Monday, May 02, 2005

Canada's Lenin

Comrade Gilles Duceppe

The role of a Communist in parliament was outlined in a set of theses adopted by the Communist International in 1920. In essence, that role was to expose the limitations of parliament as a path to improved living conditions for working people. Communists in parliament did not aim to gain “amendments” to reactionary legislation, but to denounce the legislation, and use their resources as an MP to help organize mass campaigns to defeat it. Their role was also to use the parliamentary platform for general socialist agitation. Communist parties were too openly state their political positions, and parliamentarians were bound to support these policies.

A Communist in parliament: the story of Fred Paterson By John Nebauer

The discussion of the tactics of the Bolsheviks reveals quite clearly that the Bolsheviks used the tactic of standing for election to address the masses in periods of working class retreat and demoralization, when mass struggles were not the norm. A struggle that involved re-elaborating again the tactics of the Bolsheviks in the various Russian Dumas (toothless fake parliaments, convened by the tsarist regime to provide a fig-leaf of popular representation). The Bolsheviks used the opportunity of elections to this powerless body as an opportunity to engage in mass agitation and propaganda for the overthrow of the tsarist regime, and as a tribune for the struggles of the working class and the peasantry. Bolshevik deputies were under the strict control of their party, and were not in the Duma to engage in parliamentary careers, but rather to act as revolutionary leaders of the masses.

Weekly Worker 324 Thursday February 24 2000 review

The creation of the Bloc Quebecois was an amalgamation of left and right forces in Quebec after the fall of the Mulroney Tory government to the Liberals, the Grand Old Party of Canadian politics. The centre left Liberals, who wear the mantle of Trudeau Statist Federalism, swept the Tories off the map. The resulting collapse of the Mulroney Tories into the Bloc and the Reform parties was the result of Mulroney’s unholy alliance of Quebec Nationalist politicians and western right wing regionalists and populists.

If Reform was the right rump of Mulroney’s Tories, his left wing was Lucien Bouchard and other Quebec ‘Sovereigntists’ who formed the Bloc Quebecois. While the Sovereigntists were a mixed bunch of both right centre social democrats and left social democrats, the Bloc Quebecois did not ally itself with any of the parliamentary parties in the house, having become the official opposition to the Liberals.

The NDP as a Federalist Left opposition party was weakened but could have strengthened the left opposition to the Liberals. But they did not, given their federalist leadership which continued to ignore the rank and file who had passed pro Quebec resolutions at their national conventions. Any alliance even a tactical one with the Bloc was out of the question to these quisling Canadian nationalists who cared more for their parliamentary careers than offering the Rest of Canada (ROC) and Quebec a left alternative to the Liberals Statist Federalism.

Enter Comrade Gilles Duceppe who replaced right wing privateer and management lawyer Lucien Bouchard(1) as the BQ leader. Duceppe was and remains a communist in the Leninist tradition; his protests to the contrary, belie the fact that the entire Bloc campaign is the classic Leninist Parliamentary strategy of being the Opposition in parliament.

Unlike all the other Federal parties, the BQ has no intention of ever being government. They enter the house as the official opposition from Quebec.

As Sovereigntists they propose a two state solution in Canada, and that is the principled position they fight from.

As Internationalists they believe any gains made for the Quebec working class are gains for the Canadian working class. Such was the claim made by the BQ when they ran for election last summer.

And when they launched their election campaign the key issues the most important issues for them were class struggle issues around Employment Insurance, Job Security, funding for the industrial infrastructure in Quebec.

Unlike the NDP whose program was aimed not at Canadian workers but Canadian Citizens over broad-based issues such as health care, the environment, etc.

It has been the BQ in the house that has lobbied for Anti-Scab legislation this year. That legislation just missed passing in the house. It was squashed by the Conservatives and Liberals.

Under the leadership of Comrade Duceppe, the BQ has adopted a working class program as a left social democratic party, much more so than the mushy social democrats in the NDP. While sovereignty is their goal, it is the sovereignty of the CSN, which was the union Duceppe, was an organizer for and which has been one of the strongest supporters of Quebec nationalism.

During and after last summer’s election Duceppe took the position that the BQ would not give a blanket approval of the minority government nor go into a coalition government but rather in traditional Leninist fashion, they would judge each bill on its own accord.

While the BQ has led the campaign of exposing the Chrétien Liberals and their AdScam scandal in Quebec, it has been the working class issue of the use of the EI funds to shore up the Liberals surpluses, that they have made their cause celebre. This theft, as Duceppe calls it, began under Paul Martin when he was Finance Minister. It has been EI and the need to end it being used as a government slush fund that has given the BQ the voice of the working class in the house.

It is not the NDP, but the BQ that has spoken out loudly and ceaselessly not only for Quebec workers but workers across Canada on this crucial issue. EI’s impact on seasonal and precarious workers is problematic, as the Liberals gutted it they also changed it making it harder for workers to access and limiting the time one can get it. This has negatively impacted on seasonal and part time workers in Quebec and the Rest of Canada (ROC). And it is this issue that has seen the BQ speak out for workers across the country.

