This article is a translation of an article written by La Riposte socialiste activist Benoît Tanguay.
After being almost wiped out a few years ago by the Orange Wave, the Bloc Québécois is back on the scene. It is currently in second place in the voting intentions in Quebec. With other parties not enthusing Québécois voters, the Bloc is often seen as a safe place to park one’s vote. At least, some say, the Bloc defends the interests of Quebec and Quebecers. But which Quebec does the Bloc defend?
At the service of bosses
Although the Bloc likes to present itself as a social democratic party, the mask has fallen off several times since the beginning of the campaign.
In particular, on the issue of the so-called labour shortage, Bloc leader Yves-François Blanchet is defending the interests of bosses. The Bloc is currently calling for the abolition of the Canadian Recovery Benefit (CRB). Blanchet, in a Labour Day speech in which he said he was concerned about the interests of workers, called the CRB “an obstacle to the healthy use of the labour force available in the labour market.” Indeed, employers need a large pool of workers who have no other way to survive than to agree to sell their labour force for a pittance. But CRB is competing with them. Don’t worry, poor bosses, Blanchet is coming to the rescue!
As for the environment, an issue that is supposedly very important to the party, Yves-François Blanchet refused to oppose the “third link”, a project that he said could be environmentally friendly. The third link is a large highway tunnel between Québec City and Lévis which is supposed to alleviate the traffic problems between the two shores of the Saint-Laurence River. Needless to say, it is completely ridiculous to think that a huge concrete tunnel costing eye-watering amounts of money and with no chance of solving Quebec City’s long-term transportation problems could be in any way “green”. Only the Quebec ruling class would benefit from the third link by lining their pockets.
On this issue, as on all others, Blanchet closely follows the positions of the CAQ. He also refused to oppose the LNG Quebec pipeline on the pretext of waiting for the recommendation of the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE), mirroring the position of François Legault. Here, Blanchet was aligning himself with the interests of the Alberta oil barons and the big American investors behind this environmentally destructive project.
In reality, it is easy for the Bloc to claim to care about the environment, since it will never form the government. However, since Yves-François Blanchet was once in government, when Pauline Marois’s PQ was in power, we have a good idea of what he really stands for. When he was environment minister, Blanchet approved three big polluting projects to please his capitalist friends: the reversal of Enbridge’s Line 9B, the McInnis cement plant and opening up Anticosti Island to drilling. Moreover, he did not have the same scruples as in the case of LNG, since he did not even wait for the BAPE report to approve them.
The same logic applies to other progressive measures that the Bloc claims to defend, such as the application of anti-scab legislation at the federal level or taxing the rich. While the Bloc is making a lot of noise about their proposal to tax the rich, they don’t put their money where their mouth is. Last year they sided with the Conservatives and Liberals in voting against an NDP motion calling for a tax on the wealthy. The Bloc is free to portray itself as pro-labour as long as it knows that its proposals will not be accepted by Parliament. They are all talk and no action.
It is often said that the Liberal Party of Canada campaigns from the left and governs from the right. In the case of the Bloc, it campaigns to the left and does not govern. At least the Liberals give us the satisfaction of knowing that their election lies were lies.
In fact, if we go back to the origins of the Bloc Québécois, we find that it was not formed with the intention of advocating progressive or pro-labour policies. The Bloc Québécois was officially formed in 1991 and ran in its first election in 1993, in the wake of the failure of the Meech Lake Accord.
Few people know that the Bloc Québécois was founded out of an alliance between Quebec Conservative and Liberal MPs, led by then Conservative minister Lucien Bouchard. These MPs left the two major federal parties when they were in crisis. They rallied around the national question and the defence of “Quebec’s interests”, but from the same class perspective as the capitalist parties they had just left. The Bloc was to exist only temporarily, in order to defend sovereignty in the House of Commons.
The “interests of Quebec” in question become clearer when one reads the party’s founding manifesto, Un nouveau parti pour l’étape décisive. This text was written by Lucien Bouchard in 1993, in the context of an economic crisis. Bouchard’s main concern is that of a bourgeois Quebecer who sees the Canadian ship sinking. He warns the rest of the Quebec bourgeoisie that the Canadian economy is going through a “structural crisis” that manifests itself in a “pronounced lethargy of productivity”. He also denounced the “complacency in federal public finances” which should lead to austerity measures. He therefore called on Quebec capitalists to abandon ship.
Bouchard would later apply his economic ideas when he became premier of Quebec. This would take the form of brutal austerity and “déficit zéro”, with chainsaw cuts to public services.
With the failure of the 1995 referendum and the decline of the sovereignist movement, the Bloc Québécois had to find another reason to exist. The party was almost wiped off the map in 2011 in favour of the NDP. The Bloc reinvented itself by minimizing the question of sovereignty in favour of the simple defence of Quebec’s provincial jurisdictions, and above all in favour of a crass identity nationalism.
This chauvinistic side of nationalism has been seen in the growing Islamophobia masked by the slogan of “secularism”, which the Bloc has championed in Ottawa. This has led it to wallow in the mire of racism and to become entangled in the most ridiculous contradictions.
Under Gilles Duceppe’s leadership the Bloc began fearmongering about headscarves worn by Muslim women. It campaigned against the niqab during Canadian citizenship swearing-in ceremonies—a fabricated issue—and produced racist advertisements. Also, there were multiple scandals about Bloc candidates who made Islamophobic comments during this period.
More lately, under the guise of opposing Anglo-chauvinism, the party has been playing with words on the notion of systemic racism, claiming that it is a political weapon against Quebec. The party’s unease with this concept has even prompted Bloc MP Alain Therrien to come to the defense of… the Royal Canadian Mounted Police! The absurdity of a Quebec nationalist trying to exonerate the armed wing of Anglo-Canadian colonialism could not be more obvious.
