This is not the time for nuance. This is the time to feel embarrassed as Quebecers and angry at our government for removing any illusion that we are one of the most progressive places in North America with just one letter and two numbers: C-62.

The National Assembly just codified bigotry and intolerance by passing amendments to Bill C-62 denying government services to people with their faces covered, in particular by a niqab or burqua. Once this goes into effect, women wearing the niqab will have to uncover when riding the bus, visiting the public library, the doctor or even their kids’ teacher.

As I said before it was passed, it’s like the Charter on steroids, even though it was passed by a government elected primarily as a protest vote against the Charter.

Quebec is the only place in North America with such regulations. That’s right, we not only beat other Canadian provinces to the punch but even the reddest of red states like Alabama and Arizona.

We did it all under the guise of supposed “religious neutrality of the state” in a room where a crucifix hangs front and center for all to see. The most ironic part being that a state imposing a dress code that targets one religion is being anything but neutral.

This denies essential services to women on the basis of what they wear. The government is telling women what to wear.

Claims that this has something to do with identification are about the dumbest defense I can think of. The only ID I need to ride public transit is my Opus Card proving I have paid. It should be the same for everyone.

Montreal Knows Best

The Quebec Government made this law, but it’s Montreal which will have to enforce it. Yes, Quebec City, Laval and other cities will be stuck with this task as well, but I’ll focus on Quebec’s official metropolis where opposition is the most fervent.

Our bus drivers, our teachers, our doctors and nurses and even our librarians will be tasked with implementing this hate-filled law. The only time a librarian should ever have to get restrictive is when someone is being too damn loud.

I can take a bit of solace in the fact that both major parties vying for control of the city are opposed to this monstrosity. Yes, Projet leader Valérie Plante had a bit of a political hiccup earlier today but swiftly clarified her position.

Here we ride on the bus and metro next to women wearing the niqab and it doesn’t phase us, it’s just a part of life. Here, women who wear the burqa send their kids to school like everyone else and have the right to meet with their kids’ teachers like anyone else.

Are there issues with public transit in this city? Absolutely. With education? Sure. With public libraries? Well, it’s called the internet and it’s causing them problems everywhere.

None of these places need a new problem tacked on, and that’s exactly what C-62 is. It’s turning an issue that really only people who have never seen someone wearing a niqab in real life or have an obsessive belief in assimilation in theory or are members of La Meute (our very own neo-Nazi group) care about into something everyone has to deal with in real life.

C-62 is a disaster that turns Quebec, known as a battleground for progress, into a backwater embarrassment that turns bigotry into law. Is it any wonder the Couillard Government also chose today to rename its council looking into systemic racism? Maybe they realized they had just taken part in that systemic racism themselves in a profound way.

Something needs to change and it starts with all of us. Post, contact anyone who voted for this, do anything you can. This may be embarassing for many (and it sure is for me) but it is also disastrous for some.

There’s something we need to talk about. The city of Montreal likes to position itself as a cultural mecca. They finance enormous already-profitable events, spend billions renovating large touristic spaces and pay millions of dollars to light up a bridge. All of that has economic value and I understand why they do it. But, tourism and culture are two different things.

The underground arts community is where every superstar has cut his, her or their chops and where real cultural evolution takes place before it works its way into mass media. Over the last few years, the city’s policies have inadvertently been hurting Montreal’s arts scene. Whether we’re talking about complications related to noise regulations, zoning bylaws or licensing issues, most people in the underground arts community have stories that paint a different narrative.

My story starts about eight years ago. Before Facebook became ubiquitous, independent artists and event presenters had one crucial and affordable way of promoting their events: posters. The city provided little to no space for community announcements and so artists and event presenters used public lampposts to promote their activities. The problem, of course, was that this was illegal.

A group of independent event producers that included Pop Montreal and the Montreal FRINGE Festival were so aggravated by repeated fines imposed by the city that they formed C.O.L.L.E., a working group to address the issue, in 2010. This allowed a conversation to start about a question that disproportionately effects underground creators, since most don’t have the means to buy expensive advertising space.

That same year, the Quebec Superior Court ruled Montreal’s anti-postering law to be illegal and unenforceable. The decision found that unless the city provides space for its residents to display posters and community notices, a regulation limiting their distribution on city property violated its citizens’ free speech rights. After this decision, the city stopped fining event presenters and bands, putting the question to bed temporarily.

The court’s decision gave the city six months to rewrite its postering bylaws. Seven years later, that has still not happened and public postering spaces have not been installed in numbers that come close to satisfying the court’s requirement – this despite numerous proposals and pilot projects presented to the city by members of its cultural community. City employees, though, have again started operating as if the activity were illegal.

I run a cultural business with a few different departments, one of which is a street marketing agency that distributes materials in print and digitally to indoor and outdoor spaces around Montreal to promote cultural activities. We have some clients that are big companies. But, most are independent festivals, labels, venues and artists with limited means. Postering can represent a significant portion of their communications and our work promoting their event on their behalf is unjustly effected.

The city seems to have overlooked this legal precedent and the moral imperative it sets out. Municipal employees seem to still believe that postering is illegal, a falsehood that prompts harassment from city works employees, garbage collectors and most often the police.

The city also prints and installs signage on lampposts warning would-be posterers of that activity’s illegality, citing a regulation that to the best of my research no longer exists – and if it did, it would be unenforceable. It spends time and money installing ridged lampposts meant to make postering more tenuous covered in anti-adhesive paint. It spends hundreds of thousands (and possibly even millions) of dollars every year hiring staff to rip posters off of its lampposts; money that is not counterbalanced by revenues from postering fines, which would be illegal to collect given the current legal context.

In short, this problem from 2010 has resurfaced in a slightly different context. Montreal is, to my knowledge, the only major city in Canada that does not provide public postering space to its citizens. There have been proposals presented by Montreal’s cultural community, including one from myself, which would, it should be noted, not only eliminate costs but generate revenue for the city and which I would be glad to talk more about. But, the city has never dealt with the problem despite the efforts of its creative class to resolve it.

Why should you care? There are three reasons. Firstly, it is your money being wasted. The city spends our tax dollars as it sees fit and bears a serious fiscal responsibility. There are so many city workers now charged with keeping posters off lampposts on major arteries in the city centre that posters are often torn down within the day or even a few hours.

Second, this is a liability for the city and it is your money that will be at risk should a group of citizens decide to sue the city for having supplanted their free speech rights.

Lastly, and this may even be the most important reason, it’s essential to recognize the cultural enrichment being withheld from the public. Emerging musicians, comedians, dancers and visual artists can’t afford to buy ad time on TV, the radio, in the metro or on the sides of city buses. Postering is the one analog real-world promotional avenue in a digitized media-scape that is accessible to our city’s artists and creators. It is affordable, democratic and honest.

I hope you’ll understand my frustration and please know that I’m available to continue the conversation. I’m confident that the municipal government is not indifferent to this issue, since we can all agree that Montreal’s place as a creative hub forms an essential part of the city’s identity. I would like to work to bring about solutions that strengthen our arts community and invite the city and its citizens to join the conversation.

