Quebec Movements Face Election Challenge

by Johan Boyden, Montreal

The community of Trois Pistoles along the northern banks of the St. Lawrence river is known for its picturesque beauty and historic links to Basque whalers, who travelled there hundreds of years ago from Spain. Now it has become a symbol of the pre‑election polarization and fear‑mongering going on in Québec.

A student protester in Quebec

An ecological festival in the town, put on by community activists including some who have been fighting high‑risk shale gas development in the region, wanted to invite student leaders to speak at their event.

A storm of controversy erupted. Mayor Jean‑Pierre Rioux met with organizers and threatened to withdraw all funding. “Around here, people think that [student leader] Gabriel Nadeau‑Dubois is […] like Maurice `Mom’ Boucher” one festival organizer said.

Mom Boucher is, of course, the convicted rapist, drug dealer and murderer who leads the Montreal Hells Angels. Continue reading

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Understanding the Victory of Thomas Mulcair

by Judy Rebick

Most of the mainstream media, with the help of the Mulcair and Topp campaigns, constructed the leadership battle at the NDP convention as a battle between those who wanted to move to the centre to win government and those who wanted to win maintaining the “traditional” social democratic values of the NDP.

Brian Topp’s bold-sounding declaration that he was a proud social democrat made those of us who have spent decades on the left of the party cringe. Isn’t the NDP a social democratic party? Hasn’t the history of the party been the struggle between a democratic socialist left —  best represented by the Waffle but succeeded by a series of progressive groups, ending with the New Politics Initiative — with the social democratic establishment? Is that establishment now in the position of opposition pushing the party to the left? If it is true, it is depressing on the one hand and deliciously ironic on the other.

What is left out of this narrative is that there is a new force in the party that I would consider the new left and it was best represented in this campaign by Nathan Cullen. Cullen’s language was very close to the politics of the New Politics Initiative. He speaks of social struggles and the alliance between the party and First Nations and environment groups. He speaks from the heart without the spin that has infected almost everyone else. He is at heart a democrat. This left is less sectarian. Many of them supported strategic voting in past elections and this time the more strategic electoral alliance with the Liberals. I don’t agree with them on that but there is no question that they are the most progressive force in the party right now and the one closest to the social movements who are flooding into the streets and the parks across North America.

The strength of Cullen’s campaign came from the power of this youthful movement  represented by Lead Now’s support for his proposal on an electoral alliance as much as from his winning personality and charisma. No one mentioned that Lead Now got 5, 500 people to join with the NDP to support what they call “co-operation.” There were days when the women’s movement had this kind of power in the party, reflected especially in Audrey McLaughlin’s victory as leader. Peggy Nash’s unjust defeat early in the balloting showed that this movement is much less a force today.

It is too bad that Peggy Nash or Paul Dewar didn’t seize the chance of an alliance with this group or that Brian Topp, seeing that he couldn’t win, didn’t throw his support to Cullen who could have won. But then I think the party establishment represented by Topp, with a couple of important exceptions like Libby Davies, are more worried about Cullen’s politics than Mulcair’s.

The other narrative promoted by the Mulcair campaign, Chantal Hebert and Gerry Caplan, is that a defeat of Mulcair would have been seen as a slap in the face to Quebec. After all, polls showed that Quebecois massively supported Mulcair as the leader of the NDP and he had majority support from the Quebec caucus of the party and a lot of endorsements and financial contributions from outside the party.

This is more complicated. It may be true that the initial reaction to the vote will be positive and that most media in Quebec supported Mulcair, but there is also intense criticism of him here. What people in the NDP don’t seem to understand is that the massive move from the PQ to the NDP in the last election was less a move to federalism and more a move to the progressive party most Quebecois thought could defeat Harper. If the NDP moves to the right of BQ under Mulcair, it risks losing a lot of that support. Since no one including Chantal Hebert has any idea what the Quebec electorate will do in the next federal election, supporting Mulcair or opposing him for this reason makes no sense. It is positive that the NDP membership showed that they understood the importance of the gains in Quebec by giving their support only to the candidates who are fluent in French.

The third narrative is what has been called a whisper campaign against Mulcair. It was a pretty loud whisper turned into a shout by Ed Broadbent. No one can get along with this guy. He is a bully who doesn’t brook opposition. Kind of like a certain Prime Minister we know. It was also suggested that Mulcair had nothing to do with the victory in Quebec. Quieter but just as widespread was the knowledge that not a single woman who has worked with him for more than a few months was supporting him. Some of these whispers are true from what I can tell. On Quebec, he did establish a foothold in Quebec but he was not a major player in recruiting candidates or organizing the last election campaign. He is, however, the only one of the leadership candidates who is known in Quebec.

