Fusion ON-QS: On the constituency assembly

“Once QS got good at drawing constituency assemblies open and constituency assemblies closed, we laid aside drawings of constituent assemblies, whether open or closed, and devoted ourselves instead to geography, history, arithmetic, and grammar.” (The Little Prince, slightly modified)

The first time I learned the word enjeu was in relation to Quebec Solidaire’s policies. I joined the party when Enjeu 4 was being written. The idea that we would codify every one of our positions struck me as really odd, revealing just how much one’s thinking is impacted when we grow up in a common law legal tradition rather than a civil code one.

The reason why I thought it was odd was because the Enjeux were so enormous that I couldn’t believe that we would entrench our policies for so long, when they would be bound to change. The debates on Enjeu 5 showed me the dangers of trying to do this: too much information, too much time necessary to study everything and no clear path towards turning our policies into an electoral platform.

Politics are always moving, and despite my unease with the Enjeux, I appreciate how the process of codifying our policies gives us both the location to have a debate but also, a common base from which we can revise our policies as political times change. This means that we necessarily return to these issues again and again, and some more than others. 
So we return to the debate about the constituency assembly: the mechanism through which a Quebec Solidaire government would create a constitution, present it to the people to either confirm or reject and, eventually, build the social and political license necessary to declare an independent Quebec.

As I write these words, I’m struck by how far away we really are from those moments. Perhaps it’s true that the further away we are from a phenomenon, the more intensely we can debate it. The limit of this debate, however, is that it pretty quickly turns into a fantasy game where there are so many factors that are not decided, that the debate spins out into weird territory.

I support a closed mandate for a constituency assembly but I’m also not firm in my position. Both context and strategy could move my opinion. That’s how politics works. This is why I expect that this debate will come back over and over again — because the context is always changing.

To implement QS’ program requires us to be outside of the constraints of the Canadian federation. We could debate this, but there’s not much point: the fact that Quebec remains an outlier in Canada for social programs, taxation, culture and the environment is thanks to what the sovereignty movement adds to our political discourse. Things that are impossible in Regina are possible in Quebec City. Sovereignty confronts the crisis of imagination that plagues English Canada’s politics. It tells us that another world is not only possible, but fucking check this out: we have a road map to get there. When you’re on this road, the possibilities are endless and no one can say “but Ottawa” or “but Section 91” as an argument for anything.

I’m a sovereigntist first and foremost, though, because the Canadian federation is a colonial project that continues to cause immense harm to people. Canada is a place where good intentions and sunny ways absolutely pave and light a road to hell for too many women, racialized people, Indigenous people, disabled people and queer, trans or gender non-conforming people. If we believe in self-determination, then we believe in the right and competence of the people to decide their fate. There are no half measures here that one can argue will work.

I foreground my opinions on the fusion between ON and QS with this because I think it’s critical to state my personal position on sovereigty. But even federalists can, and do, call QS home. Because in the battle for public healthcare, you better pick Dr. Khadir over Dr. Barrette if you hope to not die on the operating table.

This is where the constituency assembly debate is so important, thrust to the fore because of the entente that has been presented to QS members to fuse with ON (which sounds better in French). Open or closed? Are we really sovereintists? Didn’t we just vote on this??

The entente changes our political context, so no, we haven’t yet voted on this. A merger with ON is not the same as a political entente where we hold back a candidate so that their candidate might win. It’s merging into one party. Really, it’s a takeover, but who takes over who will depend on whose party is the most organized and active. If we’re worried about a takeover, the correct reaction is to vote yes and then organize, not kick the can down the road during an election year.

I would be remiss to not address the question of open or closed constituency assembly, as it’s being used as the argument against the merger. To have this discussion, we must imagine that tomorrow, we’re calling a CA. We have been in office for 99 days. We aren’t a caucus of three, we’re a caucus of several dozen. We are government. Couillard is hopefully in jail for imposing austerity (awaiting a totally fair and free trial).

A CA with a mandate for independence would give critical clarity to the process. Telling Quebecers that we are giving this mandate to CA delegates to decide what they will decide, and then telling them that what they decide will be put to a vote, is a needlessly complicated and unclear process. Giving the CA a mandate to build the constitution of an independent Quebec creates a clear framework for the delegates to work within. The delegates would even include people who aren’t necessarily sovereigntists! What an interesting process for the group to develop and to then give to us all to vote upon.

An open mandate would guarantee that the process would be a failure. Political jockeying among the delegates from federalist forces would confuse, or even sabotage the process. If the CA’s mandate lasted 18 months, you can imagine just how much time that would be to sink it. A closed mandate would be threatened too, but would benefit greatly by clarity from the start. When the delegates to the assembly have a clear idea of their task, it’s much harder to sink a process through confusion, jockeying or political bullying.

Indeed, the repression that Catalan sovereigntists are facing right now show us what to be ready for if ever we get even half-way as close.

This isn’t what we’re voting on, though. We’re voting to accept an agreement negotiated by our party and ON. It includes a closed mandate assembly, but even that would be open to debate, just like the closed one is again currently.

The reality is that we are so far away from this being real, that saying with certainty what should and shouldn’t be is a distraction. What’s facing us directly is a political re-alignment of right and left, and we have the opportunity to consolidate the left, sovereigntist flank in advance of an election. Would my position on the mandate change if the political context changes? Of course, but maybe that’s just my common law tradition speaking again.

This is why I’m weary of this debate hinging on this question alone. A close vote at the last congress said no to a closed assembly. I wasn’t there (even our democracy has limits, as parents with young children outside of the meeting location are effectively shut out). But context has shifted and an agreement has been presented to us. At worse, this process has been sloppy. At best, it’s a reflection that, yes, even with last may’s vote, things have changed and this is what the party brass thinks makes sense. However you slice it, it isn’t an attack on our democracy: we have been given many, many chances to debate this. And, regardless of the outcome of the fusion debate, we will certainly debate this again.

Every time we have these debates, our collective analysis sharpens. They’re boring and painful, believe me, I feel that too. But they aren’t useless and they aren’t disrespectful to those of us who find these debates boring and painful. Voting yes will let us get past these debates and turn our attention to the issues that I think are more pressing (systemic racism, for example). If we vote no however, we kick the can down the road to re-hash this again later on. Only next time, the stakes will be so much higher as we stare down a provincial election where we stand to make big gains. I know that I’d rather not have to debate this again in six months. Strategically, voting for the fusion will put it to rest, at least until 2019.

To read Part 1 — On right-wing nationalism: https://medium.com/@noraloreto/fusion-qs-on-fighting-right-wing-nationalism-df18b1067ed

To read Part 2 — On feminism: https://medium.com/@noraloreto/fusion-on-qs-on-feminism-ae61fcb9ffba