NDP’s Announcement of New Quebec Wing Fraught with Challenges
David DesBaillets is a 4th year doctoral candidate in Law at the Université du Québec à Montréal. He is also a member in good standing of the Quebec section of the NDP. His regular blog can be read at Forget The Box, an independent media collective covering arts, news life and culture in Montreal and beyond. The main subject of which is federal Canadian politics. He also writes about constitutional, domestic and international legal matters.
Last week Justin Ling and host of Canada’s version of the Young Turks (The podcast Some Honourable Members http://www.nomoreradio.com/show/shm/) reported in the National Post (http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/11/06/ndp-moving-to-restart-its-quebec-provincial-wing-at-behest-of-thomas-mulcair/) that the Federal NDP had discreetly registered itself with Quebec’s Elections Office, hence, giving itself the power to fundraise and put forward candidates in the next provincial election. This will come as a relief for those of us on the federalist progressive side of the political equation in La Belle Province, many of whom (including at least one member of the NDP’S elected federal caucus) have had to grudgingly cast their votes for the nominally sovereingtist Quebec Soldaire, or, worse still, the Parti Québecois or Liberal Party of Quebec, in past elections. As Thomas Mulcair has said in many interviews, Quebec is unique in Canadian politics in that, historically, the ideological divide has been along Separatist\Federalist lines, as opposed to the traditional left/right divide one finds in the rest of the country.
Full disclosure: I am a card carrying Québec Dipper whose recruitment into the cult of orange began back in 2004. Therefore, I have some connections to the party in Quebec and elsewhere and feel like that gives me a good perspective on whether such a project has a good chance of taking root in my home province. (Incidentally, the claim by Ling about the failed Union des Citoyennes du Québec “attracting Federal NDP organizers” seems a bit dubious. No one I know in the Party, inside or outside Quebec, worked for them in the last election).
While I’m as excited as the next poli-sci nerd to see how the whole thing turns out and love the idea of finally being able to go to the polls in Quebec elections without holding my nose, I do have a few reservations. For starters, when the party (anonymous source) says it expects the grass roots to do all the “leg work” in terms of building a political machine that could contend with the established parties in Quebec, do they realize how shallow those roots are at this point? The party only really acquired a solid membership base in the post 2011 era (greatly helped by the leadership race and recruitment drive in the wake of Jack Layton’s death) with many ridings still struggling to attract new members and retain those that joined over the past couple years. As well, as even Mulcair himself admits, the focus of the Federal NDP must remain on defeating Harper in the upcoming federal election, and spending precious resources on building (or re-building ) the party in Québec should not be the top priority, until that comes to pass.
The NDP must also be careful about how it goes about building a provincial wing in Quebec, given the some of the differences culturally, politically, socially and economically between Quebec and the rest of Canada (i.e. Charter of Values debate). Great care will have to be taken to only select those people that reflect the core values of all Canadian New Democrats as well as progressive Quebeckers of the federalist persuasion. The last thing the party needs is for the new Quebec NDP to wind up being at odds on some important election issue with their federal cousins.
In the end, a strong socially democratic political movement in Quebec will surely reinforce the NDP at the national level and finally provide a viable federalist option for Quebec voters who desperately want to see change in their political landscape, and are sick and tired of the old Red team vs. Blue team binary that has blatantly failed to deliver honest government or even a competent one, in a very long time. In much the same way Canadians in unprecedented numbers rejected the same dichotomy and opted for Jack Layton’s NDP in the 2011 national election. However, given the newness and fragility of the federal NDP’s success in Quebec, and the growing political tensions in the province, is now the right time to jump into such a risky venture?