This blog is where I will post my thoughts about Quebec politics. Comments welcome (for now, anyway - we'll see how it goes) in either french or english.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Why (progressive) Anglophones should support independence

As an Anglophone who has lived in Quebec for almost 12 years, I often get asked this question or a variant, such as, why does an Anglophone from Toronto support independence?

The main reason is really very simple: It's not progressive to be federalist.

Let’s unpack that a bit.

First of all, the Canadian state is imperialist. We need look no further than the wars on Afghanistan and Libya internationally, and of course the long-standing and ongoing colonization of Canada's Indigenous peoples.

Canada has always been imperialist. Canada was founded on the oppression of Indigenous peoples and on the subjugation of French settlers, whose own state (France) was of course also imperialist. But once France ceded to the British, the french-speaking settlers became a cheap source of, first agricultural labour, and later, labour whose basic rights (such as being able to work in french) were not officially recognized until the 1970s.

Canada will not stop being imperialist. Until the early 21st century, incomes on average for unilingual francophones were lower than those for unilingual anglophones or bilingual Quebeckers. Although the income gap has closed, Quebec is still the target of singling out and vilification in a tradition that goes back to the 19th century. Quebec is historically oppressed and must proactively defend its language and traditions, since even such measures as bill 101 have not entirely succeeded in stemming the English tide. The Supreme Court of Canada has weighed in and forced Quebec to alter its language law several times since its introduction. Today, in about 25% of workplaces in Montreal and 30% in Gatineau, the language of work remains English, and English is a requirement of many private sector jobs, despite the fact that only 7 or 8% of the population's first language is English.

Attempts at changing the constitution to recognize Quebec’s specify and give it more autonomy have all failed and there is no new attempt on the horizon.

What about a strong central state/social program funding?

This is one of the main arguments in favour of federalism that is made by people in mostly progressive organizations like unions and health care coalitions.

If anything is clear about the last thirty years, it’s that a strong central state is actually a detriment to social programs, not a boon. A strong central state can enforce its neoliberal agenda and dump its debt on the provinces as we saw in the Axworthy reforms of the late 1990s and more recently in multiple federal program debates.

Besides, the fact is that most Quebec social programs are far better funded and/or more universal than in other provinces. Childcare is the main example. Yes, there remains tax and income inequality. But a strong central state has not and is incapable of addressing these issues. On the contrary, it was not a strong central state that brought about strong social programs in Canada as a whole, but strong social movements.
Quebec has a right to self-determination AND its people have a right to social programs.  One does not preclude the other. Quebeckers can take care of insisting that their government do the right thing.

Don’t we want the federal government to be able to force the Quebec government to fund its social programs?

When the federal government tried to do just that after the Second World War it led to right wing autonomism and Duplessis. Quebeckers will only identify with and protect the programs and rights they have fought for. This goes beyond just provincial decentralization arguments – that’s a separate conversation. For Quebec, it’s related to that historic oppression I mentioned earlier – and the need for self-determination.
But, doesn’t official languages policy go a long way to addressing the concerns of Quebeckers?

Many Quebeckers see the Federal Official Languages Act as, in fact, a way of undermining their language rights, because official bilingualism goes both ways, and thus can undermine French. Also, English in Quebec is not in danger in the way that French is in the rest of Canada. But the entire official bilingualism regime is based on this false premise.

French as a mother tongue has declined by four percentage points since 1981, to 21.7% of the population. A similar decline was in effect for the language most often spoken at home.

Arguably this decline is because of official bilingualism. While more Anglophones can speak French, and more francophones can speak English, the use of French at home and work is declining. English being the dominant language, most new Canadians adopt it, including 50% of immigrants in Quebec who have neither English nor French as their first language.

A separate Quebec could strengthen its measures to protect French without interference from federal laws or courts. That’s important, or should be, to all Quebeckers – francophone or Anglophone.

What  about Quebec anglophones?

In some ways this is the most important question.

There are several ways of looking at Anglophones in Quebec.

From a federal perspective, the question comes down to numbers. But in Quebec, it is also, importantly, a question of history.

Even the most rabid of ethnic nationalists in Quebec generally recognizes that there exists a historical Anglophone community in Quebec that has some right to autonomous institutions such as hospitals and schools, as well as some municipal services.

The problems arise when Anglophones who have arrived in and settled in Quebec say, since the 1960s, lay claim to that history. There is no denying they are part of the Anglophone “community”, whatever that means; but they are not part of the historical element I’m referring to.

