The New Democratic Party of Quebec will soon be a thing. We spoke to its interim leader, Pierre Ducasse, on the phone.

“An alternative for people who want to have a progressive, social democratic voice, but at the same time a party that wants to work within Canada.” That’s what the NDPQ aspires to be in the next provincial elections.

Pierre Ducasse, three time candidate for the federal NDP and once Jack Layton’s “Quebec lieutenant”, officially kicked off the NDPQ public campaign this Wednesday.

“We have to get out of this political void and gloom. Maybe it’s time to give a home – a real one this time- to political orphans,” he wrote in an open letter on Facebook.

The idea has been in the air for some time. In fact, the New Democratic Party first got registered at the DGE in 2012, even if it was just to protect the name. “A few years earlier, a conservative tried to register the name New Democratic Party of Quebec, so we didn’t want that to happen,” explains Ducasse. With only about 300 members to date, the NDPQ is ready to start recruiting. The interim leader is confident that it will be a fully functioning party before the 2018 elections.

“Organizationally, it might be tough, but we can’t give a free pass to this government anymore,” he admits.

Despite the declining enthusiasm of Quebeckers for the federal NDP, he feels that the timing is just right to “shake up the political dynamics” in the province.

What makes the timing right?

For me, the decision to create a Quebec NDP relies exclusively on analysis of the context. That context is that feeling of morosity; the feeling that Quebec is not moving, that there is no project that builds bridges and brings people together. There is the lingering issue of sovereignty where people are still polarized in a way that is not useful.

With Couillard and Charest before him… when we look at it, they are not really liberals, are they? They are more conservatives…. This has to stop because we sense so much arrogance with this government, scandal after scandal. Ethics and fighting corruption: they are not our number one priorities and they should be.

At the same time, I think a lot of Quebeckers are fed up with the constant polarization around the national question. A lot of Quebeckers – it’s been clear from the polls- don’t want another sovereignty referendum. But, sadly, the PQ and others want to bring us in this direction.

Between the unconditional federalist partisans of the Status Quo on one side and the unconditional independentists on the other side, the rest of the population feels held hostage. We need to find a way to move beyond this debate – well not beyond it, but beyond how it’s debated ducasse-fbright now.

Except on the independence issue, your positions seem similar to Quebec Solidaire’s. Are you concerned about splitting the left vote?

I said repeatedly that we can’t steal the votes from other parties for one simple reason: the vote belongs to the citizens; it doesn’t belong to the parties. Some people think that Quebec NDP would divert support from QS mostly, others think that it would be at the liberals’ expense mostly… The only way to know is to do it.

One thing I can say for sure is that I do not consider Québec Solidaire my opponent or my enemy. For me the adversaries are these right-wing policies, whether they’re from the liberals or from any other party: those austerity policies, the lack of focus on education and health and fighting poverty. And right now they are embodied by the Quebec Liberal party – who is ideologically closer to a conservative party.

How many people do you think vote Liberal, not because they necessarily like them, but because they could never vote for a sovereignist party? A lot of people say ‘we hold our nose while voting”. Well, maybe holding our nose is not something we should do while voting,

Your assessment of Quebec’s political landscape is pretty harsh. Referring to the Liberal party, you said “when we ask for nothing, chances are we will get it.” What is the NDPQ going to ask of Ottawa?

It’s too soon to get into specifics, but look at the Liberals… what I’m saying is they have not put forward a vision, like: this is how we see provincial-federal relations, these are the issues we’d like to work cooperatively with other provinces and these are issues where we might have a different approach…

Sadly, the only two files in which we had a sense that the Couillard government really took a firm stand against Ottawa, were in terms of pensions and healthcare. And in both cases, it was, in my mind, the wrong decisions! When the federal wanted to strengthen the pension plan and the Régie des rentes du Québec: that was an example of when we should have worked with other provinces. I certainly support the principles of the Canada Health Act and certainly support that we can’t have more health care privatization, but we shouldn’t wait for somebody else to tell us.

The federal NDP has had a rough time since last elections, especially in Quebec where it lost 75% of its membership. Why would Quebeckers be interested in a provincial version of it?

I was there, building the party in the beginning of the 2000s with Jack [Layton], and I remember a time when we had 1% in Quebec. That didn’t stop us: we believed in the project and we moved forward and a decade later there was the Orange Wave.

I’m well aware that the 2015 elections did not have the results we had hoped. We’ll see what happens federally. The liberals tend to talk on the left, but for a lot of issues, it’s the same policies as Harper.  But the federal Liberals are at least pretending to be progressive, where the Quebec Liberals are not even pretending!

The Quebec NDP would be independent, there is no automatic affiliation between the two but there is certainly an ideological proximity with the Federal NDP. Many members might be involved in both so, the ideas are similar, but it doesn’t mean they will be exactly the same all the time. If it’s a distinct autonomous party, it means that it may not be always exactly the same.

