by Sebastián Vielmas, CCIC Regional Working Groups Officer

Cet article fut rédigé seulement en Anglais, car il s’adresse à un public anglophone, du reste du Canada. Pour des informations en français concernant les élections et les engagements en solidarité internationale, nous vous recommandons de suivre les nouvelles de l’Association québécoise des organismes de coopération internationale (AQOCI), membre du CCCI, et qui probablement interpellera les candidatures dans les prochains jours.

On October 1, 2018, the 42nd Québec general election will take place. 125 members of the National Assembly of Québec will be elected after just a little over a month of campaigning. Early indications put the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) in pole position—a Québec nationalist (but federalist) right-leaning party. If the CAQ is elected, this will break a 40-year hold on power that has alternated between the federalist Parti libéral du Québec and the sovereigntist Parti québécois.

Why should this election matter to all Canadians? Because after the election of Doug Ford in Ontario, François Legault’s rise, as the leader of the CAQ, may signify a continued shift to the right in North America—one year out from a Federal Election.

For those who care about international development, it also marks an important shift.

In April 1965, Paul Gérin-Lajoie formulated Québec’s first policy on international relations, which could be summed up as an “external extension of Québec’s internal jurisdictions”. Through it Québec asserted the right to negotiate and implement treaties and international agreements in areas which fell into its jurisdiction per the Canadian Constitution—such as education, culture and health care. This became known as the Gérin-Lajoie doctrine, and has since been codified into law under articles 6 and 7 of the “Act Respecting the Exercise of the Fundamental Rights and Prerogatives of the Québec people and the Québec State.”

In 1995, the then Ministère des rélations internationales (Ministry of International Relations) created Québec sans frontières (Québec without borders). Through this program, the Québec government provides financial support to programs in the field intended for young Quebecers between 18 and 35 years of age in a French-speaking Africa, Latin America or the Antilles, or through one of Québec’s international co-operation organizations.

In 1997, the Québec International Development program was created, supporting international solidarity activities of Québec international co-operation organizations working with civil society partners in the Global South, in the same regions already mentioned.

These two programs were created under the Parti québécois, and continued by the Parti libéral du Québec. They have become an integral part of Québec’s international policies. In fact, under the 2018–2020 action plan, the current Liberal government plans to increase the budget for these programs—apportioning revenue from Québec’s own budget, and not from any federal transfer, complementing the federal government’s own aid budget.

So what are the opposition parties proposing on international development?

The Parti québécois proposes to create a Québec International Solidarity Agency, “to contribute to the promotion of human rights, good governance, gender equity, the strengthening of democratic institutions, the fight against corruption in consultation with the specialized agencies of the United Nations; to Develop a leadership position in the fight against climate change and in favour of cultural diversity; and to Strengthen support to NGOs working in the humanitarian sector.”

Québec Solidaire, a left-wing independentist party, likewise proposes to create a Québec International Solidarity Agency to promote “peace, human rights, a fair and ecological development and gender equality”. They also plan to invest 0.7% of Québec’s Gross National Income—the global aid target—to international co-operation and solidarity, and will audit the sovereign debt of developing countries.

Conversely, the current favourite in the polls, Coalition Avenir Québec, says nothing on foreign policy or international co-operation. Nor is there any indication that François Legault has a position on these issues. Considering his focus on greater autonomy for Québec in Canada, it seems unlikely that he will end these programs that are so key to Québec’s global profile. Unlikely, but still unclear.

Even within a more nationalist, yet federalist, agenda, there is space for a CAQ government to engage in the global arena. In fact, Québec could propose repatriating the Québec portion of the federal international assistance budget to Québec, to be invested according to its own priorities—and even creating a new Québec International Solidarity Agency, a proposition of the left-of-center parties in this election. The provincial council Association québécoise des organismes de coopération internationale (AQOCI), a member of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC), suggested this in 2012.

This debate regarding the role of Québec in international co-operation is part of a broader and ongoing debate regarding the role of sub-national governments in federated states and of municipalities—all the more relevant in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals. For example, in the context of national governments, or provincial governments, opposing action on climate change, we are seeing the “Rise of Cities in the Battle Against Climate Change,” as municipalities take action independently of national governments.

If you care about international development, there is more than meets the eye in the coming Québec general election. And the rest of Canada might just be inspired by the outcomes.