Québec and Québec Solidaire: Linking Sovereignty, Equality and anti-Neoliberalism

by Amir Khadir on March 29, 2013

Amir Khadir is a member of the National Assembly of Québec and former spokesperson for Québec Solidaire. On March 18, 2013, he gave the Phyllis Clarke Memorial Lecture at Ryerson University in Toronto. Transcribed and edited by North Star.

It is a continuous subject of debate within the Québec left, especially within the ranks of Québec Solidaire (where many people are of anglophone or allophone origin), and it is also a subject of debate when people from outside Québec Solidaire question us: what is the compatibility of our internationalist stand and the question of nationalism — of ethic, geographic, and historical nationalism? What is its compatibility with an organization, Québec Solidaire, which strives for pacification of the relationship of people to people, and for cooperation between people? What is the compatibility of this with the backdrop of the globalization of markets? So I want to briefly outline what from our perspective defines the necessity for Québec Solidaire to be sovereigntist and struggling for the independence of Québec — to place it in the context of the relationship between Québec and the rest of Canada.

In the general wisdom of the left, the globalization of markets is possible only by a constant trend of deregulation that has been permitted by several means, but which have all ended up, through coercion or co-optation of the local rules of national governments, of the states, to little-by-little bring them to partially abandon their sovereignty over decisions and orientations taken in the name of their people. So we have seen, in the last 25-30 years, with an increasing pace, states and national entities restrict or curtail the capacity of their parliaments, for example, to make decisions on important issues, such as economic trade.

We have seen examples since the mid-eighties, if you remember the whole political process that brought NAFTA. We witness it again; it has now been three or four years with ongoing negotiations behind closed doors without any proper approval, discussion, or public debate (even within the restricted context of parliaments), about these type of agreements. There has been an ongoing negotiation between Canada and Europe to have another free trade agreement, the Canada-EU Trade Agreement (CETA), which has the same general characteristics as NAFTA, providing rights and capabilities to corporate business: to easily relate, communicate, and move between states of Europe and Canada; for diminishing, or instituting fiscal and custom agreements easing regulations in commerce and trade; by putting important limitations on the capacity of our labor regulation and environmental policies. This will have considerable impact not only on commerce, on different economic sectors, but also on communication, in laws in relation to intellectual property copyrights on cultural production — and possibly even copyrights on nature, life, and biology.

So we are in a situation where these market forces which have been active to accelerate the process of globalization of the economy have curtailed the effective capacity of our governments, of our national and legislative assemblies, to decide the orientation of our societies, to even have the capability of organized public debate around these issues. And we’ve seen it elsewhere also, not only in North America, but also in Europe itself. The construction of Europe has shown that these extra-governmental international institutions that are put in place little-by-little — beyond the IMF, we now have multiple levels of transnational, multinational, and extra-national institutions — are more and more distanced from control of local populations, who seldom have real capacity to make effective decisions. For example, a lot of decisions taken politically in Europe, in parliament, have no direct consequence on the national policies, but are set in a background of political orientation where organized lobbying is much more effective. Organizing lobbying at the top, instead of being forced to act on a national level, they can obtain changes, policies, and regulation.

Globalization and free markets are better served when nations and people are little-by-little deprived of their sovereignty. Of course, we can discuss the extent to which actual nation-states and their governments are representative of their society, but as has historically been the case (or is supposed to be in the majority of states that have constitutions about the powers of their parliament), the parliaments are supposed to have the capacity to decide the future of their population, to decide environmental or labor policies that restrict the freedom of the market.

The other aspect that I want to underline is that with globalization it is in the nature of advanced capitalism to find more and more markets. For the mass production of goods and services it needs to extend its markets well beyond where these products are produced (in Western countries until a few decades ago, and now more and more at the international level; capital is organized to produce these goods everywhere around the world). It’s much easier to absorb this level of production when the cultures that organize the way we live, consume, and relate to one other are as close as possible to the cultural context in which these products are produced, and are supposed to be consumed.

It is easily understandable that very primitive, traditional, or otherwise non-modern ways of living, have a certain limit to their absorption of the products of the market brought to them by the Western organization of goods and services. So we have seen in the last fifty years the capacity, strength, and determination with which capitalism has tried to change the cultures of other societies, of the East and the South, with an incredible power of penetration which tends to rely on the heavy presence in the cultural dimension of modern civilization, of the mass culture produced in Hollywood. So there’s another aspect of advanced capitalism and global markets that frontally attacks the cultural diversity of societies, that wants to eliminate distinctions as much as possible, and cultures which could impact their need to consume goods produced in this globalized capacity.

So another dimension that our societies face is that global markets exert tremendous pressure on uniformizing our cultures. A lot of times this occurs through a uniform and massive utilization of the same references — cultural, music, film, product, and also language references, with English being the dominant factor of this penetration. It also includes scientific references, which is one of the strongest and most efficient ways for this cultural domination and uniformization to penetrate different societies, facilitating the globalization of the markets and the integration of all societies to a global market.