NDPers don’t like whisper campaigns, which is to their credit. They may also have figured that we need a bully to face a bully or that Brian Topp’s lack of charisma or ability to connect with a crowd was as big a problem as Mulcair’s authoritarian streak.

My view is that the NDP has elected an old-style patriarchal politician who has the same politics vis-a-vis Quebec as the pre-Jack NDP, seeing sovereigntists as bitter enemies instead of potential allies, is more of a liberal than a social democrat and who will move the party to the right especially on international issues, including free trade and Israel, two issues at the centre of Harper’s agenda.

I didn’t participate in this campaign because I see the hope for change in the new movements that are emerging around the globe rather than in electoral politics. That is where I am putting my energy these days but it always helps if the social movements can see their reflection in the social democratic political party. This hasn’t been true in Europe for a long time which is why we see just a dramatic contradiction between what is happening in the Parliament there and what is happening in the streets.

In Canada, whatever the weaknesses of the NDP, we have always managed to have a strong alliance between them and the social movements. That alliance strengthened the women’s movement, the anti-war movement, the labour movement and others. I fear under the leadership of Thomas Mulcair, that alliance will be lost and it will be a loss for all of us.

*note: Originally posted on Rabble.ca. Original article available here.

Heavy-Handed Response to Protest a Worrying Trend

by Rick Gunderman

One of the chief wonders that modern technology has produced, at least as far as activism is concerned, is the ability to document undeniable video evidence of police brutality. Previous victims of police violence had to rely chiefly on procuring eyewitnesses, and even then it was the word of a handful of private citizens against that of a police officer. The occasional sympathetic judge notwithstanding, victims were routinely denied justice.

A disturbing trend, however, is the relative absence of any real outrage over police brutality when the victims are protesters.

A simple search of YouTube for videos of police violence against Occupy protesters will yield countless results, few of them showing police acting in “self-defence” or using “reasonable force”.

Demonstrators at past G20 summits will remember the hostility of security forces. The Toronto summit in 2010 produced a record number of mass arrests, with 1,105 people arrested and 99 criminal charges laid. The price tag for this display of state power was over $2 billion.

Protests across Europe, notably in Greece, Spain and the UK, have all produced scenes of heavy-handed security forces brutalizing protesters. Rarely is there any visible evidence of what the victims might have done to require such a response.

The fight against tuition fees and education costs has been forefront on the international progressive struggle, particularly in countries without universal post-secondary education. Attempts to raise tuition sparked riots in the United Kingdom in 2010, and most recently students in Quebec have mobilized to fight against steep increases in the costs of education.

The struggle in Quebec shows a lot of promise. Students from both English- and French-speaking universities have joined together in protest, and previous mobilizations in that province have produced results. Their current target is the right-wing, reactionary Charest Liberal government. The increasingly centrist (and in some cases, right-wing) Parti Quebecois has demonstrated little willingness to take up the struggle or even offer more than isolated token gestures of solidarity.

Provincial politics in Quebec, previously among the most left-leaning and progressive in all of North America and especially among the non-Spanish speaking countries, has experienced a major right-ward drift in the last decades, ostensibly in the name of “moderation”. Revolutionary activists recognize any appeals to “moderation”, “middle ground” and other empty slogans as pure class collaborationism. This correlates with the abandonment of the socialist, then later social democratic, principles of the Quebec independence movement in a bid to court “moderates” to help them achieve their goal. Carrying on this tradition today in Quebec is Quebec Solidaire, a federation of socialist and left parties, including the Parti Communiste du Quebec, but the PQ and the Bloc Quebecois have lost much of their dedication to left-wing goals.

In the grander context of Quebec history, the sovereignty movement had firm working-class roots and faced themselves against the largely English-speaking bourgeois class in Quebec. As the sovereignty movement brought the grievances of poor, working, Francophone Quebecois to the forefront of Canadian politics, centrist and right-wing forces alike saw the value in placating their demands, but not through the methods they largely demanded.

By employing methods of raising the political, economic and social standing of Francophones in Canada as a whole and in Quebec in particular, the Liberal and Conservative Parties federally and the Liberal Party provincially produced the convenient side effect, intended or not, of introducing bourgeois elements into the sovereignty movement.

The sovereignty movement having led most of the progressive, working-class and anti-oppression struggles in Quebec, the debasing of its pro-worker program had the profound impact of robbing the progressive, revolutionary and democratic movements in Quebec of their most valuable allies. The PQ and BQ have since fallen into irrelevancy, as recent elections suggest, and they have nothing to blame but their abandonment of class struggle.

Within this context, the increasing willingness of right-wing and centrist elements in Quebec politics to call on security forces to repress left-wing demonstrations becomes less mystified. Student protesters on Champlain Bridge in Montreal, for example, are facing arrests and charges with no visible support coming from the PQ.