The chorus line has been the NDP, who still refuse to recognize the BQ as fellow social democrats. Ever opportunist, they will use the separatist canard when it suits them to appear more federalist than the Liberals or Conservatives. Instead of creating a common front with the BQ the NDP, whose status within Quebec is next to nothing, continues to try and pose itself as a federalist social democratic alternative to the BQ.

The BQ under Canada’s version of Lenin has moved fully to the left, and here is where Duceppe faced criticism of his style. He purged many of the old right that had remained in the party, by refusing to accept their positions as he pushed his left nationalist position within the party. He made it no longer home and they left, usually for the provincial PQ, which has moved to the right as happens when parties gain state power.

The Liberal minority government faces an intransigent Leninist opposition in the BQ and this is what has made their hold on power perilous for the past twelve months. The BQ saw the gains they had made in Quebec at the Liberals expense and knowing more of the AdScam scandal was to come out in public prepared to bring down the government from day one in order to make electoral gains. As polls show those gains will be substantial whenever an election is called.

Unlike the Conservatives who waited till they had polling numbers ahead of the Liberals, the BQ knows that after achieving record seats last summer, that they had not seen since they had been the official opposition, they are in to gain more.

As history has shown once again the NDP will prop up a Liberal government, at their own expense, pushing the Liberals left as they move right. The pitch by Martin and Layton that the Conservatives are in bed with the Separatists shows how right wing the NDP will go to get their consumer social democratic platform implemented.

The BQ will of course remain the good Bolsheviks and support those bills such as the Anti-Scab one, or those around EI or workers rights, that benefit workers. They will support direct no strings funding to Quebec. And they will support free trade. One of the few left wing parties to do so.

This is what makes Quebec’s position unique, its left wing supports a totally autonomous nation, and free trade in that case allows Quebec economic autonomy.

Unfortunately that also puts the BQ on the side of other free traders such as Ralph Klein, and Stephen Harper. What makes their version of free trade different than the right wings is they see the (Quebec) state as crucial to propping up and making their industries competitive.

It is this reason that the BQ will defend huge Federal Government handouts to Bombardier, and other Quebec industries, in order to keep them solvent. It is also because unlike other areas of Canada, these businesses are unionized. And those unions are the backbone of Quebec nationalism while the corporate bosses are convinenant Federalists, the compradour class in Quebec. During the referendum a telling picture was published across the press. On a tour of the Bombadier factory the President and PM were confronted by a massive sign hand painted and unfurled by the factory workers, it had one word on it; OUI.

The union culture in Quebec is a crucial part of the popular culture in that nation, and the nationalism of Quebec culture. It is a left wing nationalism, and it reflects the Social Democratic politics of Quebec unions and their political allies. It is a nationalism that calls for So So Solidaritie.

It was shown this spring when post secondary students across the province went on a month long general strike against the Charest government in Quebec.

Quebec labour and students have effectively used the General Strike and the Wild Cat strike since the seventies. In fact it has been so effective that the English Canadian Labour movement in Quebec continuously tries to undermine it whenever it happens.This occurred last year when the QFL, aligned to the CLC, got cold feet over a call from the CSN and other Quebec unions for a general strike against privatization plans of the Charest government.

There may be two solitudes in Canada, Quebec and the ROC, but there could be two Solidarities if the Canadian left got over its parliamentary fetish for Trudeau federalism.

The BQ under Duceppe offers the NDP and the CLC that challenge, to build a new federalism in Canada with Quebec as a partner rather than a conquered people. It is this principled position that makes Duceppe the Lenin of Canada. His refusal to consider gaining power in the Federal government, when the goal is Sovereignty, is a page out of Lenin’s work on Nationalism. The Quebec left has matured enough to produce its own Lenin.

So far So-So-Solidaritie has been missing from the Canadian labour movement and its party the NDP.The NDP's failure and outright refusal to form coalitions with the BQ for the last decade.The embrace of Canadian nationalism by the Canadian Labour movement during the Quebec referendum. These politifcal decisions shows the Canadian left is still haunted by the ghost of the David Lewis.

"When he was asked as to who is the main "enemy", he responded definitely "the communists".

Today, Jack Laytons NDP would answer; 'the seperatists in the BQ'.

Bloc Québécois

Dear Friends,

Québec's march towards nationhood is nearing its goal, as the results of the most recent referendum so clearly showed. In a vote held October 30, 1995, close to half the population of Québec opted for sovereignty. For very many Quebecers, this is the only choice for taking their own destiny in hand.

Québec is a tolerant and diverse pluralistic society, and will remain so after it becomes sovereign. The sovereigntist project, which is founded on democratic principles, reflects this reality. It proposes a new openness toward the rest of the world as well as a new economic and monetary union with Canada. It seeks to end over thirty years of constitutional deadlock that have prevented Canada's two founding peoples from moving forward.