Sincerely,

 

Jon Weisz
Founding Director
Indie Montréal

Valérie Plante and Projet Montréal want to expand the Montreal Metro with an entirely new line, the 29-station Pink line, which would run from Montreal North to Lachine, intersecting both the Orange and Green lines a few times and the Blue Line once. Her mayoral rival Denis Coderre doesn’t think it’s a viable solution to the city’s transit woes…is what I would have written if that was what he said.

Instead, Coderre did what he always does. He dismissed the idea outright, telling reporters that ” it’ll never happen” and comparing it to a joke you might hear at Just for Laughs.

I’ve been to Just for Laughs and I’ve also rode both the western and eastern ends of the Orange Line and the 105 bus at rush hour, they are not comparable. Overcrowding on public transit is not a joke. It’s something that someone running for or running to be re-elected to the post of Mayor of Montreal should care about.

So why does Coderre feel we shouldn’t even discuss it? Is it the price tag, which Plante estimates at $6 Billion? Well, she already knows where that money is potentially going to come from: the new federal infrastructure bank and two provincial funds, one specifically for transit and the other for infrastructure.

Also, it’s a little funny that a mayor who can spend $1 Billion on Montreal’s 375th birthday, double what Canada spent on its 150th, with some of that money going to eyesores like those granite tree stumps and a National Anthem for one borough, would have a problem funding a project that Montrealers could rely on for years or decades to come.

Could it be that Coderre feels the six year time frame proposed by Plante is unrealistic and would be too disruptive? He does, but forgets that the original two lines of the metro were built in four years and without a tunnel-boring machine, something that hadn’t been invented in the 60s.

If, by chance, he is implying that it can’t be done in that time-frame given the corruption Montreal’s construction industry is infamous for, well, even Jean “count the trucks twice” Drapeau’s record with the metro proves that it can. Yes, the plan is even corruption-proof (though I’m sure Plante and her team would work outside of a corrupt system).

Could it be that Coderre doesn’t want to upset the apple cart he’s holding for the powers-that-be in Quebec City? Bingo!

You see, the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) is part of the Réseau de transport métropolitain (RTM), a provincial body which runs transit in Montreal and the surrounding area including buses, metros and above-ground trains. So any new initiatives, say, a whole new line on the metro, needs to be worked out with the provincial authorities.

De-clogging Montreal’s existing transit infrastructure with new projects clearly isn’t the RTM’s top priority and why would it be? I wouldn’t expect the Mayors of Longueil or Laval or their representatives to push for it, that’s the Mayor of Montreal’s job.

Our current mayor clearly doesn’t want to stand up for what Montreal needs, if this comment from the press conference where he was dismissing the Pink line is any indication:

“Let’s be frank here, it’ll never happen. You cannot say that. There’s other things that we can do. First the Blue line, then through the planning we’re talking about to finish the Orange line.”

Okay, extending the Blue line east, fine (Projet wants that too, BTW). But finishing the Orange line? Um, last time I checked the Orange line was complete, at least on the Island of Montreal. Any new stops would have to be in Laval.

While I completely understand the RTM being concerned with this, the Mayor of Montreal shouldn’t be. Or, at the very least, our Mayor should be more concerned with the relief from the sardine can that is the Orange line at rush hour actual Montreal voters are asking for.

Public transit is not a joke. The concerns of riders aren’t jokes, either. Whether you support the Pink line as Plante and Projet have proposed it or not, at the very least, the concerns of transit users should be discussed, not dismissed and laughed off.

A more honest response from Coderre would have been: “It’ll never happen…as long as I’m Mayor!”

 

That was quick. A lot quicker than most expected. On Sunday Jagmeet Singh won with over 53% on the first ballot to become the new leader of the Federal NDP.

He’ll be taking on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and that guy the Conservatives picked, Andy something I think (yes I know it’s Andrew Scheer, but did you without Googling it?), in 2019. It looks like we don’t have to wait two years for the media frenzy to start, though.

In the past few days, Singh has already generated quite a bit of coverage to say the least. There have been mainstream pieces focused primarily on his style and how this is really problematic for Trudeau, plus the obligatory right-wing attacks and commentary from those who supported other candidates for NDP Leader.

Full Disclosure: At the start of the leadership race, I had planned to cover and comment on it from the sidelines, that changed after I interviewed Niki Ashton. I was so impressed with her I decided to volunteer for her campaign and therefore stop writing about the contest on this site (my personal Facebook was another story). Now that the race is over, game on.

While Singh was not my first choice, he did win our reader poll quite handsomely. Speaking of handsome and charismatic, as I’m sure many will continue to do, I realize that having a style that can rival or even beat that of our selfie PM is an important step up for the NDP, but what about policy and the message Jagmeet is bringing to the table?

Image and Policy

Singh does have some propositions that strike me as quite progressive. Most unique to him, he wants to decriminalize possession of all drugs, period, and treat addiction as a public health issue rather than a criminal justice one. That’s a far cry from Tom Mulcair waffling on decriminalizing just pot and better than Justin Trudeau touting weed legalization while not overturning any convictions that happen before the legal status of the leaf changes, something Singh touched on in his first media scrum.

He also wants to decriminalize sex work and is a proponent of free post-secondary education. So far, so good.

Jagmeet is strong on social, racial and economic justice. For Singh, though, some of the NDP’s core issues are much more than talking points. He can (and did during his victory speech) offer personal stories of growing up with economic uncertainty and being pulled over countless times because of how he looked and the colour of his skin.

While he may not have been as strong against pipelines as some of his opponents, he did voice his opposition to Kinder-Morgan and Energy East in an interview with The Financial Post of all places.

All the NDP leadership candidates on stage following Singh’s victory (image: CPAC)

He wasn’t the only leadership candidate espousing progressive values in this race and wasn’t the furthest to the left, either. But it seems that this fact wasn’t lost on Singh. Before bringing his fellow candidates up on stage, he praised Ashton for her progressive stance and stopped just short of admitting she moved the discourse to the left, a sentiment he reiterated in his campaign’s email blast to NDP members on Monday:

“Niki has pushed the boundaries as a woman running for Prime Minister. Her courage to be unapologetically progressive and to engage a new generation has placed free tuition, climate change, gender justice, and unstable work on the federal stage. Thank you, Niki!”

He also thanked Charlie Angus for putting Native issues front and centre and Guy Caron for his “deep policy knowledge on (economic) inequality” before naming Caron his House Leader (Singh, an Ontario MPP doesn’t currently have a seat in the House of Commons) a few days later. It looks like he’s ready to listen, take what people liked about his now former opponents and integrate them with his own ideas.

He’s in it to win and become Prime Minister of Canada and if his subsequent actions match his current rhetoric, he just might, or at least lead the NDP back to Official Opposition status. This is a step up from Tom “My Way or the Highway” Mulcair.

This means that it’s up to all of us who supported other candidates to hold Jagmeet to his word and even guide him a little more to the left on some issues. He seems open to it.

There is a lot to like about Jagmeet Singh, but of course there are concerns as well.

