Yesterday Quebec Solidaire MNA and co-leader Françoise David retired from political life. She also closed an important chapter in her long history of fighting for women and social justice. Alexa Conradi, former president of the Fédération des Femmes du Québec, paints a portrait of a unifying activist who has left an indelible mark on Quebec society.
I met Françoise David as a new visitor to a women’s centre, during a launch for a book on the isolation of women. She was the director of the women’s centre, and as a young mother of 20 and new feminist, I was invited to speak because I lived in isolation. She took great care to make me feel included and important.
A few years later, I had the chance to get to know her better. She was president of the FFQ, and I was co-coordinator of the Estrie section of the women’s “bread and roses” march against poverty. It was during meetings of the National Women’s Coalition against Poverty — coordinated by the FFQ — that I began my lessons in politics, notably thanks to Françoise’s art of exercising leadership marked by a search for consensus. “How can we make everyone feel as though they are winning, even the minority?” That was her way of doing things.
When I returned to live in Montreal, I became active with the FFQ to support the World March of Women. After a few months I was hired to coordinate with the rest of Canada, and eventually to coordinate the march in Quebec. So began a very close working relationship that lasted for 10 years.
From the FFQ to the organization Au bas de l'échelle, passing through D’abord solidaires, Option Citoyenne and Québec solidaire, we campaigned side-by-side until I left the presidency of Québec solidaire in May of 2009.
A woman of integrity
Françoise loves her world (her loved ones and Quebec). She has an unfailing political instinct, and an unmatched sense of rigour that leaves her knowing her files like few others. She is stubborn — a formidable quality for anyone who wants to survive in the public sphere, and a challenge for anyone who wants to change her mind. The woman we see at the leader’s debate is the same one we meet in the kitchen. She is a woman of integrity, and one who cares for others.
Of all the things that fuel her sense of indignation, social injustice due to poverty and the exclusion which accompanies it are, by far, the causes that animate her most profoundly. We would all be well served to take inspiration from her, as our world becomes more and more marked by a narrowing of the possible. I also saw her work on subjects less familiar to her. She was humble enough to learn from those who knew them better than her. I’m thinking of themes like homosexuality or racism.
The strength to confront the powerful
From the “Bread and Roses” march to the the fight against a zero deficit in the days of premier Bouchard, through the creation of the World March of Women to the birth of Québec Solidaire, she was able to create, with others, political spaces for feminist and left-wing ideas. Ideas that rarely break into the stream of daily news. I think of the leaders debate, where she was able to present a feminist analysis of austerity.
What a pleasure to hear feminist ideas voiced at the heart of mainstream politics. She did it all with skill, sensitivity and intelligence, and that is why she is recognized for her work.
I remember thinking, at her swearing-in ceremony following her first election, that she was finally in her place. She was at home in the National Assembly. At home, because she had the confidence to walk among the powerful and the strength needed to confront them. Françoise never lacked courage.
For these and many other reasons, she has marked the political and feminist landscape of Quebec. Her voice will be missed. Fortunately she is not alone in her vision of a just and egalitarian society.
Happy retirement from political life Françoise. It is a well-earned respite. Thank you for everything!