Promesses et pièges de l’action politique municipale : a response to Sam Boskey

 Lors d’une réunion informelle de juillet 2015, quelques personnes se sont réunies pour discuter de la possibilité de lancer un nouveau mouvement politique municipal à l’échelle du Québec. Cette rencontre riche en réflexions, où jeunes et moins jeunes, novices et expérimentés, idéalistes et sceptiques pouvaient échanger librement leurs perspectives, idées et inquiétudes, a permis de mieux dégager les potentialités et les défis d’un tel projet qui, il faut l’avouer, est passablement ambitieux. Jonathan Durand Folco et Thomas Deshaies, les initiateurs du projet, ont mis quelques éléments sur la table (nom, mission, valeurs, principes d’organisation, stratégie, discours, etc.), afin de « tester » l’idée générale et les grandes lignes du mouvement. Immédiatement, une série de questions, remarques et critiques constructives ont surgi pour mettre en lumière les obstables d’une telle initiative. Sam Boskey, militant de longue date de la gauche municipale montréalaise et ancien conseiller dissident du Rassemblement des citoyens de Montréal (RCM), a rassemblé ses impressions dans une lettre intitulée Notes for Folco. Comme ce bref texte condense un ensemble d’objections courantes et de réflexions préalables à l’action politique municipale, il s’avère intéressant de le publier avec une série de réponses précises pour chaque question soulevée. Comme la lettre originale fut écrite en anglais et qu’il s’avère préférable de mener un débat dans la même langue, voici un premier dialogue entre deux générations de militants inspirés par la politique municipale.

Sam Boskey : these notes, in no particular order, are some of my (disorganised) thoughts and observations since the recent meeting. As someone who has followed municipal politics in Montreal for nearly 50 years, and was actively involved for 30, I obviously think municipal politics are important. The purpose of these notes is not to belittle them nor deride their importance in any way; rather, to help to clarify by whom, when and how an involvement in municipal PARLIAMENTARY (electoral) politics should be undertaken, planned and understood.

Most people do not see municipal politics as 'political'. Municipal politicians themselves often claim: 'we are an administration, not a government'. To see the implementation of political values and policies at the municipal level is thus not obvious to many, but making this happen is an essential part of the left's role, if it is to participate. While we on the left can see and understand their importance, if the intent in getting involved at the municipal level is to have an effect, either by politicising the public, raising awareness and even winning seats, there is a rough road ahead.

Jonathan : I share the same analysis of the left’s role at the municipal level, which is to « repolitize » local democracy by critizing the managerial view and bringing to light new issues about justice, social rights, environment, participatory democracy, etc. If it’s true that there is a rough road ahead, I think that political action is one efficient way to bring a new vision in the public sphere, an emancipatory discourse which is sometimes more audible than citizen initiatives and social movements taken alone.

Sam : There is a big difference between a belief that, if there were 'transparency and democracy' we would have abetter world, and an analysis that concludes that the municipal arena is the best (or one of the best) forum for this activity at this time. Why should political people put their energy into the municipality rather than in other community endeavours, in unions, in co-ops, in daycares, in school committees, in international solidarity committees, in environmental groups, etc.? Since resources are limited, why is time invested in the municipal arena worth taking away from time in other areas? This is not a  yes/no question - but reflection must be done before recruiting people into the process.

Jonathan : There is a window of opportunity for a counter-hegemonic discourse in the municipal arena. Even if it’s effectively underpolitized at some level, there is a rising political consciousness of the potentials of local democracy, often outside Montreal, because of environmental and social justice issues : pipelines projects, protection of water around municipalities, P-6 bylaw, struggles against corruption, etc. I agree that it’s important to engage in community projects, co-ops, unions, school committees, and so on, but what is the proper space of left political action ? There is already Québec solidaire at the provincial level, the NPD at the federal level, but beforce the left wins a parlamentary majority and control the state apparatus, the people feel that emancipatory politics is only for civil society initiatives or revolutionaries waiting for the Grand Soir. Even more, the left usually succeded at the national level after winning seats at the local level, the candidates having the chance to prove their worth, make significative reforms and show to the population what a progressive government means in concrete ways. Think about municipal socialism or communism in France, the famous Red Vienna, left municipalies in Spain or Latin America ; everytime the left was able to make significant gains at the state level, it already made a difference at the municipal level, not the other way around.

