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Home > English > Alternatives International Journal > 2013 > June 2013 > An Interview with Andrés Fontecilla of Québec Solidaire

An Interview with Andrés Fontecilla of Québec Solidaire

Sunday 2 June 2013, by Michael Sabelli

I want to start by speaking to you about your nomination as president of Québec Solidaire (QS), and what are you going to do to continue the development/growth of QS?

To begin with, I was elected a few weeks ago and I have only officially been holding the position for one week. I’m jumping on a train which is already rolling with several elements being developed, so yeah, I’m on board with the process and I intend to continue with the strategies which have been adopted and, if possible contribute in a positive way. In that sense, you know, we’re doing some excellent work at the parliamentary level, we are very present in the Assemblée Nationale, and my work is to continue, but that doesn’t depend on me, it’s mostly up to Françoise David and Amir Khadir as well as the parliamentary team. However, it’s very important that we support them and ensure that the party represents a strong foundation for our parliamentary team.

Furthermore, we’re actively preparing for the beginning of the autumn term, next September. There are a few things that we consider very important, you know, first of all we have to be ready for an election at any moment, so we are communicating with our members, our activists so they begin preparing for the next general election in order to ensure that they aren’t taken by surprise if the PQ government decides to call for elections. Secondly, as of next September, we intend to develop a significant political campaign which we are calling “Vert le Québec de Demain” (Towards a Green Québec Tomorrow). It’s a political campaign that is aimed at the whole population of Quebec but more particularly towards the people who voted for us last election. With this green plan we intend to communicate our vision of what is real economic, social and environmental development. This will be an important moment for our party and everyone will be invited to join in. Furthermore, the third element we intend to work on next autumn is our next orientation convention – our next convention in our program – which will address feminist issues and the family. So, our members are called upon to organize different activities together with the population, different restoration activities, in order to nourish the discussions and suggestions which will be addressed at our next convention which will focus on those issues, family and feminism, etc. So these are the three elements with which – they are already planned and I intend to invest a lot in.

Can you speak a little about the team, how the party is different because there are co-spokespersons and when someone is elected they step down from president. Québec Solidaire seems to be very different than other parties.

Indeed, we are a very different party, you know, we believe in democracy and we try to make it so that all our proceedings and the functioning of the party are as close as possible to the notion of internal democracy. Often times this is not easy but we try to move forward in that direction.

We are an alter-globalist party and environmentalists. We are for social projects and we are also feminists, so regarding this last element we uphold the question of legality and parity in our proceedings, as you know we don’t have a leader like other parties, we have spokespersons. First of all, we have a male spokesperson and a woman spokesperson and this is the way we carry out all our proceedings. Anytime someone takes the floor there’s always a woman and a man. But I’d like to reiterate the notion of spokespersons as opposed to the notion of a leader: once the person is chosen to the position of spokesperson, that means that they reflect a decision, a thought-process, a contribution which has already been collectively developed through our proceedings, either at our convention or at national coordination committee. The spokespersons do not own the party, they are not the supreme source of inspiration. What they do is they communicate to the population what happens, the opinions which are internally elaborated. So, we are a very democratic party and we make significant efforts to ensure that women hold a preponderant position within our proceedings. So, that already, in terms of functioning, means that we are a very different party than the others. To that we can add our programs (policy) and we differentiate ourselves even more.

And that’s why you are not very close to the Parti Québecois, you’re policies are closer to those of the Parti Vert?

Listen, you know, we have points of convergence and similarities with the different parties, but then again, a similarity with one party is a divergence with the other. For example, with the PQ, we both share the will and desire to achieve Quebec’s independence. Well, we each have our own methods, different point-of-views etc…but we do share that goal, which is not the case with the Parti Vert who has not expressed their opinion on the matter. For the green party it kind of depends on the leader. There’s one who’s a federalist so the party is federalist, then there could be a leader who’s more sovereignist, and they become a bit more sovreignist. So it kind of depends on the leader, though the Parti Vert has not taken a position.

