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Inside Quebec politics

By: 
Jesse McLaren

December 20, 2011

Of Anger and Hope

Written by Françoise David

Reviewed by Jesse McLaren

Françoise David, one of Quebec’s leading activists and political figures, has written an important primer on the politics and fault-lines of the Quebec left, which should be read across Canada.

David blends the personal and political in this short conversational book, describing her work with the Quebec Federation of Women in the 1990s, the World March of Women in 2000, the formation of the progressive action group Option Citoyenne in 2004, and the merger to form Québec solidaire in 2006.

QS did not emerge from thin air but from a process of convergence between feminist, labour, student, antiwar and environmental movements. It marked a major breakthrough for the Quebec left, combining sovereignty with a left political platform, and David describes the impact this small party has already had on Quebec politics—channeling popular anger at the Liberals, and provoking a crisis in the Parti Québécois.

As a result of QS’s link to the movements it has quickly risen to 10 per cent popularity based on an inspiring platform of taxing the rich; stopping health care privatization and ecologically destructive resource extraction; providing accessible public services, green jobs, a minimum guaranteed income, social housing, child care and respect for indigenous groups.

It’s important across English Canada to learn about these social and political movements, and their link with a left sovereigntist project. Because of Quebec’s history as an oppressed nation—from the War Measures Act to Harper’s anti-Quebec chauvinism—the demand for sovereignty has a democratic content, and David stresses the importance of this project standing in solidarity with indigenous people and immigrants. This book explains some of this sentiment, and why progressives in English Canada need to support Quebec’s right to self-determination if we want the “orange wave” to continue in Quebec.

Fault-lines

The book also reveals the fault-lines on the Quebec (and international) left. David devotes a chapter to Islamophobia, which she identifies as a product of post-9/11 scapegoating that allows governments to ignore pay equity and abortion rights. But while she talks about the importance of asking Muslim women their opinion, she simply denounces the niqab, which undermines a principled argument against Islamophobia.

There are also some contradictions to David’s position on sovereignty. On the one hand, she embeds sovereignty in international movements for a better world, referring to struggles for justice from Egypt to Spain to Canada; on the other, she claims that QS should form alliances to make the National Assembly work better, and that a left in control of the Quebec state would solve the problems.

As the economic crisis deepens and the ruling class turns in increasing desperation to Islamophobia and a sovereignty devoid of radical content, navigating these fault-lines will determine the future of QS as a force for change. For these dangers, and the huge and inspiring opportunities that David and QS have created, this is an important book to read.

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