I had high hopes for the mayor of Montreal. I thought that in all the discourse about Bill 21, Mayor Valérie Plante, the leader of Quebec’s most multicultural city, would take a stand against it.
Instead, despite evidence that applying the law will only hurt Muslim women and prevent the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Sikh people of Montreal from participating fully in our democracy, Mayor Plante has publicly stated that despite her objections to it, she will uphold Bill 21.
As a citizen of Montreal, I was overjoyed to see that we had finally elected a female mayor. I thought that as a woman elected to head the most multicultural city in Quebec, you would do what is necessary to stand up for the people you were chosen to lead. It is therefore disappointing to see that you have publicly stated that while you disagree with Bill 21, you will enforce and uphold it.
I understand that your position is difficult. As a woman in politics you are under greater scrutiny than your male peers, and as leader of our City you feel obligated to uphold the law. But history does not remember those who enforced unjust laws while wringing their hands in supposed discomfort. History remembers those who stood up in the face of them and said NO.
According to a 2011 study by Statistics Canada, 5.6% of Montrealers are Jewish and 9.6% are Muslim. Another 1.3% of the city’s populations are Hindus and Sikhs. All of these people will be affected by this law and thus denied a chance to assimilate and participate fully in our democracy. In these troubled times, they turned to you for guidance and in response you have turned your back on them. We therefore implore you to reconsider your position and prove yourself to be the leader we know you can be.
Stand up and say the City of Montreal cannot and will not enforce Bill 21.
Luc Ferrandez, Borough Mayor of Plateau Mont-Royal since 2009, former interim leader of Projet Montréal and more recently the Executive Committee member responsible for Montreal’s large parks, is out. He announced that he is leaving politics in a Facebook post earlier today. He has already submitted his resignation and it goes into effect in June.
Frequently controversial and never afraid to say exactly what was on his mind, sometimes to a fault, his departure announcement was very on-brand:
He didn’t give a benign reason (spending time with his family, etc.) and then follow it up with a bunch of thank-yous to his colleagues like a typical politician would. Instead he attacked the Plante Administration’s environmental bona fides and then followed it up with a bunch of thank-yous to his colleagues in that same administration as only Luc Ferrandez would.
Basically,Ferrandez feels that the current city government isn’t doing all it can to protect the environment. He also feels that he is someone known for his commitment to protecting the environment. Therefore, as he explained, his continued presence in the administration maintained a “false image” that they were doing all they could.
For Ferrandez, all they could be doing is a pretty extensive list. It includes proposals Plateau residents might expect, like taxing all parking spaces, taxing all cars coming into downtown and increasing the size of green spaces. There are also proposed limits and taxes on petrol products coming through our port.
The most interesting part, though, is his plan to limit the height of buildings in certain areas, but increase the height of buildings near parks and Metro stations. Basically, it’s designed to limit the need for daily car travel, something that’s probably worth its own article, but not today.
A Double-Edged Sword for Plante
Now the focus is, has to be, on what his departure means for Mayor Valérie Plante and Projet Montréal. The next municipal election is still two years away, but running without Ferrandez on the ballot will definitely be a factor.
On one hand, this may help Plante city-wide. Last election, incumbent Mayor Denis Coderre made “in a Plante-Ferrandez administration” his go-to snide remark in debates, knowing that the Plateau Mayor’s reputation, bolstered by local corporate media, was something that could hurt his opponent in parts of the city that were markedly different than the Plateau.
In the Plateau, though, Plante’s party loses someone who was re-elected, along with his entire team of councillors, twice, each time a landslide victory. Replacing him won’t be the easiest task, and it’s one that Projet needs to accomplish soon, because when his resignation takes effect in June, they have a 120 day by-election campaign to retain control of the borough that has been at the core of the party for a decade.
Lately, talk in Quebec political circles has focused on the CAQ Government’s proposed law 21. Currently a bill before the National Assembly, it is better known as the Religious Symbol Ban.
In a nutshell, it bars people considered to be public servants, such as teachers, bus drivers, nurses and police officers, from wearing religious symbols while on the job. This includes hijabs, kippahs, turbans and, what some may erroneously think is the only item banned, the Niqab.