Sam : A passionate moral reaction to the insensitivity of some municipal politicians is different from a calculated analytic understanding of the forces involved in municipal government, their strengths/weaknesses and how best to identify the weak links and work strategically - the difference between a rebel and a revolutionary, a Vallieres and a Gagnon (but that is another conversation).

Jonathan : Like Gramsci, I think that we should combine a realistic analysis of the situation with some voluntarism for polticial action : pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.

Sam : It would be a mistake to visualise a municipal politicisation operation as missionaries arriving in an undeveloped land, carrying some holy ideas and converting naive residents through a vision of a rosy future and the strength of logical arguments. A more realistic caricature would be that of Christian missionaries today arriving in Taliban-controlled regions of Pakistan: the powers-that-be will be suspicious, observant, intolerant, and will try to eradicate the foreigners by any means necessary.  They control the local press, they determine the discourse concerning what is important, they have a strongly implanted culture; they have a lot of people in debt to them in various moral and financial ways; they have a lot of favours to collect. They have sources of financing, communications and support. And they can threaten those who do not support them, promising revenge even for the simple exercise of democratic rights. (A friend who wanted to run for school commissioner in a tightly controlled community received a phone call from an unknown source, describing to him in detail the route his children used to walk home from school…) It is not easy to recruit in such a situation.

Jonathan : Politics is rough and sometimes dangerous at every level (local, national, federal, etc.), but I think we can have different attitudes which do not correspond to the Chrisitian missionaries false analogy. For exemple, it is not necessary to pretend to have the solution or the know the Truth, like some dogmatic and sectarian leftist groups ; we can just rise problems and questions, formulate revendications and possible solutions, and let citizens gather together to build themselves a local political project that correspond to their needs and aspirations.

Sam : In Montreal in the late 60s and early 70s, and, I think, in Quebec City a bit later, the formation of progressive municipal movements came from a rassemblement of those 'below'. For many years there were a disparate variety of community groups, developing somewhat diverse political analyses of the local power structure, who were involved in a variety of social issues: housing (tenants rights and urban planning and conservation), justice legal issues (community legal clinics and police brutality), transport issues, anti-poverty issues (ACEF, welfare rights), health issues (community health clinics). At the same time, the union movement (second front), the student movement, the women's movement, and to a certain degree, the nationalist movement, were all starting to look at the specific municipal situations which affected their organising. 

Over time, many of these groups – who each had energy, a membership of militants and sympathisers, a developing analysis, etc. – came to the conclusion that the municipal governments – rather than helping them, were hindering them and even blocking any attempts at progress. “Selling” their members on the importance of a municipal involvement took the form of showing how municipal actions directly affected the issues the groups were involved in (e.g. Montreal spent more money on police horses than on public housing, etc.). Getting people involved in a municipal election was closely tied to fighting specific, often class-based, problems as a strategy to advance activities that the militants were already involved in.  Indeed there were general appeals to democracy (for most of the city's history, Montreal tenants only could vote for 1/3 of city council, their landlords  - only the property-owner, not his family -  voted for 1/3, and the last 1/3 was appointed.) were also motivating; but they were essentially tied to showing how a people's based municipal government (les salariés au pouvoir) would take a different kind of decision.