Québec aspires to possess all the tools necessary for its economic, social and cultural development. And like for many other peoples before us, this desire to control our future is contingent on the creation of our own country, Québec.

The members of Parliament of the Bloc Québécois would like share their project and their motivations with you. This document is a first step. We hope that the enclosed information will help you understand why so many Quebecers are committed to building a country of their own.

Gilles Duceppe, Leader of the Bloc Québécois

Meech Lake, or Breaking the Faith Anew

In 1984, Brian Mulroney, the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, was elected Prime Minister of Canada. During his election campaign, he promised to bring Québec back into "the Canadian constitutional fold with honor and enthusiasm." In response to this openness, Québec premier and Liberal Party leader Robert Bourassa, who had been elected in 1985, presented the rest of Canada with five minimum conditions that Québec deemed essential for it to recognize the 1982 Canadian Constitution. These conditions were the following:

1. Recognition of Québec as a distinct society

2. Veto over any change to the Constitution

3. Guarantees concerning the appointment of Québec judges to the Supreme Court of Canada

4. The right of provinces to opt out of federal programs with full financial compensation

5. Increased powers for Québec over immigration duties within its borders

In 1987, these five conditions were incorporated into the Meech Lake Accord1, an agreement in principle signed by the Prime Minister of Canada and the premiers of the ten provinces, including Québec's premier. The premiers committed to having the agreement ratified by their respec-tive legislatures by June 23, 1990.

The Accord sparked strong opposition, particularly in the English-speaking provinces where the concept of "distinct society" as a means of designating Québec was poorly received. To salvage the agreement and win the support of Manitoba and Newfoundland two provinces that had gone back on their signatures the federal government sought to limit the scope of the "distinct society" clause, the concept that was the source of the disaffection. Its efforts, however, were in vain. Under assault from these two provinces, this first attempt to reconcile the demands of Québec with the expectations of the other provinces met with failure. In Québec, this unfortunate outcome was perceived as a refusal by the rest of Canada to recognize its uniqueness.

The fallout from the Meech Lake episode was serious for the federal government. On May 22, 1990, one month before the death of the Meech Lake Accord, Lucien Bouchard, the Member of Parliament for Lac-Saint-Jean and federal Minister of the Environment, resigned from the Progressive Conservative Party to protest his government's attempts to limit the scope of the distinct society clause. Several Conservative MPs from Québec did likewise. They realized that Québec's only remaining option was sovereignty and, together, they formed the Bloc Québécois.

On August 13, 1990, Gilles Duceppe, the current leader of the Bloc Québécois, was elected as MP for the federal district of Laurier/Sainte-Marie in a by-election. He was the first-ever sovereignist member elected to the federal parliament.

In July 1992 following several months of discussions, the provinces and the federal government reached a new constitutional agreement the Charlottetown Accord2. The agreement addressed very few of Québec's demands and delivered far less than the five minimum conditions set out by Robert Bourassa at the time of the Meech Lake Accord. The new agreement weakened the concept of distinct society and got a very skeptical reception in Québec. Once again, a majority in Québec saw it as an attempt to negate their uniqueness.

On October 26, 1992, a referendum was held to give Canadians the opportunity to vote on the Charlottetown Accord. The results of this pan-Canadian exercise were telling: 57% of Québec voters felt that the agree-ment did not address Québec's traditional demands and rejected it; else-where in Canada, voters felt that the agreement gave too much away to Québec and also rejected it by 54% margin. The pact was broken for good.

"We entered the federation on the faith of a promise of equality in a shared undertaking and of respect for our authority in certain matters that to us are vital. "But what was to follow did not live up to those early hopes. The Canadian State contravened the federative pact, by invading in a thousand ways areas in which we are autonomous, and by serving notice that our secular belief in the equality of the partners* was an illusion.

"We were hoodwinked in 1982 when the governments of Canada and the English-speaking provinces made changes to the Constitution, in depth and to our detriment, in defiance of the categorical opposition of our National Assembly. "Twice since then attempts were made to right that wrong. The failure of the Meech Lake Accord in 1990 confirmed a refusal to recognize even our distinct character. And in 1992 the rejection of the Charlottetown Accord by both Canadians and Quebecers confirmed the conclusion that no redress was possible."

Québec will remain a strong proponent of free trade. It will continue to support the movement toward integration that emerged from the Summit of the Americas and that should lead to the creation of an continental free trade zone by 2005 at the latest. Once sovereign, it will also continue to adhere to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other similar agreements while seeking to liberalize its own economy further and promote the globalization of trade.

Gilles Duceppe: The Bloc enters a second decade

Globe and Mail Update

A former Communist, hospital orderly and son of a famous actor, Gilles Duceppe, 53, is still pursuing elusive Quebec sovereignty at the centre of Canadian federalism.