However, concerning environmental questions, we do feel much closer to the Parti Vert than the PQ, so yeah, there are points of convergence as well as differences between parties. Another example is the Parti Vert’s social program which, to us, seems relatively insufficient, however, the PQ’s social program, the program in itself, could potentially be interesting. There could be some similarities, but the problem with the PQ is that during elections, they’re going to talk about a program that promotes a vast number of social measures, etc, as we say…they signal for a left turn, but once they are in power, they begin to implement right-wing politics, they make a right turn.

So there you go, it depends on position, it also depends on the moment in which the party is in: meaning a party which is the opposition is not the same party when they become the government, unfortunately. Also a party which has no parliamentary representation is different than a party that does have parliamentary representation. So, we have points of convergence with several parties, but for example, with the Parti Vert, an idea which we share, particularly, is our interest in establishing a proportional system in Quebec, a system for proportional balloting methods.

I read that regarding independence QS has a motto “Un moyen pour une fin et pas une fin en soi” (the means to the end, not the end itself) Can you elaborate?

What we mean is that in order to plan to make a nation, you need a national plan…so, we don’t consider independence, like you said, as an end in itself, but as a step towards accomplishing our program on the whole. In that sense, QS believes that independence must comprise – in order to get there, we must ensure that an independence project is also closely connected to a project as a society. It’s with these two elements together that we will achieve in convincing a good part of the population that it’s worthwhile, that we must go towards independence. Independence alone, for us, loses much of its sense, so what we do is we combine our project for a society, a progressive social program which involves redistribution of wealth, environmentally-friendly economic development as well as political independence, independence from Canada.

Is this because Canadian politics are incorrect? Because Quebec would be better off alone?

Yes, it’s not…well, you have to separate the Government of Canada from Canada itself. We don’t think that Quebec is going to be more successful than Canada; it’s not that at all. We feel that we are different and we can do different things and for that, we need independence. That being said, we don’t want independence because we don’t like the current Canadian government, so, for example, you were speaking about similarities earlier…moreover, between QS and the NDP’s programs there are some similarities. But does that mean that if the NDP ever becomes the Canadian government that QS would drop it’s claims for independence? No, obviously not. So in our position, we cannot depend on national politics and on the position of the government which is elected in Canada. But obviously, in the present context with the Conservative Government, a government which supports reactionary politics, politics which aim to push back on a great number of social issues, for example on the question of employment insurance, or a Conservative Party that denounces or withdraws from the Kyoto Protocol and which decidedly supports the oil industry which encourages the production of more greenhouse gasses, a government which attempts to impede scientific research, which, for example, does not believe in national census or opinion, or is the party of law and order and intend to reform laws and implement harsher penalties, you know, a whole series of measures…it’s true that we don’t agree with that kind of party, and actually, we intend to denounce the Conservative Party in all the ways we can regarding those policies.

In their international vision, which way is QS different than Canada?

Listen, for now, we take a stand…a source of inspiration for us is alter-globalism, which at one time could have been called “internationalism.” We take a stand as a party that aims for a world which has international relations based on justice, peace, dialogue, commercial exchanges that benefit everyone. In that sense, well, depending on the issue, up to now, in our program, we haven’t exactly defined our policies regarding different international issues, but we take a stand as a party which advocates international solidarity and feels solidarity for many nations’ struggle in freeing themselves, or in their attempt to push back oppressive capitalist systems which attempt to exploit people.

Is there a country, a government, in the international spectrum which has been a source of inspiration?

No, no country has been particularly inspirational to us. Our inspiration comes from multiple places. We have multiple inspirations, every time we see something good happening elsewhere, we have the tendency to support it, however, this does not prevent our activists to be actively involved with different causes. For example, I am from the Latino-American community which, lately, has been very involved with what is happening in Venezuela or even in solidarity with Cuba. But, we have other members who have strong feelings of solidarity with Palestine, and so on. So we don’t have specific ties but we support, on a case by case basis, all struggles against oppression and support movements that aim to improve a population’s quality of life and seek justice before all.

Is this a reason why QS supports the Palestinian anniversary of Nakba?

For example, we believe that, in the case of the struggle of the people of Palestine, it is catastrophic. There is a great injustice being committed. It’s an Apartheid situation in Israel. We support the Palestinian people’s right to be a nation.

