In the recent federal elections, the NDP held on to its one seat in Québec and doubled its vote across the province. With this in mind, the recent congress came at an important time in the history of the party. NDP-Québec held its congress in Villeray, in Montréal, on November 15th and 16th. Approximately 200 delegates attended, which is double the attendance of the last congress.
On the first day, there were already signs of friction at the congress, as unionists organized around Jean-Claude Rocheleau put forward a motion to reinstate the unionized NDP-Québec employees who had been fired by the federal leadership. The motion passed, and the president of the federal party was forced to take the mike to apologize.
The second day revealed the historic impact of Jean-Claude Rocheleau’s candidacy for the NDP in the Montréal riding of Hochelaga during the federal elections. Rocheleau is the president of the Communications Energy and Paperworkers’ union (CEP) Local 121, representing the Petro-Canada refinery workers in Montréal. These workers have been locked out for more than a year, with the entire industry backing the action in order to break the backs of refinery workers across Canada. Local 121 sets the pattern for contracts throughout the country, so they’re the first line of defence for workers in the industry, which is why Petro-Canada is now out for their blood.
During the federal elections, Rocheleau said he was running as an NDP candidate because he believed it was closest to the values of the labour movement he’s a part of. Hopefully, he’ll help make that statement true.
At the congress, Rocheleau ran for Associate President of NDP-Québec, and won, with a standing ovation. He was followed by other union representatives elected to the executive, who clearly reflected a new layer entering the NDP in Québec. Richard Marois, former president of a paramedic’s union and candidate during the elections, won for Vice-President Organization. Alexandre Boulerice, former executive at the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 687, representing journalists working at Radio-Canada, won for Vice-President Communications. On the council, others were also elected, including Réjean Bellemare of the Federation des Travailleurs du Québec (FTQ).
It’s important to note that the trade-union candidates made serious showings during the federal elections, with Jean-Claude Rocheleau coming in third at 14.63% of the vote, 6 points behind the Liberal candidate in Hochelaga. Alexandre Boulerice received 16.23%, third place and only 2 points behind the Liberal candidate in Rosemont – La Petite-Patrie. Réjean Bellemare, on the other hand, came in ahead of the Liberals in second place, at 15.15% in Repentigny. Finally, Richard Marois came in fourth with 14.45% in Saint-Lambert, only 1% behind the Conservative candidate. All of these numbers are huge jumps forward from the low single-digits in the last elections.
These unionists represent a breakthrough for the party, which is now clearly taking a turn towards the unions in Québec. The traditional parties are discredited, and there are huge opportunities open for a labour party in Québec. This is a concrete leap forward in that direction. If these new leaders follow through by putting forward bold policies that can win the working class over to the NDP, this would open the road to a real opposition based on the labour movement in Canada.
At the end of the second day, motions delayed by the elections were debated. The most important one was put forward by Alexandre Boulerice’s riding, Rosemont, calling for the nationalization of the entirety of the fossil-fuel industries (oil, natural gas, coal, etc). It was amended by Jean-Claude Rocheleau, who suggested that one company be nationalized first, followed by others once it’s been turned into an industry leader. It was passed, and we can only imagine which corporation the Petro-Canada refinery workers’ union president had in mind.
This is a clear step forward, and this is how we should fight! When workers are at their wits’ end and locked out they should be able to turn to their party to fight to nationalize their bosses!
We agree with Jean-Claude Rocheleau that it would be far too expensive to nationalize and compensate the entire industry at once, but we also agree with the young delegates from Québec City, self-described “staunch socialists”: why should we compensate them for profiting obscenely off the backs of workers and our natural resources? Have they not gouged us enough by now? Have they not recovered their measly investments many times over?
We can’t stop here, these new leaders, and the labour militants who have joined the NDP with them, should put forward a program to nationalize the banks and the major industries under workers’ control, without compensation, and implement a democratic, rational, socialist plan of production.
Only then can we control our destinies, without being slaves to the blind play of market forces. We can use the profits to bring about free, quality, accessible education, universal public healthcare, a massive program of job-creating public works, a livable minimum wage and a 6 hour day without loss of pay. This would be received like a breath of fresh air by the workers of Québec, so used to the attacks, privatization and nationalist demagoguery of the traditional parties.
This congress was a groundbreaking development in the fight to build a labour party in Québec. It confirmed our previous analysis that Thomas Mulcair’s election was not a mere “flash in the pan”, but a sign of a developing shift, preparing the ground for NDP victories as the working class looks for an alternative to the bosses’ parties. The International Marxist Tendency will be working shoulder-to-shoulder with rank-and-file NDP militants, supporting every step forward, while pointing out that half-measures are not enough. NDP socialists should unite around the slogan: NDP to power on a socialist program!
Note: This congress occurred before the present coalition crisis.