When Mr. Duceppe arrived in Ottawa 10 years ago as the first Bloc Québécois member, after winning a 1990 by-election, the intense, blue-eyed leader said he didn't expect the Bloc to be on Parliament Hill for a decade without achieving its goal of Quebec sovereignty.

“I would have liked our presence in Ottawa to have been over by now because it would have meant we'd reached our goal,'' Mr. Duceppe told The Globe and Mail in August on the anniversary of the creation of the party. The party says it will have no reason to exist if it achieves sovereignty for Quebec.

The party was founded by Lucien Bouchard, who is now Quebec Premier, when a group of disgruntled Tory MPs left their party to work in the Commons for an independent Quebec. In 1990, Mr. Duceppe was propelled into politics after winning in the riding of in Laurier-Ste-Marie, Que. The son of well-known Montreal actor Jean Duceppe, Mr. Duceppe was chosen by Mr. Bouchard to run after two former Parti Québécois cabinet ministers said no.

Born on July 22, 1947 in Montreal, he received a bachelor of arts from College Mont-Saint-Louis and studied political science at the University of Montreal. He became a separatist in 1967, the same year as René Lévesque. Soon after, he joined in the labour movement and communism. He belonged to the Communist Workers party for three years.

Before his political life, Mr. Duceppe was a union organizer for the Confederation des Syndicats Nationaux, and in his first election, he had the support of many community leaders and activists. One New Democratic Party leader actually withdrew from the by-election so she wouldn't harm Mr. Duceppe's chances of winning in 1990.

Mr. Duceppe has always had a strong sense of justice for francophones and has been known for his articulate manner in the House of Commons. He has been attempting to prove that the Bloc is not just a one-issue party - including issues such as the environment and foreign affairs in his campaign kickoff. Fighting organized crime is another major theme for a party, as Quebec has been beset by biker gang violence.

A day before the election was called, Mr. Duceppe predicted that the Bloc would win more than the 44 seats it has going into the race, but would not be drawn into detailed predictions. Some party officials have predicted more than 50 seats. On the eve of the election campaign, he also said the Bloc would be open to co-operating with other parties if a minority government is elected, although he would not agree to a coalition government.

A sore spot for the Bloc is the fact that two former MPs, Nic LeBlanc and Richard Bélisle, decided to join the Alliance and run for the party in Quebec. Mr. Duceppe and Mr. Bouchard have said the Alliance's views are too right-wing and too extreme to appeal to Quebeckers - especially on abortion and crime issues.

“We're also the best-placed to fight this right-wing current which is surging across Canada,” the leader said in August.

Mr. Duceppe has a record of supporting women. On Oct. 12, the Bloc proposed a $45-billion expansion of Canada's social-safety net over five years as a means of dealing with women's issues. Mr. Duceppe said the plan, including a $25-billion expansion of employment insurance and $4.2-billion to forgive debt of developing countries and expand foreign aid, would respond to the demands of the World March of Women.

As party leader, he is known for having a strong grip on members and has reprimanded those who miss meetings. And his leadership has not been without controversy. Mr. Duceppe's new book, book, Gilles Duceppe Par Lui Meme, was coincidentally released Friday, two days before the election call.

Duceppe ready to ride Bloc's wave of popularity

Angela Mulholland, News Staff
April 21, 2004 1:53 PM ET

Just a few short months ago, Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe seemed doomed.

His party was drifting into obscurity, his MPs were defecting in droves to provincial politics and a high profile former Bloc MP, Jean Lapierre, emerged from retirement to join the Liberals calling the Bloc irrelevant and obsolete.

But then, like a gift from heaven, came the sponsorship scandal.

Known as "les commandites" in Quebec, the scandal has deeply eroded support for the Liberals in Quebec and given the Bloc a much-needed boost. Quebec voters, furious with how the scandal has tainted their province's image, are promising revenge in the next election.

A recent Ipsos-Reid poll found support for the Bloc in Quebec has risen to 45 per cent - 15 points higher than support for the Liberals.

While Duceppe, 56, must be pleased with the Bloc's resurgence, he may suspect it likely has little to do with him. Sure, his party has been relentless in its attacks against the Liberals and has helped to expose much of the sponsorship scandal. But the Bloc's popularity rarely has anything to do with Duceppe, says Michael Behiels, a history professor at the University of Ottawa.

"When Quebecers vote for the Bloc, they are not voting for Duceppe. They are voting for the ideas the party represents," Behiels told "If they vote for the Bloc, it's almost always a protest vote against the current federal government."

When it comes to whom voters would choose as their leader, polls in Quebec show that Prime Minister Paul Martin runs way ahead of Duceppe -- even with voters seething at the Liberals.

"Duceppe is not seen as someone who could ever be prime minister," Behiels says.

