Wednesday, October 23, 2019

After the federal election: the dangers, and the challenges, that lie ahead

By Pierre Beaudet and Richard Fidler

This article is an English adaptation of the article “Péril en la demeure” published October 23 in the on-line journal Presse-toi à gauche. My co-author Pierre Beaudet is an editor of Nouveaux Cahiers du Socialisme and currently teaches international development at the University of Quebec Outaouais campus in Gatineau. -- Richard Fidler

It is still early to interpret fully the results of Canada’s October 21 federal election. But behind the immediate results some trends are clear.

Canada’s Federal Election, 2019

% of vote
% of vote
* Quebec only, where the party took 32.5% of the vote.

The “right-wing wave” the Conservatives hoped for proved to be little more than a ripple. In Ontario, and in particular the immense metropolitan area of Toronto, the fear campaign mounted by the Liberals was effective. Premier Doug Ford was the perfect scarecrow. The “Ford Nation” of the angry suburbanites had little presence. In Western Canada there was little change. The Tory super-majorities in Prairie ridings did little to increase that party’s overall representation in Parliament. While they picked up a few seats in the Atlantic provinces, the Liberals maintained their overwhelming majority there. In Quebec, as expected, the Tories made no headway, winning only 8 seats. Their far-right offshoot, the climate-change denier Maxime Bernier was defeated and his People’s Party of Canada went nowhere, polling less than 2%.

An initial conclusion: Canada is not fertile ground, at least for now, for the kind of ultra-reactionary wave that we have been seeing in the United States, England, Germany and elsewhere. Notwithstanding many nuances, this is positive.

The Liberals saved their day despite the serious mauling delivered to Justin Trudeau’s cultivated image of a young and dynamic modernizer. Now deprived of a parliamentary majority, however, it was a victory by default, a rejection of the Conservatives especially in Ontario. The Liberals’ achievements since their election in 2015 were scarce. Their major promises — on the environment, a “feminist” foreign policy, reconciliation with the First Nations, etc. — were revealed as little more than fine words, far short of the changes that are so necessary. The Trudeau government’s discourse has shifted from that of Stephen Harper, particularly in relation to the Indigenous, but in reality there has been little change.

Economically, Canada’s relative prosperity is largely a spillover from the apparent but ominously fragile boom in the United States, where Trump has simply postponed the toxic effects of his economic policies; almost everyone predicts an imminent rebound of the great recession, which will hit the Canadian economy very hard, given how closely anchored it is to Wall Street’s — and reaffirmed in the new NAFTA successor deal, yet to be ratified.

As expected, the New Democratic Party took a hiding, especially in Quebec. Only the most naïve could have thought that Jagmeet Singh, with his skilful evasions, could save things for a party that under Thomas Mulcair’s stewardship had become little more than a milder version of the Liberals. The party had little credibility in Quebec, despite the last-minute attempts taken by deputy leader Alexandre Boulerice to plug the holes in this hull of a sinking ship. With only Boulerice to represent it from Quebec, the NDP is now back to where it was before 2011, when it swept up 59 seats in the province in the “orange wave.”

The Bloc québécois is clearly the big winner, taking enough seats from both the NDP and Liberals to limit the latter to managing a minority government for the next period. The Bloc and its leader, Yves-François Blanchet, skilfully courted the nationalist vote that tilted in the Quebec elections last year toward the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ); the BQ’s rise from 10 to 32 seats has no doubt also given some renewed hopes to what remains of the Parti québécois.

The Bloc’s gains hint at the possible formation of a new nationalist alliance linking the CAQ and PQ around defense of Quebec, not as a project of emancipation but rather as a defense of identity and provincial autonomy. Since this is Quebec, and not Alberta or France, this defensive nationalism does not assume a far-right expression (although many progressives in English Canada do not understand this). In the last analysis, Blanchet adopted the centre-left discourse that was long associated with the PQ around defense of the environment and social programs, because in Quebec those are objectives cherished by a sociological majority.

Now, allow us to make some forecasts.

The Liberals will govern with the support, both implicit and explicit, of the Conservatives. On most essential issues the two major parties have much the same vision, which corresponds to that of “Canada Inc.” The shift in recent years toward a Toronto-Calgary financial and resource axis has disrupted the postwar historic bloc with the unions and rising middle classes — centred in industrial Ontario and a rising Quebec — that spawned the limited social welfare provisions now under increasing attack.

The differences between these parties pertain more to how this is to be done. A faction of the Conservatives, led by Jason Kenney, favours harsh and brutal cutbacks and restrictions on critics, while placing the blame on the “grasping” Quebecers living off equalization grants and the profits from the tar sands. It’s a rational project, but in the present circumstances it lacks credibility. The Liberals do not differ radically, but prefer a “war of position” that weakens the provinces (especially Quebec) through a political and economic centralization that facilitates the turn in Canada’s political economy. Neither party, however won much more than a third of the votes cast. Although the Conservatives’ total vote was marginally higher than the Liberals’, both Trudeau and Tory leader Andrew Scheer emerge weaker politically.

In view of the election results the now-minority Liberal government may well be inclined to curry Tory support on major projects, for example by speeding up its planned expansion of fossil-fuel production and export.

As for the New Democratic Party, the election marks a further step in its long-term stagnation, interrupted in the past only by a few very fleeting advances as in the 2011 “orange wave.” It seems unable to reinvent itself, to offer a credible alternative to the dominant projects of Canadian capital. Although public opinion polling identified climate change as a major concern, the NDP spoke with a forked tongue on some major environmental issues: for example, endorsing the B.C. NDP government’s massive LNG and natural gas pipeline project while opposing a similar project in Quebec. After some hesitation Singh came out in opposition to the Liberals’ Trans Mountain bitumen pipeline expansion, but the party was hobbled by the conflict between the B.C. government, which opposed TMX, and its Alberta NDP counterpart which had championed it while in government.

On Quebec, the party has ultimately failed to engage with the progressive nationalist consciousness of the Québécois. Its major attempt, the 2006 Sherbrooke Declaration, endorsed Quebec’s right to national self-determination but said its national character could be “expressed in the context of the [existing] Canadian federation.” Underlying its ambiguities is the party’s inability to incorporate within its conception of state power the plurinational reality of the Canadian social formation and the ways in which that reality is denied and violated through the constitutional regime established in 1867. Moreover, the NDP (like much of the left) has never understood the role of the federal state as the mainstay of the domination and class interests of Canadian Capital, including its subaltern Quebec component.

