On Wednesday, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, an author, spokesperson for the 2012 student strike and former columnist for Ricochet and Radio-Canada, announced the launch of an ambitious public consultation project he is coordinating with four other prominent Quebecers. Known as “Faut qu’en se parle,” or “we need to talk,” the project dropped like a bomb into the sleepy world of Quebec politics.
Non-partisan in nature, the sweeping public consultations aim to build a roadmap out of what the project’s authors describe as political gridlock at the provincial legislature. Over the coming months, the five-person team will criss-cross Quebec to hear from as many people as possible. Out of this consultation will come a set of original policy proposals, and then … who knows?
The initial roster of five is impressive, and the launch generated wall-to-wall media coverage in the province. One of the first consultations announced, at a concert venue in Montreal that holds around 1,500 people, was directing people to a waiting list for the now-full event within hours. Online, over 20,000 people tuned in to a Facebook Live feed from the first in a series of “kitchen meetings,” and a day later the Facebook page set up for the initiative was at almost 8,000 likes.
Ricochet reached Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois by phone for an interview in which he explains that the project’s goal “is to widen the audience for progressive ideas.”
What is “Faut qu’on se parle” all about?
To put it very simply, our project is a consultation tour about the future of Quebec. We are asking 10 questions to Quebecers from all regions and all origins, and those 10 questions are about the 10 biggest issues of our time. Everything from health, to education, immigration, democracy, the political status of Quebec, relations with Indigenous peoples and culture.
We're trying to build a political conversation about what we want to do in Quebec over the next decades. We think that is necessary because we have seen in Quebec in the last 10 or 15 years a rise in popular mobilization, from the 2012 student strike to the mobilization against the Energy East pipeline. We feel that there are more and more people who are dissatisfied by the direction that Quebec is taking, and they participate in many types of popular mobilization.
But in parallel to that big energy in civil society, on the political level, things seem to be blocked. Polls are not moving. What we want to do is try to have a discussion about why we are blocked politically in Quebec.
We think that the best way to answer that question is to have a broad political discussion that stays away from partisanship and is totally independent from every political party.
Tell me about the name of the project.
“Faut qu-en se parle” translates as “we need to talk.” We've all been in the situation where our partner comes to us and says, "You know, darling, we need to talk." And when that happens, we all know that the situation is serious, that we need to have a real discussion, and that this discussion has to produce results. That's what we think Quebec needs, a big talk about how we see our future.
I understand that this is a non-partisan project. But coming out of these consultations, what is the plan to engage with the political process?
[Laughs] You know, the mainstream journalists and the political analysts, they love to see plans everywhere and hidden intentions everywhere. We are a group of five people who have very different trajectories. Someone like Jean-Martin Aussant has already done politics, but Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash, who is the young Indigenous activist in our group, just entered university, so we are from different generations, and our futures are fairly different. We never talked about founding a party, it's not our intention. As a group, there is no plan to create a future party.
But certainly, when we announce the results of our consultation, we will reflect together on what comes next.
You mentioned Jean-Martin Aussant, who is of course the former leader of provincial party Option nationale. Can you tell me more about the other members of your group?
Alain Vadeboncoeur is a doctor, he has been involved for years now in an organization called doctors for public healthcare, and has been a longtime advocate in Quebec for the public health system, and so he's well-known in Quebec. He's on TV a lot, talking about health, the public system and things like that. He's sort of like our specialist in the field of health care, but he's also a writer who has published several books, on health but also broader political reflections.
Maïtée Labrecque-Saganash is a young Indigenous activist, and she really came into the public eye a few months ago when she appeared on a TV show called Tout le monde en parle [the most popular TV show in Quebec], where she did a remarkable job talking about the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
And our last participant is Claire Bolduc, who is a little bit less known to the public, but she's been an important figure in political issues in Quebec for a long time. She was the president of Solidarité rurale, which was the group responsible for the development of the regions in Quebec, before it was abolished by the austerity measures of the Couillard government.
She is a very well-respected agronomist and was president of the Quebec order of agronomists. To me she is a well-known specialist in agricultural politics and in regional politics and how that plays into rethinking Quebec as a whole.
Her participation is very important for us, because she's really the one that will bring the perspective of the regions to the project. One of the things we want to do is really broaden the perspective of progressives, who sometimes are a little bit focused on urban issues. We really want to listen to the voices of people outside of the two or three big urban centres of Quebec.