In recent years, Duceppe and the Bloc have been floundering. The party's goals have seemed less relevant for many Quebecers. The economy is doing well, and even the hard-core sovereigntists recognize that the support needed to win secession is gone. With two referendums behind them, most Quebecers are not interested in talking about separation - at least for now.

"This is typical of the kind of ebb and tide of Quebec secessionism," says Behiels.

"And the tide has gone out for the moment."

Duceppe is savvy enough to know not to push the secession issue. Instead, he will campaign on old-fashioned Quebec nationalism, pushing for Quebec's rights in Ottawa with the slogan "Because We're Different."

That's not to say that Duceppe himself has abandoned the secession cause. No matter what the federal government promises to Quebec in terms of transfer payments and acknowledgement of the Quebec culture, Duceppe is almost certainly never going to be dissuaded from secession.

Duceppe's ties to sovereignty can be traced back to his childhood in Montreal. The Bloc leader has said he often endured taunts from anglophones during his school years, and resented listening to "God Save the Queen" before hockey games at the Montreal Forum.

He studied political science at the University of Montreal before his dissatisfaction with the status quo led him to work with the Communist Workers' Party in the late 70s. Duceppe now says that working with the communist movement was "a mistake," but a mistake made in the quest for change.

In 1977, Duceppe became a union negotiator for Confederation des Syndicats Nationaux, the Confederation of National Trade Unions, and earned a reputation for his passion for hard work.

According to those who know him, Duceppe is intelligent, disciplined and utterly focused on his goals. He is renowned for his willingness to work hard -- perhaps too hard, say those who have accused him of sometimes being too intense and humourless.

In 1990, a Tory MP named Lucien Bouchard took notice of Duceppe. When the Meech Lake constitutional deal fell apart and Bouchard formed the Bloc Quebecois, he sought out Duceppe and urged him to run for his new party in a byelection.

Buoyed by his reputation as a labour leader and perhaps a little by the name of his father -- the well-known Montreal actor, Jean Duceppe -- Gilles Duceppe became the federal party's first elected MP.

Over the next three years, Duceppe helped Bouchard and the quickly-expanding Bloc to drum up enough support to run candidates in most Quebec ridings in the 1993 election. With anger at the then-governing Tories raging, the Bloc Quebecois won 54 seats and became a formidable force in federal politics.

Bouchard left the Bloc in 1995 after the failed Quebec referendum to become premier. Two years later, Duceppe became the new leader of the Bloc and was almost immediately forced into a federal election. Despite his inexperience, his party won a respectable 44 seats. But support slipped further in the 2000 election. His party won only 38 seats and Duceppe was criticized for ineffective campaigning

When Duceppe came to Ottawa almost 15 years ago, he didn't expect the Bloc be around long before it would achieve its goal of Quebec sovereignty.

He was wrong.

"Duceppe has certainly failed in his mission to withdraw Quebec from the federation," Behiels says. "That's likely been very depressing for him."

What may be even more depressing is that the Bloc under Duceppe's leadership has withered, particularly in the last year or two.

Many of the die-hard separatists within the party have defected to join the action democratique du Quebec. The ADQ is a provincial party of conditional federalists, or "soft separatists" who want to work with Ottawa to reopen the constitutional question. The Bloc no longer serves their purpose and they believe they can better work at the provincial election to achieve their goals.

Beheils says the defections are less a statement on Duceppe's leadership and more of an indication of the party's relevance.

"It's simply a reflection of the reality of the Quebec political climate at the moment. It's a reflection that the Bloc is beginning to come apart."

For the moment, the tide has now once again turned in Duceppe's favour. The sponsorship crisis has dropped into Duceppe's lap and sent voters over to the Bloc by default. The timing couldn't be better.

Duceppe is showing that sometimes the best way to get ahead is to do nothing.

What remains to be seen is whether Duceppe can hold onto his seats and even earn a few more. If he can, he'll have saved his leadership -- at least momentarily -- and put off the question of the relevance of a separatist party for another day.


The current Bloc leader, Gilles Duceppe, is also the son of Jean Duceppe, a famous Quebec actor who helped found the PQ and the NDP branch in Quebec. The later is separated from the federal NDP, declared itself to be in favour of sovereignty, and subsequently merged in the Union des Forces Progressistes.

A new branch of the New Democratic Party of Canada, called New Democratic Party of Canada (Quebec), was refounded in 1990, and is active only on the federal level in the province. In 1995, the NPDQ changed its name to Parti de la démocratie socialiste and contested the 1998 Quebec election under this new name.

In 2002, it joined with the Rassemblement pour l'alternative progressiste (Union for a progressive alternative) and the Parti communiste du Québec (Communist Party of Quebec) to form the Union des forces progressistes (UFP). It remains an organized tendency within the UFP under the name Québec socialiste.

UFP members share the view that the answer to the national question, and by extension social emancipation, is sovereignty for the Quebec people. The UFP believes that Quebec should become a country, free from the federalist yoke, and should acquire the essential tools it needs to develop as a nation.