Is it time — once again — to declare “the party is over” and find ways to begin anew in building a broad anticapitalist left? Easier said than done. At present the Canadian left is dispersed and fragmented and seems more inclined to focus on organizing and campaigning around particular issues (environment, feminism, Indigenous solidarity, etc.) rather than attempting to build a united radical left alternative. The positive experience of progressive regroupment in the building of Québec solidaire, from which many lessons can be learned, is largely unknown in Canada Outside Quebec.

What can the Bloc québécois really achieve in Ottawa? It can exert some sort of pressure on the minority government, but its means are limited. Meanwhile, the big winner in the election is François Legault, who emerges with his soft nationalist agenda reinforced, giving him greater ability to confront the unions and the environmental coalitions. And he is certain to take advantage of the foreseeable neoliberal alignment of federal Liberals and Tories to accelerate the turn to austerity already heralded.

However, we must be cautious in our predictions, as there are many contingencies that remain unclear, including the next resumption of recession in the U.S.

A few thoughts, perhaps, on what all this may mean for the Quebec left. Throughout the federal campaign Québec solidaire, which as an independentist party does not participate in federal elections, kept silent, even in the face of the explosive debate among the other parties over what to do if anything about the Legault government’s Bill 21. A major reason was the QS leadership’s fear of reigniting the difficult debate in the party over identity and “values” sparked most recently by the CAQ’s Bill 21, a debate that left behind some bitter feelings. The firm and positive position adopted at the QS national council meeting in April did not meet with anything like universal acceptance, even among the party membership.

We agree with the decision taken by a large majority of the council members to oppose Bill 21, on the grounds that the bill’s discrimination against faith communities and genders that identify their personal religious beliefs through various forms of clothing (e.g. the Muslim hijab) is inconsistent with true laïcité or state secularism, which registers state neutrality toward religion. But what the QS debate may not have addressed adequately is the insecurity that continues to plague many Québécois — especially in regions outside the Montréal metropolis where very few if any Muslim women or other ethnic minorities are encountered — over their national culture and language, in short identity, in a continent and a state that are overwhelmingly non-Francophone and predominantly English-speaking. The CAQ, the Bloc and the PQ have effectively wielded this insecurity to begin forging a new right-wing nationalist alignment in which Bill 21 is a key element, camouflaging its divisive xenophobic content behind opposition to the “multiculturalism” program originally manufactured by Trudeau Senior as a means to reduce Quebec’s foundational national identity to just another residual ethnic identity in the Canadian popular consciousness.

Québec solidaire still needs to find ways to address these underlying insecurities by deepening our inclusive and emancipatory project to include a stronger defense of Québécois culture and language. Our project, which is already characterized by its commitment to ecology, feminism and altermondialisme, could benefit from some additional explorations. We cannot be indifferent to the gap between Montréal and the other university towns where QS is strongest, and the rest of the nation in which the working-class and popular majority are likewise seeking a better life, in dignity. The point of departure, as our sympathizers in the regions often remind us, is that our project cannot thrive without the creation of a new political space recognizing French as the common language, and deeply attached to democratic traditions — a true popular sovereignty that comes from the people and is deeply imbued with a sense of social solidarity. A project that is inclusive, democratic, secular (laïc) and popular.

We can take inspiration from Scotland, where the rising movement for independence is strongly supported by the people referred to as “immigrants” even if they have lived there for two or three generations. And why is that? Because a new left in recent years has redefined the project as a call to transform the society, to break from the neoliberal prison of the British state, and to promote the interests of the great majority of Scots in their diversity and their utopias.

And there is another task awaiting us, one that is equally monumental. We cannot change Quebec without changing Canada. We must at all costs avoid the terrible error of the right-wing Catalan independentism, which from the outset ruled out the forging of an alliance or at least closer links with the left in the Spanish state. Yes, we know this is not Spain and there is no Podemos or anything resembling it west of the Ottawa River. The Canadian left, such as it is, will some day have to make its own “revolution in the revolution,” incorporating in its program, among other things, a plurinational conception of the Canadian social formation.

Will that be done in or through the NDP? Can it begin with a totally new project? Will it proceed from the local or municipal level, progressing to a higher level? Those are some of the questions confronting our Canadian comrades. Perhaps we can help them, even if only minimally, by waging alongside them the struggles that will develop against climate catastrophe, the austerity and selective repression that awaits us with the next federal government. And to put at least a few grains of sand in the alignment of the Canadian state with the neighboring Empire and its endless wars.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Catalan independence leaders sentenced to heavy jail terms

The savage sentences handed down by Spain’s Supreme Court against nine Catalan independence leaders have been denounced by political leaders in Quebec, including Premier François Legault. In the forefront are the deputies of Québec solidaire, who will present a motion this week in the National Assembly condemning the repression and reaffirming the right of self-determination of peoples.

“Jailing elected members because they exercised their democratic duty does not make good sense,” said QS deputy co-leader Manon Massé. She was responding to a letter sent to QS by the president of the Catalan parliament asking them to find a way to help in resolving the political conflict in Spain. Massé, who had visited Catalonia in 2017 at the time of the independence vote, testified by videoconference in April during the trial of Jordi Cuixart, leader of one of the social movements supporting independence.

Campaigning in Canada’s federal election, Bloc Québécois leader Yves François Blanchet called on the leaders of the other parties, starting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to denounce the heavy sentences imposed on the Catalan leaders. Trudeau refused, arguing that it involved an internal Spanish affair. He invoked the same neutrality in 2017 when Spanish police beat Catalan voters who sought to exercise their right to vote. At the time Jagmeet Singh, newly elected leader of the New Democratic Party, denounced Trudeau, saying the right to self-determination was one of the most important rights.

In the article below, Dick Nichols reports on the massive protests that have erupted in Catalonia in response to the court sentences. Nichols is the Barcelona-based European correspondent of Green Left Weekly, from which the article is reproduced, with thanks.

Nichols’ article is followed by extensive excerpts from an article by Viento Sur editor Jaime Pastor critically dissecting the meaning of the Spanish court’s judgment, and in particular the parts in which the court attempts to distinguish the Catalan case from those of other national minority peoples in states of the geographical North, starting with Quebec. My translation from the Spanish.

Richard Fidler

* * *

Vindictive sentence in Catalan leaders’ trial unleashes tsunami of protest

By Dick Nichols, Barcelona, October 18, 2019

The gap between the 75%–80% of Catalans who uphold their country’s right to self-determination, and the Spanish elites and parts of Spanish society that do not want to know anything about it, was already very wide before October 14.

But on that day, when the Spanish Supreme Court condemned nine Catalan political and social movement leaders to a total of 99.5 years jail, it most likely became unbridgeable.