Canada is a secular society, but we are a society that has recognized that secular laws and practices can coexist with many people’s religious beliefs and expressions. It is why in Montreal, for example, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and seculars live together in relative harmony. If Quebec Premier François Legault gets his way, this might all change.
Legault and his Coalition Avenir du Quebec party ran on a platform of promising to bar people who wear religious symbols from positions of authority in the province. They are attempting to do this with Bill 21.
This article is not going to discuss how the CAQ is so clearly pandering to the most disgustingly racist, xenophobic members of Quebec society. It is not going to talk about how the Bill represents the longstanding dispute between welcoming, diverse, multicultural Montreal and the rest of Quebec.
This article is going to talk about what Bill 21 actually contains and the very real fallout for the Quebecois affected if the bill passes. For the purposes of this article, “Quebecois” means anyone living in Quebec (and not just people descended from the original French settlers).
Bill 21 contains important changes to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights, a quasi-constitutional law enacted in the 70s that contains some of Quebec’s strongest protections against discrimination. As the Quebec Charter is only quasi-constitutional, it can be changed by a simple act by the National Assembly.
Bill 21 changes section 9.1 of the Quebec Charter from:
“In exercising his fundamental freedoms and rights, a person shall maintain a proper regard for democratic values, public order and the general well-being of the citizens of Québec.
Section 9.1 Quebec Charter of Human Rights, current text
“In exercising his fundamental freedoms and rights, a person shall maintain a proper regard for democratic values, state laicity, public order and the general well-being of the citizens of Québec.”
Proposed version of Section 9.1 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights
The change thus creates an obligation among citizens to have respect for democratic values, state secularism, public order etc. in the exercise of their fundamental rights and freedoms under the Quebec Charter. It does not, however, abolish section 10 of the Quebec Charter which states that:
“Every person has a right to full and equal recognition and exercise of his human rights and freedoms, without distinction, exclusion or preference based on race, colour, sex, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age except as provided by law, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a handicap or the use of any means to palliate a handicap. Discrimination exists where such a distinction, exclusion or preference has the effect of nullifying or impairing such right.”
Section 10 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights
The Charter also forbids discrimination in “the hiring, apprenticeship, duration of the probationary period, vocational training, promotion, transfer, displacement, laying-off, suspension, dismissal or conditions of employment” based on the aforementioned grounds. As these sections of the Quebec Charter remain on the books, any institutions that enforce Bill 21 could find themselves open to legal action under said Charter which also states victims’ rights in such cases:
“Any unlawful interference with any right or freedom recognized by this Charter entitles the victim to obtain the cessation of such interference and compensation for the moral or material prejudice resulting therefrom. In case of unlawful and intentional interference, the tribunal may, in addition, condemn the person guilty of it to punitive damages.”
Quebec Charter of Human Rights
Matt Aronson, a lawyer in Montreal says that “if a state funded institution practices discrimination as an employer, causing damages to a citizen, it’s possible that not only could a citizen sue to have the discrimination stopped, they may even be able to sue for punitive damages. Now, there is a section of the Quebec Charter that allows for rights and freedoms to be limited in scope by laws, but that would be a fairly difficult retort to state sanctioned discrimination.”
As a result, the government can and will find itself open to costly lawsuits if Bill 21 passes as increasing numbers of people have publicly committed to fighting back.. The English Montreal School Board, for example, has publicly stated that they will not enforce the Bill, and a public protest in scheduled on Sunday, April 7th, in Montreal.
True to Legault’s election promise, Bill 21 bars government employees from wearing religious symbols in the exercise of their functions. This is the list of employees who will be affected – I am including the full list so people fully understand how many will be hurt if this law passes:
Judges, clerks, deputy clerks, and sheriffs
Members of the Comité de déontologie policiere – the group responsible for holding police to account for misconduct
Members of the Commission de la fonction publique
Members of the Commission de la protection du territoire agricole
Members of the Commission des transports du Quebec
Members of the Commission Municipale
Members of the Commission quebecoise des liberations conditionelles
Employees of the Regie de l’energie
Employees of the Regie d’alcools, courses, et jeux
Employees of the Regie des marche agricoles et alimentaires du Quebec
Employees of the Regie du batiment du Quebec
Employees of the Regie du Logement
Members of the Financial Markets Administrative Labour Tribunal
Members of the Administrative Tribunal of Quebec
Chairs of the Disciplinary Council
Commissioners appointed by the government under the Act Respecting Public Inquiry Commissions and lawyers and notaries working for said commissioners
Arbitrators appointed by the Minister of Labour in accordance with the Labour Code
The Quebec Justice Minister and Attorney General
The Director of penal prosecutions
Lawyers, notaries, and penal prosecuting attorneys
Peace officers who exercise their functions mainly in Quebec
Principals, vice principals, and teachers of educational institutions under the jurisdiction of the school boards
It must be noted that the law does contain a grandfather clause allowing all current employees wearing religious symbols to keep their current jobs. That said, anyone hoping for advancement would have to choose between their faith and a promotion to even be considered a candidate for one.