The ‘Burbs, the Party Base and the Hangers On

Everyone knows that Singh brought a whole bunch of new members to the party, which is great. Many of them live in suburban ridings and could possibly add to the party base which would also be good.

If his plan is to mobilize them in hopes of swinging a few traditionally Liberal or Conservative seats to the New Democrats by changing the voting base without changing his national presentation, then great, good idea. If, however, he also plans to suck up to current Liberal and Conservative voters in those ridings by altering his image and message like Mulcair did, it won’t work and will turn off supporters elsewhere.

The NDP isn’t the party of middle class suburban continuity, it’s the party of big city and rural working class change. That’s what fuels and inspires the party base, the people who, really, can make or break an election.

The independent left-wing group Courage listed some of what progressives can celebrate in a Singh victory but also stuff to be vigilant about. The part that piqued my interest was the revelation that some people involved with the NDP’s move to the right under Mulcair were in the orbit of Singh’s candidacy.

Turning over a new leaf doesn’t just mean changing the face, it means institutional change behind the scenes as well. If Jagmeet truly wants to bring the party together and push a left-wing alternative to Trudeau, he should not only reach out to his opponents but the people who supported them, worked for them and volunteered for them as well (no, not talking about myself here, happily going back to journalism).

It’s not just what I hope for, it’s also good politics.

Oh Yeah, Racism

Jagmeet Singh was born in Scarborough, Ontario, a location that screams Canadiana about as loudly as Tim Hortons. When he speaks, he sounds like, well, someone from Ontario. When he speaks French he sounds like someone from Ontario who has put in the time and effort to learn the language out of respect for those Francophones listening to him.

That, of course, won’t stop the racists from having a serious problem with him because his skin colour is different from theirs. It also won’t stop the closet racists from using the fact that he wears a turban and a Kirpan (ceremonial Sikh dagger) to bring up some coded bigoted language about secularism and religious symbols while clutching their crosses.

The racist pushback started even before Singh won leadership. First there was the truly ignorant heckler at a Brampton event who started screaming about Sharia Law of all things. Jagmeet’s extremely chill response to this garnered him media attention globally and even caught the attention of US progressive outlet The Young Turks.

Then Quebec MP Pierre Nantel said that Singh wearing a turban was “inconsistent” with what voters in Quebec looked for in a leader. Honestly, Nantel sounds so much like a Bloc candidate that he should just join them and stop pretending he’s progressive.

Now, since the vote, the CBC’s Terry Milewski interviewed Singh and tweeted that Jagmeet refused to condemn Sikhs who held up posters of Talwinder Parmar, whom some suspect was involved in the Air India bombing. Never mind for a second that Milewski is infamous for his Samosa Politics series targeting the Sikh community, is the first question someone asks Justin Trudeau typically whether or not he condemns the Quebec mosque shooter or the FLQ?

Of course not. We assume correctly that Trudeau does condemn acts of terrorism. Why don’t we extend the same assumption to Singh?

I truly hope that the racists in Canada are as small and electorally insignificant a group as I think they are and that the only reason they seem louder is corporate media bolstering. I hope Canada and especially Quebec doesn’t prove me wrong.

Gonna Stay On Board

I became a card-carrying NDP member shortly before the Orange Wave and volunteered during that campaign. After Tom Mulcair took over, I remained an NDP voter but let my membership lapse. I knew that my input was not sought, though I offered plenty of it in posts on this site.

I re-joined the party specifically to vote for Niki. She didn’t win, but I’m not going to jump ship again, at least not right now.

Jagmeet is not Tom. Mulcair’s victory felt as though the most I could do was offer advice from the sidelines and hope for the best. Singh, on the other hand, seems like someone who wants to do what it takes to win and if he is convinced that keeping the NDP on a leftward trajectory will do that, then those hoping for a true progressive political change should all help him do that.

At the very least he’s a better choice for PM than Justin Trudeau.

I can’t really say I’m surprised. After all, it’s clear that Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre doesn’t like being challenged.

In fall 2016, when the debate over the mayor’s pit bull ban was raging, citizens came to City Hall to express their displeasure during the part of council meetings reserved for public interventions and questions. Roughly a minute into Montreal resident Kim Doucet’s preamble, Coderre simply and quite clearly said “Cut the Mic!”

Fast forward a year and Coderre finds himself neck and neck in the polls with Projet Montréal leader Valérie Plante, who was largely unknown outside of political circles just a few months ago. This, apparently, has our mayor on the defensive and back to his old trick of cutting off opposition.

According to Radio-Canada, Coderre has declined participating in at least four debates, all of which Plante has accepted invitations to:

Now as you can see, we’re not talking smaller organizations or even media known for bias. These are mainstream TV and radio debates and ones hosted by prominent organizations.

Coderre did agree to debate Plante twice, once in French and once in English. Given the fact that the linguistic makeup of this city pretty much requires that if a candidate does one language they have to do the other, this is akin to agreeing to only one debate pretty much anywhere else.

The French debate has already been set for October 19th at Centre Shearaton hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and moderated by François Cardinal of La Presse. The English debate will be hosted by either CTV, The Gazette or CJAD.

It’s interesting to note that even though the host of the English debate has not been confirmed, Coderre has already ruled out both CBC TV and radio. So he’s not just trying to limit the number of debates, he’s being rather picky.

According to Marc-André Gosselin, Coderre’s press attaché, the mayor wants one “grand debate” in French and English and “for the rest” they are focusing on the campaign trail. It makes me wonder how debates are not, according to the Coderre campaign, an integral part of the campaign trail, but rather something else entirely, something to be avoided as much as possible.

I wonder what Coderre is so afraid of? Why is the man who loves the spotlight trying to limit his time in it?

The cynical political side of me says that the mayor and his team feel that if too many people see an alternative to his administration in the form of Plante, the vote might increase and he may be out of a job. However, I think this one is more a matter of personality and ego than one of strategy.

While he may have taken part in a number of debates before becoming mayor, since he got the job he has demonstrated hostility towards those who would challenge him. So far this has been limited to citizens and media, but Plante is someone he can’t just walk away from. This is one woman he can’t simply have his employees cut the mic on when he doesn’t like what she is saying.

It’s really no surprise that Denis “Cut the mic!” Coderre is trying to avoid debating someone who disagrees with him as much as possible.

The City of Montreal is a mess and it’s time for change. The municipal elections are this November and candidates are clamoring to show that they are most qualified to fix our construction problems, frivolous expenditures and lack of accountability. Unfortunately, most people don’t seem to take an interest in municipal politics, and it’s easy to see why.

Federal and Provincial politics deal with sexy issues like healthcare, education, Native rights, law enforcement and treaties. Municipal politics deals with dogs and decorations and infrastructure. They’re not sexy but they are important, so this article will give you a crash course on Montreal’s upcoming elections and some of the issues at hand.

First, let’s talk about dogs.

In June 2016 a dog mauled a Pointe-Aux-Trembles woman to death. In response, City Hall under current mayor Denis Coderre introduced a bylaw requiring that dogs be muzzled in public, banning pitbulls and other “dangerous breeds”.