That historical Anglophone minority within Quebec descends from both middle class (lawyers, doctors, intellectuals etc.) supporters of democratic demands in the 19th century and from the worst of the English ruling class responsible for the subjugation of indigenous peoples and the French. They also descend from early working class settlers, many of them Irish, then a British colony.

They have recognized rights to a certain level of services in English. But although there remains room for improvement in that area, Anglophone “rights” movements in Quebec usually manifest as a form of chauvinism, similar to English-only groups, whose behaviour and beliefs can only be classified as bigotry, in parts of Ontario.

Those Anglophones who have arrived in Quebec more recently benefit from that historical recognition of an Anglophone minority. But this does not amount to a requirement that English be protected, or that services be 100% available everywhere.

A much more useful way for Anglophones to press for better services in English would be, rather than to couch it as access to English services, couch it as access to services in the language of the person in need of the service. This approach would prioritize such services as health and social assistance while de-prioritizing things like driver’s licenses and cashiers. (It would also mean better access to essential services for those who need it in languages other than English and French.)

After all, this is a French-speaking nation. It would be silly to move to, say, France, and insist on receiving all services in English. Why does it make sense to do it here?

Ok. But what about the left?

Outside Quebec, the only real electoral force on the left (and its position as either a left party or a party that is for social justice or is progressive or is labour-oriented, etc. is increasingly debatable) is the NDP.
The NDP at the federal level seems increasingly unwilling to defend the interests of those it supposedly represents. The NDP record at the head of provinces is no better.

Moreover, inside Quebec, there is no NDP in Quebec right now, and even if there were, history would indicate that it will not succeed, even if we wanted it to – previous attempts failed because of the question of independence.

Quebec solidaire presents a viable alternative to the PQ’s vision of Quebec as an independent but still capitalist and colonialist power. It is explicitly against an ethnic nationalism that sees the descendants of white French settlers as the only real Quebeckers.

Isn’t Quebec itself imperialist?

Well, it doesn’t have its own army, so it can’t really be imperialist. Its business class has neo-colonialist aspirations and still plays the role of supporting colonization of indigenous peoples in Quebec. Some Canadian multinational owners are based in Quebec, and some of them are even francophones, but they are almost universally federalist (with the clear exception of Pierre-Karl Péladeau). A hypothetical future Quebec would need to decide if it wanted to have those things. In other words, whether a future Quebec nation-state would be imperialist is yet to be determined through struggle and debate.

All of this highlights the importance of the question, what kind of independence?

So, what kind of independence?

I don’t think it would serve anyone well, except the rich, to create a Quebec that is just a smaller version of Canada. We don’t need a standing army, we don’t necessarily need our own currency, etc etc. There are many in Quebec – probably the majority of independentists, in fact – who don’t favour this kind of independence: in name only, still largely dependent on international and Canadian capital and on extractionist policies that pollute and disenfranchise.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have a lot of administrative issues to figure out. For instance, how will we deal with the issue of thousands of Quebeckers who work, in Quebec, for the federal government? I think the right approach to this, specifically, might be along the lines of the concept of a just transition, as we’ve seen in the movement for green jobs. There would naturally need to be a negotiation. Other issues to figure out will include federal responsibilities we’ll need to take over ourselves. But we have a long conversation to have first.

Québec solidaire has a plan for that conversation to happen in a way that is actually, really inclusive – the constituent assembly. The details remain to be fleshed out, but it should include a way to involve people right down into our communities and neighbourhoods. It is envisioned as working towards formulating a constitution for a future Quebec. And the plan already takes into account, from the start, Indigenous self-determination, and their right not to recognize any result.

So... why, again, should Anglophones support independence?

It’s not progressive to be federalist. If you’re right wing, you should feel free to be federalist. But progressives should not support a strong central state.

Ultimately, it’s not really about being federalist or not. It’s about supporting, and fighting for, a Quebec that protects the rights of its peoples and the environment, recognizes and support indigenous self-determination, eradicates income inequality, improves working conditions, takes language training and education seriously, and properly funds a set of universal social programs. That’s something to rally behind, don’t you think?
Progressive Anglophones should join, build and contribute to Quebec solidaire, not in spite of its view of the national question, but because of it.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Lettre ouverte sur le "visage découvert" au Québec

22 décembre 2013, à 13h36

Pendant le débat récent sur la laicité, les deux camps étaient pour la plupart definis comme suit: A) Ceux qui sont en faveur de la fameuse "charte des valeurs" (du PQ, pas des québecois-e-s, il est important de noter) et B) Ceux qui sont en faveur d'une état laique, mais qui sont contre plusieurs des mésures les plus extrémes dans la même charte. 