Following the sentence of the leaders for their role in the October 1, 2017 independence referendum, popular outrage in Catalonia immediately exploded in mass protests involving tens of thousands of people.

They occupied Barcelona airport, imposed road blocks on major highways, demonstrated in huge numbers outside Spanish government offices and began “Marches for Freedom” on Barcelona from five provincial cities.

Every imaginable Catalan social and sporting organisation, from Barcelona Football Club to chess associations, has issued statements condemning the sentences.

On the nights of October 15–16, police and small groups engaged in running battles in central Barcelona, as smoke rose from burning rubbish bins.

On October 16, Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez appeared on television to warn that security forces would act “firmly, serenely and proportionately” in the face of violence.

To his right, People’s Party (PP) leader Pablo Casado demanded the declaration of a state of emergency in Catalonia, while Citizens’ leader Albert Rivera called for an end to Catalan self-rule under article 155 of the Spanish constitution.

One of the main instruments coordinating these responses is the Democratic Tsunami platform, anonymously run by activists from the October 1 referendum, and coordinated via a Telegram channel that, at the time of writing, had attracted 300,000 subscribers.

Punishment without crime

The unanimous verdict of the seven Supreme Court judges that set off this still expanding wave of protest was that nine Catalan leaders — seven former ministers and social movement leaders Jordi Sànchez and Jordi Cuixart — were guilty of “sedition” in preparing the October 1 referendum.

For this 18th century crime, long deleted from the penal codes of many other European states, they were sentenced to jail terms ranging from 9 to 13 years.

The harshest sentence was handed out to former Catalan vice-president Oriol Junqueras as “leader of the sedition”. Former ministers Raül Romeva (foreign affairs), Dolors Bassa (social welfare) and Jordi Turull (minister of state) came next with 12 years: along with Junqueras they were also found guilty of “embezzlement”.

Former Catalan parliament speaker Carme Forcadell incurred 11.5 years jail for allowing the chamber to vote on the referendum’s enabling law, after being instructed by the Spanish Constitutional Court not to do so.

The “sedition” of former Catalan interior minister Joaquim Forn (11.5 years) consisted in undermining the ability of the Catalan police to deliver and enforce Spanish state court orders.

Former territory minister Josep Rull was found guilty of denying a Spanish Civil Guard ship mooring facilities and of making public buildings available as voting centres.

As for Òmnium Cultural president Cuixart and former Catalan National Assembly president Sànchez, their “sedition” was proven by the fact that they had called demonstrations against Civil Guard searches and urged people to defend voting centres against police and Civil Guard attempts to impound ballot boxes.

Along with these nine, who have already been held in preventive detention for up to two years, the court found former ministers Carles Mundó (attorney-general), Santi Vila (business) and Meritxell Borras (education) guilty of “disobedience”, fining each €60,000 and banning them from standing for public office for 18 months.

The nine jailed leaders have been banned from standing for public office for the term of their sentences.

Why this verdict?

The verdict is the predictable result of the pressures operating on the Supreme Court and its chief judge Manuel Marchena.

The chief pressure was for the trial to produce an exemplary punishment of the Catalan leaders. They had humiliated the Spanish state by successfully organising a unilateral independence referendum after 18 failed attempts to negotiate a Scottish-style referendum with successive Spanish governments.

A measure of the viciousness of the sentences is to compare them to those arising from the failed 1981 coup attempt. The average punishment for the military and Civil Guards who tried to reimpose the Francisco Franco dictatorship then was six years jail: the sentences of the Catalan leaders average 8.3 years.

The Supreme Court judges were doing the work set out for them by the previous PP government of Mariano Rajoy.

According to a leaked WhatsApp message by PP Senate spokesperson Ignacio Cosidó, its Second Chamber, which heard the case, was controlled “via the back door”.

There was no way its judges, even their “progressive” minority, were going to find the Catalan leaders innocent, or guilty only of disobedience (which carries no jail sentence).

There was no ‘rebellion’

However, the heavy sentences the court was always going to impose have to be defensible in law, not only within Spain but especially before a European Court of Human Rights — which in 2018 upheld nine out of ten appeals against Spanish court decisions.

This pressure to find a plausible legal foundation for their decision meant the judges had to discard the “rebellion” charge against the Catalan leaders.

This indictment was originally brought by the investigating magistrate Pablo Llarena and was backed by the Spanish prosecutor-general’s office and the “popular prosecution”, the ultra-right party Vox.

(The “popular prosecution” is a Spanish institution originally designed to allow the representation of community or public interest.)

Dropping the charge of “rebellion”, which a majority of Spanish jurists had already declared inapplicable, was also probably the price of a unanimous verdict between judges of different political temperaments.

It was also a political imperative. It will help Pedro Sánchez maintain the myth that Spain is a “law-governed state” with an independent judiciary and it will also help the European Union and its member states, fearful of any Catalan threat to the EU status quo, sustain the same fiction.

In the days after the verdict, spokespeople for the European Commission and the British government robotically repeated the line from Madrid.

Caught in contradiction

The dropping of “rebellion” comes at a price, however, because the whole Spanish-patriotic view of the October 1 referendum, from King Philip down, is that it was a deliberate, rebellious assault on the Constitution.

Sensitive to the angst their appeal-proofed verdict would cause, the judges devoted about 200 pages of the 493-page judgement to arguments against the “rebellion”.

Yet, in adopting the “sedition theory”, the judges fall into a painful contradiction.

Their decision says, for example, that October 1 did not involve “preconceived, deliberate and functional” violence aimed at achieving Catalonia’s separation from the Spanish state, but was rather an attempt to pressure it into negotiations.

“The over-excited citizens who believed that the positive result of the so-called referendum would lead to the hoped-for horizon of a sovereign republic were unaware that the right to decide had changed into an atypical right to bring pressure.”

But if that argument is valid against “rebellion”, how is it not also valid against “sedition”? The only difference in Spanish law is that “rebellion” is a crime against the constitution and “sedition” a crime against public order.

The judges’ answer was to smother the contradiction in lurid fictional accounts of the events of 2017. These are based on the well-rehearsed evidence of Spanish National Police and Civil Guard officers, whom Marchena “spared” from defence cross-examination, backed by visual evidence, during the trial.

In their decision, it is the huge peaceful demonstrations and non-violent protests of 2017 that become “sedition”. This ruling opens the door to any protest activity, like trade union pickets or organised attempts to stop evictions, being regarded as “seditious”.