The rules were met with outrage from everyone, arguing that the law created arbitrary rules in an attempt to prevent something that’s impossible to predict. It pushes the notion that certain breeds are more prone to violence than others and has forced many dog owners to consider leaving the city rather than getting rid of their beloved pets in order to conform to the bylaw. Despite the outrage, the bylaw stands.

Projet Montreal led by Valérie Plante is by far Coderre’s greatest competition, and they have a few things to say about the current mayor.

The party’s website says:

“Like you, we care for the safety of all. And like you, we also know that policies based on a dog’s breed or appearance (BSL) are ineffective in protecting the public.”

Rather than banning some breeds, their focus is on responsible pet ownership including providing financial incentives for pet sterilization, and better control of the sales and life conditions of pets. It’s clear that should Projet win the election one of their first orders of business will be abolishing the pitbull ban.

Now let’s talk about expenditures.

This year is Montreal’s 375th anniversary and we should be celebrating, but how much celebrating is too much?

Anyone who plans a party knows that one must work within a budget, especially if the money is not yours.

In honor of the City’s anniversary, Coderre spent $39.5 million to light up the Jacques Cartier Bridge with LED lights. Coderre also took the liberty of spending $3.45 million on granite tree stumps on Mount Royal, which strike many as not only frivolous, but impractical. As Sue Montgomery, Projet Montréal’s candidate for borough mayor of CDN/NDG recently mentioned, the design of the stumps doesn’t even allow people to sit on them, as they’re slanted in such a way people and objects slide right off (unlike actual tree stumps).

Where did the money for these things come from?

It came from the taxpayers, which means that we’re footing the bill. Was there public consultation about this? Did the mayor seek our consent before using our money to buy these things?

Not really.

One of Projet Montreal’s big platforms this election is that of accountability. They want the city’s leadership to answer to citizens the way they’re supposed to.

Coderre’s goal for all these projects was to put Montreal on the map, but as many of Coderre’s critics have pointed out, the city was already on the map. We have the Jazz Festival, the Just for Laughs festival, Francopholies, Nuits d’Afrique, Carifest, the fireworks competition and tons of other annual events that draw thousands of tourists every year. Most of us agree that the money spent on cosmetic additions was a waste. That money could have been better spent fixing a Montreal problem so great it’s become a joke:

The problem I’m talking about is municipal construction.

Projet Montreal calls the problem “Kône-o-Rama” and vows to “end bad traffic management by creating a traffic authority, ready to intervene to eliminate obstacles on roads, sidewalks and bike paths.”

The problem, however, is much more than that.

Construction projects, while often necessary, are poorly managed. Highway exits are closed, but the signs indicating as much are often placed too close to the site of the work, leaving motorists struggling to find alternate access points to their destinations, creating delays.

Where sidewalks are closed for construction, workers seldom indicate alternate footpaths for pedestrians, something that especially puts the city’s disabled, elderly, and people with babies at risk. Where businesses are blocked off due to holes in the street, the best construction workers offer is a wobbly and unsafe ramp to get to the door. Not to mention the noise, the dust, and the lack of proper safety barriers.

It has become such a joke in this town that souvenir shops now offer ceramic salt and pepper shakers in the shape of traffic cones with the city’s name on them.

Coderre has been conspicuously silent about all of this, while Projet Montreal is demanding remedies as part of their accountability and accessibility platforms. They want to see coordination between the construction projects to make sure cyclists and pedestrians are kept safe and the city is accessible for everyone.

Projet Montreal is not the only party to challenge the current administration.

Other parties include Vrai Changement, pushing leader Justine McIntyre for mayor of the Pierrefonds-Roxboro Borough. Vrai Changement is running on a platform of economic development, less dependence on motor vehicles, and improving public transportation. Unfortunately, the party focus seems primarily on the Pierrefonds-Roxboro and Lachine boroughs and not on the city’s overall well-being.

Coalition Montreal has candidates running mostly in the Côte des Neiges and NDG borough. They are pushing Zaki Ghavitian for Borough Mayor and hoping leader Marvin Rotrand, former vice-chair of the STM currently on the city council, retains his council seat representing Snowdon. Whether they present a candidate for JMayor of Montreal remains to be seen.

More than any other election, the municipal one is the one most likely to affect our daily lives. Stay informed and when the time comes, VOTE.

With Québec Solidaire (QS) talking like they aren’t just hoping for a better result than last time and really want to form government come the next Quebec election, there has been one burning question on the minds of their supporters, casual observers and people at all familiar with how the party functions: just who would be in charge if they are successful. After all, they do have two spokespeople/defacto leaders.

This had been the case long before Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois and Manon Massé were elected to fill the posts. But up until now, QS was never really a contender. Now, with the implosion of the Parti Québécois (PQ) on the horizon (I really think they’re almost done) and people looking for a new alternative to the Liberals, the question of just who would hold power in a potential QS government becomes incredibly relevant.

Yesterday, we got an answer and it’s one that could significantly change the Quebec political landscape if enacted:

 

Inspired by models employed in various republics around the world, the QS plan would strip the Premier of some powers and give them to the elected MNAs and a newly important role of Vice-Premier (or Vice Premier Ministre in French). The Vice-Premier would serve as parliamentary leader whereas the Premier would be a chief executive, a head of state.

And just who would serve in which role? Well, QS members will vote on that in spring 2018.

While Nadeau-Dubois assured viewers in his Facebook video that the plan would work within the current system, it would certainly signal a change from business as usual in the National Assembly.

Leave it to QS to answer a simple question about how their party works with a challenge to the powers of the premier and a proposal that would fundamentally change the Quebec democratic process for generations if it comes to pass.

In 2014, a truck ran into and killed cyclist Mathilde Blais as she rode through an underpass on St-Denis. City Hall opposition party Projet Montreal and other groups immediately called for something to be done. Now, it seems like the solution Mayor Denis Coderre’s administration came up with is to turn a potentially dangerous situation for cyclists into a different potentially dangerous situation for both pedestrians and cyclists.

The sidewalk on Atwater Avenue between Rene Levesque and St-Antoine heading towards the underpass near Lionel Groulx Metro is now also a bike path. At least that’s what the paint city workers put there indicates.

“They’re basically setting up future collisions between pedestrians and cyclists,” said Craig Sauvé, City Councillor with Projet Montréal in a phone interview, “or worse, if a cyclist has to veer into traffic at the last second to avoid hitting a pedestrian.”

Sauvé, who represents St-Henri, Little Burgundy and Pointe St-Charles and is a cyclist himself, knew that changes were coming, changes he and his party had pushed for, but seeing what the Coderre administration had actually done left him feeling bewildered and a little bit panicked.

“They’re not securing,” he commented, “they’re putting paint and saying it’s secure. In order to secure places, you have to give cyclists their space as well and if you don’t they’re going to take it and it will be the same zero sum game as there was before.”

Montreal’s bike paths are controlled by City Hall, regardless of the borough or boroughs (or even de-merged cities) they run through. Atwater isn’t the only recent painted change to come to light. On Montée de Liesse, paint directs cyclists to somehow drive onto a part of sidewalk that doesn’t even dip. If they dismount, they would be doing so in traffic:

Photo credit: u/butidigest on reddit

For Sauvé, a good solution to this mess would be delineating and protecting part of the roads going through underpasses with an actual barrier like one made of cement or even plastic poles. Something which, he observes, quite doable on Atwater as there are currently three lanes of traffic in either direction, one of which could easily be turned into a space for cyclists.

