June 23 -- 27th Anniversary of Defeat of Meech Lake Accord
Canada's Existential Crisis on the Eve of
23 -- 27th Anniversary of Defeat of Meech Lake
June 23 -- 27th Anniversary of Defeat of Meech Lake Accord
Canada's Existential Crisis on the Eve of
The Marxist-Leninist Party of Quebec (PMLQ) was founded in 1989 with more than 1,000 members under the law governing political parties. This happened at a very important moment in the political life of Quebec, in the midst of the debate on the Meech Lake Accord that took up Robert Bourassa's proposal for renewed federalism.
The PMLQ, like many of the sovereigntist forces, had campaigned against the Meech Lake Accord because it reduced the Quebec nation to a "distinct society" and therefore did not recognize Quebec's right to self-determination. Following the failure of the Accord we wrote:
Our Party is of the opinion that with the failure of Meech Lake, it can now be said with certainty that the solution to the problems confronting the people of Quebec can no longer be sought within the confines of a constitution based upon the British North America Act. We believe that the people of Quebec need a new constitution, one which only they can decide upon without any external interference, one which is democratic and expresses the popular will and will serve the building of a future for the nation.
On the issue of Quebec sovereignty, the PMLQ's position to realize a free and sovereign Quebec was clearly stated:
1. Quebec is a nation constituted
by all the
people who live in its territory;
2. Quebec, as a nation, has
the right to self-determination including secession;
3. Quebec, at this time, must exercise its right to self-determination by holding a referendum in which the people of Quebec are called upon to 1) abrogate the British North America Act and elect an assembly specifically to draft a democratic constitution; and 2) call upon the rest of Canada to do the same.
Like any nation, the Quebec nation has its inherent sovereignty, in particular its right to national self-determination including secession, if the people of Quebec so decide. For more than two hundred years the people of Quebec have been seeking precisely how this sovereignty should be expressed, how this self-determination ought to be exercised. We believe that the exercise of the right to self-determination by the Quebec people, acting as a sovereign nation, is a necessary prelude to the solution of all the other problems besetting the people, and an indispensable precondition for building a future for the nation.
After the failure of Meech Lake, the federal government continued to seek ways to maintain the status quo with regard to Quebec by making it acceptable to the people of Quebec and the Canadian people. When the Brian Mulroney government in its final term returned the charge with the "Special Joint Committee on a Renewed Canada" (the Beaudoin-Dobbie Committee), which later prepared the Charlottetown Accord, the PMLQ reiterated that all attempts for the renewal of Canada would fail if the refusal to recognize the right of the Quebec nation to self-determination persisted:
Even though the entire document promotes the idea of a Renewed Canada, once it does not recognize the right of the nation of Quebec to self-determination, it fails. It opts for recognizing the status quo and merely takes up the problem of how to make the status quo valid for our times. The Joint Committee does this by upholding the status imposed on Quebec by the British colonialists in the Quebec Act of 1774, which it says "responded to French Canada's demands for the preservation of its laws and customs," and the Constitutional Act of 1791 which "divided Quebec into two parts corresponding to the linguistic and cultural divergence of its inhabitants." The Joint Committee correctly points out that "These two statutes acknowledged and provided the political framework for a distinct society in Quebec with institutions, laws and culture quite different from those of other political communities in North America." It goes further to point out that when the Canadian state was established through the BNA Act in 1867, it enshrined this practice of the British. The Joint Committee writes: "In 1867, Confederation recognized and re-established Quebec's distinct society as an autonomous political community while it embraced the principle of linguistic duality in the political institutions of a new country that would eventually span a continent."
