new sovereigntist coalition”, much broader than the PQ and its supporters.

But to be successful, many argue, Quebec sovereignty must be linked to a progressive “projet de société”, a social agenda that holds out the promise and hope of a “new and different Quebec” that can do away with social inequality and poverty. The PQ’s inability to promise that social change, starkly evident after its record in government, means that it cannot provide adequate leadership for this projected coalition.

The nationalist movement is continuing to suffer the effects of its political hegemony by the PQ, which held office for 18 years between 1976 and 2003, many of them years of neoliberal austerity, “zero deficits” and cutbacks in social programs. Part of the legacy as well are the two failed referendums on sovereignty-association (1980 and 1995), the 1982 unilateral federal patriation of the Constitution, etc., the defeat of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown rounds of constitutional negotiation and reform, etc.

Offsetting these setbacks, of course, were the major reforms enacted by both PQ and Liberal governments since 1960 under the pressure of powerful and sustained labour and nationalist struggles over several decades. These reforms greatly enhanced the status of the French language and of Francophones in Quebec, modernized its education system and established social welfare programs that to some degree reduced economic and social disparities with the rest of Canada including Ontario, the province with a comparable industrial development. Quebec’s relative success in these areas may have undermined to some degree the sense of urgency behind the sovereigntist movement.

Increasing class stratification

These reforms have also increased the stratification of Quebec society, with the growth in recent decades of many middle layers of relatively well-off Francophone professionals and highly educated workers. The much vaunted “Quebec model” of the welfare state is less appealing to them now; many are attracted by the lure of neoliberal individualism. The ADQ’s electoral inroads in urban and especially suburban areas of Quebec may reflect these sociological changes.

Issues of language and culture are still important to these layers, but they are less inclined to see solutions to their insecurities in meta changes, including constitutional reforms. However, they may want more than what Charest’s milquetoast brand of pragmatic cooperative federalism was able to yield (which was not much). In any event, nationalist consciousness has not been immune to the overall context of defeats and relative demobilization of the unions and social movements. In a political landscape dominated by neoliberal parties, allegiances were easily shifted among three parties distinguished by little more than their respective positions on the national question.

For almost five decades, class politics in Quebec have unfolded in a predominantly nationalist framework in which the contending social forces have operated within a broad consensus on the need to promote French-language rights and Francophone identity whether within or without the Confederation. That consensus remains, but new issues of identity, arising mainly around the challenges of integrating immigrants and non-Francophones within Quebec society, intersect with initial signs of a growing class differentiation within the broad nationalist movement. The PQ’s rightward shift has opened space to the left for sections of the workers and social movements to begin to break from bourgeois nationalism. The formation of Québec solidaire reflects this, although still incompletely and not altogether coherently.

Likewise, the open rifts within the PQ will favour a renewed debate in Quebec over the road ahead for the social movements, including the trade unions whose members have long been the bedrock of support for that party.

This, and not the overnight ascension of the ADQ, may well turn out to be the most important result of the 2007 election. Historically, national and class mobilizations in Quebec, while not in lockstep, have tracked each other closely. New battles lie ahead, opening new prospects for beginning to build a broad working-class political alternative to capitalist exploitation and national oppression.

Despite Low Vote, Québec Solidaire
Registers Important Gains

The Québec solidaire score of 3.65% will no doubt be disappointing to many QS members and supporters, not least because the party failed to outpoll the Greens (PVQ), who campaigned on a basically neoliberal platform but evidently capitalized on recent public concern over the environment. (The PVQ, which fielded only 37 candidates in 2003, managed to run in 108 ridings this time, although the party claims a membership of only 1,000.)

QS had hoped to break through a psychological barrier of 5% and thereby strengthen its case for representation in the National Assembly under a still-to-be-defined forthcoming electoral reform based on proportional representation.

Nevertheless, the campaign marked some major advances for the fledgling party formed just a year ago through the fusion of Option citoyenne with the Union des forces progressistes (UFP).