Duceppe is a native of Montreal, Quebec. He studied political science at the University of Montreal. In his youth, he advocated communism, and was a card-carrying member of the Communist Worker's Party. Duceppe later said his three-year membership in the Communist Worker's Party was a mistake brought on by a search for fundamental change [1] ( He later became a trade union negotiator.

In 1990, Duceppe was elected to the Canadian House of Commons for the newly-formed Bloc Québécois in a by-election in Montreal's Laurier—Sainte-Marie riding. At the time, he was forced to run as an independent because the Bloc had not been registered by Elections Canada as a political party. All of the Bloc's other Members of Parliament had crossed the floor from either the Progressive Conservative Party or the Liberal Party earlier that year. Duceppe's victory in a by-election demonstrated, for the first time, that the party had electoral support in Quebec and was capable of winning elections. Previously, many pundits (and members of other parties) predicted that the Bloc would be able to gain the support of the voters.

In 1996, when Lucien Bouchard stepped down as Bloc leader to become leader of the Parti Québécois, Duceppe served as interim leader of the party until Michel Gauthier was elected later that year. However, Gauthier was forced out of the party leadership in 1997, and Duceppe became party leader and Leader of the Opposition.

Gilles Duceppe


To become the next Prime Minister of Canada


MP for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, Leader

1990-present, Bloc Québecois: Montreal, QC

  • Became the first elected MP in 1990, worked with Lucien Bouchard
  • Served as Party Whip from 1993-1996
  • Served as Leader of the Official Opposition from 1996-1997
  • Won the leadership of the party in 1997

Union Negotiator, Confederation of National Trade Unions

1977-1990, CNTU: Montreal, QC

  • Promoted the interests of workers and the development of peace and democratic initiatives while working for the Quebec chapter of the CNTU
  • Facilitated negotiations between organizations and workers

Activist: Member of Company of Young Canadians, Communist Workers’ Party, President of Quebec Students’ Union

1966-1977, CYC, QSU, CWP: Montreal, QC

  • Worked as president of the Quebec Students’ Union (1968-69)
  • Involved with the Communist Workers’ Party in the late 1970s
  • Involved with the Company of Young Canadians, an federal agency devoted to social change in Canada
  • Developed leadership and communication skills while gaining experience in community-based and political organizations


B.A. from Collège Mont-Saint-Louis

Late 1960s-70s, Collège Mont-Saint-Louis: Montreal, QC

  • Studies in political science, Université de Montréal
  • Worked as president of the Quebec Students’ Union (1968-69) and with the Communist Workers’ Party


Childhood hockey heroes were Maurice Richard and Dickie Moore.


Bilingual (French/English)

Additional Information

  • Became a separatist in 1967
  • Spent five years as a nurse in the late 1970s
  • On June 15, 2004, spoke in Montreal about youth voting: « Qui a dit que les jeunes ne s’intéressaient pas à la politique? Peut-être est-ce la politique qui ne s’intéresse pas assez aux jeunes? » (“Who said that young people aren’t interested in politics? Maybe ‘politics’ isn’t taking enough of an interest in youth?”)

Workers' Communist Party of Canada


Workers' Communist Party of Canada

The Workers' Communist Party of Canada was a Canadian political party that nominated candidates in the 1972 and 1980 general elections. For several years it published a weekly newspaper "The Forge/La Forge". The WCP was strongest in Quebec, but alienated many young Quebec progressive people because it declined to support independence for Quebec, although it did support Quebec's right to self determination.

None of its candidates was elected to the Canadian House of Commons, nor did they receive many votes.

The party followed a Maoist political program, and was influenced by the New Left.

See also: List of political parties in Canada

Quebec's Union of Progressive Forces -- a new party of the left

by Richard Fidler

A new left-wing political party has formed in Quebec in recent months and is rapidly winning members throughout the French-language province. The Union des forces progressistes (UFP) describes itself as "a federated party that seeks to become a mass alternative to the parties of neoliberalism

Biography from Toronto Star

Former hospital orderly, former Communist and labor organizer. First ever elected MP for the separatist BQ.

And now - after winning the Bloc leadership with 52.8 per cent - leader of Her Majesty's loyal Opposition.

Largely unknown outside Quebec - except perhaps by fans of Canada AM's political panel, where he has frequently appeared - Duceppe is among the most popular federal politicians inside that province.

Duceppe is no Lucien Bouchard. He doesn't have the charisma or the spell-binding oratory.

But he has been by far one of the Bloc's most effective MPs, an intense man with searing blue eyes who can often drill the government in the daily Commons question period better than any other.


Liberal strategist Michael Robinson, a companion on the Canada AM panel, says Duceppe is thoughtful, engaging, has a good sense of humor, and is not cheap or mean-spirited.

"I quite like him, on a personal level," says Robinson.