In addition to barring people wearing religious symbols, Bill 21 also demands that some government employees keep their faces uncovered in the exercise of their functions, a provision clearly meant to exclude women who choose to wear the niqab. Those affected include:
Members of the National Assembly (MNAs)
Elected Municipal officers except in certain Indigenous communities
Personnel of elected officers
Personnel of MNAs
Personnel of the Lieutenant Governor
Commissioners appointed by the government under the Act respecting public inquiry commissions
Persons appointed by the government to exercise a function within the administrative branch including arbitrators whose name appears on a list drawn up by the Minister of Labour in accordance with the Labour Code
Peace officers who work mainly in Quebec
Physicians, dentists, and midwives
Persons recognized as home childcare providers
Anyone else designated by the National Assembly
Employees of government departments
Any bodies receiving government funds
People and bodies appointed in accordance with the Public Service Act
Employees of municipalities, metropolitan communities, and intermunicipal boards, and municipal and regional housing bureaus with the exception of some in Indigenous communities
Employees of Public Transit Authorities
Employees of school boards established under the Education Act
Employees of public institutions governed by the Act respecting health services and social services
Employees of bodies in which most of the members are appointed by the National Assembly
Institutions accredited under the act respecting the Ministere des Relations Internationales
Private family-type resources governed by the Act Respecting Health Services
In addition to barring certain government employees from having their face covered in the exercise of their functions, the law also requires certain people to show their faces in order to receive government services “where doing so is necessary to allow their identity for security reasons.”
The law does make an exception where the face is covered for health reasons, a handicap, or requirements tied to their job. The law also says that there will be “no accommodation or derogation or adaptation,” which means there are no exceptions anywhere.
Bill 21 not only alters the Quebec Charter of Human Rights to exonerate the government from open acts of discrimination, it also applies the Notwithstanding Clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Notwithstanding Clause allows governments to bypass articles 2 and articles 7 to 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms simply by including in a discriminatory law an article stating that said law applies notwithstanding the Charter.
Articles 2 of the Canadian Charter deal with fundamental freedoms including the freedom of conscience and religion, and articles 7 to 15 deal with legal rights including the rights to life, liberty, and security of the person, equal treatment before the law, and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Article 30 of Bill 21 states that it applies notwithstanding these articles of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, though the Notwithstanding clause has a failsafe in it requiring the government to renew the law in five years or open itself to legal challenges when that time expires.
That said, all hope is not lost. The law is currently tabled, meaning that the National Assembly has begun to consider it. It has not, as of the publication of this article, passed.
That means there is still time to resist. If you value our province’s protections against discrimination, contact your members of the National Assembly and pressure them as you never have before.
Point out that Quebec has a labour shortage and alienating and barring people won’t work to solve it. Tell them that the scores lawsuits they’ll face will be more expensive than any benefit they hope to gain if the Bill passes.
Tell them that if they want a truly secular state, all towns and streets and institutions bearing the names of Catholic saints should be changed immediately. Let them know how ridiculous their position is.
The fight is only over if we the people give up, so keep fighting.
Featured Image: Screengrab of François Legault defending Bill 21 in a Facebook video
On Friday, Anjou Borough Councillor Lynne Shand had a problem with her eye, went to an emergency room, received, as she later called it, “excellent” treatment and then complained about it on Facebook the next day. The problem, for her, was that the doctor who treated her eyes was wearing a hijab.
In the post, Shand said that if it hadn’t been an emergency, she would have requested a different doctor. She went on to complain about the cross being removed from the Montreal City Council chambres and, in the comments, about the “Islamization” of Quebec.
