“We need to elect a government that will swing the axe,” declared Mr. Duhaime, a former aide to the ADQ’s Mario Dumont and the co-founder of the Réseau Liberté-Québec (Quebec Freedom Network). As he talked of the need to swing the axe, he quickly set up what he thinks need to be on the chopping block, “Look at the $7-a-day day-care [system] … the most generous system in North America.”
The RLQ, launched in September, presents itself to be a “non-profit organization designed to network all Quebeckers who share the ideals of individual freedom and responsibility.” Delving deeper than this rosy proclamation, the RLQ is clearly just another push from the Right to create a viable capitalist alternative to the hated Liberals. This is needed in order to brutally push forward the austerity measures necessary to save the capitalist system, and to dismantle all of the gains made by the working class over the last half-century. With this aim 450 conservatives, federalists and sovereigntists alike, packed a hotel ballroom in Quebec City on 23rd October at the inaugural RLQ event. On numerous occasions, they leapt to their feet in ecstatic ovation as speakers like Conservative MP Maxime Bernier, Ezra Levant, and Tasha Kheiriddin expounded their visions of a future Quebec: smaller government (i.e. fewer social programs), and a less interventionist government (i.e. fewer laws to protect workers, marginalized sectors of the population, and the environment). Mr. Bernier ended his passionate speech with a bold declaration: “A new chapter in Quebec’s history is being written beginning today.”
The media is quick to make a comparison of the RLQ to the ultra-conservative U.S. Tea Party, and the RLQ brass was not shy in acknowledging this. “We resemble them in the way we want to bring people together, we’re really grassroots,” said Ian Senechal, one of the six RLQ co-founders.
In addition to the RLQ, former Parti Québécois minister François Legault has been spearheading the initiative to launch a new political party that seeks to cut across the national question from the right flank, much like the now-disgraced ADQ. Prompted by this, a poll was conducted in mid-October whereby Legault’s hypothetical party, the Force Québec, would oust the Liberals. In this poll, Force Québec would receive 30 percent of the votes, the Parti Québécois would get 27 percent, and the Liberals only 25 percent. The result of this poll has generated many speculations: are we seeing a shift to the right in Quebec? Is this a replay of the rise of ADQ just a number of years ago?
The poll represents frustration with the political establishment from two fronts. On the one hand, the Quebec working class is sick and tired of the same old politics, represented by both the Liberals and the PQ. As with the rise of the ADQ, the election of QS’ Amir Khadir to the National Assembly, the election of the NDP’s Thomas Mulcair in Outremont, and the strong showing by the upstart Projet Montréal in last year’s municipal elections, the Quebec working class is desperately attempting to find someone—anyone—that is capable of solving the real-life problems that they face.
A certain section of the Quebec ruling class is also frustrated by the old way of doing politics, but for different reasons. In their eyes, neither the Liberals nor the PQ are capable of pushing forward the austerity measures and attacks that are necessary for their bottom line. The ruling Liberals had an excellent opportunity to do so this spring, but the bosses felt that the Liberals’ budget did not nearly go far enough. The government even backed down from imposing user fees on doctors’ visits in the face of public protests. The Liberals are plagued with both the knowledge of what needs to be cut and with the knowledge of what the working class will not allow.
Although the RLQ (and to a certain extent, Force Québec), may present themselves as “grassroots” movements and parties, their impetus truly comes from the capitalist class, and their interests are those of the bosses, not the workers. They shroud their true interests in demagogic rhetoric, like newly-elected Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s infamous “gravy train.” The fact that this new “movement,” much like the Tea Party movement in the United States, is straining to represent itself as a populist “grassroots” movement is testament to the fact that the bosses are aware of the anger and frustration that exists within society, and are supporting these movements to confuse and distract the working class. Unfortunately, the leaders of the workers’ organizations have been, for the most part, slow to realize this frustration and slow to come up with demands that could win over workers to a program that directly confronts the bosses’ agenda.
For now, the two groups, the RLQ and Force Québec, are still maintaining a distance with each other despite the similarity of their programs; François Legault was not to be found amongst the crowd at the RLQ conference. But in the end, the goal of these two movements is clear: a unity of right wing federalists and sovereigntists to prepare a viable capitalist alternative to the Liberals that can truly be successful in ramming through the necessary cuts to education, healthcare, day-care, and many other social gains. These two movements are the more forceful expression of that section of the Quebec ruling class that recognizes that the class question is of more importance than the national question, particularly in this crisis of capitalism. “Leave the national question aside and focus on the cuts,” they exclaim.
The PQ is stuck in a hard spot. The typical role of the PQ has been to use the guise of “independence” to channel the national yearnings of the Quebecois workers into safe waters for Quebec capitalism. This road, however, becomes very difficult when what is needed is such drastic cuts that the possibility of attempting to represent Quebec workers and bosses at the same time is thrown out the window. When PQ leader Pauline Marois claims, “I do not believe a political party in Quebec can leave aside the national question,” she is stuck in playing the same outdated game that not even the bosses are interested in anymore.
The tide in Quebec is not to the right as some people fear. The bosses need cuts. The only problem is that neither the PQ nor the Liberals are up to this task. The RLQ and Force Quebec are the bosses’ attempts to take advantage of the workers’ anger at the current state of affairs, and to confuse and misdirect the Quebec working class into supporting even deeper cuts to their social gains.
This all just points to one fact. The situation is ripe for the workers to create a party of their own that can put forward a genuine socialist alternative to this crisis. The trade unions and Quebec solidaire need to unite to be that party. The working class needs to pick up their hammer and smash this capitalist axe into pieces, and with the same hammer reorganize the society into one which is based on human needs and not profit.