On the political level, however, the 49-year-old Duceppe can be as tough as nails:

· In the Commons, he subtly but deliberately plays the race card, portraying the English-speaking rest of the country against French-speaking Quebec.

· He was once ejected from the House for calling Deputy Prime Minister Sheila Copps a liar.

· He contemptuously rejects warnings that there wouldn't be free trade between an independent Quebec and what would be left of Canada.

"Tell western farmers they will have to eat all their beef or watch the carcasses rot, instead of selling them to Quebec, (or) go to Oshawa and explain to workers in the automobile industry that they will have to go on unemployment insurance out of patriotism, because Canada cannot sell any more cars to those poor Quebecers," he once said.

Even some members of the Bloc consider him overbearing.

Duceppe probably could have been leader a year ago. After Bouchard left to become premier, he quickly emerged as the likely front runner among potential contenders.

But then he backed off when it appeared his candidacy might split the party.

In her 1995 book, The Bloc, author Manon Cornellier says Duceppe exercised unprecedented control over Bloc MPs as Bouchard's hand-picked party whip.

"At one point it went as far as surveillance of letters sent (by MPs) to party members," she wrote.

Swearing like a sailor, Duceppe also regularly reprimanded members who missed committee meetings or committed some other transgression, and irritated others by monopolizing contact with the press.

"He loves being at the microphone," one MP told Cornellier. "Even now he controls things completely."

Two years later, Duceppe may have mellowed somewhat. He was backed by more than 20 of the other 51 Bloc MPs and by the presidents of more than half of its 75 riding associations.

His rise has not been without controversy, however.

In 1994, he was briefly the centre of attention over a parliamentary mailing to his constituents in which he urged them to vote for a party for which his wife was a candidate in local school board elections.

And this year, he came under attack for his role in helping Bouchard's staff exploit House of Commons rules so that they could both collect their new salaries with him in Quebec city and get federal severance pay after being "fired" from their jobs here.

The son of the late and highly acclaimed actor Jean Duceppe, the new leader's roots in the separatist movement go back 30 years.

He hasn't done so lately, but in a 1991 interview with the Ottawa Citizen, Duceppe attributed his conversion to separatism to mean-spirited and colonial-minded anglophones.

Duceppe told the Citizen that when he and his friends went to hockey games in Montreal in the '60s, they would sing "O Canada" while the kids from English-speaking schools waved the Union Jack and sang "God Save the Queen."

Worse, when he tried to board a bus for students going to an English-speaking school one bitterly cold day, he and his friends were only allowed to stand in the aisles. When he complained, the story goes, an anglophone teacher slapped him.

"If you're talking about social justice, that event marked me," he told the Citizen.

Even so, Duceppe only became a separatist when René Lévesque did - in centennial year, 1967. And even then his attention quickly shifted to the labor movement and eventually to communism.

With the influence of the church sharply declining in those years, "we looked for another set of values, one that was all-enveloping, like the church," he told the Montreal Gazette.

For a lot of us it was communism. It was a rational explanation that had answers to all the questions. Like in the church, the answers were all there, written down. It gives you a sense of security."

Looking back now, he says his three-year membership in the Communist Workers party was a mistake brought on by a search for fundamental change.


Duceppe returned to separatism after the 1982 overhaul of the Constitution by Ottawa and the other nine provinces over the objections of Quebec.

But his plunge into federal politics only came in 1990 after the collapse of the Meech Lake accord, which was aimed at patching up the split of 1982.

Less than two months after Meech failed - helped in no small measure by Jean Chrétien, who by then was Liberal leader - Duceppe and the newly born Bloc led by Bouchard snatched a Liberal stronghold in east-end Montreal with a stunning 66 per cent of the vote.

The Bloc has never looked back.

From a rag-tag group of former Tories and Liberals under Bouchard in 1990, it has grown to a party of more than 100,000 members, helped defeat the Charlottetown accord in a 1992 referendum, swept 54 of the province's 75 federal seats in 1993, helped win the provincial election of 1994, and came within a whisker of winning the referendum on sovereignty in 1995.

Now, polls suggest, it is poised to sweep Quebec again in the federal election expected this year.

What sort of leader will he be?

History suggests he will be very much in the Bouchard mold.

Like Bouchard, he says the Bloc should act as a truly national opposition where necessary, speaking out on behalf of the poor or other Canadians regardless of where they live.

Like Bouchard - and unlike former premier Jacques Parizeau - he proposes a European-style union between an independent Quebec and what would be left of Canada.


The sovereigntist

The Canadian Press

OTTAWA -- People who meet Gilles Duceppe for the first time are struck by his unwavering gaze. There's an intensity in those steely blue eyes that is almost disconcerting.

The Bloc Quebecois leader is utterly focused on his goals, say those who know him well.

His personal style is one of hard work and discipline.

"My assessment is that he is a very determined person," says Jean Lapierre, a former Bloc MP who used to sit beside Duceppe in the Commons.

