Is there a form of Quebec nationalism that can truly embrace all Quebecers, of whatever origin or mother tongue? Could there be a movement that could actually convince large numbers of les autres – the other “nous” – to actually vote to make Quebec an independent country?
It’s a tall order for those of us here in Quebec who are not francophones de souche. But Amir Khadir thinks it can happen.
Khadir is the colourful, outspoken MNA for the Montreal riding of Mercier, currently the sole elected representative in the National Assembly for the left-wing Québec Solidaire party. QS will not win this election, and will count it as a huge victory if two or three other candidates are able to join Khadir in Quebec City.
But he and the party take the long view. In their vision, a democratic, inclusive form of nationalism can win over people of all backgrounds to a social project that is only possible if Quebec recuperates all its taxation powers from the federal government. In other words, by gaining nationhood, or something close to it.
It’s an argument that that the Iranian-born Khadir presented to a remarkable gathering of left-leaning anglophones at a Montreal café August 28. Speaking to a packed house in the Mile End bistro Matina, he didn’t shy away from the fact his party is aggressively pushing the sovereignty issue in this election, and did his best to convince the sceptical crowd that it was a necessary step toward establishing a society based on social and economic justice that accepts Quebec First Nations as full partners.
“I am convinced,” he said, “that sovereignty is a natural consequence of developing our social project.”
By the time the Nation faithful read this, Quebecers will have voted in the September 4 election for what at this point appears will be a new, minority government led by the Parti Québécois. The best Québec Solidaire can hope for is that a handful of QS deputies will hold the balance of power in the National Assembly and thereby push the new government in a progressive, people-minded direction.
While his party supports sovereignty, Khadir insists that Québec Solidaire is diametrically opposed to the minority scapegoating of the PQ. “We believe the PQ is too tainted by ethnic nationalism,” he said in English. “Quebec is a place for all people. There are no good immigrants and bad immigrants, good citizens and bad citizens.”
Québec Solidaire would never, for instance, propose French testing for candidates for political office, as PQ leader Pauline Marois did during the campaign. Nor would it ban the religious symbols of non-Christians or outlaw the wearing of the hijab.
That’s all well and good. The state has no business interfering in people’s personal faith or the symbols they may choose to express that faith. After all, the crucifix still hangs over the proceedings in the National Assembly despite the fact that we’re 50 years into the separation of church and state that occurred during Quebec’s Quiet Revolution.
But, as the event host, Projet Montréal city counciller Alex Norris, noted, the sovereignty issue is still a “deal breaker” for many left-leaning non-francophones considering a vote for Québec Solidaire. Indeed, party policy doesn’t explicitly commit members to support for independence, leaving the shape and definition of Quebec’s status vis-à-vis Canada to a popularly elected “Constituent Assembly,” which would propose a constitutional project that would be put to voters in a referendum. A project that may or might not propose full independence. That’s why many of us on the left are somewhat puzzled by the party’s campaign stance that is vocally indépendantiste.
Full disclosure time: I was deeply involved in the campaign for Québec Solidaire candidate Arthur Sandborn during the party’s first foray into politics during the 2007 provincial election. Sandborn, a former president of the Montreal Central Council of the CSN, where I work, was peppered with questions on the party’s stance on sovereignty. He replied that the party has room for both federalists and sovereignists since party policy allows for the democratic expression of all voices and points of view in a future constituent assembly.
The answer brought a swift and severe response from party headquarters, thereby exposing a rift in the vision of just how inclusive it actually is. It’s an experience that frankly discouraged me from investing time and energy in what I had believed was a party that put collective well-being ahead of the so-called national question.
Khadir’s argument is that you can’t have one without the other. The experience of this momentous year in Quebec politics has led many progressive anglophones like myself to wonder if that is indeed true, given the outpouring of hatred from the rest of Canada for efforts in Quebec to follow a more humane path.
I will still support this small party despite my misgivings. No other party is proposing to invest in education, the environment, and to respect all peoples and communities – above all, First Nations communities – as does Québec Solidaire. But from there to voting for an independent Quebec? As it is for QS to form a government, that’s still a long shot.