The manipulation of Islamophobic sentiments also led current Bloc leader Yves-François Blanchet to repeat a racist lie from a far-right English-Canadian fake news site, Rebel News, when he insinuated that federal minister Omar Alghabra is linked to the political Islamic movement.
The Bloc Québécois is an example of where putting the national question before the class question leads. It claims to defend the “interests of Quebec”. But the “interests of Quebec” are only an abstraction. This is used to hide measures that are actually against the interests of Quebec workers.
For example, one of the Bloc’s favourite arguments to defend all sorts of reactionary policies is the division of powers between the provincial and federal governments. Thus, the Bloc recently voted against universal drug coverage in Canada on the grounds that it would infringe on Quebec’s jurisdiction. But what is more in the interest of Quebecers: to have affordable drugs, or not to have them? The same argument was recently used against the NDP proposal to raise the minimum wage for workers under federal jurisdiction. Canadian capitalists should thank Blanchet!
Blanchet also opposed making federal health transfers conditional on maintaining the public character of the health-care system. Under the guise of defending provincial jurisdiction, he is actually defending the privatization of the health-care system. This is not surprising for someone who was a minister in the Pauline Marois government that imposed the shameful “health tax”, which was a step in the direction of the commodification of health care.
It is the same jurisdictional issue that prompted Quebec Premier François Legault to support the Conservative Party of Canada on the grounds that it promises to respect Quebec’s jurisdiction. Anyone who remembers the dark years of Stephen Harper’s Conservative government knows that even if the Conservatives strictly respect provincial jurisdiction, a Conservative victory would be a threat to Québécois (and Canadian) workers.
In reality, “Quebec” has no common interests. There are the interests of working class Quebecers and the interests of Quebecers who own a business. Their interests are fundamentally opposed and irreconcilable. Even if the Bloc were sincere about defending the interests of Quebec workers, they could not do so at the same time as defending the interests of Quebec capitalists. And in a capitalist economy, the interests of the latter will always prevail. The Bloc Québécois, when it defends the “interests of Quebec,” necessarily defends the interests of the Quebec ruling capitalist class. As Lenin said, “What each bourgeoisie seeks in the national question are privileges for its own nation or exceptional advantages for itself”. This is ultimately the true meaning of the Bloc’s nationalism.
And Yves-François Blanchet candidly acknowledged this recently when he said about Dominique Anglade, the leader of the Quebec Liberal Party, that he “likes her very much” but has “little sympathy for Québec solidaire”. He uses the supposed ties of QS to the federalist NDP as an excuse… as if the provincial Liberals had no ties to the federal Liberals! In reality, if he has more sympathy for a right-wing federalist party than a left-wing independentist party, it is because the Liberals and the Bloc defend the interests of the same social class.
Too many left-wing independentists and even trade unions in Quebec still believe that the Bloc has something progressive about it. In doing so, they fall right into the trap of nationalism and find themselves tail-ending the Quebec bourgeoisie. A clear example of this is the “Communist” Party of Quebec (PCQ), which until recently was actively supporting the Bloc Québécois, a party that the PCQ itself describes as bourgeois. Its leader, André Parizeau, had even tried to run for the Bloc, until the party rejected him. The PCQ, having abandoned an internationalist perspective, supports independence and “the Nation” at all costs, even if it means allying itself with the worst reactionary bourgeois. This subservience to the nationalist bourgeoisie was pushed to its logical conclusion when the party supported the billionaire Pierre-Karl Péladeau, the press magnate who heads the Quebecor empire and is a sworn enemy of the unions, for the leadership of the Parti Québécois, on the pretext that this would be good for the sovereignist movement!
As we have explained elsewhere, nationalism is a slippery slope. Of course, it is necessary to oppose and fight against all forms of national oppression, and we therefore share the desire of nationalists to fight against the reactionary federal state. But we cannot cross this line and enter the terrain of the struggle for “our” nation. Workers here in Quebec have no different interests than English-Canadian, Indigenous, American or Mexican workers. To defend the interests of “our” nation, to support “our” nation over another, is to oppose the interests of others. From there, it’s a short step to anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant racism. Moreover, without a class perspective, the defense of the “nation” necessarily becomes the defense of “our own” capitalists. This is exactly what we see with the Bloc.
Quebec workers must fight for their own interests. To do this, they must fight on clear class lines and turn their backs on the nationalist siren song. The Bloc has nothing to offer the workers, the poor and the youth of Quebec. Nationalist parties that claim to fight for the interests of the “nation” will always end up betraying the workers of that same nation.
How do we fight the coming austerity?
Many fear what will happen with the next federal government, and that fear is well founded. With a crumbling economy and monstrous public debts, capitalists will be calling for deep austerity measures. Whether it is the Conservatives or the Liberals in power, they will obey their masters. Neither is a friend of the workers.
Therefore, the idea of voting for the Bloc to block a Liberal or Conservative majority is widely discussed. When the next government inevitably attacks workers, we will have to be able to defend ourselves. The Bloc Québécois will not be able to play this role. Austerity will not be stopped by a few votes in Parliament, and not by a party aligned with the interests of the bosses like the Bloc. A mass movement of workers to block austerity will be necessary. The Bloc will never mobilize such a mass movement.
Only a bold program that addresses the urgent needs of workers and youth could generate enough enthusiasm to raise such a movement: a program of massive construction of affordable housing, hiring of thousands of health-care workers with high wages, free education, massive investments in public transit and energy transition, higher wages, etc. Only the socialist transformation of society through the expropriation of the banks and big business under democratic workers’ control could make such a program possible. The party that proposes such a socialist program would succeed in defeating austerity and uniting workers across national and linguistic divides.