In an October 16 interview in the Catalan daily Ara, Jordi Sànchez said: “The sentence unequivocally lies. It doesn’t specify any detail of the supposed strategy of sedition. Not one confirmed meeting, not one email, only declarations in public ANC [Catalan National Assembly] events and the calling of demonstrations.

“The Supreme Court judges’ hostility towards us has betrayed them. Their animosity towards us has leaked out in the sentence in the form of false statements to justify the prison terms.”

Offensives launched

The verdict has also been the signal for new offensives from both sides of the Catalan-Spanish State struggle.

The Spanish judiciary immediately banned convicted Catalan leaders from standing in the November 10 Spanish general election and judge Llarena reissued a European arrest warrant for the extradition of former Catalan president Carles Puigdemont from Belgium.

The PSOE government went on an offensive to persuade other countries of the immaculate character of the Spanish legal system. Cabinet members with foreign languages made themselves available for interviews on whatever international channels would have them.

On the Catalan side, the enormous, growing tsunami of mass protest started to roll.

All this is taking place three weeks out from the Spanish general election, in which Catalonia will dominate as never before. In Jordi Sànchez’s words: “They believe that they will terminate people’s sentiments by beheading those they think are leaders of the process.

“They are having the opposite effect.”

A ruling against the right to decide

by Jaime Pastor (extracts)

A reading of the 23 pages of the judgment devoted to rejecting the claim to the right to decide (199-222) reveals clearly the pirouettes resorted to by the Supreme Court (SC) in order to disqualify it. Notwithstanding its statement that “it is not our job to offer — or pursue or insinuate — political solutions to a problem with deep historical roots” (referring obviously to Catalonia’s relation to Spain), it immediately goes on to reject the defence’s allegations, since accepting them “would be used to affirm, in opposition to a monistic vision of sovereignty that is typical of historical constitutionalism, a constitutional pluralism, a diffuse and shared sovereignty including a co-sovereignty transcending rancid concepts affected by the passage of time.”

Well yes, ladies and gentlemen, if we analyze the present and global political reality, it does not support a monistic or unilateral vision of sovereignty, since what we are witnessing is a now irreversible crisis of the sovereign national-state paradigm. In the framework of neoliberal globalization what has occurred is an intertwining of sovereignties and jurisdictions within an hierarchical inter-state system that in turn is increasingly fusing with the major economic powers around a lex mercatoria común under which most states are reluctant to recognize internal national and cultural diversity, and above all are draining it of democracy and popular sovereignty. Is not the reality of the European Union a confirmation of that “diffuse and shared” sovereignty, which has led even the states of the Eurozone to renounce one of their most symbolic powers, that is monetary sovereignty? […]

It is in this reality of an institutional architecture that a multilevel governance is developing and expanding on a global scale, especially around the hard core of politics — economics and finance, civil and military security, etc. — shared by the IMF, the World Bank, the central banks, NATO, the G8 and the United States. So it is truly sarcastic to speak of the exclusive sovereignty of states and, in our case, of the preservation of the sovereignty of the Spanish people when the latter have been excluded, for example, from deciding on constitutional reforms of such huge scope as the reform of the much-criticized article 135 of the Constitution — which annulled the social character of the “social and democratic rule of law” established by that same fundamental law. In reality, unfortunately, there is one area in which that exclusive state sovereignty is exercised, and in an increasingly more repressive form, as we see in the Mediterranean: the border controls imposed on the free movement of persons even while barriers to the entry and flight of capital continue to be eliminated.

In this regard, and to be brief, I take the liberty of quoting what I wrote recently in Le Monde Diplomatique:[1]

“In today's world, moreover, although the sovereign state paradigm continues to exist, we know that we are actually in an increasingly interdependent world on all levels, as well as a hierarchical system of states, in turn merged with major economic powers that seek to impose their interests and decisions over and above the peoples and even their representative institutions. We should not be surprised, therefore, at the rise of popular-based sovereignty movements in very different places on the planet and with quite distinct ideological orientations.

“In what concerns us here, it should be recalled that we have arrived at this point after a long process in which most states, especially since the end of the 18th century, have tended to develop a model of nationalization of their respective populations based on the promotion of a single national identity, a single language and a single culture. This paradigm, according to which access to citizenship rights is linked to belonging — voluntarily or by force — to the official national identity, has generated many relationships of inequality and injustice, due to the lack of recognition of the different ethnic and national identities within the same State.”

That is the crux of the matter and that is why the claim to the right of self-determination within demo-liberal states of the North has resurfaced. The old salt-water theory, which was intended to limit that right to colonies and occupied countries, has long since lost its applicability. That is why the internal and external dimensions of the right to self-determination are seen in cases such as that of Canada and Quebec, challenging the taboo of the “territorial integrity of states.”

Yet notwithstanding this persistent and ever-increasing reality in different places, the Supreme Court clings to the thesis of “the safeguarding of the territorial integrity of the already constituted states as the natural limit to what has been called the external dimension of the right to self-determination.” Aware, however, that this “territorial integrity” has been questioned in the aforementioned cases, it excuses itself by saying that “we cannot go beyond our functional space” only to do so later by rejecting any similarity between the case of Quebec and that of Canada, since “no similarity can be proclaimed between the historical origin of Quebec’s claim and the unilateral act of secession attributed to the defendants.”

Why not? Hasn’t there been a problem of accommodation, both in Quebec and in Catalonia, of their national realities within the respective states? Yes, there is a difference, of course, but it is that while in Canada that conflict was addressed after two referendums, and a political and democratic solution has been sought despite the fact that its Constitution does not recognize the right of secession, in the Spanish state there has been no willingness to find that democratic solution. On the contrary, from the first moment a fundamentalist reading of the 1978 Constitution has been imposed making it a true straitjacket — which is what the Canadian Supreme Court judgment [on Quebec secession] rejected.

Then the SC makes a quick and superficial tour of other cases: Montenegro (“a previously constitutionalized process”), Scotland (“result of a negotiation process” and with the particular feature that the UK constitution is unwritten), or Kosovo (for the unique nature of the conflict and the EU tutelage). Interestingly, with respect to the latter, the Court passes very quickly over the Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), forgetting that while it recognizes the specificity of the case, that does not stop it from extracting some general conclusions, among them that while international law does not recognize the right to secession within existing states, it does not prohibit it either. In order to recognize it, the ICJ limits itself to demanding some procedural requirements of the collective subject that is prepared to exercise it: the non-use of force, proof that the process seeking a negotiated settlement must be exhausted, and, finally, that a clear majority of the population concerned has declared itself in favour of secession by peaceful means.[2]

Starting, therefore, from the conclusions of the ICJ, the debate should revolve around the question of whether the negotiated settlement process has been exhausted within the framework of the Spanish State. It seems clear that since the de facto annulment of the substance of the Nou Estatut de Autonomía by the Constitutional Court,[3] there has been a widespread feeling in a large sector of Catalan society (of which about 48% vote for independentist parties, but whose real percentage could only be verified in a referendum that turns on this issue), of non-recognition as a people by the Spanish state. That 2010 ruling was understood as a breach of the territorial constitutional agreement of 1978. It is this that helps to explain the rapid rise of independentism over the almost 10 years since then, which is not to deny that other factors of a secondary order may have been an influence. All the more so when there has not been a single alternative proposal since then for a new type of consensual relationship among the parties of the regime other than the application of article 155[4] and/or the National Security Law.