A similar trend of abandoning class struggle swept through the social democratic and democratic socialist parties in most of the developed world in the 80s and 90s, with the “Third Way” of Tony Blair’s Labour Party in the UK epitomizing this effect. The responses of British police, whether under the Labour Party or the Conservative Party, are similarly heavy-handed.

Other places in Europe experience similar responses, but to radical movements that still have some vitality. The French progressive movement has been historically very radical, and the responses of the various historical reactionary states in France have been consistently violent. The place in Europe where the communist movement is today in arguably the best position, leading a broad section of democratic and revolutionary elements in society, is Greece. The confrontations between demonstrators and police there are notorious.

This shows a desire by the reactionary forces that rule the liberal democratic states of the West in the name of the people but in the interests of the capitalist class to repress radical, progressive, revolutionary politics, both dormant and active.

Education Costs Put Heavier Burden on Women

People’s Voice Montreal Bureau

Tuition fee increases disproportionately impact the access of women to education, an example of social policy perpetuating gender inequality, says a new policy report from a feminist research group at Concordia University in Montreal.

The report, authored by the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, was released as students mobilize for increased access to education. The Charest Liberals have announced a $1,625 across‑the‑board increase in tuition fees in Quebec. Across Canada, over the past three decades, tuition fees have increased by 400 per cent above inflation, pushing student debt to a record four billion dollars.

On average, the report notes, women are poorer than men because of pay inequality. In Canada, women workers make 71 cents on each dollar for a man for comparable work. At the same time, to fund their education, more young women students are working than ever before.

In Quebec today, over 40 per cent of students work more than 20 hours a week, considered a threshold‑level critical for academic success. Women are over‑represented in low and minimum‑wage jobs. Many students also work for free, in so‑called “co‑op” placements, for‑profit research, or other such “partnerships” with corporations.

Pay‑inequality has a very negative affect on single parents (overwhelmingly mothers) who are forced to allocate 18 per cent of family revenue on education costs for a bachelor‑level diploma, compared with two‑parent families who already spend 10 per cent of revenue for a diploma. Likewise, child support payments rarely cover the expenses of raising children. (In Ontario, for example, the average child support payments are only $3,000 a year – when they are paid).

Women’s life‑long learning, post‑secondary education or re‑training is further held back by the Harper government’s refusal to implement a country‑wide child care program. The total number of quality child care spaces is inadequate; nor is day care affordable. Even in Quebec, which has a $7 a day child care, spaces are limited with waiting lists up to three years. Child care is rarely available in the evenings, when night courses are offered.

While provincial governments justify tuition increases by claiming education is a good investment and will result in an increased salary, women and men do not get the same financial result out of their diplomas. On a life average, women will make $863,268 less than a man for the same diploma. This inequality is even greater for women from racialized and new immigrant communities.

Aboriginal women face additional obstacles to obtaining a diploma. While 25% of non‑aboriginal women hold a diploma at the age of 25, only 9% of Aboriginal women do so at same age. Breaking Treaty rights guaranteeing access to post‑secondary education, the federal government has capped First Nations and Inuit education funding at two per cent growth since 1996. Métis and non‑status students receive no funding to pursue their education.

This racist policy has likely prevented hundreds of thousands of Aboriginal students from attending college or university. About 20,000 eligible students are on current waiting lists. A dire crisis of unemployment and poverty exists in Aboriginal communities fighting the genocidal legacy of colonial policies, leaving young Aboriginal women struggling to just graduate high school.

Trade school and art and design programs, as well as apprenticeship programs to recruit women into so‑called “non‑traditional” work are also under‑funded or non‑existent.  Despite massive increases in military spending and an aggressive recruitment campaign, there have been virtually no new programs to counter the higher sexual violence, harassment and domestic abuse experienced by women training, working, or living on military bases.

The barriers women face are reflected in the character and quality of education received by students, the Institute said. Greater barriers to post‑secondary education result in fewer women instructors and tenured professors, which can be reinforced by racist and sexist hiring practices. Under pressure to immediately find a job after graduation, women students are less likely to enrol in courses such as Gender Studies. These programs have been the specific target of cutbacks by university administrations. The University of Northern British Columbia, for example, has all but eliminated its Women Studies program.

“Ensuring equitable access to state‑funded education not only supports students; it is one concrete way to support the work of post-secondary teachers, as well,” the Institute said.

Responding to the claim that governments, and particularly the Charest Liberals, do not have sufficient funds to adequately support women’s education, the Institute noted that imposing licensing fees on mining and industrial manufacturing companies using water in Quebec alone could yield $775 million annually (at a rate of just one penny for each litre used). “[C]ollectively, Quebec does have the resources required to ensure that all people have equitable access to post‑secondary education,” the Institute said.

*note: People’s Voice is a Canadian communist publication. You can visit their website here.