"He's very serious. He's probably too intense, you know. He wouldn't laugh for a small joke. I think that's one of the points that he has to work on."

Duceppe, 49, rises early, and is known to call colleagues at 6 a.m. to discuss the day's news. For months before the leadership convention in March he averaged five hours' sleep a night.

Duceppe broke into politics as an organizer for the Communist Workers' Party (Marxist-Leninist). His left leanings continued later in life.

In the 1970s he spent five years working as a medical orderly on the night shift at Montreal's Royal Victoria Hospital to help organize a union there. "I didn't make money with that choice," he says wryly.

Although he regrets his involvement in the communist movement, he also sees a fundamental continuity in his career. "I was always involved, socially and politically. I didn't stop because I made an error."

His communist past has drawn some fierce criticism in the English-language media but it doesn't seem to be an issue in Quebec.

"There are so many former Marxists around in universities and all that, and most of them have become very quiet, moderate people," says Louis Balthazar, a political scientist at Laval University in Quebec City. "We're used to it."

LEADER: Gilles Duceppe, replacing Michel Gauthier on March 15, 1997.
GOAL: Wants to achieve sovereignty by the year 2000 ... Says it is not necessary for Quebec to eliminate its deficit before holding another referendum.
BEGINNINGS: First paying job was with Company of Young Canadians, an organization set up by former PM Pierre Trudeau's government to tap youthful idealism ... In late 1970s joined Maoist group which later evolved into Communist Workers' Party (Marxist-Leninist) ... Did not vote in 1980 referendum since communists placed top priority on solidarity of Canadian workers ... Has described communist involvement as an error.
FEDERAL EXPERIENCE: Was first MP to win election under the banner of the Bloc Quebecois ... Ran for leadership following resignation of Bloc founder Lucien Bouchard, but lost to Michel Gauthier.


Unlike some of his rivals in this year's contest for the separatist party's leadership, Duceppe insisted on a party program covering all major issues. He says the program is not limited to defending the interests of Quebec.

"When we're discussing family trusts, when we're discussing employment insurance, when we're discussing peace missions around the world, we're talking for Quebecers but not only Quebecers."

However, most of the questions raised by the Bloc in the House of Commons relate specifically to Quebec concerns. The overriding theme -- that Quebec is being shortchanged and suppressed -- is constant.

Duceppe insists that his commitment to Quebec sovereignty does not equate with hostility to the rest of Canada.

"We need Canadians to live a quiet revolution like we did in the '60s. Canadians need to discover themselves without Quebec."

The grandson of an Englishman, Duceppe says he has no grudge against English Canada.

He admits some unpleasant encounters with anglophones in childhood. In grade six, he once was slapped by an anglo teacher -- and promptly slapped her back.

He denies that the incident colored his thinking. He notes that when he entered his first formal debate in college, he argued for federalism -- and won.

"I had the wrong cause, but I was a good debater," says Duceppe, with a chuckle.

He insists Quebec sovereignty would not mean the destruction of Canada.

"We want a strong Canada beside us with a strong culture. We don't want Canadians to lose their culture to the United States."

He is a strong defender of the so-called partnership option, which foresees an independent Quebec working in harmony with the other provinces.

His personal friends include federalists such as New Democrat Svend Robinson. When Duceppe and his wife took a holiday in Vancouver some time ago, they stayed in Robinson's apartment.

"He (Duceppe) is a very progressive member of Parliament," says Robinson. "He's very solid on many of the issues that I and New Democrats are concerned about.

"Obviously we differ fundamentally on the issue of Quebec's place in Canada, though certainly not on the right of Quebecers to make that decisison."

Duceppe has been portrayed as a puppet of Bloc founder Lucien Bouchard, now Quebec's premier. He readily confirms that Bouchard is a friend, but strongly denies being a yes-man. He thinks Bouchard likes him for precisely that reason.

"Real friends can tell you when they disagree. There's many, many, many, many people around (who) always agree with you just to please you, and those are not friends."

In the weeks following the leadership convention in March, Duceppe's critics in the Bloc have fallen silent. Even runner-up Yves Duhaime, who initially refused to rally to Duceppe's leadership, has agreed to run on his slate against Prime Minister Jean Chretien in Saint-Maurice.

Balthazar of Laval University predicts that the Bloc will remain a potent force in the coming election, because many Quebecers see no other party they can count on to defend their interests.

"The Liberals are doing so bad with the French-speaking Quebec population that I guess any candidate would be better than the Liberals so far.

"Since the Conservatives are doing so little -- (Conservative Leader Jean) Charest is concentrating in Ontario -- I guess the Bloc will have an easy time."

1 comment:

Larry Gambone said...

Living in Montreal and following what is going on, I can say this is a good analysis of the situation with the BQ. Interesting comparison with the ineffective NDP. They have always been a centralist party. It is virtually the last thing they will give up.