In these circumstances, and returning to the case of Kosovo, the conclusions of the ICJ should be taken into consideration and the possibility of recognizing the right to secession be accepted […] that is, to recognize that in the last resort, the negotiation routes have been exhausted and to avoid a stagnation of the conflict, it would be legitimate to respect the right to secession of the population of the affected territorial area (in this case an Autonomous Community) provided that it complies with the democratic procedural requirements. It is precisely around this hypothesis that there is a total absence of references in the Supreme Court ruling.

The final answer of the SC is, therefore, that “there is no such right” and, what is worse, that “there is no democracy outside the rule of law,” thus opposing one principle to another and refusing to recognize, as did the Constitutional Court itself, that there is at least a “political aspiration” to which a political solution should be sought. The logical thing, then, would be to adopt an evolutionary interpretation of rights, as was done, by the way, with the recognition of gay marriage, and to consider, as the ICJ did, that there are extreme situations in which the legitimate exercise of the right to decide prevails over the “safeguarding of the territorial integrity of the already constituted states” and, in our case, of the sacred unity of Spain. […]

[1] Jaime Pastor, “La cuestión catalana y la disputa por la soberanía,” Le Monde Dipomatique (Spanish edition), No. 271, p. 3. Available in Viento Sur:

[2] Iñigo Urrutia, “Territorial Integrity and Self-Determination: The Approach of the International Court of Justice in the Advisory Opinion on Kosovo,” REAF-Revista d’Estudis Autonòmics i Federals Vol. 16 (2012). Available at

[3] The 2006 Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia was a law passed by the Catalan legislature, then approved by Spain’s parliament and later ratified in a referendum by Catalan voters. Almost immediately, the opposition center-right Popular Party challenged the statute before the Constitutional Court. The court deliberated for the next four years until June 28, 2010 when it struck down 14 of the statute’s 223 articles and curtailed another 27. Among other things, the ruling struck down attempts to place the distinctive Catalan language above Spanish in the region; ruled as unconstitutional regional powers over courts and judges; and said: “The interpretation of the references to ‘Catalonia as a nation’ and to ‘the national reality of Catalonia’ in the preamble of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia have no legal effect.” (“The Spanish Court Decision That Sparked the Modern Catalan Independence Movement,” – Tr.

[4] Article 155 is only two short paragraphs of the 1978 Constitution of Spain. It says that if a regional government “does not comply with the obligations of the Constitution or other laws it imposes, or acts in a way that seriously undermines the interests of Spain,” the national government can ask the Senate to vote on the use of the measure. (“What is Article 155 of the 1978 Spanish Constitution?,” – Tr.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Debates we should be having in Canada’s federal election

(3) NDP grapples with Quebec’s Law 21

I wrote the short article below for Canadian Dimension as a contribution to its federal election coverage. It addresses an aspect of the NDP’s campaign that has proved controversial in Quebec: both its opposition to the Legault government’s new law banning public employees from wearing clothing or other indications of their religious faith,[1] and the party’s refusal to endorse a federal government court challenge of the law. I argue that both positions are correct but the party appears unprepared to defend them. And I offer some explanations. – Richard Fidler

* * *

NDP repudiates Quebec’s Law 21 but falters in its explanation

The NDP is fighting for its life in Quebec, where the Bloc Québécois supported by the right-wing Legault government threatens many if not all of the party’s current 14 seats, already much reduced from the 59 federal seats the NDP won in Quebec in 2011.

The BQ campaigns in support of Quebec’s Law 21 which prohibits provincial state employees, including public school teachers, from wearing religious symbols. Prime targets are Muslim women wearing headscarfs (hijabs), many of them newcomers from Africa and Asia – prompting critics to label the law, with justice, as racist and sexist. It was one of the first laws enacted by the Coalition Avenir Québec government, elected just a year ago. The Bloc equates its “support of Quebec interests” as support for the CAQ government and its laws and projects.

The NDP’s response to Law 21 has been confused and contradictory. Jagmeet Singh has correctly repudiated it (as have the other major party leaders). But he seems unable to explain why, as he says, it would be “inappropriate” for an NDP government to support a court challenge to it, saying only that he wants to “win people’s hearts.”

The party even trivializes the law with a French-language ad showing Singh with his long hair let down, followed by a glimpse of him winding a turban around his head. “Like, you, I’m proud of my identity,” he says in a voiceover. “[H]e can show his head without a turban,” says the party’s deputy leader Alexandre Boulerice, “and it’s not a big deal.” But surely it is “a big deal” if Singh’s turban would bar him from employment in a public sector job.

Law 21 restricts public expression of religious beliefs in the name of state “secularism,” or laïcité as it is usually termed in French. However, as the NDP’s Quebec counterpart Québec solidaire argues in its program, “It is the state that is secular, not individuals.” QS voted against Bill 21 in the National Assembly. A secular Quebec, says QS, would promote the separation of state and church, for example by ending the government’s funding of religious schools – while protecting individuals’ right to express their religious belief (or lack of such belief) as long as this does no harm to others. The NDP should adopt this conceptual distinction and be prepared to defend it.

Similarly, Singh’s reluctance to support a federal government court challenge to Law 21 can be easily defended. The NDP supports Quebec’s right to self-determination in its Sherbrooke Declaration, the party’s major statement of policy on the Quebec national question. And the NDP’s Quebec platform in this election, Ensemble pour le Québec, acknowledges for the first time that “the repatriation of the Constitution in 1982 without Quebec’s signature is an historic error.” A federal challenge to a Quebec law would necessarily be based on the 1982 Canadian constitution and accordingly lack legitimacy in Quebec, whatever its prospects of legal success – in the process fuelling the reactionary BQ campaign in defense of the CAQ government.