We couldn't agree more. This is precisely what is called suppressing the nation of Quebec and denying its right to self-determination. By the time the British fought their intercolonial wars with the French, the "French settlers," whom the Joint Committee recognizes as a mere abstraction, had forged a new society. They had produced an indigenous population, born and bred in the new territory, partly of French parentage and partly born of the inter-marriage between French settlers and the Native Peoples. This indigenous population forged a new economy, through its own labour, blood and sacrifice. These people developed their own trade and commerce and set out to forge the political, educational and legal institutions they would require to administer themselves. All the while, they remained a colony of France, ruled by the French colonial power and its institutions. In other words, Quebec had become a nation by virtue of its common territory, population, language, psychology and economy. The fact that the British won the inter-colonialist wars against the French and gained Quebec as part of the Paris Treaty of 1763 simply meant that the colonial ownership of Quebec was transferred from the French to the British. While the people of Quebec, consistent with the times, were ready to embark on the road of modern nation-building, in the manner of either the French, who, in their Revolution of 1789, ended feudalism and set forth on the road of a modern bourgeois republic, or of the peoples of the Americas, who won their independence from colonial rule, the British imposed their own colonial rule over Quebec and suppressed the emergent nation of Quebec. Quebec has been a suppressed nation ever since, denied the right to self-determination.
In the federal referendum on the Charlottetown Accord in 1992 -- an attempt to divide the people of Quebec with the notion that Quebec is a "distinct society" and a blatant refusal to recognize the Quebec nation and its right to self-determination -- the PMLQ actively campaigned for the No camp. During the campaign, it explained the failure of the arrangements of the empire-builders of the 19th century that the Charlottetown Accord sought to maintain in all its essentially anachronistic elements. It also published important theoretical texts on the history of the nation and political power, as well as a modern definition of rights and the distinction between citizenship and nationality.
In September 1994, the PMLQ launched a national campaign for a modern constitution and democratic renewal with a series of conferences on the future of Quebec. The campaign's goal was also to not permit the political discourse to be disinformed by the false discourse of the federalists on "national unity." The PMLQ judged that the question of vesting in the people the power to decide was more important than ever. The campaign's slogan was "For a sovereign and independent state of Quebec."
The PMLQ actively participated in the 1995 referendum campaign on Quebec sovereignty from its launch in September that year, with the slogan: "For the people's Yes!" The Party considers it played an important role in the formation of Yes Committees and it held conferences at several universities, colleges and cities to encourage everyone to participate in the referendum campaign for the Yes side.
Even before the campaign, the PMLQ organized extensive internal and external consultations on the position to take in light of the referendum question and submitted a brief to the Commission on the future of Quebec.
The PMLQ said about the referendum:
A great opportunity exists for the working class of Quebec to lead the project of nation-building in a manner which leads to the formation of a state in Quebec on the basis of its own model. [...]
In nation-building, we have to be careful not to found the nation on the basis of 19th century concepts of ethnicity as the British did in formulating the BNA Act. On the contrary, we should begin with the modern definition according to which a modern polity is established which recognizes the collective rights of all the people of Quebec and vests sovereignty in the people.
We proposed that the Preamble to the Constitution of the Republic of Quebec read in part as follows:
We, the people of Quebec, exercising our inviolable and inalienable right as a sovereign people with collective rights irrespective of the languages we speak, the religions we practice, the ideologies and political opinions we hold on basic values and social objectives, or other attributes such as skin colour, national background, gender, age, lifestyle, ability, wealth or social position, hereby declare the formation of the Republic of Quebec, a modern nation--state and polity in which all citizens enjoy equal rights and duties and all minority rights based on concrete objective reality are recognized as inviolable and inalienable.
In this modern nation-state and polity, our collective rights reign supreme, and the rights of individuals are protected by passing legislation which harmonizes them with the general well-being of society.
In this modern nation-state and polity, the people are sovereign and set the fundamental law and govern themselves as we have done by means of the referendum through which we expressed our collective will to establish our modern nation-state and polity.
Our action from now as a sovereign people is to collectively establish state structures according to this law of the land, the Constitution of the Republic of Quebec, and begin to govern ourselves on the basis of this Constitution.
Since the 1995 referendum, the PMLQ has continued to argue for the necessity of a sovereign and independent Quebec. "The Marxist-Leninists," said PMLQ Leader Pierre Chénier, "have always defended a principled and consistent position on the national question, which the Canadian establishment and its representatives in Quebec keep using to divide the people and prevent the political unity required to solve their problems and those of the society."