And that’s exactly what Sauvé, fellow politicans, activists and concerned citizens were asking the Coderre administration to do. It’s really not that hard. Instead of paint, just bring some plastic poles.

It seems like Coderre is all for bike safety as long as it doesn’t inconvenience motorists in the slightest. The health and safety of pedestrians is not even an afterthought, it’s inconsequential.

As a proud member of the BMW Set (bus, metro, walk), that just doesn’t fly. I’ve walked through that particular underpass countless times on the sidewalk and know that, especially when walking up the rather steep hill, the last thing you want to contend with is bikes whipping down it.

I wonder if anyone involved in planning these new “bike paths” had ever rode a bike or walked through any of the underpasses in question. It honestly looks like a mistake, one that they are repeating all across the city.

Could it be that they just don’t know? More likely they don’t really care and see bike safety as something they grudgingly pay lip service to and pedestrian safety as something that only matters when a bad story makes the news.

If the city really wants to make things safer for cyclists, they should ask cyclists what to do and really should consult pedestrians before dual-zoning a sidewalk on a rather steep incline. Otherwise they’ll wind up replacing one dangerous situation with one potentially more treacherous.

* Listen to the full interview with Craig Sauvé on the next FTB Podcast

Anyone living in the Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough will tell you that unless you are construction worker with a cushy government contract, the area is a living hell. Entire blocks of main streets have been closed to construction and companies operate in flagrant violation of municipal noise and safety laws.

Everyone is afraid to phone in a complaint because of concerns of reprisals from people wielding heavy machinery. Businesses are suffering, people are losing sleep and getting noise headaches, and even buying groceries has become an obstacle course of spraying gravel and thoroughfares laden with holes, making it hazardous for the borough’s disabled and elderly and anyone with a baby carriage.

It is concerns over the borough’s construction problems and the offer of the most pragmatic solution that will likely determine the outcome of the upcoming municipal election in NDG/Côte des Neiges.

I had the privilege of speaking to one of the candidates for borough mayor, Sue Montgomery, a former journalist now representing Projet Montreal, a party running on a platform of accessibility for the disabled, cultural diversity, and administrative accountability, among other things. She is up against current Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre’s man, Borough Mayor Russell Copeman, and a newcomer, Zaki Ghavitian, who entered the race last Tuesday.

Montgomery welcomed me into her home in NDG. Though running for office, there is little that is politician-like about her. She met me at the door and cheerfully joked about how the humid weather impacted her curly hair. It did not feel like an interview but rather like a new friend inviting me for tea.

Here’s what we talked about.

SG: Why are you running?

SM: Part of the reason is what’s going on south of the border. I’m horrified by it like many people and I thought if good people don’t step up, the same thing could possibly happen here. Obviously I’m not running for president but it starts at the grassroots and can go up.

I’ve lived here for 20 years and I think it’s an amazing borough but I don’t think it’s at its potential. I think there are a lot of problems and I think there’s some incredible grassroots groups that are active here and I’d like to work with those groups and coordinate things better. We’re the biggest borough, but I’d like us to be the envy of the other boroughs.

What do you feel the current leadership is doing well?

I don’t think Russell is doing a bad job. He has a lot of experience as a politician. I don’t think he’s really into the job. He’s not here full time. He works downtown on the Executive Committee so he’s really only here a couple of days a week and I think this borough needs a full time mayor, which is what I would be. I have no desire to be on the Executive Committee.

What do you feel you can improve?

In terms of our borough, right now, construction is a nightmare. I would like to improve the coordination of it, the organization of it, and the communication about it. I would also like to improve communication with residents, so instead of having a thing where we meet every month at borough council meetings, I would like to hold casual once a month also in a café.

I think the borough council meeting can be a bit intimidating. A lot of people don’t understand politics – I count myself among them earlier in my life – I didn’t take a lot of interest in it. I think a lot of women and young people don’t because they don’t recognize themselves in the people who are running things, i.e. middle aged white guys. I would like to make it more grassroots, more democratic, more consultation, more discussion.

As mayor, I’m not going to have the answers. I’m going to have a lot of questions: Why are things like this? Why is it working like this? Why is not working like this? Which is my journalistic background. I have ideas, but I don’t have the answers. I think the people who have the answers are groups like Head and Hands and the NDG Food Depot, NDG Community Council, the Immigrant Workers’ Center. These are people at the ground level who know this is what we need and how do we get that.

Regarding the construction in NDG, what do you feel is the source of the problems?

A lot of this work is done by subcontractors, so there should be a mechanism to find them if their worksite is not secure for pedestrians and cyclists. We need people to go around and check that they’re properly set up.

To me it feels like there’s no accountability here. I remember being a journalist when the bridge collapsed. Heads would roll in other provinces for something like that and they didn’t here. No one was ever held accountable. I would want to know do they have a list of complaints? Do they have a list of what was done with those complaints? Was it followed up? How was it followed up? If it wasn’t, why not? Who is responsible here?

Do you think a standard protocol should be set up?

Absolutely! It’s all about accountability. You can’t just have a number people call and nothing happens. I’ve talked to people since the storm (the microburst which hit NDG particularly hard) where they’ve called in about trees and were told it would be 3 years, 5 years…

How do you feel the city reacted to that big storm?

From what I hear from residents, they were pretty impressed with the cleanup and I know that a lot of healthy trees came down. But I would like to know how many of those trees were rotten and how many of them had been reported because we were SUPER lucky that no one was injured.

I’ve talked to an arborist who told me that this borough is the most neglected when it comes to tree maintenance and a lot of the trees that came down were rotten. With climate change, we’re going to see a lot more of these storms and so that has to be a priority, maintaining those trees.

Montgomery chatted openly about the challenges she will face as the only female candidate running in the borough. Her focus is on improving access for people who rely on sidewalks, bicycles, and public transportation while making sure that the more problematic elements in CDN/NDG are held to account.

Her unpolitician-like demeanor is appealing to more cynical voters and her approachability makes her a sure contender. Whether she’ll be able to win over those who want to be led by a politician remains to be seen.

In Quebec there is no law more hotly discussed, debated, or resented than Bill 101.

These days Bill 101 is seen one of two ways. People who love the Bill see it as necessary way to preserve Quebec’s Francophone identity in the face of cultural and linguistic assimilation attempts. Others see it as a means for Quebec’s French-speaking majority to treat the province’s other linguistic minorities like garbage.

The issue is a lot more complex than that and in order to properly explain, we need to go back in time.

The year was 1760 when Great Britain took over New France. British leaders replaced the French ones and did their best to impose their will on the French-speaking majority. This oppression went on for the next two hundred years during which there were Francophone rebellions to assert their rights but they were all quashed by the British. One of the few but significant concessions the British made to North American Francophones was allowing them to keep their Catholic faith despite the Crown’s dislike of the Papacy.