[1] An Act respecting the laicity of the State, S.Q. c. 12.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Debates we should be having in Canada’s federal election

(2) Trudeau government’s ‘blackface’ in Haiti

“Canada’s contribution to the climate crisis, anti-Palestinian policies, support for an illegitimate Haitian president, interference in Venezuela’s affairs, NATO deployments and arms sales to Saudi Arabia are some of the foreign policy topics that should motivate how we vote,” writes Yves Engler, a Montréal-based activist, on his web page.

Engler is one of the few bloggers to pursue Canadian foreign-policy issues consistently from a critical left perspective, and in recent months he has published articles on the above and other topics, as a glance at the titles of his posts indicates. I do not always agree with his take on things but his site is well worth following: provocative, educational… and necessary.

The article republished below, with thanks, (original here), is an outstanding example.

* * *

Trudeau government’s ‘blackface’ in Haiti

By Yves Engler

October 9, 2019

Justin Trudeau recently apologized for dressing up in blackface. He acknowledged that it was a racist act. But he has continued the much more significant racism of his government’s actions towards Haiti, the country that delivered the greatest ever blow to anti-blackness.

In an example of racist double standards, the government recently put out a travel advisory warning Canadians that Haitian “police have used tear gas and live ammunition to disperse crowds.” Apart from this message to (white?) Canadians, the government has yet to directly criticize the killing of Haitian demonstrators by a police force that Canada funds and trains.

Beyond its involvement with a repressive police force, the Trudeau government has provided financial and diplomatic backing to a band of neo-Duvalierist criminals subjugating Haiti’s impoverished black masses. Despite a popular revolt against President Jovenel Moïse, Canada continues to prop up a corrupt clique of politicians who’ve recently fired bullets at protesters outside the Senate and admitted to receiving payments for votes in parliament. A Miami Herald headline explained: “That there is corruption in Haiti isn’t a surprise. But then a senator admitted it openly.” An investigation by Haiti’s Superior Court of Auditors and Administrative Disputes details the scope of Canadian-backed corruption. It concluded that Moïse’s companies swindled $2 million as part of $2 billion embezzled from a discounted oil program set up by Venezuela under Moïse’s mentor Michel Martelly. A vulgar, clownish musician, Martelly was put in place by Washington and Ottawa not long after the deadly 2010 earthquake.

Previous Canadian governments have acted as if Haitians were incapable of running their own affairs. This has been motivated by racism, corporate interests and loyalty to the US empire.

Early in the morning on February 29, 2004, US Marines flew the learned, polyglot and popular President Jean-Bertrand Aristide out of the country. For over two years the US, France and Canada imposed an “illegal” interim government headed by a man, Gérard Latortue, who had been living in the US for 15 years.

The effort to oust Aristide began in earnest as Haiti prepared to celebrate its bicentennial. To get a sense of Washington’s thinking, then Assistant Secretary General of the OAS Luigi Einaudi told journalist/activist Jean Saint-Vil and others at Hotel Montana in Port au Prince on December 31, 2003: “The real problem with Haiti is that the ‘International Community’ is so screwed up and divided that they are actually letting Haitians run Haiti.” Eleven months before Haiti’s bicentennial Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government took a major step to ensure Haitians weren’t running Haiti. They organized the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” to discuss that country’s future. No Haitian officials were invited to this assembly where high-level US, Canadian and French officials decided that Haiti’s elected president “must go”, the dreaded army should be recreated and that the country would be put under a UN trusteeship. Thirteen months after the Ottawa Initiative meeting President Aristide and most other elected officials were pushed out and a quasi UN trusteeship had begun. The Haitian military has been partially re-created.

The bicentennial independence celebration heightened the racist contempt directed at Haiti since the country’s 1791-1804 revolution dealt a crushing blow to slavery, colonialism and white supremacy. From the grips of the most barbaric form of plantation economy, the largely African-born slaves led maybe the greatest example of liberation in the history of humanity. Their revolt rippled through the region and compelled the post-French Revolution government in Paris to abolish slavery in its Caribbean colonies. It also contributed to Britain’s move to abolish the trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1807.

The Haitian Revolution led to freedom for all people regardless of color, decades before this idea found traction in Europe or North America. But, within three years of independence the lighter-skinned plantation owners overthrew and murdered the country’s liberation hero Jean-Jacques Dessalines (the French having killed famous revolutionary Tousaint Louverture prior to independence). In a remarkable act of imperial humiliation, two decades after independence Haiti was compelled to begin paying $21 billion (in 2004 dollars) to compensate French slaveholders for their loss of property (land and now free Haitians). Haiti promised to repay its former exploiters under threat of military invasion and the restoration of slavery. Additionally, the light skinned elite wanted an end to the embargo against the country so they could access international markets. Haiti’s independence debt took 122 years to pay off.

For over half a century Haitian politics were shaped by the “politique de doublure”. Basically, the light skinned elite chose an ignorant/old black general as figurehead president. The “politique de doublure” largely ended with the US occupation of 1915– 34 (Washington kept control of the country’s treasury until 1947). For the most part the Marines simply chose a member of the light skinned elite to “lead” Haiti.

A look at the individuals who dominate Haiti’s economy today highlight ongoing racial exclusion. These wealthy, light skinned Haitians generally work with North American and Dominican sweatshop, mining and other capitalists with even paler complexions.

Trudeau is likely ignorant of the history/social reality his policies in Haiti are entrenching. But, it’s unlikely he understood that blackening his face for a laugh at a party also flowed from/contributed to centuries of racial subjugation. It was just popular in the elite social circles he operated in. The same can be said of his humiliation of the impoverished black masses in Haiti today.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Debates we should be having in Canada’s federal election

(1) The SNC-Lavalin scandal and what it teaches us

Canadian voters will elect a new federal government on October 21. Over the next few days I will draw attention here to some important issues of particular concern to progressive opinion that have been largely overlooked or ignored during the election campaign.

We lead off with two articles on the recent SNC-Lavalin scandal that erupted a few months ago when Trudeau’s attempt to rescue the giant engineering firm from prosecution for corrupt practices in its foreign investments led to the resignation in protest of two ministers.

Leo Panitch is a co-editor of the Socialist Register. His article was published in Socialist Project’s The Bullet and the Toronto Star, from which I have taken the title.

Pierre Beaudet edits Nouveaux Cahiers du Socialisme. My English translation of his article was first published in The Bullet.

Richard Fidler

* * *

Tackling the climate crisis demands a public solution

By Leo Panitch

Friday, October 4, 2019

Who would have believed, just a few months ago, that the SNC-Lavalin scandal would scarcely have been registered so far as one of the key issues in the current federal election? This has nothing to do with the short memories of our politicians or the voters. Rather it depressingly speaks to the narrow range of political discourse and policy options in this country.