In 1998, the PMLQ organized a series of conferences on the future of Quebec with the aim of organizing workers and youth to take up the national question. The conferences had as their theme: "The working class must constitute the nation and vest sovereignty in the people." The main challenge was not to permit the propaganda that said that the economy required integration with global markets and the abandonment of the principle of a sovereign nation-state to pass:
Today, the issue of nation-building concerns the people of the entire world. The neo-liberal offensive to sell out all the resources of nations, especially the human and natural resources, to serve the aim of making the monopolies competitive on global markets has put this issue on the agenda of the peoples everywhere. The issue is of great urgency. This concern cannot be dismissed by portraying everything to do with nation-building as an issue of separatism versus federalism or which equates separatism with sovereignty and so on, as the federal Liberals and their fellow travellers are doing. Whether or not Quebec opts for independence, the approach towards nation-building will determine the future of Quebec. Today the interests of the bourgeoisie are not identified with those of the nation. They lie in selling out all its resources, in using the state power to seize the entire social product produced by the working class to hand it over to those who invest it to make maximum profits for themselves. This is why the working class must constitute the nation and lead society so that it can advance.
When the Jean Chrétien Liberal Party, in the context of making Canadian monopolies "number one" in the world, tried to put an end "once and for all" to the national question in Canada through the Clarity Act that dictated the Canadian government's terms for holding a referendum in Quebec, the PMLQ participated in the opposition campaign. It published the document "Quebec Case for Sovereignty Before the Supreme Court" in February 1998, which addresses the problem from all angles.
In the wake of the Sponsorship Scandal and the defeat of the Liberal Party of Canada in Quebec, intense competition once again broke out among the political parties of the rich for the conquest of the Quebec electorate. While rejecting any discussion of the need to renew the arrangements that had their origin in the Canadian federation and choosing not to respond to the rejection of the Charlottetown Accord, they declared they had a plan to fix the problem. The reason was simple -- so long as the Quebec issue is not resolved, no political party can claim "to govern Canada from coast to coast."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative government joined the dance in November 2006 by filing a resolution in the House of Commons stating, "the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada." The motion passed, thwarting a long-standing strategy of the Bloc Québécois to submit resolutions to the Parliament of Canada recognizing the Quebec nation.
Harper's motion does not recognize Quebec's right to
self-determination or any rights whatsoever based on the fact
that Quebec is a nation in itself. First, the motion gives no
power to the nation that Parliament is said to recognize. Quebec
is a nation insofar as it "forms a nation within a united
Canada." On the other hand, the Harper motion once again tries to
establish the Quebec nation along ethnic lines, which is equally
condemnable, with the deliberate goal of creating division in
Quebec. Thus, the English version of the resolution reads that "the
Québécois form a nation within a united Canada," which
reveals the intention to cause trouble as concerns the refusal to
recognize all Quebeckers as forming part of the Quebec nation so as to
deny its right to self-determination.
Lawrence Cannon, Stephen Harper's former Quebec lieutenant, later gave the interpretation of the motion by declaring to reporters who asked whether the term Québécois included all Quebec residents, whatever their origin, "No. Four hundred years ago when Champlain stepped off and onto the shores of Quebec City, he of course spoke about les Canadiens. Then, as the debate evolved, we spoke of French Canadians. And in Quebec now we speak of the Québécois who occupy that land, America." This means that the Conservatives want to perpetuate divisions based on an ethnocultural basis, blocking the modern definition of the nation and the ensuing rights. It was intentional; it could be used to promote the partition of a sovereign Quebec.
These days, the PMLQ is touring Quebec to ensure that Quebec's interests are defended especially against the measures taken by the federal government, which is selling off Canada's natural resources and integrating the Canadian Armed Forces into U.S. wars of aggression.
One of the specific projects that the PMLQ takes up on a constant basis is the study of the experience of the Patriots of 1837-38 and the dissemination of Quebec history from the people's perspective, not that of the British or the federal state. The Party often brings groups of youth to the Patriots Museum in St. Denis so they may be inspired by the role that the Quebec people played at the height of the wars of independence in the Americas in the 19th century. It is also to show them that the Republic was suppressed by the British at that time, leaving no other choice but ultramontanism and liberalism, which explains the origins of the so-called reasonable accommodations of the federal government in the twentieth century, the so-called Laurier century, that are now in crisis.