In 2015, it will take some imagination to re-kindle the kind of class-consciousness and anger to motivate people to focus their attentions of city hall. Several aspects: FRAP, the MCM/RCM, UCIM and Projet Montreal, while all had certain degrees of success in influencing administrative reforms and changes, never resulted in a sense that a people's victory had brought about changes worth the investment of effort and time from the common citizen. People may indeed be happier that there are question periods, commissions (if they know about them) public meetings of the STM, an anti-racism policy), etc. But the relationship between municipal government and its citizens has not fundamentally changed, and with each election, there are difficulties in motivating potential activists.  Many point to the abandonment of progressive politics by the MCM, pointing to the danger to community groups of attaching their hopes to 'politicians'. (Get Francois Saillant to explain to you why FRAPRU resisted getting involved in the Coalition democratique, which supported FRAPRUs revendications completely and needed candidates, but why François himself, many years later, decided to become publicly involved with QS).

Jonathan : This is an interesting summary of the history of left politics in Montreal, and I think that a new radical project has to be more similar to the Front d’action politique (FRAP) brief experience than the RCM and Projet Montreal traditional parties. Obviously, it would be quite difficult to bring the same vocabulary of class-based issues formulated in the Old Left’s terms (les salariés au pouvoir), but it’s still possible to build a new antagonism between the people from below (ordinary citizens, subalterns, precariat, etc.) and the political et economic elites, inspired by Podemos, Guanyem Barcelona, Ahora Madrid and other spanish municipal experiences who succeded to renew class struggle language (with the inspiration of the 15-M and Occupy movements). Once again, the idea is not to create a new political party that has to « capture » activists from social movements, but to build an hybrid political and citizen movement that goes beyong the institutionnal/extra-institutionnal divide.

Sam : What has not changed is the lack of control over the police, and the arrogance of a mayor (l'État c'est moi), where Coderre more closely resembles (to me, at least) Drapeau than anyone since – he can come out with the occasional progressive sounding quip, but insists on a one-man show: he has no real party, no real program, keeps most his supporters in the shadows; I counted the number of times he used the word "I" in a recent article on the decision to temporarily stop the demolition of Viger Square - I ordered, I was not satisfied, I wanted, I thought, etc.

The dangerous aspect of this is that he is riding high in popularity polls; which indicates that the 1970-2005 experiment in democratisation, brining politics down to the grass roots, etc. not only has failed, but also has left little legacy behind. Yes, it is outrageous, but how does one militate against it seriously and successfully?

Jonathan : Coderre (and other populist and autocratic mayors) is precisely the nodal point around which a new political movement has to build a discourse for radical democracy. A nodal point is a privileged sign around which the other signs are ordered, these signs acquiring their meaning from their relationship to the nodal point. The main question is not « is the city governed on the left or on the right? », but « whose city? » ; À qui la ville? À nous la ville! Not Coderre’s, but our city! It’s a call for the reappropriation of institutions by the citizens themselves, to safeguard social rights, dignity, participation to decisions that affect our lifes, etc. The idea is to bring the « Reclaim » or « take back the streets » claim to the political level.

Sam : At the meeting there were opinions expressed that a limited number of principles would be held in common as part of a province-wide movement – respecting the autonomy of activists in local municipalities. But as the evening progressed, there were various examples added: of course we will believe in gender equality of representatives; of course we will be against austerity… Let's look just at these 2 examples. Both of which are honourable and important.

If QS with over 10 000 members has to pull teeth to achieve gender equality in a campaign which is supported by several sitting deputies and a (minimum of) province-wide media coverage, is it reasonable in the short term to make this issue a sine qua non?

Jonathan : The idea of gender equality in municipal electoral lists may look very demanding at first sight, but it’s not to difficult to achieve this objective with primary elections to select candidates. The difficulty with QS is that the party is not organized in all the electoral districts of Quebec, and that the gender equality principle applies to ALL the structures and delegations inside the party, which is really demanding for women.