The extraordinary lengths to which the Prime Minister’s Office went to prevent the prosecution of Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin certainly was related to protecting the jobs of those workers it employs in Quebec. But what makes Canada’s largest construction company “too big to fail” is, of course, much more than this.

SNC-Lavalin’s infrastructural engineering and productive capacities are unique not only in terms of their centrality to the mining and metallurgy as well as the oil and gas industries, but also to this country’s ecological infrastructure — from transportation and hospitals to water and clean power.

The two corporations that merged in 1991 to comprise SNC-Lavalin were sustained through most of the 20th century by municipal, provincial and federal government procurement and subsidies. Indeed, with this corporate concentration the dependence on the state over the following three decades became, if anything, even greater. This is why SNC-Lavalin is “too big to fail” today.

In the United States “too big to fail” usually implies a demand for governments to break up concentrated corporate power into smaller competitive enterprises.

But this can be counterproductive insofar as these smaller firms cannot sustain themselves, leading to a new round of corporate concentration or, even worse, the actual loss of crucial infrastructural capacity. This is one of the main reasons why so many respectably capitalist governments historically resorted to public ownership, not least in Canada from railways to hydro-electric power, and in fact much more.

The privatizations of recent decades have resulted in the loss of essential public capacities. This is especially serious in the face of the scale of the environmental crisis we face today.

That the neoliberal mania is wearing off is clear from the way the deficit obsession that dominated previous federal elections now suddenly seems a thing of the past. Yet with the Liberals’ $4.5-billion Trans Mountain pipeline nationalization, and the Conservatives’ astronomically more expensive pan-Canadian energy corridor proposal, it appears their only interest in public infrastructural capacities pertains to sustaining the very industry that is at the root of the climate crisis.

This is of course par for the course. The $3 billion left unpaid by General Motors from the $12 billion public bailout provided to it a decade ago could have covered all the costs entailed in implementing the Oshawa worker-environmental alliance plan to save the GM plant by taking it into public ownership and converting it into producing battery electric powered vehicles for Canada Post and other public fleets.

That not even Unifor, let alone the NDP or the Green Party, has championed this plan only goes to show how bereft of big ideas are the foremost institutions that pass for the left in Canada today.

To really implement a Green New Deal of the scale required by the climate emergency would require developing the kind of public engineering and construction capacities that underpinned FDR’s New Deal during the Great Depression. It is the merest illusion to imagine that this crisis can be addressed through regulatory and tax inducements rather than the acquisition and application in the public interest of precisely the kind of engineering and construction capacities that are concentrated in SNC-Lavalin – the too-big-to-fail corporation that the Trudeau government turned itself into knots to keep from failing.

The half million Montrealers who joined the global student-led climate strike at the end of September probably comprised the largest proportion of the population of any city in the world. Yet during the leaders’ election debate staged in that city less than a week later no one connected the dots to raise the efficacy of turning SNC-Lavalin into a public utility.

This marked, at least to this point, the most depressing moment of this entirely uninspiring election.

* * *

The saga of SNC-Lavalin: Quebec Inc. and the Canadian State

By Pierre Beaudet

Tuesday 8 October 2019

For several months now the SNC-Lavalin saga has continued to unfold, although it has been displaced somewhat in the current election campaign. You will recall the small storm that arose when star cabinet ministers in the Trudeau government, Jane Philpott and Jody Wilson-Raybould in particular, resigned over the refusal to prosecute some shady “cases.”[1] Trudeau, who has presented himself as “cleaner than clean,” took a drubbing. Even more, Jody Wilson-Raybould’s departure appeared as a monumental slap in the face to the indigenous peoples who had heard the fine promises and crocodile tears of the Liberals.


Slightly overlooked in Quebec, this “affair” was seized on more by the media and enthusiasts of the second national sport of so-called English Canada: Quebec bashing. This is a longstanding campaign that began at the very birth of Canada , when the “French Canadians” were portrayed as an uneducated, unruly and worse yet Catholic population; unacceptable in the eyes of the Canadian elite, very much influenced by the Orange (racist and colonialist) circles. When the Canadian government and its new Mounted Police force crushed the Métis and assassinated Louis Riel in 1885, they celebrated in Ottawa while in Montréal half the adult population was protesting in the street.

Since then, this story has been perpetuated, but in other forms. Faced with the rise of the emancipation struggle in Quebec in the 1960s, it was understood in Ottawa that they had to step back a bit in order to save what was essential. The arrival of Trudeau and company was a solace, all the more because they were saying that Quebec nationalism was the worst threat. However, the trouble-makers had to be accommodated by some reforms, while facilitating the rise of a new Quebec elite that a few years later would become Québec Inc. tracing its way toward a reduced sovereignty that Lévesque and Parizeau told us could prosper in a semi-independent Quebec while remaining in the haven of Canadian capitalism.[2]

Today Quebec-bashing is still in style. In Western Canada, media and government leaders portray Quebec as a gang of cry-babies and beggars who live on equalization grants and the profits derived from oil. In Ontario the right-wing media (Toronto Sun and Ottawa Sun) repeat this discourse with gusto. The more muffled but equally consistent perception of the economic elites, which one can read in the influential Globe & Mail, is that Quebec is living beyond its means thanks to a corrupt and inflated public sector that enables Québec Inc. to think of themselves as grown-ups when in reality, we are told, they are upstarts. For a long time the Globe inveighed against the Caisse de dépôts et de placements, which it viewed as negative “interference” in business by the Quebec government and a roundabout way of giving Québec Inc. undue advantage.

The short history

In practice, however, Québec Inc. took off in a number of industries. In the wake of the major public works in the field of energy, Quebec has developed expertise in engineering and construction. That was the starting point for SNC and Lavalin, two companies that merged in 1991 to create one of the largest firms in the coveted infrastructure sector with more than 52,000 employees world-wide, operating in 160 countries with reported revenues of more than $10 billion.[3]

From the outset, the new megafirm has profited enormously from federal contracts in the nuclear and mining industries, road and bridge construction and related infrastructures, urban transportation and electrical energy (outside Quebec). At the same time, SNC-Lavalin has undergone phenomenal expansion in several countries, including the United States, India, Malaysia, Turkey, Bangladesh, Madagascar and several Middle Eastern and North African countries (Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc.). In addition to the federal contracts (and the political support that went with it), SNC-Lavalin has played a major role in a number of major projects in Quebec such as the construction of the McGill University Health Centre.

