First Published:The Forge Vol. 5, No. 7, March 1, 1980
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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In a few months the people of Quebec will be voting in the PQ government’s referendum. For over two centuries the Quebec people have been subjected to inequalities and injustices which they have always resisted.
The WCP, since it was founded, has vigorously fought against these inequalities and demanded the right to self-determinetion for the Quebec nation, in other words, the right to freely choose whether or not to remain in Canada.
Many have been anxiously awaiting the referendum, particularly with the Levesque government’s propaganda about how this is the first time in 200 years the Quebec people will have the opportunity to express their will on their political future.
But is the referendum truly the “historic moment” Rene Levesque so emotionally claims it is?
When we take a closer look, the PQ government’s referendum proves to be a far cry from a “historic moment.” The question being put to the people doesn’t offer any constitutional option and does not permit the Quebec people to choose one form of state over another.
The question does not ask the Quebec people whether they want separation – sovereignty-association as the PQ calls it – or to remain within the Canadian state. The question should clearly put the PQ government’s option to the people. But the present question does not ask Quebecois their opinion on this option. Instead, it asks for a “mandate to negotiate the proposed agreement between Quebec and Canada.” The PQ wants a blank cheque, which it can then interpret as an endorsement of its project.
The Levesque government’s question is therefore a deceitful one which does not allow the people to exercise their right to self-determination. Moreover, Bill 92, which governs the referendum process, does not allow parties and organizations to freely express their opinions during the pre-refereadam campaign.
This anti-democratic law stipulates that only two groups will be entitled to wage, the campaign – the committee for the YES and the committee for the NO. According to the law, everyone must line up behind one or the other of these committees, thus forcing us to endorse one option or the other.
The law seeks to tie us to groups controlled, by the bourgeois parties and thus prevent the working class from freely propagating its own position. We unequivocably reject this.
Nevertheless, the WCP does believe that a referendum which respects the rules of democracy and asks an honest straight-forward question on the future of the Quebec nation would truly be an exercise of the right to self-determination.
However, this is not the case with the PQ’s referendum. We will not hesitate to defy Bill 92 to make the workers’ point of view known and to resist being assimilated into one of the two camps.
Since the PQ has been in power, numerous opinion polls have shown that if the question were clearly posed, “Are you for or against sovereignty-association,” the PQ’s option would surely be defeated. The most recent poll showed that only 23% of the people would vote in favour of its option. But if it asked for a mandate to negotiate sovereignty-association, it would get 41% of the decided vote.
This is why party strategists came up with this deceptive question – a formulation apt to win the support of a majority. Such a victory would enable the PQ to rebuild its image for the upcoming provincial elections and remain in power for four more years.
Tactics like these are the stock-in-trade of Levesque’s party. Its referendum question is the logical result of a long process that led it to repackage its true goal, independence, in a more acceptable wrapping.
Originally, the PQ had promised to set the independence process in motion as soon as it came to power. Then, in an effort to get elected, the PQ promised to hold a referendum before moving toward independence.Later, it eliminated all reference to independence, henceforth referring only to sovereignty-association. And finally, at its last convention, it promised to hold a second referendum.
Thus, stage by stage, the PQ hopes to lead the Quebec people to independence without them realizing it.
Their interest is not that the Quebec people decide on their future, but that the PQ remain in power in order to strengthen the clique of Quebecois capitalists for whom the PQ is the standard-bearer, and thusprepare the way for separation.
The PQ has proven that it serves the capitalists. Its sovereignty-association scheme is only meant to benefit the Quebecois bourgeoisie. The PQ has had many opportunities to show its true colours since it came to power. It is an anti-worker party.
Therefore, a YES vote is a vote for anti-worker laws, like the law that suspended public sector Common Front workers’ right to strike; it is a vote for the police in our unions; a YES to budget cutbacks in health and education; and a YES to continuing the bitter oppression of Native peoples. Voting YES means condoning the PQ’s policies.
These policies are directly linked to the PQ’s plan, whose goal is to reorganize capitalism in favour of the Quebecois bourgeoisie, which is after its share of the wealth.
The PQ’s plan offers the working class nothing. On the contrary, sovereignty-association would be achieved at workers’ expense. The PQ would use its power to collect our tax dollars to continue to subsidize Quebecois capitalists to the tune of millions. It would use its exclusive power to make laws to repress workers like it did those at Hydro-Quebec.
In an independent Quebec, the PQ would ask us to further tighten our belts in the interests of the “nation,” i.e. to profit the Quebecois bourgeoisie. In an independent Quebec, exploitation will still exist, as before, and will intensify.
Many workers and progressive people are still drawn towards a YES vote despite the PQ’s manipulations and anti-worker laws. At least, they say, it is a step in the right direction, since independence will put an end to 200 years of oppression.
But if we look at the facts, the PQ government has done virtually nothing to reduce the inequalities faced by the Quebec people. On the contrary, with the PQ at the helm these inequalities have continued and some have even worsened.
