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Date: Thu, 9 Nov 1995 05:17:13 -0500
Sender: Progressive News & Views List <PNEWS-L@SJUVM.STJOHNS.EDU>
Subject: CPC Statement on Quebec Referendum

Canada given another chance

By the Communist Party of Canada, 31 October 1995

The following is the official statement of the Communist Party of Canada on the October 30, 1995 Referendum in Quebec. For more information on this or other policies of the Communist Party, please contact the CPC, 290a Danforth Ave., Toronto, Ont. M4K 1N6; Tel: [416] 469-2446; Fax: [416] 469-4063; e-mail: pvoice@web.apc.org

The razor-thin "NO" victory in the Quebec referendum has staved off the imminent break-up of Canada, and generated undeniable momentum for structural change. The critical question before Canadians now will be the content of that change.

In our opinion, that change must be more than cosmetic. It must be constitutional change that recognizes, at long last, Quebec's national status, and the fundamental rights of the First Nations in a new, equal and voluntary partnership.

The working class and its democratic allies must play a decisive role in demanding an open, democratic process - through a democratically-elected Constituent Assembly - to achieve constitutional reforms which could provide a lasting solution to the Crisis of Confederation.

The tiny 56,000 vote plurality for the "No," among some 5 million eligible voters who cast ballots, reflects deep divisions in Quebec society, including within the working class itself. But the referendum debate and results make crystal clear that most Quebecers are united on some key points; namely, that Quebec is not just "one province among many," but a nation within Canada, with the right of self-determination, including secession if it so chooses.

The results also demonstrate that regardless of how people actually voted - both in the "No" camp, and many who voted "Yes" to strengthen Quebec's constitutional bargaining position - a large majority continue to support Quebec's inclusion in a united Canada, provided that fundamental democratic change is forthcoming.

To try to achieve a mandate for separation, the narrow nationalist forces, led by Quebec premier Jacques Parizeau and Bloc Quebecois leader Lucien Bouchard, skilfully exploited this genuine desire for national recognition and widespread frustration with previous failed efforts at constitutional renewal. They obscured the real content of the "Yes" mandate to attract those who support change, but not separation. Bouchard's emotional appeal to "national pride," while downplaying the costs of independence, convinced many "undecideds." This tactic almost succeeded.

The utter bankruptcy of the "No" campaign leadership almost snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Quebec Liberal leader Daniel Johnson, Prime Minister Jean Chretien, and their Big Business friends in Quebec and across Canada promoted fear of the economic consequences of a "Yes" vote, and floated vague promises rather than concrete proposals for change. The smugly over- confident Chretien pressured democratic opinion, especially outside Quebec, to remain virtually silent, neutralizing the pro- unity forces both inside and outside of Quebec. These tactics severely weakened the federalist campaign.

Only when it become obvious that the bungled "No" campaign was in trouble was there a desperate appeal for grassroots displays of support for Canadian unity. The pro-unity demonstrations in Montreal and other cities brought out hundreds of thousands of Quebecois and other Canadians in support of a united Canada. These welcome mass actions helped tip the balance back - albeit narrowly - in favour of the "No" forces. These rallies showed strong support for Canada-Quebec unity, but also widespread confusion about how this can be achieved.

Where Does Canada Go From Here?

The most compelling conclusion of this drama is

that change is now firmly on the political agenda. Will it be progressive or reactionary change? Will it lead to the provincial devolution of power, which only serves the interests of big capital and the transnationals, or will it lead to a democratic Constituent Assembly?

As the Communist Party stated last January: "The status quo is no longer good enough - it never was. Neither is the break-up of the country in the best interests of working people. But there is another option - a democratic solution to the Crisis of Confederation."

Indeed, the referendum results may have created the best conditions to achieve a democratic solution. Had the "yes" forces prevailed, the Parizeau government would have attempted to engineer a forced march to Quebec separation, to the dismemberment of Canada. And had the "No" majority been substantial, the ruling circles in Canada would have tried to table constitutional change indefinitely. Now they cannot ignore the national aspirations of the people of Quebec, nor the strong desire among people in the rest of Canada and in the First Nations for a democratic solution. They must return to the negotiation table. An opening has been created.

Ultimately, this means addressing the underlying causes of the constitutional crisis. The Communist Party has pointed out for some time that:

"Canada's constitution was flawed from the start... The denial of Quebec's national status and rights within Canada, and the denial of the rights of the First Nations, lie at the centre of the current crisis, which will continue to erupt until these rights are fully guaranteed in the constitution - the fundamental law - of this country."

The Crisis of Confederation has been exacerbated by recent government policies. By adopting the corporate agenda, including "free trade" and the undermining of Canadian sovereignty, and attacks on social programs, both the federal Liberals and reactionary provincial governments have weakened support for Canadian unity, bringing the crisis to a head. This shows that big capital and its pro-corporate political parties have no solutions to offer.

Working people should not underestimate the big business forces resisting democratic constitutional change. The Parti Quebecois government quickly signalled its intent to proceed with its independence agenda, despite the referendum results. It will no doubt continue to whip up narrow nationalist fervour - even intolerance and racism - at home, while also trying to deepen the constitutional and inter-governmental crisis in hopes of creating favourable conditions for another run at independence.

Elsewhere in Canada, big business interests represented by the Chretien government, the Reform Party and reactionary provincial governments want to weaken federal powers and "download" federal programs like Medicare, pensions and social services to the provinces. Using Quebec's legitimate demands and the "war" on the federal deficit as excuses, they want to dismantle the "social safety net," and undermine Canada's and Quebec's sovereignty in favour of "free trade," while denying Quebec's national status and the fundamental rights of the First Nations in a new constitution.

These approaches will only deepen the crisis, divide and weaken the working class and its democratic allies, and threaten the sovereignty of Canada, further opening the door to absorption by U.S. imperialism.

Instead, we need a broad grassroots campaign for an open democratic process to solve the crisis. In our opinion, a solution must be based on a new, constitution guaranteeing the equal, voluntary partnership of Quebec and the rest of Canada, together with the right of self-government and other fundamental rights for First Nations.

We support the convening of a democratically-elected Constituent Assembly, composed of equal representatives from Quebec and the rest of Canada, and the full participation of the First Nations, to hammer out a new draft constitution and take it back to the Canadian people for full discussion.

More and more Canadians are embracing the idea of a Constituent Assembly, which has never been so urgent. Even Newfoundland Premier Clyde Wells, while doggedly refusing to recognize Quebec's nationhood, has publicly endorsed the concept.

The challenge before the working class and democratic-minded Canadians is to make the demand for a Constituent Assembly their own, and to build mass pressure on governments to yield to this democratic process. Now is the time for the Canadian Labour Congress, the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC), and other democratic organizations to speak out for this demand. For its part, the Communist Party will continue to press for a Constituent Assembly and a new, equal and democratic union.

Never before has the opportunity to win a democratic solution to the crisis been so great. Never before has so much been at stake!