Je suis du camp B, et bien des gens ont écrit trés bien et clairement là-dessus, en expliquant pourquoi la charte, et le débat autour de cela, est très dangereuse pour notre société québecoise. 

Malgré tout ça, il y a un élement ici que je crois que la gauche, les force progressistes et tous ceux qui veulent protéger les droits des minorités et qui veulent s'opposer à l'oppression sous toutes ses formes ont manqué totalement, au détriment de la force de nos arguments et de notre crédibilité et notre légitimité entant que de tels défenseur-e-s. 

Cet élement est l'inclusion dans les arguments du camp B d'un "mais" majeur: malgré notre opposition à la discrimination inhérente dans la charte, beaucoup parmis nous, incluant Québec solidaire et d'autres, disent que d'exiger une visage découverte en fournissant ou en recevant des services publics, sauf dans des cas d'urgence, est acceptable. 

Ce n'est pas acceptable. Point final. 

Je peux penser à au moins cinq raisons pourquoi ce n'est pas acceptable. Il y en a probablement beaucoup plus que ces cinq: 

1) De supporter une telle exigeance est une concession au racisme et à la xénophobie 

Est-ce que c'est parce que nous avons peur des femmes qui portent un niqab? Pourquoi? Je penses que des évènements récents prouvent qu'elles ont beaucoup plus de raisons d'avoir peur de nous (la peur de perdre leur travail, de se faire agresser sur la place publique, par exemple) et pas dans l'autre sens. Il n'y a aucune argumentation qui peut supporter une telle exigence sans utiliser des éléments basés sur la peur. 

2) De supporter une telle éxigence nous place du coté des oppresseurs 

La charte elle-même a déja provoqué des attaques dans les médias contre des femmes avec un visage couvert. De supporter cette exigence nous place du même coté que ceux qui attaquent, comme dans l'example récent des femmes qui travaillent dans un service de garderie privée, qui maintenant ont peur d'aller dehors avec les enfants. 

3) De supporter une telle exigence mine l'argument que d'être contre la charte est une position féministe

Comment le faire, quand dans la même phrase nous disons que nous ne supportons pas la minorité probablement la plus pétite et la moins menaçante dans notre société, et même possiblement la plus vulnerable? 

4) De supporter une telle exigence est fondamentalement oppressif et peut même mettre des vies en danger 

Comment allons-nous décider c'est quoi une urgence? Une femme qui s'inquiéte pour son enfant et qui va à une salle d'urgence dans un hôpital? Est-que nous allons exiger qu'elle enleve son voile jusqu'au moment ou il est déterminé que c'était une vraie urgence? Quelqu'un doit décider, est ce ne sera clairement pas ceux et celles qui sont déja marginalisé-e-s. 

5) Une telle exigence représente un important pas sur un pente glissante 

Nous avons vue ce qui s'est passé en France pendant les dernières décennies. Chaque pas dans la repression des droits d'expression réligieuse rend leur société moins paisible, moins sécure, et moins tolérante.

Le Québec doit choisir un chemin different.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bill 94

Bill 94: coward’s ploy

Several increasingly vocal groups in Quebec want the National Assembly to follow the lead of France, and ban the wearing of religious symbols in public places.

When Jean Charest and his immigration Minister Yolanda James introduced Bill 94 they took advantage of a hot public issue to deflect attention from their attacks on public sector workers, and simultaneously to avoid a debate that Quebec desperately needs to have in public and in the open.

This trend of opinion, strong across all political spectrums and in both urban and rural areas, wants a “charte de laicite” that would circumvent the charter of rights in order to curtail religious freedoms. Many of its proponents admit their position will never pass a charter challenge. Yet they refuse to acknowledge that their position bolsters attitudes against immigrants and minorities.

Instead of challenging this view, Charest and James have attacked another minority. Bill 94 would cut off niqab-wearing Muslim women from public services for reasons of identification, communication, or security. These undefined terms constitute a dangerous slippery slope.

Quebec’s radical secularists should be happy with cowardly bill 94. If it is allowed to pass, it will make their fight—which, whether they admit it or not, is racist—much easier.