QS ran in all but two of Quebec’s 125 ridings. More than half of its candidates (64) were women — a first for a Quebec political party. In each riding, the party had to collect at least 100 signatures of voters for its candidates to be listed on the ballot. This entailed an intensive canvassing effort, and by the end of the campaign the party membership had increased by more than 1,000 to over 6,500.

The QS score was much above its average in a number of ridings where the party waged “priority” or “intermediate” rather than “visibility” campaigns. In Montréal’s Mercier and Gouin ridings, where QS co-leaders Amir Khadir and Françoise David ran, the party came second behind the PQ, with scores of over 29% and 26% respectively. In a dozen other ridings, five of them outside of Montréal, the party got more than 5% of the popular vote. Further details:

Generally, the candidates with the higher scores are well-known activists and leaders in various social movements, the women’s movement and the unions.

The Montréal Central Council of the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN) urged its 125,000 members to vote for Québec solidaire — the first time ever that a major labour body had voted to endorse a party to the left of the PQ. Party candidates were also endorsed by a number of prominent leaders in other unions, including nurses’ union leader Jenny Skene and the former president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Nicole Turmel. The Montréal wing of the Quebec Federation of Labour (FTQ) voted to support the campaigns of QS labour activists Arthur Sandborn and André Frappier.

QS campaigned in favour of going beyond the Kyoto protocol standards and was given an “excellent” rating by Greenpeace, just behind the Greens.

During the campaign, some aboriginal leaders held a conference “on Mohawk territory” and issued a joint statement on the elections denouncing the major parties for failing to address native concerns. But Ghislain Picard, the chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, singled out Québec solidaire as “the only exception”. QS candidate François Saillant addressed the Assembly on March 20 and got a warm reception when he explained the party’s support for self-determination of the aboriginal peoples and respect for treaty and aboriginal rights.

A major issue during the election campaign was the media conglomerates’ decision to exclude QS and the Greens from the party leaders’ TV debate. A non-partisan petition to reverse that decision was signed by more than 25,000 persons, but the media firms, led by the federal government’s Radio-Canada/CBC, refused to yield.

Although QS had few financial resources, it produced professional looking leaflets and signs. A 50-page campaign handbook was published for candidates and party workers on the party’s intranet, along with informative briefing notes on key issues.

Many candidates held effective public meetings and street demonstrations in their ridings. Some held “soupes populaires”, serving hot food along with election handbills to frigid passersby. In some ridings, candidates held local assemblies inviting input from citizens on themes and demands to include in their campaigns. Some campaign meetings attracted hundreds of enthusiastic participants; one in Montréal drew more than 700 according to media reports. QS candidates spoke at many all-candidates meetings in their ridings. For further details, see

Although shut out from the leaders’ debate, the QS campaign did get some coverage in the mass media, including some editorial criticism. An article in Quebec’s largest-circulation daily newspaper, La Presse, red-baited the party because two of its candidates are public members of the Quebec Communist party (PCQ); the PCQ is an affiliated collective within Québec solidaire.

Programmatically, the QS campaign was closely confined to the party’s “25 concrete and realizable commitments” adopted at its platform convention in November 2006. Prominent campaign themes were the party’s call for a $10 minimum wage (it is currently $7.75 an hour); construction of 4,000 new units of social housing; abolition of university fees and private schools; nationalization of wind-generated power; massive investment in public transit; and election of a constituent assembly to adopt democratically the constitution of a sovereign Quebec.

Unlike the 2003 campaign of its predecessor the UFP, the QS campaign did not mention international issues such as Canada’s war in Afghanistan, although some QS candidates and supporters participated in the March 17 antiwar actions. Nor did the party express any opposition to capitalist trade and investment deals like NAFTA. The limited platform reflected a QS leadership decision made last year to confine its programmatic intervention in the election to “a limited number of proposals . . . conceived in terms of a governmental project that is immediately realizable in the present framework — that is, provincial and neoliberal.”

It is clear that the Québec solidaire campaign was successful in raising the party’s profile, increasing its membership and giving it valuable experience in electioneering. Whether it was equally successful in generating the political and programmatic impact it hoped to have among working people and students is a worthy topic for debate as QS members reflect on this experience in the coming months.

– R.F.