Everything began to change in the 1960s due in part to the Quiet Revolution in which every aspect of Quebec society from political patronage to the economy to social, cultural, and religious life came under scrutiny with the widespread recognition that change was needed. The increasing demand of Quebec Francophones for protections of their language and culture eventually led to the establishment of the the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism, a federal commission that took place from 1963 to 1971.

The Royal Commission revealed that the number of French-speaking people in Quebec was not reflected in their actual political and economic representation. In 1965 Francophones made an average of thirty-five percent less than Anglophones and there were concerns about the lack of Francophone representation in federal institutions.

The actual inequalities had a few effects.

First was the belief that the status of the French language in Canada was fragile, the second was the rise of Quebec nationalism which argues that the only way Quebec can preserve its language and culture is to separate from an English-speaking majority Canada.

Bill 101 was brought in to preserve the French language in Quebec, but it was not the first law to try and do so. In 1969 Bill 63, the Act to Promote the French Language in Quebec was enacted, which required that kids receiving an English education get a working knowledge of French and that the government facilitate immigrants learning French when they arrive in Quebec. The law was disliked by Quebec Francophones because it didn’t go far enough; it was eventually replaced by Bill 22 in 1974.

Bill 22 was enacted by the provincial Liberal government under Robert Bourassa. It established French as Quebec’s official language and required that all immigrants arriving in Quebec learn French.

In 1976 the Parti Québecois under René Levesque took power and a year later, Bill 101 was enacted.

Bill 101 aka the Charte de la langue française made French Quebec’s official language and enacted a lot of the rules still in force today. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on the three sets of rules people seem to resent the most: the language of education, the language of commerce, and that of government services.

The law requires that kindergarten, elementary, and secondary school instruction be in French. There are exceptions to this and they work as follows:

  • If the father, mother (or both) is a Canadian citizen and received a major part of their elementary school instruction in English in Canada, one parent can request their child receive English instruction
  • If the father, mother (or both) as well as the child’s siblings are Canadian citizen and received or are receiving a major part of their elementary or secondary education in Canada in English, the child can go to English school

The law robs parents of the freedom of choice where their children’s education is concerned. It also allows the child to become a more employable adult, as French is the dominant language in Quebec and knowing more than one language improves job prospects overall.

Bill 101 also established French as the language of business. All product labels in Quebec are required to be drafted in French, as are all catalogues, brochures, and commercial directories. The law also requires that standardized contracts be in French, though both parties can agree to draft the contract in another language as well.

Perhaps the most hotly disputed aspect of Bill 101’s commerce rules is regarding signage laws. The law demands that all commercial signage, posters, and advertising be in French. Another language is permitted on commercial signage but only if “French is markedly predominant”.

Over the years these rules have often been used to persecute ethnic and religious businesses such as in 2001 when the Office québécois de la langue française – the office charged with making sure French is the language of commerce, work, and communication in Quebec – went after L. Berson & Fils, a now defunct Jewish funeral monument company in Montreal. Fortunately public outrage forced the government to back down.

In cases where the government proceeds with enforcing Bill 101, penalties range from fines of six hundred dollars and up to being disqualified from holding certain government jobs for a period of five years.

The most dangerous aspect of the law is regarding that of civil administration, specifically with regards to health and social services. Since they are government owned and operated under Canada’s public health care system, hospitals, CLSCs and clinics fall under the same French language requirements.

Though most people working in public health know to provide health and social services in the language to best serve the patient to the best of their abilities, some service providers have been accused of using language laws to refuse people necessary help. Hopital de Verdun, for example, has been accused on many occasions of denying English speakers health services because they cannot speak French.

Though it should go without saying, where a person’s health and safety are concerned, there should be no language barrier.

It should be noted that Bill 101 has been successfully challenged several times in the courts for violating the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights. To prevent further legal challenges, Quebec used the Notwithstanding Clause, a clause in our constitution that allows provinces to keep legislation in place notwithstanding the Charter. Since the court challenges, the law has been tweaked to make it more constitutionally compatible.

Bill 101 is like toothpaste. When applied correctly and in the right place it is a necessary evil to make sure that Quebec society functions despite what comes out of people’s mouths. When used incorrectly and in the wrong place it can be a pain in the ass. It’s up to us to keep challenging the government when they apply the Bill where it doesn’t belong.

Just when you thought you had heard the last of xenophobia and hate driving mainstream Quebec politics, they’re back! Or rather, they never left.

I’m well aware that the vicious undercurrent of bigotry in Quebec has only gotten bolder in the past year. There was the attack on the Mosque in Ste-Foy, then there was that Front National copycat poster that went up during the Gouin by-election. Just last week, local members of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant group La Meute were spotted marching with neo-Nazis and the Klan in Charlotteville and now a former organizer of the xenophobic group PEDIGA is looking to start a far-right political party.

When it comes to major Quebec political parties (ones that actually have a chance of being elected), though, it really looked like we were finally beyond hate and fearmongering for votes. After all, electoral Islamophobia had failed twice at the ballot box: there was the electoral disaster the Charter of Quebec Values brought to the PQ and the Bloc’s failed attempt to use Harper’s opposition to the niqab as a wedge issue – sure, it did knock down the NDP, but it helped Justin Trudeau sail to a majority government.

While it’s likely the PQ under the leadership of Charter architect Jean-François Lisée may try a re-branded version of the failed legislation come election time, that would really be an act of desperation. It looks, though, like the party that won a majority in 2014 largely by opposing Pauline Marois on the Charter now plans to one-up her with much more restrictive bigoted legislation.

The Charter on Steroids

In 2015, Philippe Couillard’s Liberals tabled Bill 62, the so-called “religious neutrality bill” which banned people providing government services and those receiving them from covering their faces. It didn’t go as far as the PQ’s Charter in that it focused on one religious symbol, the Niqab or Burqa, and had a limited scope in its application.

That scope may be getting wider if the Liberals have their way. Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée wants it to apply to municipalities, metropolitan communities, the National Assembly and public transit organizations and proposed amendments to the bill last Tuesday to make that a reality.

One of the places the Liberals want to ban the burqa (image: Jason C. McLean)

The most jarring aspect is, of course, extending it to public transit. Think about that for a moment:

Not only is being asked to remove a face covering for the duration of a trip on the bus or metro a humiliating experience, it is also something that may very well deny access to public transit to people who need it. Forcing someone to choose between their faith and an essential service that many who live in a city need is just plain wrong.

It is discrimination that serves no valid purpose whatsoever, unless you count getting votes from clueless bigots as a valid purpose.

I have rode on the metro with a woman in a burqa in the next seat several times. It didn’t bother me in the slightest. Just fellow passengers dressed differently than I was. There are frequently people on my commute wearing various religious garb and it is just a part of life here in Montreal. I’m more concerned about the creeps and assholes whose faces are uncovered along with their shitty demeanor.

But, of course, this legislation isn’t designed to appeal to me or my fellow Montrealers. It’s designed to get votes from people in rural ridings, many of whom have never rode public transit with someone wearing a hijab, never mind a burqa, in their lives. Them and a handful of suburbanites and maybe a few big city bigots whose intolerance supersedes their daily experience.

