Young and growing Quebec independence party promises immediate ‘acts of rupture’

LONGUEUIL, Que. — When Sol Zanetti took the microphone at Quebec solidaire’s recent political convention, he put his fist in the air and told the roughly 600 assembled party members that Quebec shouldn’t have to submit to the “illegitimate” Canadian constitution.

Zanetti, one of 10 elected members of the provincial party, said the foundational document of the Canadian state was created by a “gang of rich white men — no First Nations, no women, no poor people.”

Instead of applause, his stirring comments were largely met with silence — not because the crowd didn’t agree but because members of the left-leaning, separatist party prefer to show appreciation by waving their hands silently in the air. The gesture, known as “jazz hands,” is meant to avoid alarming those sensitive to loud, sudden noise.

The 37-year-old Zanetti and the rest of his party might seem fringe to many Canadians, but the party’s support has grown in every provincial election since its 2006 creation. While its political platform is radical, and its ranks include anti-capitalists and Marxists, party leaders are politically savvy, strategic, and unafraid to go for the jugular.

The policies adopted over the recent three-day convention on Montreal’s south shore revealed a two-pronged strategy to take power in Quebec and sever ties with Canada. First, they become the main choice for sovereigntist Quebecers. Second, they win the youth vote by positioning themselves as the only true political vehicle to combat climate change.

If elected, Quebec solidaire would trigger immediate “acts of rupture” with the Canadian state, according to the policies adopted by delegates.

It would rapidly abolish the position of lieutenant-governor — the provincial representative of the Queen — as well as the oath elected officials must swear to the Queen. It would unilaterally collect federal taxes, shoving aside the Canada Revenue Agency.

Then, a Quebec solidaire government would form “constituent assemblies” across the province to gather ideas for a new Quebec constitution. The proposed constitution would be put to a referendum — all in a single mandate.

Prof. Daniel Beland, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, said executing the plan would be virtually impossible. He called it nothing more than “posturing.”

But he said the party’s strategy is clear: It doesn’t simply want to compete with the Parti Quebecois for sovereigntist votes; it wants to bury the party. The once mighty PQ, whose leaders helped create modern Quebec, has fallen to fourth place in the legislature, behind Quebec solidaire, and it is seen as vulnerable.

“They want to finish them,” Beland said in an interview.

While PQ meetings are often noteworthy for the amount of grey hair, the recent Quebec solidaire convention had the feel of a gathering of a university’s most left-wing student clubs. In the lobby outside the theatre where delegates voted, the party’s Marxist wing sold copies of “The Communist Manifesto” along with similar-themed zines.

Across from the Marxists were long tables holding porcelain coffee mugs and wash basins so delegates could clean and reuse their cups. Down the hall in the cafeteria, meals were served in reusable glass jars. Beets and tofu on a bed of quinoa were eaten with biodegradable utensils provided by the caterers.

Zanetti said young people across Quebec are “politicized” on the issue of the environment. And with enough persuading, he explained, they will realize the only way Quebec can truly fight climate change is to become independent.

“I think with the young generation … the revival of the sovereigntist movement is going to be done on this theme, in this way,” he said.

The Bloc Quebecois, which won 32 seats in October’s federal election, also picked up on that theme. The sovereigntist party’s headquarters on election night in Montreal were filled with young people wearing green felt pinned to their shirts, symbolizing the climate movement.

Bloc Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet often uses the environment as a way to highlight divisions in the country, arguing that Quebec cannot reach its climate goals within the “petrol state” that is Canada.

Quebec solidaire’s mission to separate Quebec from Canada will have to wait until the next election in 2022, but in the meantime it has launched what it calls ”Ultimatum 2020.” It is giving the Coalition Avenir Quebec government of Francois Legault until Oct. 1, 2020 to come up with a “credible” plan to transition the province away from fossil fuels.

If Legault comes up short, the party promises to “block his government by using all the means at our disposal, in the (legislature) and in the street, to force it to act for the climate,” according to the party’s website.

Beland said Quebec solidaire’s problem is it has failed to adapt to its newfound status as a political contender. “They aren’t fringe, but some of their proposals are really on the fringe of the political spectrum,” he said. “As long as they are so radical, I don’t think they can be that influential.”

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