André PratteMy View of Our Montreal

In the history of our beloved province, only one political party has succeeded in bringing together Quebecers of all languages and cultures, in a spirit of dialogue and mutual understanding: the Quebec Liberal Party (QLP). Today, with the tensions caused by the Legault government’s policies, the need for such a political coalition is stronger than ever. But this will require work from all communities involved.

In recent months, some Liberals have suggested that the QLP form a special committee to consult the party’s members and sympathizers about the future orientations of the party, notably regarding language issues. From what I have heard, this idea has caught on within the party, and there is a possibility that such an ad hoc committee will be set up.

“…present and past Liberal voters would make recommendations to help guarantee the future of the only party that defends liberal values in the province.”

The way I see it, the work of such a committee would be to hear present and past liberal voters on the state of liberalism in Quebec today and make recommendations to help guarantee the future of the only party that defends liberal values in the province.

What do I mean by “liberal values”? Liberalism is first and foremost defined by the protection of the rights of individuals to live their lives as they wish, without interference by the State, as long as their choices to not negatively impact the rights of others. That said, liberalism has evolved over time, in Quebec as in other societies, to comprise other principles that make it more relevant to modern societies. The rights of minorities have become prominent. It is clear today more than ever that liberal societies depend on the health and independence of democratic institutions. They also require respect for the rule of law.

For liberals, economic development is mainly the result of private initiative. However, because liberals also strive for a just society, they see government playing an essential role in ensuring that the benefits of prosperity are shared by all. Moreover, as societies have become increasingly sensitive to the need to protect our planet’s environment, liberals have embraced the concept and the practice of sustainable development.

In our province, liberalism has adapted to the specific demographic and cultural context of a largely French-speaking society surrounded by 350 million mostly English-speakers. Therefore, the Quebec Liberal Party has made the defense of Quebec’s autonomy within Canada and the protection and promotion of the French language in Quebec tenets of the party’s philosophy, side by side with the protection of individual and minority rights. The coexistence of those principles has not always been easy. Tensions have arisen from time to time. In those difficult periods, Quebec liberals have always found a pathway, a compromise acceptable to most which allowed our coalition to move forward. This is how Jean Lesage’s liberals have implemented the Quiet Revolution, how Robert Bourassa made French the province’s official language while protecting the historic rights of anglophones, how Jean Charest advanced the province’s autonomy with the concept of “asymmetric federalism” while remaining one of Canada’s staunchest defenders.

A challenging position

Today, we are at a historic juncture. The Quebec Liberal Party finds itself in a challenging position, having received, last October 3rd, the lowest percentage of the vote of its history. That percentage was strikingly low in ridings where francophones composed most of the riding’s population. In some places, the QLP finished fifth with less than 10 of popular support. If the Liberals do not find a way out of this hole, the party’s difficulties will become increasingly serious, and the future of liberal values in Québec will be threatened. I cannot think of a more dire scenario for the province’s population as a whole, and in particular for Quebec’s linguistic and cultural minorities.

I don’t know what the solution to this problem is, but I do know that the only way out of this impasse is for Quebecers of all origins to work together. And that can only happen within the Quebec Liberal Party, the only party currently represented in the National Assembly that has played that role in the past and that believes in Canada.

What are we to do? Any solution will require an open dialogue, a sincere effort to understand the other’s views, and a willingness to compromise. This approach has always been at the heart of how the Quebec Liberal Party deals with problems, be they problems of government or internal difficulties.

If, on all sides of the debates, we decide to stand our ground whatever the cost, then the QLP will never have the chance to form the government again, and Québec will drift away from the liberal model that it adopted even before Confederation. The stakes are that high.

“I do know that the only way out of this impasse is for Quebecers of all origins to work together. And that can only happen within the Quebec Liberal Party…”

Whatever forum the Quebec Liberal Party sets up for those discussions to be held, I encourage all to participate so that all opinions are heard, all views weighed, all avenues explored. The road may be winding, but the destination is clear. In the end, all should rally to the compromises reached in good faith. This is our fundamental duty as liberals and as Quebecers.

André Pratte is a Special Adviser, Citizen Public Relations and Senior Fellow, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, University of Ottawa

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