While I rarely give props to Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, on this one I have to. He has announced plans to use the city’s status as a metropolis to not implement the amendments if they pass. I’m pretty sure Projet Montreal would do the same if they were in power.

Regis Labeaume’s False Equivalence

The Mayor of Quebec City, however, seems perfectly content fanning the flames of intolerance.

While Régis Labeaume did say that La Meute was not welcome back to the city he governs after last weekend’s protest, he extended the same sentiments to those who showed up to oppose the hate group’s public display of bigotry and intolerance.

La Meute marching in Quebec City (image: CBC)

If you think that sounds a little too close to a certain Nazi-sympathizing American politician’s much maligned comment about hate and violence existing on “all sides” in Charlottesville, you’re not alone. Jaggi Singh was in Quebec as a participant, not an organizer, but that didn’t stop Labeaume from using “la gang à Singh” as a descriptor for those protesting La Meute.

Singh responded in a Facebook statement which has since been republished by several media outlets. Here’s a excerpt:

“Mayor Labeaume, like Donald Trump, is claiming equivalency between anti-racists — and the varied tactics and strategies we use — and the racist far-right. His false equivalency, like Donald Trump’s after Charlottesville, is absurd. With his comments today, Mayor Labeaume is essentially pandering to racists in Quebec City, repeating a disgusting tactic he has used since he’s been a public figure.

More generally, Mayor Labeaume is replicating the rhetoric of the racist far-right by essentially telling people to “go back to where you came from”. This is the main talking point of far-right anti-immigrant groups, including the racists of La Meute, the Storm Alliance, and Soldiers of Odin, all of whom have a strong presence in Mayor Labeaume’s Quebec City.”

It’s not just a moral false equivalence, though, but a numerical one as well. The counter-protesters clearly outnumbered the La Meute gang, who hid in a parking garage for a good portion of the protest protected by police.

That didn’t stop Labeaume from saying that La Meute had won the popularity contest. Putting aside for a minute the fact that they clearly didn’t, to frame a conflict between hatemongers and those opposed to racism and fascism as a popularity contest shows a clear lack of…oh screw it, the guy’s a grade-A asshole Trump-wannabe who at best panders to racists and doesn’t care about it and at worst is one himself.

Quebec bigots, for the most part, may not be so obvious as to carry around swastika flags like their American counterparts, but they are just as hate-filled and virulent and their mainstream political apologists and supporters like Couillard, Lisée and Labeaume are all too happy to pander for their votes.

La plus ca change…

Niki Ashton is the Member of Parliament for Churchill—Keewatinook Aski, Manitoba and one of four candidates currently running to replace Ton Mulcair as leader of Canada’s NDP and take on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the next federal election. She is currently garnering quite a bit of support from the party’s grassroots who see her as the most progressive left candidate in the field.

Ashton is in Montreal for a large rally with supporters just three days before the deadline to sign up to be a member of the NDP, which allows you to vote in the leadership election. I spoke with her about how Canada has changed since the last time she ran, the need for real progressive change and not just faux progress and other topics. Plus, we do some political name association:

* Audio recorded and edited by Hannah Besseau

* The Niki Ashton Montreal Rally is tonight, August 14th at 7pm at La Vitrola, 4602 St-Laurent

* To vote in the NDP Leadership Election in October, you need to become a member by August 17th

* You can also vote in FTB’s NDP Leadership Poll

On November 5th, 2017, Montrealers return to the polls to determine if Denis Coderre will remain the city’s mayor for the next four years or if new Projet Montréal leader Valérie Plante will get the job. Meanwhile you, Forget the Box readers, can head to our poll right now and pick who you want to see as the next Mayor of Montreal.

The poll closes on November 4th, when we will write an endorsement of the winner on behalf of our readers and publish it the same day, the day before the actual vote. At publication time, there are only two declared candidates for the city’s top job, if more join the list, we will add them as options on the poll and you can, too.

You can also change your vote right up until the poll closes. If we replace this poll in our sidebar with a new one, it will remain active and accessible through this post. Also please feel free to leave a comment as to why you voted the way that you did (but comments don’t count as votes, obviously).

In the meantime, we’ll also be covering the election campaigns to the best of our abilities. Not only the mayoral race, but as many city council and borough mayor races as we can. It’s a big city and an important election, so have your say November 5th, 2017 at the polls and right now in this poll:

Who do you want to see as Mayor of Montreal after the November 5th municipal election?
  • Add your answer

* Featured image via WikiMedia Commons

Now that we know who the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada is (Andrew Scheer), there is one more podium to fill next to Justin Trudeau on the debate stage when Canadians go to the polls in a few years: that of the Federal NDP Leader.

The leadership debates and campaigns are in full swing. While we won’t know who won until late October of this year, we’re giving our readers a chance to weigh in with a new site poll.

If new candidates enter the race or current ones drop out, we’ll update the choices. You can only vote for one option, but you can also change your vote right up until the poll expires on October 29th, so if you’re undecided, please feel free to say so knowing you can change your vote when you do make up your mind.

The winner of our poll gets the official endorsement of FTB readers and a post written on behalf of them. Since this is over four months of voting and we have other polls that will run in that time, it’s possible this poll may disappear from the site sidebar, but it will always be available in this post.

Here it is:

Who do you want to see as the next leader of the Federal NDP?

Of course, if you want to vote in the actual leadership race, you need to first become a member of the NDP

Last week, while everyone was busy looking at that nice picture of Obama and Trudeau amiably chatting it up in Little Burgundy, the government dropped Canada’s new “deliberately ambitious” National Defense Strategy. This includes a 73% increase of the military defense budget over the next ten years and replacement of the CF-18 fleet with 88 advanced fighter aircraft (instead of the 65 planes promised by the Conservatives).

Among all the usual reasons presented by the government for this rather dramatic hike, two stood out: the need to respond to NATO pressure and the need to assume more of a leading role on the international stage in response to the Trump administration’s isolationism.

Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau dining at Liverpool House in Little Burgundy last Tuesday

NATO requests that member states devote 2% of their GDP to national defense and Canada spends little more than half of that. By 2027, Canada’s defense spending will have jumped from $18.9 Billion to $32.7 Billion, which will be 1.4% of the GDP – still too little for NATO, but enough to significantly improve its status.

To be fair, in 2016, only five of the 28 members (The UK, the US, Greece, Poland and Estonia) actually reached NATO’s target. To be quite clear, the pressure to increase spending is coming from the US in particular. Donald Trump scolded NATO leaders last month for not committing more funds.

On the other hand, Trump’s unpredictable behaviour on diplomatic matters is a factor in and of itself.

“The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership, puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course,” said the minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland.

On Tuesday, while Obama was speaking in Montreal, Freeland presented the new policy to the House of Commons. And just like Obama spoke for an hour and a half about everything wrong with Trump without mentioning him, the Minister clearly depicted Canada’s new defense strategy as a countermeasure to Trump’s unreliability without saying so. This brilliantly written part of her discourse is a perfect example:

“Imagine a Canadian view that says we are safe on our continent, and we have things to do at home, so let’s turn inward. Let’s say Canada first. Here’s why that would be wrong…”

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland

She then went on to argue that Canada is facing many threats on the international front, mentioning climate change, but also, the dictatorship in North Korea, “crimes against humanity in Syria, the monstrous extremists of Daesh, and Russian military adventurism.”