So, in the opinion of Québec Solidaire, when we regard these forces in action and what stands in front of these forces, we think of the nation-state. The way we have thought about national institutions has been as one of the, if not the only for the moment, known success in the last 100-150 years, of permitting national and community debate, and articulating the interest of the people represented in different geographic areas. Of course these states, these intermediaries representing the interest of the people, are not perfect. We all know that at the time we speak, the majority of these nation-states where supposed democracies should prevail have been diverted from their purpose, or supposed function within the capitalist framework, of permitting democratic decision-making. This framework permits the economically dominant class to determine with hegemony the decisions that are taken in the name of people, but at least there was supposed to be some level or capacity for people to form representation, to initiate public debate, and to push for reforms and public policies.

So in our point of view, faced with global markets, at least within this limited and incomplete capacity, nation-states could represent one of the last ramparts against the pressure coming from the international institutions of globalization depriving people of their capacity to decide their self-determined future.

Cultural diversity, as any other ensemble in our biological environment, obeys the rule that depriving a closed ensemble of its diversity weakens that ensemble. Any external threats which perturbate the elements that are feeding that ensemble could, if the ensemble is not diverse enough, put into jeopardy the survival of the whole. In my opinion this general rule also prevails for humanity. This is one of the most important factors that has permitted humanity to survive different global rules that were at one time dominant and have then fallen apart. For example, in Europe with the Roman Empire, what explains the stagnation of Europe in the Middle Ages is the fact that all this geographic area, all this political area was dominated by one civilization, by one unified political concept, and with its downfall, all the societies for a long time paid a large tribute to this decadence. Other societies that were not under this domination, for example in the Middle East, show many examples of the ability to sustain other types of political development (for example contributing to Europe rediscovering antiquity). So this diversity in societies is a protection against humanity committing errors in different parts of its geography, sociology, or culture. These could penetrate and be geographically distributed. If all behave in the same manner — under the same rules, under the same constitutions, with the same policies, with the same culture of consumption, the same way of organizing our cities, our communities, our relationship to nature —when a problem arises, and these problems arise, we will all fall with it.

So, from that standpoint, again, fighting for cultural diversity is a fight for humanity, for the better survival of human civilization.

When you put these two elements together, it is understandable that from this perspective, it is internationalist duty for whoever opposes market globalization, whoever opposes the dominant organization for the economy now taking place with this globalization of markets, struggling for the sovereignty of nation-states, and struggling for the preservation of the cultural diversity of different groups of people, communities, nations, and states, is of most importance. There is no antagonism.

That being said, when Québec Solidaire established itself in 2006 a lot of more ethnic nationalists (as opposed to the civic nationalism that Québec Solidaire promotes) were criticizing us, asking “where is the nationalist credo in your declaration?” We began by saying not that we are for the independence of Québec, but that we are internationalist first. Our solidarity and our loyalty is to global humanity.

And it’s true from that approach of Montesquieu when he was talking about his family, France, Europe and humanity; that is how we approach the question of nationalism, or the Québec people’s right to self-determination, to decide whether or not to become an independent state. Montesquieu was asked about how he prioritized between France and Europe, and he said: If I know something good for my family but not for France, I will try to forget. If I see something good for France, but bad for Europe, I will oppose it. If I see something good for Europe but bad for humanity, I will fight it with the utmost energy.

So it’s the same approach, but that doesn’t mean that as internationalists we have to abandon our defense of the necessity for the Québec people to obtain their independence and their sovereignty. After that we can, of course, discuss if Québec independence would guarantee any capacity to fight global market rule, or to fight the little-by-little disappearance of what makes the particular diversity of Québec society. It is at stake there as anywhere else in the world.

That’s why progressives in Québec need the support of progressives in the rest of Canada. That’s why whenever asked about this question, this delicate question of the sovereignty of Québec, I insisted on saying to the late Jack Layton that we are surely to celebrate the first day of independence if it happens, but the next day at 8 o’clock in the morning, I will be in Ottawa, knocking on the door if I have to, to make a new proposal to the Canadian people for the foundation of a new alliance, of a new basis of community between the people of Québec, the people of Canada, and the First Nations (which were, of course, forgotten in 1867, and are still forgotten in 2013).

In the same way in Latin America a lot of anti-globalization projects within civil society, and a lot of political projects from the different socialist or left-wing experiences in different countries, are all based on the idea that there will be a common building of an alternative to global markets and to capitalism. Within the popular and union movement, there is continuous seeding from different countries, and within the political states there is constant coming and going, seeding, influence and many explicit proposals of cooperation. I would suggest that we begin to think in Canada, in the popular, union, and left movement of a global, pan-American, or continental social alliance — not just by going to the meetings of each other, or finding ourselves once in a while in the World Social Forum, but trying to build a common political framework, a common political proposal for a continental alliance of people, even if these states are independent and sovereign, as Latin America peoples are trying to do. Thank you for your attention.

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