So do you believe in a two-state solution?

Two separate states? Listen, I don’t think it’s up to us to define what the solution is in Palestine. The situation is pretty complex and I’ll leave it to the Palestinian and Israeli people, but we are calling for both these peoples’ to sit down together and seriously negotiate a solution which would benefit both adequately. What is for sure is that the actions on the Israeli side appear to be contrary to an attempt at a well thought-out and reasonable peace which would settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a whole. But it is not our responsibility to say that we prefer one country and two nations or two separate nations. What is certain is that we support the general struggle of the Palestinian people in their attempt to create a state of their own. As for the final solution, we don’t have a specific position regarding this.

Yeah you’re right we cannot impose a solution on them, but with the Canadian and US governments giving their support to Israel, nothing is going to change for the Palestinian people.

Yeah, in that sense we disagree with the very partial position of the Stephen Harper’s Conservative Government. We do not think that this is a good way to support a peace process in Palestine. Canada, with the Conservative Government, has become a pro-Israeli advocate and that’s not the way we are going to contribute to solving that problem.

Regarding the question of Syria, do you see a solution there with the Assad government or…

Well, we are watching that situation, what is going on in Syria, with much sadness. Obviously there is a civil war and as a party we don’t have a specific position on the subject, we don’t know, well we know the Assad regime a little bit, we know that this regime is a dictatorship. However, we don’t really know who they call “the rebels,” so, we’re a bit uncomfortable with the situation and we cannot support one movement or another in this case. What is certain is that we are a pacifist party and under those principles we strongly invite the conflicting parties to negotiate, a true negotiation. That’s all we can say. But maybe in a more general way, we believe that foreign intervention in terms of military support can only stir up more problems and this is a situation that we must be very attentive to before giving our support to one case or another. But again, here at QS, we do not have a specific…we don’t take…we don’t have enough information on hand to take an educated position regarding this topic.

Let’s talk about the environment now. I’d like to know more about what you think about the tar-sands in Alberta?

To begin with, we believe, in our environmentalist project, our project for society, that, we must begin as early as today, to stop our dependence on petroleum fuels. We know that the tar-sands, well, first of all this is still a petroleum fuel…so to emphasize the development of petroleum does not really represent a long-term solution for our society, we must find other ways to develop…all while getting rid of our dependence on petroleum fuels. And secondly, regarding the question of the tar-sands, the problem with tar-sands is that they pollute more than other kinds of petroleum fuel production, so this is a kind of petroleum fuel which causes additional greenhouse gasses and therefore continuing global warming trends. So in that sense we are very critical of, first of all, the use of petroleum fuel in general and second the use, the exploitation of petroleum fuel sources like the tar-sands because they are even more harmful to the environment.

In Quebec, we are known for our hydroelectricity, do you think that this is a green resource, something renewable?

Renewable? It is a renewable resource, with each snowfall, every time it rains, every time a reservoir fills up, there is electricity that can be produced. We find that the principal wealth in Quebec in terms of energy at this present time is hydroelectricity and therefore we must increase the use of hydroelectricity in our economy. Furthermore, our green campaign, next September, will then bear on the increased use of our hydroelectricity in our economy. That being said, there’s other kinds of energy, such as wind power which could be considered or also energy consumption reduction policies because we cannot continue consuming so much energy as a society in the long term.

Because it’s still something very intense which changes eco-systems…

Yes, absolutely, we find that, especially regarding hydroelectricity, the best energy, the best electricity is one that is not produced. So, we intend to conduct an energy-economizing campaign, and I think, as the numbers have shown, that there is a vast potential for energy-economizing in Quebec. Indeed, we already have installations, hydroelectric dams that are already significant and others that are still being built following some decisions by the Liberal Party, so I think that for now, we have already harnessed too many rivers in Quebec and for now, if there is another solution it is to put the electricity that is already being produced to good use as well as encouraging energy-economization. If you want I can refer you to our green plan?

Oh I’ve already read it, but I didn’t notice any innovation projects for renewable electricity. I saw things that were more targeted towards emissions and public transport, etc.