Freeland also warned that relying on the umbrella of protection provided by the US would turn us into a client state.

Foreign and security policy analyst Srdjan Vucetic believes Canada increasing its defense spending is inevitable.

“While the demand for spending precedes Trump-induced uncertainties,” he argued, “the latter amplifies, especially in light of Freeland’s speech on Tuesday.”

Vucetic rather liked hearing Freeland admit “that the world is different now that there are no adults in the White House.”

Selling military spending to the Left

The Liberals aren’t forgetting the votes they got on the left of the spectrum in this rightward shift towards militarism. That’s why they’re packaging it as a soft criticism of the Trump Administration, something that is hard for progressives not to support.

Freeland also talked a fair amount about another popular topic on the left: fighting climate change, taking the opportunity to say that “Canada is deeply disappointed by the decision by the US Federal Government to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate.”

It’s logical that increased military spending will improve Canada’s pull on the diplomatic world which is necessary to influence the fight against climate change. However, the Liberal government has given us no reason to believe that they would ever use it to that effect. Despite talking a big game about the environment, they have done just as much for it as the Conservatives.

It wasn’t the only part of the Minister’s discourse that seemed like a diversion tactic meant to appease the Left.

“Now, it is clearly not our role to impose our values around the world. No one appointed us the world’s policeman,” Freeland assured the House of Commons, preemptively echoing potential critics. The statement is a little bit at odds with the very first paragraph of the official policy document praising Canadian military for “working tirelessly to (…) promote Canadian values and interests abroad” and the fact that her own discourse cares to point out how good and honorable Canadian values are.

While “impose” and “promote” are two distinct concepts, they have a way of blending in this particular context, considering no one actually fears Canada “imposing” its values through some sort of coercive force. All this to say that, as nicely as this statement plays to popular criticism, it is again devoid of actual significance.

The Liberals won the elections by playing up the contrast between them and the Conservatives. Instead of acting on that contrast, it looks like they’ve decided to play up their differences with Trump instead.

* Featured image: Canadian CF-18 via WikiMedia Commons

On June 1st, 2017, Premier Philippe Couillard announced that the time has come to reopen the constitutional debate in Quebec. The response across much of Quebec and Canada was: WHY?

As it turns out, the announcement is merely a confirmation of a promise Couillard made in 2013 when running for leadership of the province. Back then he boldly said he planned to get Quebec to sign the constitution by Canada’s 150th anniversary. As it stands, Quebec has never signed the Canadian constitution. In order to understand why, we need to go back in time.

(The story is a long one, so apologies to any history buffs who feel that vital information is missing.)

Before 1982, Canada’s constitution remained in London and only the British government could amend it. However, the act of getting permission from Great Britain became a purely symbolic act as Canada and other former British colonies asserted their independence. All Canada had to do was ask the British to amend their constitution and the crown would rubber stamp their request. Nonetheless, in the late 1970s and early 80s, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, father of our current prime minister, came up with a plan to bring Canada’s constitution home.

Trudeau’s plan consisted of repatriating the constitution, modifying it by entrenching his charter of rights, what we now know as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and establishing an amendment formula. In order to do so, he got provincial leaders together, one of whom was the father of the Quebec Sovereigntist movement, René Lévesque.

The goal was to get the provinces to agree to Trudeau’s plan. At the same time, the Prime Minister put the question of what was allowed to the Supreme Court in a case we now know as the Patriation Reference.

The Supreme Court had to answer many questions, but the main one was whether Ottawa was bound by law to get the consent of the provinces to amend the constitution. The Court said no.

Quebec wanted recognition of itself as a distinct society, a veto over constitutional amendments, as well as an opt out clause that would allow provinces an out of certain aspects of the constitution with some kind of compensation so they would not have to pay for any federal actions that were not in their interests. Lévesque and Quebec were denied, and the constitution was repatriated and entrenched without Quebec’s consent.

Two more attempts were made to get Quebec to sign the constitution, but both failed. As it has never consented to the current constitution, Quebec remains bound by it only because it remains part of Canada.

With Couillard’s announcement came the release of a two hundred page document outlining his government’s vision for Quebec and its place in Canada. The document cannot be called a plan because it sets no timeline for Quebec to sign and no step by step procedure his government would want to use.

The document has a lot of words, but says nothing of value.

It asserts the Quebecois identity as “our way of being Canadian” but when it comes to identifying the people of Quebec, the text limits them to four groups: French speakers, English speakers and the First Nations and Inuit. Allophones such as the Jews, the Greeks, the Italians, Eastern Europeans and the Asian communities who helped to build Quebec are almost completely left out.

The only time Allophones are mentioned in the text is in the context of “interculturalism” and “integration” which, when put together, sound dangerously like assimilation. Since Quebec policy treats Allophones as potential Francophones by making their children go to French school, this is hardly surprising. The text also fails to address the growing problem of Xenophobia in Quebec, which begs the question as to whether the document’s definition of the English Speaking Quebecois refers exclusively to white English-speakers in the province.

What Couillard’s document does do is reiterate what Quebec wants from a relationship with Canada as party to the constitution:

  • Recognition of the Quebec Nation
  • Respect for Quebec’s areas of jurisdiction
  • Autonomy
  • Flexibility and asymmetry
  • Cooperation and administrative agreements
  • Shared institutions

This is all sealed together with the assertion that Quebec’s “full and complete participation in Canada” must come from a “concrete and meaningful recognition” of the province as “the only predominantly French-speaking state in North America and as such, heir to a rich and unique culture that must be protected, supported, and developed.”

Couillard’s plan to reopen the constitutional debate has been met with mixed feelings.

Bloc Québecois leader Martine Ouellet acknowledges that it’s a political move but welcomes it as an opportunity to reopen discussions about Quebec sovereignty. Though the Parti Québecois has decided to put aside the issue of sovereignty for the time being, leader Jean-François Lisée commended Couillard for acknowledging the need to address Quebec’s place within Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has more or less said it’s not a topic to be reopened, while Amir Khadir, an MNA for Québec Solidaire, claims it’s a ploy by the Couillard government to deflect attention from the scandals surrounding the Premier and his party.

It is Khadir’s interpretation of Couillard’s move that seems the most plausible. A simple Google search of Couillard’s name with the word “scandal” will reveal much about the shortcomings of his government. There is everything from the arrest of deputy-premier Nathalie Normandeau for corruption, to Quebec Health Minister Gaetan Barrette’s mismanagement of our health care system and Barrette’s defensive victim-blaming, to the police surveillance scandal, to the Bombardier executive bonus scandal available to learn about online. With his government up for reelection next year, there is much Couillard needs to deflect attention from.

Let’s not take the bait, and keep our eyes where they belong: not on a can of worms that should not be opened, but on the government holding the can opener.