 

Over the next few months, the NDPQ will be forming riding committees and organizing training sessions about Quebec’s electoral law for its members.

For many true dippers, through and through New Democrats, the last Canadian Federal Election was an excruciating ordeal. What looked like a historic run towards the first Social-Democratic government in Canada history turned into a nightmarish scenario for thousands of NDP volunteers, hundreds of NDP teams, candidates and their staff from coast to coast to coast.

It is a secret to no one that I participated in one of the NDP campaigns on the Island of Montreal, in the borough of Lachine and Lasalle and in the city of Dorval. During the three years of working in the riding of Lachine, I saw first hand what elected representatives with heart and courage can accomplish for social justice by fighting against poverty, racism and xenophobia.

MPs offices and staff can truly be at the service of the people, front-line services like fighting deportations, fighting for the betterment of poor working people’s pensions, fighting for mothers to receive their rightful universal child care benefit and most importantly creating a space of listening, a true channel between the voices that are silenced in our political system and Parliament. A true, though minor, revolutionary occurrence.

It was three years of seeing firsthand the gruesome side of the political spectacle. The daily sexism that young women and women in general faced both inside and outside of the House of Commons. The political plays and the political playbooks. The clientelism and tokenism and racism that is tenfold within our political system. The centrifuge forces that boil politics all down to the same one disconnected narrative, the photo-ops that are nothing more than smokescreens for the worst of political maneuvers.

As NDPers we get involved in a broken political process to bring about transformative change, to deconstruct the toxic power dynamics that keep voices outside of the political process. As an NDPer I got involved not for power as the sole objective. Instead, like many other dippers, it was for my heartfelt objective to fight alongside disenfranchised communities and sections of Canadian and Quebec society against all types of exclusions and all phobias.

It was to craft alongside members of marginalized, radicalized and ostracized groups a space in which their voices are heard. A space in which their stories are the narrative, the focal point and not a skit or a footnote.

I got involved in the NDP to share, to learn, to have the voices that are offend muted influence our decision making process and our policy and platform. I got involved with the NDP to uphold human rights, equity and social justice everywhere, both within Canada’s borders and outside.

In the last election, it seems we forgot that change beings within the realm of our own party. It must flow through the structure of the party itself. We failed terribly in last election and during the four years leading-up to e-day in creating the structure and environment that empowered and enabled change.

When we so badly needed change to be the fuel that would propel us to a historic victory, we were running on empty. Let it be clear from here on, the NDP won’t get into 24 Sussex Drive through the back door.

What hurt the most in the last election is that we underestimated ourselves. We underestimated the potency of the values and principals that are at the foundation of our political movement. Canadians weren’t asking for caution, they were asking for courage.

Courage to stand up for the rights of the Palestinian people. Courage to tackle fiscal inequity and financial deregulation. Courage to tackle poverty and to fight “deficit zero,” the golden rule of austerity, through progressive budgeting. Courage to have a vision for Universal Free Education, to work with the provinces–respecting provincial prerogatives, differences and jurisdiction– to create a framework for universal access to post-secondary education for all Canadians.

Canadians expected us to stand up to big oil, gas and mining companies and to offer a clear plan to bring the Canadian economy into the 21st century through the overhaul of toxic pipeline projects.

First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities were expecting the NDP, during the campaign, to put the spotlight on the suffocating poverty, disrespect and disregard they’ve been the victims of for centuries. To have a bold plan to deconstruct the dynamics of systemic racism that are embedded within the structure of our democracy.

It was our duty to put forward a global plan to create new structures and institutions, to change the structure of political system and our electoral model, to ensure that the concerns and aspirations of First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities are not merely heard but the benchmark for all policy debate within this country.

Like many Quebeckers, I added my name to the initiative calling for a structural and ideological renewal of the NDP which appears in the pages of Le Devoir and the Toronto Star today. This implies a board debate within Canadian society that engages with activists and militants of all stripes, environmentalists, students, anti-poverty, anti-racist, LGBTQIA, First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

Here in Quebec we must reach out to the anti-austerity movement and campaigns that are happening right across this province. We must make the NDP the movement of movements again, a synthesis and space of debate and true participatory democracy for all Canadian progressives.

We have an obligation to our past and to the future to reinvigorate our internal democratic proceedings, to start a big conversation about what’s the future of the Canadian political left and what is the role of the NDP within the bigger picture, alongside grassroots mobilization, community and local initiatives and organized labor.

If the NDP is to have any relevance in the future, our party must create the space within itself where true democracy flourishes, that empowers the spaces of democracy that are already existent within the Canadian left, the spaces of democracy that have flourished in resistance to the policies of austerity, racism and the destruction of the environment.

For the NDP to be the vehicle of true democracy, of a more just, free and equitable Canada, this debate must start now.