I know that you're going on this tour of public consultations and you'll be spending a lot of time in the regions, but can you tell me a little about these "kitchen meetings" you'll be holding? In this world of social media, you’re returning to old-school organizing tactics.
In French we say “assemblée de cuisine,” which can be translated as "kitchen meeting" and it's a very old practice in Quebec. It was popularized by the Parti Québécois, which was founded in the 60s after one of these kind of big tours of kitchen meetings, and the concept is very simple: it is to invite a handful of friends or colleagues or neighbours into your kitchen and talk about politics. And that's a very old and traditional political practice from the left and the independence movement in Quebec. So we decided to use modern technology to renew that old concept.
What we launched yesterday is a web platform that permits people to go online and to call a kitchen assembly wherever they are in Quebec. So they can invite us anywhere. The only thing we ask is that there are at least 10 people invited, and we will show up. We are going to meet thousands and thousands of Quebecers this way.
For us it's really exciting, because we knew that we could not go to all the regions and cities and villages of Quebec with our big, public consultations, so our idea is to compensate with these little meetings.
We had our first one yesterday in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, which is a working-class neighbourhood in Montreal, and we had a wonderful discussion. It was a young entrepreneur who is really involved in that community who invited us, and we discussed democracy, the relationship with First Nations, education, and much more. It was really a nice start.
What we hope for is to receive thousands and thousands of invitations, and as I speak now we already have more than 50 invitations, so that's very cool.
So it's more about asking questions than asserting policy positions, but it's also a progressive project, so are there common principles, or policies that you're starting from?
We asked ourselves that question often. We know that we're not the first ones to hold this kind of public consultation. We know that people have already seen this, and in the past many of these kind of initiatives have been heavily criticized by people who found them hypocritical, because they pretended to consult people, but already had everything decided.
I think [leader of the right-wing provincial party CAQ] Francois Legault's initiative a few years ago was attacked because of that. So we asked ourselves that question a lot, and our answer was that we want to be honest with people, we want to be transparent, we want to say, "We are progressives, we don't hide it, and we have these core values, but we want to hear from everyone, and we want to speak with everyone.”
Of course we will not deny the fact that we are attached to the values of social justice, but beyond that there's a lot to talk about. Just because we agree on basic values doesn't mean we agree on everything, even inside our group, and just because we agree on those values doesn't mean we can't discover new ideas and new initiatives during this tour.
When you look at the 10 questions, they're mostly pretty easy to agree with. "How do we build stronger solidarity with First Peoples, how do we live together without racism or discrimination, how do we provide healthcare to all,” and so on. But then on independence, the question is "how do we make it a reality?" Is this a sovereigntist project?
Just as on the issue of left and right, we would have found it hypocritical to go in front of people and say, “Oh, we have no position on independence,” especially for someone like Jean-Martin Aussant, who is well known in Quebec for having very strong ideas about Quebec's independence, so we thought it was more honest to show our colours, to say "we are in favour of Quebec independence."
But we're not launching a political party, which means that there is no party line. We don't agree on everything. So, for example, on the issue of independence Jean-Martin is well known for his very clear position, but if you ask the question to Maïtée, who is from an Indigenous background, she obviously has a very different perspective. She's pretty open to the idea of Quebec's independence, but in a very different way than Jean-Martin and with very specific conditions.
We are all sympathetic to the idea, but it does not mean, even inside our group, that we won't have any debates on it. Quite the opposite. We want to welcome everyone who was in favour of independence in the past but is not now and people who never supported independence but maybe could be in favour in the future under certain conditions. We really want to hear everyone, and we just prefer to be honest and transparent and say "that's where we stand" and if you don't agree with us, then we invite you to come and tell us how you feel face-to-face.
What else should people expect from this group going forward?
The next step for us, after the tour, is to announce the results of that consultation at the beginning of winter. The idea is to debate and to talk. That's why it's called "we need to talk," but we also want to come out with very strong, concrete and original proposals.
We want to get off the beaten path and come out with proposals that are original, that are entirely new.
So I think that will be the next interesting thing, to see what we will hear from people and what we are able to put forward in terms of new, original proposals that will allow progressives to engage a wider audience, an audience that they aren't reaching right now.
We hope that this will result in progressives speaking to people who they aren't speaking to right now. Our goal is to widen the audience for progressive ideas.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.