In an October 19 speech inaugurating Quebec’s new parliamentary session, Premier François Legault announced that a compulsory course on Quebec culture and citizenship will be introduced into the curriculum of primary and secondary schools in the province. The new course, or more precisely course curriculum, will replace a course/program in ethics and religious culture that the Quebec nationalist right accused of being contrary to “Quebec values” and promoting “Canadian multiculturalism”.
The new course will promote “Quebec pride” and emphasize Quebec’s “distinct culture” in order to conceal the fundamental class divisions that run through Quebec and all 21st century capitalist societies, and foster a vision nationalist, including that young people should politically define themselves as “Quebecois”.
The new course is part of a redoubled campaign by Legault and his Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government “Le Québec d’abord” to stoke Quebec chauvinism and mobilize the Quebec nationalist right and far right.
Deputy Prime Minister Geneviève Guilbault confirmed this objective, saying in an unusual burst of candor for a capitalist politician that the new course will produce good citizens “with obviously a little chauvinistic flavor”.
Legault made clear the reactionary political objective behind the course in a speech he gave to the youth wing of the CAQ in September. “This is not the time to divide Quebec, thundered the Prime Minister, this is the time to defend our social cohesion.” He then defined the CAQ as “a bulwark against the radicals” and “a bulwark for our national cohesion”. It is language historically associated with the far right and fascist dictatorships to justify the brutal repression of all forms of working class opposition.
Since his election in 2018, Legault, multimillionaire and former CEO of Air Transat, has made the defense of the Quebec “nation” the ostensible mission of his government. This did not prevent the CAQ from slashing public services, attacking working conditions, denouncing the “too generous” salaries of Quebec manufacturing workers, threatening on several occasions to criminalize strikes and to pass profits before human lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Early in its tenure, the CAQ pushed through two chauvinistic laws that reduced the annual influx of immigrants to the province, excluded minorities wearing religious symbols from education in Quebec schools, and banned Muslim women wearing the full veil to receive education, health care and other public services. .
More recently, the Legault government stoked fears about the continued dominance of the French language in Quebec to justify the introduction of Bill 96, legislation that would dramatically expand the scope of the province’s Charter of the French Language to allow even more linguistic discrimination. Bill 96 would amend the Canadian Constitution to enshrine the existence of a “Quebec nation” with French as the only “common language” and would restrict the right to receive provincial public services in English to those who are considered part of of the “historic” English-speaking community. community – thus excluding all immigrants, and potentially those whose parents immigrated to Canada one or more generations ago.
In the last federal election, Legault openly supported Erin O’Toole’s far-right Conservatives, whose anti-labor policies align with those of the CAQ, on the grounds that they are the only federalist party that respects ” the autonomy of Quebec”. nation.”
The recent announcement that the mandatory redistribution of seats in the federal House of Commons following the 2021 census will likely mean that Quebec will lose a federal deputy has prompted a veritable battle cry from Sonia LeBel, Minister responsible for Canadians and President of the Treasury Board of Quebec. “We have a nation to defend,” LeBel confessed.
Legault is personally at the forefront of this campaign, with his promotion of economic nationalism and initiatives such as the “blue basket”, a protectionist campaign aimed at stimulating Quebec manufacturing by reducing labor costs and business regulation. Legault also paid glowing tributes to Maurice Duplessis, former premier of Quebec (1936-1939 and 1944-1959) known for his rabid anti-communism, the repression of strikes and unions, the anti-democratic “padlock” law, his alliance with the Church and big business and the persecution of religious minorities. Legault proclaimed Duplessis a “great nationalist” who “defended his nation” despite his “flaws”.
The nationalist campaign of the CAQ is distinguished by an intensity that reflects the acuteness of the social crisis from which it seeks to divert attention.
Despite assurances from the ruling elite and its political representatives that Quebecers can now “live with the virus”, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage. More than 500 people in Quebec continue to be infected daily in the province and more than 2,000 across Canada. In the week ending October 29, COVID-19 killed an average of four Quebecers per day.