The post has since been removed for obvious reasons, though not obvious enough, apparently, to Shand when she posted it. You can see screengrabs of it in this retweet and commentary by Montreal’s Mayor:
Montréal est une ville ouverte, inclusive et diversifiée. Les commentaires de la conseillère d'Anjou sont absolument inappropriés et indignes d’un.e élu.e. Les élus ont le devoir de s’élever au-dessus de la mêlée et de faire preuve de retenue dans un débat aussi sensible. #polmtlhttps://t.co/wgGDNUtrXx
The inevitable political fallout is one thing, but for now, let’s forget that Shand is an elected official who shared her knee-jerk bigoted reaction online and focus instead on the reaction itself. She received excellent care, yet remained fixated on what the person who provided her such care was wearing.
The doctor didn’t try to convert her to Islam or insist that she would only treat her if she was also wearing a hijab. The doctor simply provided an excellent service. Again, Shand’s words, not mine.
This story could have served as an example of why letting people wear hijabs, kippahs and turbans to work, even when they work in a public institution, is a good idea. Instead, it is a perfect illustration of why the argument for Quebec Premier François Legault’s Religious Symbol Ban is as counter-productive as it is prejudiced.
How steeped in your own bigotry do you have to be to complain about a job well done? Would Shand have preferred a less-qualified optician not wearing a hijab treat her?
At my local grocery store, one of the cashiers wears a hijab. She’s always fast, even if I’m asking for cashback on my order, smiling and courteous.
I have never avoided her line. In fact, I have opted for it when it wasn’t too long and avoided the line of an employee not wearing religious garb of any kind but who I knew to be less effective.
If it was eye surgery instead of a simple grocery purchase, you’d better believe I’d apply the same approach and not care if the doctor had a cross necklace or was wearing a kippah or hijab. It’s whether or not they can do their job that counts.
If proponents of the Religious Symbol Ban can’t see that, they only need to look to Shand’s story to see how ridiculous they sound.
Today, the Plante Administration announced that after City Hall renovations are complete, they won’t put the crucifix back in the City Council chambers. Yes, this move is about secularism of the state, as the Mayor made clear:
“The crucifix is an important part of Montreal’s heritage and history, but as a symbol, it does not reflect the modern reality of secularism in democratic institutions.”
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante at a press conference on March 20, 2019
Plante also reiterated that she still opposes Quebec Premier François Legault’s plan to ban public sector employees from wearing religious symbols like kippahs and hijabs. The state, for her, and for me, and for anyone who really thinks it through, is the democratic institutions, like the City Council. chambers and not the wardrobe of teachers and bus drivers who work for the government.
Or, to put it in other words, a council member wearing a crucifix and, say, a security guard wearing a turban in the council chamber are just two people expressing their personal beliefs through what they wear. A religious symbol on the wall, though, is the state aligning with the particular religion the symbol comes from.
Not everyone sees it this way. I’ve already seen quite a few internet comments decrying the move as an attack on our traditions and I’m sure there will be talking heads on TV tonight and columnists in Quebec’s dailies tomorrow pissed off about what Plante did as well.
I’m sure that a good chunk, if not most, of the people coming out in opposition to removing the crucifix today will turn out to be the same people who were screaming religious neutrality of the state when the topic was Legault’s plan. I’ve already seen some commenters try and spin it that Plante is just anti-Christian and pro-Muslim.
While few will be that openly bigoted, those that previously supported the religious symbol ban and now oppose the move to remove the crucifix should admit that it isn’t about secularism at all, but about assimilation. They just lost any progressive secularist cover they may have enjoyed until now.
Those that support Plante’s move, want to get rid of the crucifix in Quebec’s National Assembly as well and support Legault’s ban, well, at least you’re consistent. Those that oppose both the symbol ban and removing the cross, you’re consistent as well.
Those like me, and now Montreal’s mayor, who don’t want the state to dictate what teachers can wear and think a government chamber is no place for a religious symbol, our logic makes perfect sense.
Those who think we should ban all religious symbols but the Christian ones, you’re not secularists, you’re cultural fundamentalists. And you just lost your political cover.