Sam : Ask any 100 people what they don't like about their municipal government and a large proportion will mention municipal taxes, taxes that they (if they are owners) pay directly, and which they see (much of federal and provincial taxes come out of weekly payroll). Urged on by the media who point out potholes and municipal pensions, if anything, people think they pay too much in municipal taxes already. (Most have no idea what the sources of municipal financing are, how a city spends its money, and what services other than the obvious, are provided).  Austerity tells the taxpayer that their taxes may go down. It takes a very special set of circumstances and political consciousness to fight for keeping taxes high. One example: the municipalities fight against rate-capping in Thatcher's England in the early 1980s.

Jonathan : The question of taxes is important, but it must be formulated in new terms. For example, the municipal movement could reclaim a real fiscal reform (to be less dependant from land value tax), create municipal-owned entreprises, and ask citizens to decide collectively and directly the allocation of the city’s budget via participatory budgeting. Moreover, the idea is the change the « taxepayer identity » into a « citizen identity », by showing that people have to participate in public affairs to prevent corruption, self-govern their community and manage collectively their taxes and investments.  This can be summarized in a simple way : if you want to pay less, you have participate!

Then, the rate-capping rebellion is a good historical example of the importance of the left in municipalities, the English local councils affected being almost all run by left-wing Labour Party leaderships fighting against Margaret Thatcher. The campaign’s tactic was that councils whose budgets were restricted would refuse to set any budget at all for the financial year 1985–86, requiring the government to intervene directly in providing local services, or to concede. In a period of austerity where the Liberal (rather conservative) government tries to bribe local leaders by signing a « Pacte fiscal » in exchange of new powers and interventions in the municipal workers pensions negociations, we need a real combative and anti-austerity movement at the local level.

Sam : In setting out dreams to motivate the electorate, one needs a formula with a combination of i) what we don't want, ii) what we will do better, and iii) what we will do differently.

Running a 'transparent, democratic' municipality is one thing. An ideal democracy is not a concept highly developed amongst today's voters. In the post-Charbonneau period, issues of lobbying, financing, open-door meetings, clef-en-main elections, etc, still require a lot of analysis, and proposals. There is a lot of work to be done on the provincial level, and QS should be preparing its work here.

Adopting new forms of participation are always interesting, but I came away from the meeting not convinced that there were any practical (at this stage) ideas expressed. Any public participation which is to work requires (I suggest) a clear vision on what issues are at stake, what the informed participant should know to be able to make a reasoned decision, and a clear sense of which of the myriad decisions of varied complexity (and at which stage of the decision-making process) should require the participation of the public (and which public). It requires an articulated hierarchical concept of decision-making based on geography and practicality - i.e. which decision should be taken on a provincial, regional, local, neighbourhood, or street level? Which programs should be run from each of these levels?

Jonathan : These are quite important questions about the modalities of democratization and decentralization. Many examples include popular assemblies, participatory budgeting, citizens juries, right of initiative, referendums, e-democracy, etc., but we can’t determine in advance the perfect set of participatory mechanisms for complex democratic governance. This is not a problem but an opportunity to think about what are the adequate means to help people taking part in collective decisions that affect their lives. Moreover, in an era of generalized corruption, there is an “authoritian or populist tentation” to find a charismatic figure or good manager who would do the “clean up”, thereby centralizing more powers in the hands of the “bon père de famille” (Coderre, Labeaume, etc.). In order to counter this reflex based on cynicism and disillusioned voters, we have to show that the only solution to corruption is not centralization but citizen participation, vigilance and radical transparency. We have to repeat this line of thought of the American Abolitionist and liberal activist Wendell Philipps : “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few.”

Sam : Concepts such as popular assemblies need to be developed if they are to attract serious attention here. I note that during the meeting, there appeared to be a lot of ideas influenced by Podemos. Which is fine. But is should be complemented with experiences closer to home: what works or does not work (and is it real or superficial) in our neighbour Vermont's public town halls?  What works or not in school committees, park committees, CLSC committees, caisse populaire general assemblies, to name only some of our local "popular assemblies'? Is the quality of the decisions, the politics of the results, the feelings of identification with the institution, etc influenced by these meetings? And how much time is involved? In 2015, with single-parent families, many part-time jobs, etc., how much regular involvement does one expect of citizens? How inclusive or exclusive is this process?

