Jean-François Garneau
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6 November 2018

Quebec Liberal Party: Seek Renewal Elsewhere

Jean-François Garneau

In response to the piece written by Claude Castonguay, “Lendemains d’élections,” published on the La Presse website.

By Jean-François Garneau, Professor of Management, ESA-TELUQ, and the Founder-Director of the Forum Ideas for Quebec.

Source: La Presse.

On October 27, Claude Castonguay lamented that Philippe Couillard fell short on his promise to renew the Quebec Liberal Party’s ideas and suggested that the party finally begin to renew itself by holding “a structured and openly participatory reflection … like that held in Montmorency, by Jean Lesage’s Liberals.”

Mr. Castonguay is perfectly right to insist on the necessity for the Quebec Liberals to reflect more than ever on their party’s renewal. He is wrong, however, to think that Mr. Couillard accomplished nothing on that front, or that it is by reflecting, solely or mainly on the themes that he has proposed, that we will get the Liberal Party out of its ruts.

Through this letter, I hope to contribute to changing the perception that Mr. Castonguay seems to have about Mr. Couillard’s legacy and, in doing so, contribute to using the best parts of that legacy to continue to renew the Quebec Liberal Party.

Not only did Mr. Couillard keep his word about organizing events for reflection, he held five such events between the fall of 2013 and the fall of 2017. I’m well placed to know, I am the one who organized them, alongside my French friend Jean-Marie Bézard and my actor friend Jean-Pierre Bélanger.

The “Forum Ideas for Quebec”

The events in question were called Forum Ideas for Quebec and brought together close to a thousand people annually (from 300 to 400 people on the Forum site and the rest via live broadcast online). They mobilized between 20 and 50 experts from here and abroad each year. Together, these people offered Quebec a wealth of political reflections that very few political parties can boast having received.

Now, if we take a look at the programs for these forums, we can see that they demonstrate a desire to reorient the party toward its roots prior to 1977, that is to say: (1) before the neoliberal shift at the “Le Québec des libertés” convention and (2) before the QLP began to define itself as a liberal-conservative coalition around the “federal notion” rather than a progressive coalition around the “liberal notion”.

They also point toward a more internationalist, rather than a nationalist, approach to renewing our capacity for political innovation. This internationalist perspective whose acclaim dates back to Jean Jaurès, takes an approach opposite to the nationalist one Mr. Legault has used to reunite the right. At the end of this century marked by the First World War and continuously renewed attacks against liberal multilateralism, in international politics, it strikes me as more important than ever for liberal minds to learn to use this central notion of their legacy to show their fellow citizens the other purposes it can serve.

What we have, in our misfortune, is an opportunity to share our situation with many progressives, ecologists and swathes of young people and minorities whose ambitions are threatened throughout the world.

We must therefore rebuild the alliances that the Quebec Liberals have always maintained with progressive forces across the planet.

Let’s rediscover the attachment shown by the Patriots of Lower Canada during battles waged by their fellow countrymen of Upper Canada and Nova Scotia. Let us rediscover the bonds that Quebec’s 19th-century scholars upheld with progressive forces in Poland, that Calixa Lavallée maintained with the armed forces that freed the Southern United States from slavery, that Raoul Dandurand cultivated with the League of Nations when it declared that war was outlawed, and that the stray Canadiens from the second half of the 19th century, because of their exile, found themselves forced to develop within the progressive forces of Australia.

Let us rediscover the multicultural (and non-nationalist) roots of the Patriotes’ flag (red for Great Britain, white for France and green for Ireland) and the equally multicultural approach espoused by Champlain and the First Nations in their mutual reception in 17th-century America.

Let us discuss our problems and our projects alongside those of liberals and new democrats from other provinces who resemble us most, as well as with American democrats, British Labour party supporters, French, German and Swedish social democrats, progressives and environmentalists from Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Australia, and with whomever we feel the need to converse.

If we can focus our attention on the emerging figures with the most promise for the future within these international movements, our collaborations with them will contribute to attracting more progressive Quebecers who are still hesitant to join our ranks.

It will also help us to mobilize our youth to become more deeply involved in politics, and it will help to finally rekindle a taste for voting among the newcomers to Quebec, English-speaking Quebecers and members of First Nations who chose to stay at home and shun us during the last election.

Detour via the international

If we put what I have said into more inspiring terms for nationalists, we might say that it is not through delivering grand speeches on identity, pride, dreams, ambition or, worse yet, the Constitution, that we will be able to bring about the very things that the nationalists desire. Rather, it is by being compelled by work that reaches beyond ourselves and at the same time reinforces our sense of pride that we will meet these objectives.

Far from undermining the national, the detour via the international bolsters it without it having to be a constant topic of conversation. Because finding and affirming one’s identity is not achieved through navel-gazing and in closing oneself off with those that are like-minded. Instead one must be open to others, constantly looking elsewhere, toward the horizon, always toward the west, for as long as there is west to seek, as Samuel de Champlain constantly said.