The Levesque government has allotted even less public money to health and welfare than Bourassa did (28.2% compared to 31.1%). in the health care sector this has resulted in a widening gap between care in Quebec and in Canada as a whole.
PQ priorities do not include a reduction in the wage gap either. In Challenges for Quebec the PQ states its intention to keep public sector wages as low as possible and to prevent wage parity between Quebec and Ontario workers in order to maintain the competitiveness of Quebec business.
Even on the language question the PQ continues to provide the multinationals with so many loopholes that the right to work in French is still restricted.
The PQ’s plans for separation cannot eliminate the inequalities faced by the vast majority of Quebecois. PQ minister Guy Joron made it perfectly clear what an independent Quebec holds for the Quebec people. Speaking before the prestigious Empire Club, made up of Toronto businessmen, he stated it would be “business as usual,” to use his own words.
The PQ has also made clear that US imperialism will still be allowed to profit from Quebec’s cheap labour and to pillage Quebec’s natural resources. It is obvious from Levesque’s kowtowing to American financiers that the PQ has no intention of eliminating the hold of the US giant.
Separation would not just leave unscathed exploitation nad the bases of national oppression, it would also be an enormous setback for all Canadian workers. Splitting up the country also means dividing the working class. This would divert the revolution from its objective by weakening the most determined force in the fight to overthrow the capitalist class.
The privileged handful that dominates our country – Argus’s Conrad Black, the Royal Bank’s Roland Frazee, Power Corporation’s Desmarais, and so on – are the only ones to profit from exploitation and from national oppression, which gives them superprofits because of the lower wages paid to Quebecois.
To beat this enemy we must unite the greatest possible force against it. But separation would leave each section of the working class isolated in the fight to the finish against the capitalist class.
Claude Ryan, with his NO option, is acting as an apologist for a system that has always maintained inequality for the Quebec people.Confederation itself took place with no consultation of Quebec. It was the result of backroom agreements and manipulations by capitalists and bourgeois politicans like John A. Macdonald and Georges Etienne Cartier.
In the present situation voting NO would mean supporting the status quo; it would mean supporting the option presented by Ryan, the monopoly bourgeoisie’s latest standard-bearer. A NO vote would mean accepting the continuation of inequality and injustice for the Quebec people.
As his alternative to the PQ’s plan, Ryan proposes “renewed federalism,” thus playing on the sentiments of the Quebec people, who want a change in their unequal situation. Ryan’s option would basically mean no change for the Quebec people.
Ryan’s constitutional proposal does not even recognize that Quebec is a nation. For Ryan, as for all the bourgeois federalist parties, Quebec is just one province among ten. But Quebec is not just a province; it is more than a region or a linguistic group. Quebec is the homeland of the Quebec nation.
Ryan may well propose greater decentralization, juggle with the division of powers or propose new equality between the provinces, but when all is said and done, “equality between the provinces”means inequality for the Quebec nation.
Ryan’s “Beige Paper” says not a word on any of these basic questions. It does not recognize the rights of the Quebec people.It is nothing but the status quo prettied up and glossed over, and the Quebec people know that it means only one thing: continued national oppression.
For all of these reasons the WCP proposes spoiling your ballot in the referendum. Spoiling your ballot means refusing to support the Quebec capitalist class and it means rejecting the status quo. It shows our determination to continue the fight against national oppression. It affirms an independent working class position that refuses to line up behind either of the two capitalist camps.
Our Party is putting forward an alternative to the two pro-capitalist options: to fight national oppression and for a socialist Canada.
In English Canada this means intensifying our work to counter anti-Quebecois prejudices and to defend Quebec’s right to self-determination. We are already active in several committees in English Canada which defend this basic right.
In factories, unions and community organizations we are fighting great-nation chauvinism and for the unity of the Canadian working class. This unity can only be achieved on the basis of respect for the Quebec people’s national rights.
In Quebec, the alternative we are proposing to the Quebec people is to continue to fight against national oppression. In our unions, our communities and our schools we demand the right to work in French, to equal quality health and education services, an end to discrimination in hiring, respect for the territorial integrity of Quebec and the right of the Quebec nation to freely choose its political future.
Our alternative is to continue the battle for socialism in Canada, the only system that can abolish national oppression and guarantee the oppressed nationalities their full rights.
The working class has no interest in maintaining national oppression. On the contrary, it has every interest in combatting it in order to build the unity that is indispensable in overthrowing capitalism.
By building a broad united front of the multi-national Canadian working class and the oppressed nationalities we will be able to eliminate capitalism. Socialism will put an end to this system based on exploitation, injustice and national inequalities once and for all.
The WCP’s alternative is to defend an independent position from the two pro-capitalist options in the common interest of all workers. WCP members will debate the burning questions raised in the referendum campaign on the basis of these common interests.