Jonathan : Indeed, one must not only take examples from overseas but look at the democratic places and institutions that already exist in Quebec. It’s probably true that people don’t invest enough energy in Desjardins popular assemblies and CLSC committees, but repolitizing local democracy would be an excellent way to tell people not only to take back the municipal institutions, but all the democratic places which belong to us, not the few. For the Oscar Wilde objection – the trouble with socialism is that it takes too many evenings – we have to think about the modularity of participation which allow individuals to participate in various ways according to their needs, motivation, time and aspirations. People are not obliged to participate all the time, but we have to offer equal access to political means to participation to decisions which affect our lives. The process needs obviously to be inclusive, but it’s not an insurmountable problem ; it’s a question of institutional design.

Sam : A look at the websites and publication of the UMQ, the FMQ and the Federation of Canadian municipalities, as well as the academic and community literature in Quebec and Canada, to evaluate likely progress to made in short-term strategies on this issue.

How do you prevent the tyranny of one group over others, those that find it easier to participate, those who have good literacy skills, those who are more class conscious, etc. while respecting the civil rights of all? What are the chances of increasing progressive results though imperfect increased participation?

Jonathan : That is a common criticism of participatory democracy which is presumed to pave the way for a « citizen avant-garde ». First, we have to take account of different inequalities and discriminations in terms of class, gender, education, ethnicity, abilities, etc. Second, all participatory mechanisms and deliberative procedures have pros and cons which have to be analysed to make sure that we institutionnalize the democratic process the most inclusive way possible. Third, all these objections apply even more for representative democracy which allows only a minority, usually privileged individuals, to control institutions, compared to participatory democracy which give more opportunities to different social groups and ordinary citizens to have a real voice in public affairs. To avoid the tyranny of the majority, the constitution or legal system can still safeguard fondamental liberties.

Sam : Is the city a service corporation? Is it a political animation animal? Should it be (overtly) promoting various social policies vis-à-vis the other levels of government? Should a city be a 'good' employer, as far as working conditions, salaries and industrial democracy? Should a city find ways to involve citizens in sharing municipal work in ways that don't threaten employees working conditions? What factors should govern a city's policies on sub-contracting? Service or animation: let's take one example: culture.

A library can be a book museum: the people come to it, borrow its materials and return them. Or, the library can flip the relationship around: it goes out. It organises reading in daycares, in parks, it fosters creative writing. The librarians, as the documentation specialists in the community help other community groups with their archives and history, help associations with references and research, etc. The cultural animator puts of professional-level shows in a local maison de la culture to expose residents to good performances. Or/and the cultural animator brings culture to local activities; helps students how to dance, helps schools to put on performances, helps striking employees to make attractive picket signs, finds new ways of helping excluded residents use creativity to increase their capacities, etc.

Each municipal service requires an analysis of the effects of its current organisation. Little of this has been done in recent years. What is a progressive tax policy, a progressive transport policy, housing policy, sports policy, and public works policy?

Jonathan : All those are very relevant questions and paths for research about the potentials of local democracy, economy, culture, etc. It may seem that we must first find anwers to those questions, and them put them into practice throught political platforms written by profesionnal activists and intellectuals. But I think that the praxis approach (that goes the other way around) is more efficient, dynamic and emancipatory ; reflection comes from the practice of self-transformation through political action. We must take theory and practice at the same time, through concrete experimentation and democractic deliberation, to answer those questions by the practical knowledge of people trying to change their lives, solve problems and manage collectively their community.

Sam : There is an interested person in St-Jerome, who knows an interested person in Rouyn-Noranda, who knows an interested person in Maria in the Gaspé. That sounds appropriate for finding a bed while hitchhiking. But what kind of politicised critical mass is necessary to launch a movement in any of these municipalities? (Remember that any failure will make things harder the next time.) Has the St-Jerome experience convinced many community activists that this is the time to get involved?

