Canada: Parti Québécois seeks to rally business support

By Eric Marquis
8 December 2006

The recent declaration of Parti Québécois (PQ) leader André Boisclair that it is necessary “to lighten the burden of capital” so as to make Quebec the world’s most-welcoming jurisdiction for investors has once again demonstrated the true nature of the PQ as a party for and of big business.

During an October 1 Radio-Canada broadcast, Boisclair deplored that “there were not enough rich people in Quebec to assume responsibility for our real problems.” His solution? To make Quebec “the place in the world where capital is given the best possible welcome, creating jobs and making people rich.”

What Boisclair preaches, is a regime of lower taxes for companies and drastic cuts in public services and social programs, which is to say an even more pronounced redistribution of social wealth in favor of the small minority of “people” already extremely rich.

In the run up to the next provincial election, which must be held by April 2008, Boisclair is sending an unequivocal message to Quebec’s ruling elite that it can count on the PQ to carry through the offensive against the working class that the Liberals of Jean Charest promised but only partially implemented because of popular opposition.

This program of class war, insists Boisclair, must prevail over any other considerations, including the demands of the ultra-nationalists who constitute the core of his party’s activists for a renewed attempt to establish a capitalist République du Québec or, at the very least, wrest further powers for the provincial state from Ottawa.

Distancing himself from the pledge in his party’s program that a PQ provincial government will use the powers of office to promote a sovereign Quebec, Boisclair declared, “Beyond the fine analysis of the text, there are political realities. And me, I am the legal trustee as party chief, of achieving its objectives.”

These words, which make the pursuit of an aggressive neo-liberal policy the essential element of the PQ’s program for government, have received the backing of Gilles Duceppe, leader of the Bloc Québécois (BQ), the sister party of the PQ in the federal parliament. The BQ constitutes the principal parliamentary backing for the minority Conservative government of Stephen Harper and supports the neo-colonial intervention of Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

In another gesture aimed at winning the support of big business, Boisclair contemptuously dismissed a proposal to nationalize the province’s growing wind-power industry, a proposal that had been supported by the majority of delegates to a PQ National Council meeting held at the end of October. Defending Boisclair’s stance, his parliamentary deputy, the millionaire businessman François Legault, declared: “If we want a prosperous Quebec, the PQ must bury the hatchet with business. We must say ‘No’ to this dogmatic position of nationalization.”

In other words, Boisclair forcefully opposes any measure that could limit capital’s capacity to transform everything into a source of profit—including the wind.

This position was warmly welcomed by André Pratte, chief editorialist at La Presse, Quebec’s most influential Quebec daily. In an editorial entitled “A leader is born,” Pratte wrote: “Mr. Boisclair showed unusual courage, proving to the population that he would not let harmful policies be imposed on him by a handful of militants, harmful for Quebec and suicidal for the PQ.”

For Pratte, any policy contrary to the big business interests is “harmful” and “suicidal.” That is a message Boisclair understood long ago. He was a “rising star” in the PQ government of Lucien Bouchard, which in 1996 proclaimed eliminating the provincial deficit its principal objective and then imposed sweeping public and social service cuts.

When the Quebec Liberal government, following a June 1995 Supreme Court ruling in the Chaoulli case, took measures to throw open the doors of the health sector to privatization, Boisclair sought to hide the real implications of this attack on the public health sector, saying he was relieved that the Liberals had “limited” the scope of the Chaoulli ruling.

In December 2005, after the Liberal Government had used Bill 142 law to impose concession-laden contracts on 500,000 public sector workers, stripping them in the process of the right to strike till 2010, Boisclair made it known that if the PQ were to return to power it would not restore public sector workers’ basic trade union rights. Significantly, Boisclair added he did not wish “to bring together all those people discontented with the Charest Government.”

Over the past quarter-century, as the PQ has moved further and further right, it has continued to enjoy the full backing of the trade union bureaucracy.

In 1996, when the PQ government imposed annual spending cuts of C$2 billion in health care and C$1.9 billion in education, the unions endorsed the “national consensus.” Indeed, the unions were the authors of the early-retirement scheme that the government used to eliminate more than 30,000 jobs in the health sector, education and local government.

The union bureaucracy responded to the defeat of the PQ in the 2003 provincial election and the subsequent eruption of mass opposition to the right-wing policies of the Charest Liberal government by increasing their political and organizational involvement with the PQ, in the hopes of bolstering the PQ’s badly tattered progressive credentials and preventing the emergence of an independent political movement of the working class.

Quebec Federation of Labour President Henri Massé has taken on the role of public advocate for the BQ’s parliamentary support for the Harper Conservative government. Meanwhile, many of Massé’s fellow bureaucrats have sponsored the Syndicalistes et progressistes pour un Québec libre (SPQ Libre, Trade unionists and progressives for an independent Quebec), a grouping that has won the status of a political club within the PQ.

SPQ Libre head and former Confederation of National Trade Unions President Marc Laviolette mildly criticized Boisclair’s statements about making Quebec a paradise for big business. “We want to get rid of Charest precisely because of his pro-business policies,” said Laviolette. “We will do it, I hope, with Mr. Boisclair and not in spite of him.”

With elections in the offing, the unions are preparing to once again stump for the PQ. They plead with Boisclair, through the SPQ Libre, not to make their task even more difficult by so openly revealing the PQ to be a tool of capital and opponent of the working class.

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