Today, more than 3,400 people work directly for SNC-Lavalin in Quebec, without counting the tens of thousands of workers employed by its subcontractors.[4] The largest institutional shareholder in the firm is the Caisse de dépôts, with 19.9% of the shares.

From ‘small’ to ‘big business’

Anyone who works in big projects knows very well that the success of firms, apart from their technical skills, is largely linked to their “contacts” with the politicians. After all, it is the state, or state-mandated bodies, that make the contracts. A firm’s influence, as well as its proximity, is always an unavoidable factor.

From the creation of the unified firm, various stories circulated about SNC-Lavalin, particularly in the international field. It was an open secret that the lucrative contracts negotiated with foreign states and so-called international development agencies (like the World Bank) were only obtained through the “right contacts.” In 2001 and subsequently, SNC-Lavalin’s contracts with Libya attracted attention. It was well know that the contracts with the Gaddafi regime included covert clauses, and investigations revealed that in fact close to $50 million had been transferred to members of the “clan.” Bargains in Libya were facilitated by the fact that, coincidentally, the husband (Edis Zagorac) of the Canadian ambassador to Libya (Sandra McCardell) had been hired by SNC-Lavalin to smooth the way for the contracts. It became more embarrassing when it was revealed that one of the SNC-Lavalin projects in Libya was the construction of a prison for the modest sum of $271 million. The company could hardly be unaware of the damning reports of the human rights organizations on prisons in that country, the torture that was widely used against inmates and extrajudicial executions.[5] But, as we know, “business is business”….

Other “affairs” tainted the reputation of the Montréal firm, particularly in India and Bangladesh. In the latter country, a 2011 investigation of a bridge project financed by the World Bank revealed a huge scam.[6] As a result of malfeasance in the negotiation and execution of the contract, the World Bank barred SNC-Lavalin for 10 years from all projects associated with it.[7]

But it was ultimately in Quebec and Canada that SNC-Lavalin executives were collared. Two cases attracted attention. First, between 2004 and 2009, an investigation by Elections Canada revealed that 18 executives at the firm illegally contributed to the Liberal Party of Canada. Subsequently, the CBC’s Fifth Estate program explained the tactic of donation made in theory by individuals but in reality by the firm, which reimbursed the employees for their donations to the LPC. Among those involved was Michael Novak, husband of Quebec Liberal government minister Kathleen Weil.[8]

The second scabrous “affair” that shook SNC-Lavalin was revealed by the Charbonneau Commission in relation to the construction of the McGill University Health Centre. SNC-Lavalin CEO Pierre Duhaime was accused of buying off the project’s prime contractor, Arthur Porter, with $22 million. Duhaime eventually pleaded guilty to one of the charges stemming from this huge fraud. Given the enormity of the frauds, SNC-Lavalin’s senior management staff was replaced, and the new executives promised to “clean up” the company.

We could continue with further details based on public inquiries and the remarkable work of CBC reporters. In all, the conclusion is clear. SNC-Lavalin, one of the crown jewels of Québec Inc., has defrauded on all sides. The money from the Caisse de dépôts, ultimately the money of hundreds of thousands of Quebeckers, was used to fuel a group whose practices resemble those of a big mafia ring.

So what is to be done?

The Canadian elite find it easy to treat SNC-Lavalin and its friends in the Liberal Party of Canada as swindlers. Their intention, as we said earlier, is to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as the saying goes. By targeting one of the few Quebec mega-firms, you hit both Québec Inc. and, by inference, the Caisse de dépôts. Both appear as obstacles to the development of Canadian capitalism as defined by what is also known as the so-called Toronto-Calgary axis. Toronto’s major financial institutions are already salivating at the prospect of taking control of the billions that are administered by the Caisse.

In reality, the indignation of Canada Inc. over SNC-Lavalin’s misconduct is hypocritical. There is nothing very original about SNC-Lavalin’s wangling if we compare it with what is done in other mega-companies operating in the field of infrastructure development (think of the U.S. company Bechtel, for example). And just look at the tax breaks and policies granted to the powerful mining industry, which still has Toronto as its centre of gravity. Without a federal government on the lookout to protect them, these companies would be weakened. Even if this corruption does not necessarily proceed through foul-smelling brown envelopes, it is a corrupt system.

In the meantime, the Trudeau government’s attempts to circumvent the law and protect SNC-Lavalin in the name of defending jobs are not legitimate and the affair will continue well beyond the coming election.

On the Quebec side, the media and political and economic elites have lined up, as one could expect, behind SNC-Lavalin. They want to put it all under the rug. But there are two problems. First, there are still some laws and there are limits to circumventing them. Second, SNC-Lavalin’s problem is systemic; it is not the result of the occasional error, bad contracts or bad people. When private companies are entrusted with the realization of large contracts including in the public domain, paid for from public funds, we are asking for all kinds of manipulation.

The solution, then, would normally be to repatriate these functions within a public sector managed and carried out by public agencies, mandated and accountable, where there is also great expertise, competent staff, and above all a logic that is not that of profit at any price and in the short term. In other words, it is the privatization of certain economic sectors, the golden rule of neoliberal policies, that is the source of these “affairs,” and even when there is no scandal huge profits are being appropriated by a small elite at the expense of the public.

Let’s dare to say what is not politically correct these days: some companies will have to be nationalized, while leaving intact those that remain in place in the public domain to manage electricity, water, health, education, the postal service, etc.[9] That is how we will really clean up these companies, by making them efficient from the standpoint of the users and workers and not that of the “investors.” That is how we will save thousands of jobs. And that’s how we will build a more just society.

[1] Including accusations of fraud in Libya, as explained below.

[2] Meanwhile, almost all the major contingents of Québec Inc. did not listen to the PQ’s appeal and tended to remain pro-federalist, with the exception of Pierre Péladeau.

[3] According to Forbes magazine, SNC-Lavalin is associated with 27 of the 100 biggest infrastructure projects in the world.

[4] In Canada a total of 9,000 persons are employed by SNC-Lavalin.

[5] In 2015 one of SNC-Lavalin’s officials responsible for Libya, Riadh Ben Aissa, was convicted by a Swiss court of fraud, corruption and money laundering.

[6] The construction of this 6.5 km bridge for $3 billion had been assigned to SNC-Lavalin following bribes to help the firm obtain a $50 million supervising contract.

[7] SNC-Lavalin was acquitted of bribery charges linked to this project laid against it by the RCMP in 2017.

[8] The funds in question (more than $120,000) were subsequently reimbursed by SNC-Lavalin. A former executive, Normand Morin, was convicted of violating the Elections Act.

[9] I adopt the proposal of comrade Leo Panitch in his recent article in The Bullet (October 5).