Jonathan : There are full of progressive individuals, citizen committees and associations dispatched all over the Quebec territory, maybe some critical mass in certain neighborhoods of big cities, and influential people too in small municipalities. We have to build a network of citizens that could help interested individuals to self-identify themselves as a group of people sharing common problems, experiences, values and aspirations. It’s sure that we can’t create a movement ex nihilo, but we can try to translate the diffuse indignation, felt by ordinary citizens and many social movements (Coule pas chez nous!, Touche pas à mes régions!), into political change. The thing is that we can’t know in advance if there exists a critical mass necessary for a radical transformation of local politics. But we just can’t wait that this mass emerges by magic ; we have to build a movement, and check if in some cities, villages and unforeseen places arise some groups and social leaders sensible to real democracy and new forms of political action.

Sam : Many decide to run for office for the 'wrong' reasons, including most of those currently in office. What is necessary to build into a process to prevent opportunists from seeking personal benefit, and from keeping elected people transparent, honest and accountable?

Jonathan : This is a real problem that needs to be faced, but a strategy would be to create a code of political ethics that every candidate has to sign before elections. These are a few rules and principles that come from the coalition Barcelona en Comù :

1.1.- Uphold the electoral manifesto of the candidature. Act as representatives who are obligated to act in line with the decisions made through democratic processes that the candidature opens up to the public, promoting the joint responsibility of all men and women.
1.2.- Make public their diary of appointments so that we know whom they are meeting with and the issues discussed. Make meeting agendas and minutes public.
1.3- Make public all of their income sources, wealth and capital gains, as well as all information necessary to detect potential conflicts of interest and to carry out citizen audits.
1.4.- Make public the criteria used to select people for appointed of office.
1.5 - Be accountable to citizens for their actions both in assemblies and online in ways that are democratic and open to all interested sectors and geographical areas (the whole city, neighbourhoods or districts). Information should always be presented as usable open data.
1.6 - Accept the censure or dismissal of councilmen and women and political appointees for poor management, or for a flagrant, unjustified failure to implement the manifesto.
1.7 - Not accept, for a period of a least 5 years after leaving office, positions of responsibility in companies created, regulated, supervised by, or beneficiaries of municipal contracts in the area or sector in which they have acted as representatives. They should never take on board positions in such companies.
1.8 - Keep in regular contact with vulnerable groups, dedicate the necessary space in their agenda to listen and respond to their proposals, and take administration reports on these groups into account when making decisions.
1.9 - Guarantee citizen participation in relevant decision-making and in the political positioning of the candidature on strategic issues and projects with a social, environmental or urban planning impact on the city, districts of neighbourhoods, applying the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity.
3.1.- Renounce any gifts and privileges that are offered to them by virtue of their of ce and which could result in preferential treatment.
3.2.- Not take on multiple public posts, other than those linked to their role as councilmen or women.
3.3.- Not earn multiple salaries or charge extra fees for attending meetings.
3.4.- Set a maximum monthly net salary of 2,200 Euros, including expenses, in the under- standing that this amount guarantees decent conditions in which to carry out the responsi- bilities and tasks of the of ce. This salary will be adjusted in line with responsibilities.

Sam : What results can one expect? And how can we measure them over time? Municipalities have relatively less power now. Major decisions are made by the MRC, by the CIT (transport), by the CRD (recently suspended), etc., none of which are particularly democratic instances. The Quebec Municipal Commission still has substantial authority over small villages and the Minister of Municipal Affairs can intervene when the mood suits him. In such a situation, what can one or two progressive councillors do, assuming they could get elected? What circumstances make sitting in the opposition a productive occupation? What is expected of the local media, local associations?  Is there much likelihood? Is a councillor in a good position to influence public opinion?