The past few weeks have been insanely eventful on the political scene. In the US, the Americans are dealing with a president who is a white supremacist, a misogynist, and a fraudster seeking to keep the poor fighting each other so he and his fellow billionaires can enrich themselves with the very institutions established to protect the people. We Canadians would love to point and laugh, but unfortunately, we have a scandal of our own to deal with.
The buzzword up here is actually a name: SNC Lavalin. This article will give a crash course on what is going on and what it means.
Founded in 1911, SNC Lavalin is one of the leading engineering and construction firms in Canada, handling everything from infrastructure to clean energy projects. Though they operate internationally, their head office is in Montreal and they are a major employer in Quebec and thus highly regarded in the province.
Since 2015 SNC Lavalin has been in hot water with prosecutors and the RCMP. This is due, in part, to their dealings in Libya from 2001 to 2011, where they are alleged to have paid out $48 million in bribes to public officials in the country in an attempt to influence the government. The RCMP’s investigation also alleges that the company defrauded Libyan businesses of $130 million, actions in violation of the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act which criminalizes giving loans or bribes to a foreign public official “in order to obtain or retain an advantage in the course of business.”
In addition to the charges related to the SNC Lavalin’s activities in Libya, the company is also facing charges for a bribery scheme involving a $127 million contract to fix the Jacques Cartier bridge. In 2017, the former head of Canada’s Federal Bridge Corporation pleaded guilty to accepting $2.3 million in bribes from SNC Lavalin in relation to the contract.
The company is thus facing charges of corruption and fraud which, if convicted, could result in SNC Lavalin being barred from bidding on federal contracts for ten years. SNC Lavalin has maintained that they will cooperate with authorities but claim that the people involved are third parties or are no longer with the company.
In February 2019, prosecutors were ready to start bringing charges against SNC Lavalin.
SNC Lavalin in turn was seeking to avoid criminal charges via the new Deferred Prosecution Law passed in June 2018. Under this law, corporations can avoid criminal prosecution with a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) in which they must cooperate with the Crown and the courts including paying penalties and reparations, giving up any benefits acquired because of their crimes, stop their wrongdoing (obviously), and adopt any compliance measures.
Agreements are allegedly to protect employees from layoffs, as well as shield shareholders who knew nothing of the crimes while holding corporations to account for them. In order to be eligible for such an agreement, the crimes must be economic in nature, did not cause serious bodily harm, and there must be a reasonable likelihood of conviction for the offenses.
Unsurprisingly, SNC Lavalin was the first company to seek such an agreement under the new law. There was, however, a hitch. Under the law, the Attorney General of Canada must consent to the negotiation of the agreement.
This is where Jody Wilson-Raybould comes in.
Until she was switched to be the Minister of Veterans affairs in January 2019, she was the Attorney General of Canada. According to her testimony before the House of Commons at the end of February 2019, she experienced a:
“Consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada, in an inappropriate effort to secure a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin.”
Jody Wilson-Raybould in the House of Commons
The accusation is that the Prime Minister’s office repeatedly pressured Wilson-Raybould to offer SNC Lavalin a Deferred Prosecution Agreement and that if such an agreement were not offered, there would be serious political consequences. As Attorney General, Wilson-Raybould had oversight and discretion over whether to intervene in cases that might be prosecuted by the Crown.
The director of public prosecutions, Kathleen Russel, informed Wilson-Raybould in September 2018 that her office had decided not to invite SNC Lavalin to negotiate a Deferred Prosecution Agreement. By September 17th, having reviewed the materials, the then Attorney General decided not to interfere, despite the pressure from cabinet members and their staff about what this would mean with regards to Quebec and the upcoming election.
In January 2019, Wilson-Raybould was informed by the Prime Minister that she would be moved or shuffled out of the position of Attorney General to that of Minister of Veterans Affairs. Shortly thereafter, in February, she resigned from the Trudeau cabinet. Shortly thereafter, Gerald Butts, Prime Minister Trudeau’s principal secretary resigned over the SNC Lavalin affair. On March 4, 2019, Treasury Board president Jane Philpott also resigned from the Trudeau cabinet.
Why is the Prime Minister so bent on protecting SNC Lavalin?
Simple: it’s an election year and SNC Lavalin plays an important role in the Quebec economy. If SNC Lavalin falls, there is a concern about the economic consequences for the province. Trudeau needs Quebec to win the and is clearly concerned that acting against its prized engineering firm will affect his chances victory in November.
