The new Parti Québécois (PQ) Leader, Jean François Lisée, who is also head of the official Opposition in the Quebec National Assembly, thinks the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is foolish.
In a recent interview with The CJN, Lisée was highly critical of the ideas behind the anti-Israel boycott campaign. He also explained the principal goals of the new strategy the PQ recently initiated to convince the members of Quebec’s ethnic communities, including the Jewish community, to embrace the party’s sovereignty agenda.
Until now, the history of relations between the PQ and Quebec’s ethnic communities could be summarized as a missed opportunity to come together. Lisée believes it is high time for the PQ and ethnic Quebecers to begin a more promising chapter in their relations, which have often been very up and down.
How would you describe the current relations between the PQ and the Jewish community?
When I was the minister responsible for metropolitan affairs, I began to establish close contacts with all Montreal communities, including the Jewish community. I met them quite regularly as minister, and then again during my run for the PQ leadership. I recently met some members of the Jewish community. I believe it’s essential to have an ongoing dialogue, because there are sometimes disagreements, but I don’t want to have disagreements based on misunderstandings. In this sense, I think I have gained the trust of the Jewish communities and other communities.
What is your position on the international BDS campaign calling for economic boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel?
I may be looking at this through my training as a journalist, but for me, freedom of expression, that is, freedom to say foolish things, is a cardinal virtue. In recent years, I have spoken about the economic boycott against Israel several times. My position remains the same: when you know the resilience of the Jewish community in Israel, it’s silly to think that an economic boycott could change anything. It really means that you don’t understand anything about the history of the Jewish People. People are free to use their power as consumers any way they want, but I myself would never support an anti-Israel boycott movement. There are also some people who support the BDS movement by introducing hateful anti-Israel connotations.
You say that the sovereigntists should join forces. As a result, you recently urged the leaders of the left-wing Québec Solidaire (QS) party to come to an agreement with the PQ. Québec Solidaire unconditionally supports the BDS movement and clearly encourages a total economic boycott of Israel. Could an alliance with that party call into question the traditional position of the PQ on the subject?
We disagree significantly with the QS on many subjects. That’s why our two parties are separate, and will remain so. There’s no question of the PQ adopting the Québec Solidaire program and vice versa. Our main objective is to rid Quebec of an incompetent Liberal government that is hurting the concept of “vivre ensemble” (communities all living together) and the Quebec nation as a whole. On some specific issues, such as raising the minimum salary to $15, reinvesting in health and education services, rather than reducing taxes, changing the voting system to introduce a proportional one, the PQ and the QS share the same position. As for the topics on which we disagree, for example the BDS campaign, we will continue to disagree, even if we join forces.
Is consolidating relations between Quebec and Israel an important file for the PQ?
Absolutely. You can disagree with Israeli policy, for example on the settlements. I have already said this, and I will continue to say it. But then you must remember that in economic terms, in creativity and good practices in the area of startup development in the field of high-tech and small- and medium-size businesses, Israel is among the top nations.
A few weeks ago, the PQ leadership unveiled its new strategy for strengthening relations with the leaders and member of Quebec’s ethnic communities. What were the main goals for that strategy?
There’s a new generation of actors within the PQ who believe that we must, once and for all, turn the page on the past, count on the present and turn toward the future. There’s also a new generation of Quebecers who come from various backgrounds, which was not there 20 years ago. They clearly want to contribute fully to the growth of today’s Quebec. It is essential for the PQ to represent all Quebecers who share our party’s values: social democracy, defence of a common Quebec identity that’s open to the other, personal and collective growth of every Quebecer in Quebec society. It is crucial for the PQ to send very strong signals to the members of the ethnic communities whose votes are taken for granted by the Liberal government.
How do you plan to weaken the very strong ties that have linked the Liberal party to Quebec’s ethnic communities for a long time?
You have to remember that in the last 12 years, the Liberal government’s record on employment has been a disaster. It’s not normal for the unemployment rate for immigrants in Quebec to be 11 per cent, while it is 18 per cent for people from North African countries. The Liberals didn’t adopt any concrete measures to fight discrimination in housing. Nor have they significantly increased the presence of members of the ethnic communities in the civil service, and they have not acted on the questions of neutrality of state and secularism.
Isn’t it an enormous challenge to convince members of the ethnic communities to be part of the push for independence espoused by the PQ?
Yes. That’s why we have decided not to hold a referendum on Quebec sovereignty during the first mandate of a new PQ government. That’s a time when we must focus on agreement on other subjects. I think that if we include the members of the ethnic communities, and the Jewish community as well, in our decision-making processes and our actions, then communication channels will be more open for us to talk about what comes next. We can’t invite Quebecers from diverse communities to create a country if they don’t feel they are sufficiently included in the nation that will form this future country.
Translated from the French by Carolan Halpern