Quebec’s health and education systems, battered by the pandemic after decades of budget cuts and austerity, are on the verge of collapse. There is an acute shortage of qualified personnel and the infrastructure is dilapidated.
At 5.1%, inflation has reached its highest level in Quebec since 2003 and the price increases far exceed the miserable wage increases granted to workers. Spikes in the price of gasoline and many essential food items threaten the standard of living of millions of workers, who also face a housing crisis characterized by sky-high house prices and a shortage of affordable housing.
Beholden to a ruling class determined to increase working-class exploitation in order to prevail over its capitalist rivals in the race for profits and investment, the CAQ has no solution to this social catastrophe. Already, LeBel has announced that the province’s November 25 budget update will see an intensification of austerity measures (called in the Orwellian euphemism “increased efficiency”). Moreover, in his inaugural speech on October 19, Legault announced yet another “reform” of the health system. This is to be done under the rubric of “decentralization” and will not include any additional funding to overcome the catastrophic conditions produced by decades of underfunding.
In the face of growing social opposition, the ruling elite of Quebec is stepping up its promotion of Quebec nationalism in an effort to strengthen its political-ideological grip on the working class. Its objective is twofold: to divide the working class in Quebec along ethnic and linguistic lines; and to isolate Quebec workers from their class brothers and sisters in the rest of Canada, the United States and overseas.
Hence Legault’s efforts to promote “Quebec pride(Quebec pride) and the insistence on the importance of “social cohesion” and “national cohesion”, that is, the subordination and suppression of the working class to the Quebec bourgeoisie and its mercenary economic and geopolitical interests.
Tellingly, Legault cited the pandemic as an example of how Quebec nationalism provided “a cohesion that helped us … to follow the instructions, to get vaccinated, to buy Quebec products”.
If Legault can present his disastrous handling of the pandemic as a success, it is because the unions and Quebec solidaire (QS), the pro-Quebec pseudo-left independence party which is the third party in the National Assembly, have — in the name of “national unity” in times of crisis — joined corporate media and other opposition parties in rallying behind the CAQ government and its murderous policies. Fully supported by the federal Liberal government of Justin Trudeau, these policies have resulted in Quebec having, in real and per capita terms, by far the highest number of deaths from the pandemic of any province in Canada.
The unions and QS have backed the ruling class’ drive to force workers back to work, including reopening schools, amid the pandemic, and they have sabotaged the struggle of Quebec’s half-million public sector workers against the CAQ government’s austerity contract proposals. The unions and QS are also integrated into the campaign now led by the CAQ to stir up chauvinism and strengthen “Québec inc. against its competitors in the rest of Canada, and around the world, through economic nationalism. Insofar as the unions and QS have criticized either Law 96 or Legault’s “blue basket” initiative, it is from the point of view that the government has not gone far enough.
The turn of powerful sections of the capitalist elite towards openly chauvinistic and anti-immigrant nationalism and their cultivation of far-right forces to violently impose “social cohesion” on workers is not exclusive to Quebec. This is an international trend, as evidenced by the rise of the AfD in Germany and Marine Le Pen in France, and Trump’s attempt, via his failed coup on January 6, to establish a presidential dictatorship in the United States with the help of the fascist -raff riff that stormed the Capitol.
Faced everywhere with the same elite indifference to suffering and death and a devastating social crisis that has been brewing for decades, workers around the world have begun to emerge from the shackles in which pro-capitalist unions and “leftist” parties of the establishment have long locked them away. . Through strikes and mass protests, they began to assert their independent class interests.
The ruling class response is an aggressive chauvinist campaign to divide working people along national, ethnolinguistic and racial lines and fan the flames of reaction and militarism. The working class must respond by unifying its struggles and putting into practice Karl Marx’s revolutionary slogan: “Workers of the world, unite!”