Well, listen, there aren’t millions of sources of renewable energy you know…we’re talking about electricity, we believe that this is a renewable source of energy, there’s wind power and there’s solar power. So, yeah, wind power, I think that we could greatly improve the way we develop this, actually we are calling for the nationalization of wind power, and concerning solar energy, I feel that this technique can really be improved by technological developments. So there could be some innovation. But we’re going with what exists at this moment, so wind power and solar power, for the best use of these resources.

What does your party think of Jean Charest’s “Plan Nord”?

We think that in general, this is a project that stems from an old viewpoint, an old concept of what economic development should be. This is a very ancient view, you know, which calls upon the old ‘colonialist’ model. Big mining companies, big international capital that are often Canadian, I must say. They come make use of – with financial aid from the Government of Quebec, with our tax support, our fiscal contributions – they come extract our natural resources and pay-out very little royalties and they fill their pockets with the help of our resources and when it’s done, they close the town, they close the entire region, they leave environmental disasters behind on the site of their operation and the story is over. I think that we must have a new way to exploit our natural resources, and first of all these resources must serve our purposes primarily for the collective good before all and, thereafter, make sure that the local collective has a word to say regarding mining and also, as a third element, really observe the environmental impact rendered by these operations.

QS celebrated your promotion as a foreign-born president claiming that it is an excellent way to celebrate diversity, but still it`s difficult to find information in Quebec`s largest minority language, English.

We intend to build a Quebec which includes all of the citizens of the Province, whether they’re from the historical majority, French-Canadians, or the historical minority, the Anglophones, First-Nations or from communities descended from immigration. I think that the projects we are implementing do not implicate only one community but all communities, and all the components of Quebec’s society as a whole. In that sense, the Anglophone community does have a role, an importance and their linguistic right will be respected in QS’s view of Quebec. So, for us that Anglophone community is an important component of Quebec society, and our sovereignty project by means of constituents carries an advantage, that is, it bears less on ethnic identity, if you will, stemming from the French-Canadian majority, but we propose a project where everyone will have their place, the Anglophones, Francophones, Allophones as well as First-Nations peoples. So the Anglophone community has a place in Quebec, but obviously, we intend on keeping a Francophone Quebec. I think that this is a widespread opinion, however, we will respect the Anglophone communities’ rights.

How do you explain the controversy with the language police over Pastagate?

I think that these are details, obviously, the Office de la langue Française has been a bit excessive. In this Pastagate situation, they have become too fussy, I think that the essential is elsewhere, not there. It’s not because there’s a button with ‘on/off’ written on it that the French language is in jeopardy in Quebec and I think that the essential efforts of the Quebec Government and these institutions in trying to preserve the French language in Quebec and particularly, in Montreal, this can be found in two sectors, first of all, the efficient ‘francisization’ of persons coming from immigration and secondly the ‘francisization’ of work areas. This is where the primary focus has to be and where the future of the French language in Quebec will be in play.

If QS continues to have success and comes into power, and implement, not only their version of sovereignty, but their economic and environmental policies, which can be attractive to those who are against Canada`s Conservative Party, do you think that there would be Anglo support for separation?

I think that yes. If we give the Quebec Anglophone community – well actually there’s nothing regimented here, there’s definitely a good part of the Anglophone community in Quebec that will always choose Canada, and since there’s a good number of Franco-Quebecers, stemming form the French-Canadian majority who will also always support Canada and federalism, well that’s the way it is and it`s good. But for us, what is important is being able to convince a good part of the Anglophone community that it is possible to gain independence, again, not just to have the independence per se, but in order to accomplish a project as a society. Here at QS, we have among us several Anglophones in our ranks who support us, not essentially because they’re sovreignists, but support us mostly because we encourage a coherent social project, a social project which concerns the redistribution of wealth and is aimed at social justice. They feel comfortable with our approach at independence though a constituent assembly, this is, of course, a democratic process and everyone is called to contribute. So in that sense, the QS movement is able to call out to and to stir up the support of, well maybe not all the Anglophone community in Quebec, but maybe a significant part of it.

Transcribed and translated from French by Thomas McDonough