The PMLQ's position is that the question of Quebec's identity should be used to unite the people to pave the way for society's progress.
The working class must constitute the nation because in today's world, the bourgeoisie is working to destroy the nation: it sells the nation's assets and puts its human, material and natural resources at the disposal of monopolies competing on world markets. The arrangements at the base of the 19th century nation-state have been replaced by arrangements that promote the success of the most powerful monopolies on world markets regardless of the consequences for the nation, its economy, trade and political affairs, as well as the rights of its citizens and residents.
In practice this means that major decisions about the direction of the economy are taken by private monopoly interests that have taken over the public authority. The trade agreements concluded on this basis give global monopolies the right to challenge the national public authority and destroy the national networks of public services and social programs and subordinate public right. Far from responding to people's needs on the basis of a modern definition of the rights of all in this new era, they are being redefined on a neo-liberal basis, that says society is not responsible for the well-being of its members but instead should ensure monopoly right at all times. Meanwhile, the refusal to renew the political arrangements means that the only alternative presented is to return to the old arrangements in which a hierarchy of rights is established based on national origin, race, gender and beliefs.
It is not possible to establish a nation-state in Quebec without taking into account this current reality. The question is simple: if the new arrangements do not favour the working class and the people, why would they have an interest in establishing and defending them?
The PMLQ has given the call for the working class to constitute the nation. It must do so in order to open the door for the progress of the society. This can only be achieved on the basis of modern definitions and by making modern arrangements which vest sovereignty in the people. Such arrangements will not come out of thin air. They are established in the course of the struggle to affirm the human rights of the people and the political, economic, social and cultural rights which derive from this.
The working class must take the lead to ensure that Quebec's future is not shaped by the global private monopoly interests that are leading the world toward war and economic and humanitarian disaster.
Because of its fundamental world outlook the working class does not stop with independence. It aims to go further and establish a free and equal union between the sovereign peoples of Quebec, Canada and the First Nations. There can be no free and equal union without independence. In other words, the working class is not circumscribed in its aims. It does not consider its interests as separate from or in opposition to those of workers around the world.
The PMLQ believes that a great opportunity exists for the working class to show that it can be at the cutting edge of solving contemporary problems. Far from the paralysis and hesitation that characterizes the ruling elite and political parties that champion private interests, workers must position themselves in the van of the society to fight for democratic renewal and the exercise of power by the people. The workers should call on all the people to say Yes to self-determination and Yes to a free and equal union of the sovereign peoples of Quebec, Canada and First Nations.
1. Brief of the PMLQ National Council, November 2, 1990.
4. National Council of PMLQ, March 1992.
5. The Patriots' conception or way of thinking and acting considered anyone fighting the occupation, domination and oppression of our people and our country by the British Empire as Canadian. In reality, during the years 1834-1840 there was no "French Canadian" or "English-Canadian," except in the words and writings of Molson, McGill, Moffatt et al. The members of the economic oligarchy, the monopolists of the time -- the Molsons, McGills and Moffatts -- with their supporters and their bureaucratic administrators, organized societies that were not at all national societies, but societies that they controlled to divide citizenship on the basis of national origin, language and religious beliefs. These sectarian societies were organized in direct opposition to our citizenship and its movement and the Patriot Party. This is why they created at that time the St. George's Society, the St. Andrew's Society, the St. Patrick's Society and the German Society. On January 28, 1835, these were grouped under an umbrella organization: the Constitutional Association of Montreal, which would establish "a paramilitary organization of the English party," the party representing the interests of the British Empire. On December 16, the organization took the form of the British Rifle Corps.
6. Brief of the Outaouais Commission on the Future of Quebec, February 14, 1995, Hull, Quebec.
8. Presentation by Christine Dandenault to the Conference on the Future of Quebec, Montreal, June 20, 1998.
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