Jonathan : It’s important to put the emphasis on the limited powers of municipalities to acknowledge the possibilities and difficulties of social and political change at the local level. But the new reform of metropolitan government will surely give many more powers to Coderre who tries to centralize governance in his hands. It is true that the Minister of Municipal Affairs and the Quebec government have substantial authority over cities and villages, but this an argument which justifies the creation of a municipal front through Quebec, a combative and large movement inspired by “syndicalisme de combat” more than strict lobbying and concertaiton like the UMQ and FMQ. Standing forever in the opposition is not an objective, but we need to begin somewhere by electing citizen and popular candidates in many municipalities, building a new discourse from alternative media and a strategy to break through maintream media. Then, councillors, citizens and new leaders would able to influence the public opinion with contentious politics and fresh ideas.

Sam : I could continue… but I think I have given enough examples of issues that ought to be dealt with before a 'serious' campaign should be launched. In these circumstances, my impression is that a slogan, a list of topics, and a financial timetable are insufficient parachute for a safe ski-dive.  Consultation with potential partners (I suggested the SCFP..), and getting those who have been both inside and outside the election process (MCM, RP in Quebec, Sommets, variety of community groups, political commentators, etc.) to comment on what works and does not work for them  are important pre-requisites.

Jonathan : Once again, I agree that a series issues ought to be dealt with before we launch a “serious” campaign, but I don’t think that it would be desirable or realistic to try to answer definitely all those questions before we start organizing something. Why not think about these issues while building the movement, going back and forth between theory and practice?  It’s sure that a slogan, a list of values and a financial timetable is not enough to launch a big movement, and the risk of failure would surely affect the next attempts in local politics. The idea is to have a relatively clear vision of a political project, build a team of new and experienced people from different movements (MCM, RP, Citizen Summits, community groups, etc.), and organize something in the next months and years.

Sam : As a first step, if the group wants to stimulate a development of municipal electoral activity throughout the province, a bank of resources (municipal law, finances, structures pour les nulls) should be developed; examples of different politicised policies, examples of different mobilisation strategies, examples of different campaign organisation strategies, etc.;  an interactive digital discussion-group to share ideas and experiences. A mot d'ordre on province-wide strategy is, I suggest, pre-mature until a certain critical mass is developed. And in the absence of clear municipal orientations from QS at this time, the situation is even cloudier.

Jonathan : We first need to have the “big picture” of the political alternative, that is the objective to create a municipal organization at the panquebecois level, and then take the appropriate means to reach this goal, like gathering information and creating a bank of resources (municipal laws, finance, mobilisation strategies, etc.). Why the leading team of municipal activists would not be able to do this task in the first step of the project? A national-wide strategy is surely a wager, but we have to decide right at the beginning if we concentrate ourselves on Montreal (with the problem of Projet Montreal who occupies a part of the political scene), or join activists from many cities and municipalities (Québec, Sherbrooke, Gasé, Saint-Jérôme, etc.) because the “Rest of Quebec” constitutes a more “open space” for political experimentation. The ingroup dynamic would be clearly different, and I think that the real innovation would not be to create a new political party in Montreal, but a transmunicipal citizen and political movement across Quebec.

Sam : I repeat what I said at the beginning: I obviously think municipal politics are important. The purpose of these notes is not to belittle them nor deride their importance in any way; rather, to help to clarify by whom, when and how an involvement in municipal PARLIAMENTARY (electoral) politics should be undertaken, planned and understood.

Jonathan : Those questions and objections are really useful to avoid potential problems and blind spots, but I still believe that to make municipal politics effectively relevant for people, we must create a new movement as soon as possible. For this, we can’t raise endlessly all the possible difficulties and obstacles and try to build the perfect organization in the abstract before we move on. We must have a direction, new ideas and a certain historical consciousness to create something original made up of materials from here and elsewhere. Once again, we must not continually oppose citizen action and electoral politics, but create something beyond this divide. To conclude, I would like to mention a quote from Winston Churchill which highlights the difference between two political attitudes : “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”


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