Facing a rise of the Right in Quebec, consolidated in the last election where the right-wing ADQ (Action Democratique du Quebec) displaced the PQ (Parti Quebecois) as the official opposition, the FSQ showed that the Left is alive and well in Quebec during this difficult time.
Like in other places around the world, the Social Forum process permitted a gathering of all the social movements in Quebec in one place. More than 300 workshops over two days discussed a vast range of issues including a full day seminar on the impact of Canadian mining companies around the world; a series of workshops on various aspects of the feminist struggle; a strong participation of poor people and international guests, including World Social Forum founder Chico Whitaker; and a number of indigenous workshops.
There were also quite a few discussions on the political impasse in Quebec where the Parti Quebecois is widely seen as having moved to the right and the new party Quebec Solidaire, which emerged from the social movements, has yet to elect any members. The Forum concluded with a cross Quebec, cross sectoral call for action on January 26, 2008 as part of the World Social Forum global day of action.
At the end of the forum, the social movement assembly adopted a poetic appeal for solidarity entitled, “United for the future of Quebec and the world.” In the discussion during the social movement assembly a vice-president of the CSN (one of Quebec’s main three labour federations) acknowledged that the labour movement had fallen down on its responsibilities in terms of social solidarity and that they were inspired by the participation at the forum and intended to improve.
At a workshop entitled, “Is an alliance between workers and students possible,” the leaders of three union federations listened while they were berated by students for their lack of solidarity and their elite position in society. The Quebec student movement succeeded in turning back a tuition hike through a student strike in 2005, keeping post-secondary fees the lowest in Canada.
The unions did help to finance the forum but with the exception of some CSN unions and the postal workers there was little evidence that they had mobilized their members to participate. Others like the women’s, housing, anti-poverty, environmental and student movements were highly present.
The most visible absence, however, was from what the Quebecois call the cultural communities. The diversity of Montreal was not at all reflected with the exception of a strong participation from the Latin American community. On the other hand, almost one third of participants came from outside the Montreal area, showing that the Left is strong around the province.
One of the unique aspects of the Quebec Social Forum was the emphasis on the environment. Across from UQAM (University of Quebec at Montreal) in Place Émilie-Gamelin, an Ecofest was held and recovered free food was served for delegates and local homeless people. In fact, homeless people were quite integrated into the event especially in the downtown park, where I saw several of them dancing to some of the music. Homeless people slept in some of the display tents in exchange for providing security.
As one of the few participants from English Canada, it felt like Quebec was already a separate country. While there were workshops discussing solidarity with most other countries, there was no discussion on solidarity between English Canada and Quebec, except in the context of a plenary on Solidarity in the Americas in which Maude Barlow participated. There were also very few discussions of Quebec independence.
Judy Rebick holds the Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy at Ryerson University in Toronto. She is a founder and former publisher of rabble.ca. Her most recent book is Ten Thousand Roses: The Making of a Feminist Revolution.