There are two ideas that pop up every so often within my networks that make me cringe with despair. They are tired thoughts, trumpeted by otherwise sensible individuals who happen to think they have stumbled upon some revolutionary concept that will forever alter the world as we know it. The first is online voting as a secure tool for greater democratic engagement. The second is creating a Québec wing of the NDP to come whisk la belle province away from the mean ol’ Liberals and into an era of unprecedented progressiveness. Both are irreversibly flawed, but following some of the comments on my Québec elections analysis, I need to challenge the assumption that many federalists hold that the NDP is the progressive answer to our secular prayers.
This may be surprising to some, but the NDP still has very limited organising capacities in Québec. Its base has grown since la vague orange, sure, but it is nowhere near what is needed to rally enough competent organisers and candidates for a credible provincial bid. One of the largest obstacles the party had to overcome following its unexpected victory three years ago was suddenly needing to hire over a hundred bilingual organisers to assist the fresh crop of parliamentarians in their new functions. It was a house with no foundation, and to their credit, they somehow managed to reverse-engineer their way through this fundamental design flaw. To transition from a lone wolf waltzing through the streets of Outremont to a pack of lost pups wandering through concrete jungles and vast landscapes is no easy task, and much of the party’s energy needs to be dedicated to holding on their power federally, not in prepping for an ill-fated forward dive into nauseating provincial waters.
Even should the NDP win a majority government in 2015 – a thought which seems increasingly unlikely – it would need to continue to harness their resources into sustaining their first ever jig in the government’s chair. You don’t ditch your own ball to show up to someone else’s house party uninvited. The only scenario in which the NDP may be organised and stable enough to enter the Québec fray would be if it were to win consecutive mega majorities federally. That would bring us to 2023. This is neither a sustainable nor a realistic political alternative.
There’s also the pesky fact that in all modern cases when the NDP has formed government or the official opposition of any given province, they haven’t been the beacon of fiscal progressiveness that is supposed to be unshakeably ingrained within their political DNA. No sitting NDP government has made efforts towards abolishing tuition fees and championing universal access to post-secondary education, none have established affordable childcare similar to Québec $7 a day system, none have proposed solutions for progressively breaking away from our oil dependency. Talks of a guaranteed minimal income haven’t entered the political discourse in the RoC yet and the O-NDP won’t even support calls for a $14 minimum wage. The NB-NDP publicly denounced Indigenous communities defending their territory from illegal fracking and the NS-NDP publicly mused about the idea of shutting down the oldest fine art training institute in the country. The BC-NDP centred their last campaign around how-low-can-you-go corporate tax rates and privatised social housing and the M-NDP has been gradually privatising their hydro-electric resources.
This is in sharp contrast to what the resoundingly left-wing and anti-colonial Québec Solidaire stands for: free education, public pharmacare, and breaking away from oil and the privatisation of our natural resources.
There’s no doubt, of course, that the NDP remains the only relatively progressive organised alternative for folks in the Rest of Canada to rally their electoral hopes around. I’m grateful for the tireless and thankless work that many of my friends who work for the party engage in to help it stay as true to its socialists roots as possible in an increasingly difficult conservative climate. But why would Québec progressives want the NDP to come to their rescue when the most revolutionary, community-driven and organised political alternative is already well-established here?
Ah right, the dreaded f word: federalism.
Québec Solidaire knows that their vision for Québec is not possible within the confederation. They view sovereignty not as an objective, but as the means necessary to achieve a more equitable and sustainable future.
Many federalists say they can’t get behind les solidaires for this reason. They see loyalty to the maple leaf as primordial to their personal identity and would prefer to pout QS while musing about a New Democratic Québec.
Unfortunately, steadfast federalism is one of the main reasons the PLQ has drifted so far right over the decades. When a party knows that they have the support of tens of thousands of individuals strictly based on that single stance, they have no reason to propose anything other than the cowardly and predictable status-quo. The same theory applies to the PQ and YOLOswag sovereignists and I’d argue the same fate would await the Q-NDP. When federalism/nationalism is the deciding factor, nothing else matters, and our social programs and natural resources are the first to pay the price.
Thankfully for federalist progressives who do not want a free Québec, sovereignty is pretty much the only political issue we actually get consulted on. Should the PQ or QS have formed government this past Tuesday, neither would have been able to unilaterally declare Québec a sovereign state.
As a federalist, you are allowed to vote No to an Independent Québec. You are allowed to speak up, organise and flex your democratic muscles. It is highly irresponsible for progressives to give the PLQ a blank cheque over all our affairs for four years simply because you think that a once-every-generation consultative process is scary. It’s equally irresponsible to call for a provincial NDP that is neither ready to run nor anywhere near as avant-garde as Québec Solidaire.
Hope is better than fear, friends. Always. Regardless of where you stand on la question nationale, it’s time to get in touch with your inner solidarity.