Given all the scandal this has caused, protecting the SNC Lavalin may not have been worth the trouble after all. Only time will tell.
In the premier episode of the all-new FTB Podcast, hosts Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney talk about the Outremont by-election and Canadian politics with special guest Niall Ricardo and we feature an interview with NDP candidate Julia Sanchez.
Also: News Roundup, Survey Says (Should Major League Baseball return to Montreal?), Dear FTB, Things You Did Not Know (Maybe) and Predictions!
Julia Sánchez may be a first-time political candidate, but she has years of experience in highly politicized circles, tackling, for the most part, climate change. Now the former Managing Director for the Global Campaign for Climate Action is carrying the NDP banner in the Outremont by-election.
FTB’s Hannah Besseau had a chance to speak with her last week:
On Friday, US President Donald Trump agreed to re-open the US Government for 15 days without funding for his much fetishized border wall, thus ending the longest government shutdown in American history.
Pretty much everyone knows that part, but not everyone knows the main cause of Trump’s sudden capitulation. At least I admittedly didn’t on Friday when I half-jokingly posted potential reasons on Facebook, including so the State of the Union could go ahead and Roger Stone’s arrest that morning by unpaid FBI agents.
Within minutes, a couple of FB friends, who had been following things a bit closer than I had, provided me with the real answer. It was one of those “of course” moments.
For weeks, we had been hearing about the back and forth in Washington between the President and newly elected Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. We had also been hearing about furloughed government workers struggling to make ends meet with no pay.
Those were the dominant shutdown narratives. But there were also stories of increasingly larger delays at US airports because unpaid air traffic controllers and TSA screeners were calling in “sick” for work in large number.
Then, on Friday morning, enough unpaid air traffic controllers failed to show up for work that no planes landed at or took off from Laguardia Airport for a little over an hour. The FAA had been forced to temporarily shut down half of of New York City’s air transit.
With the risk of this spreading to other airports, Trump re-opened the Federal Government a few hours later. It was essentially a strike, though an unofficial one, that forced the President’s hand.
This didn’t go unnoticed, at least not by people like AOC:
I am so proud of the air traffic controllers, flight attendants, & workers who, through their organizing, should be credited for their role in ending the shutdown.
Dems only have the House (for now), so we must rely on the bravery + organizing of everyday people to push change. https://t.co/4vFzvZ1PrM
Thank you air traffic controllers, flight attendants, federal workers and contract employees for standing up for your rights, holding rallies, organizing and sharing heartbreaking stories over the past 35 days. You are the reason that the government shutdown finally ended.
Still, the dominant narrative is the one that focuses exclusively on the interplay between the politicians. Pelosi beat Trump. Yes, she did, and she executed the correct play of not backing down beautifully.
Pelosi gets credit, sure. But we shouldn’t ignore the workers who ultimately forced the President’s hand and ended the shutdown.
This was one of the most successful labour actions in recent US history and should not be forgotten. Sometimes people power trumps (forgive the pun) political machinations.
On February 25th, voters in the British Columbia riding of Burnaby South may very well give Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh a seat in the House of Commons. The prospect that they might not, though, has some openly speculating Singh won’t lead the party into the 2019 Federal Election if he loses.
Last Wednesday, former NDP Leader turned TV pundit Tom Mulcair told CTV’s Power Play that it would be very difficult for Singh to hold onto power if Burnaby South votes for someone else. He cited sources within the party to back up his statement.
Later in that same broadcast (the 40:40 mark to be precise), La Presse journalist Joël-Denis Bellavance told the panel that he knew of a pre-Christmas caucus meeting where they discussed a Plan B if Singh loses in Burnaby South. Basically, a new leadership election would be too expensive, so the party would force Singh to resign and the caucus would vote in a new interim leader that would take them into the 2019 campaign.
That’s right, some in the NDP think sending an unelected and officially temporary leader to debate Justin Trudeau on TV is a good idea. It’s actually the worst idea anyone has had in Canadian politics since the Liberals tried basically the same thing with Michael Ignatieff and failed miserably.
Sure, there were some differences. The Liberal Party establishment did let the leader their membership elected, Stéphane Dion, run in one election before replacing him with their hand-picked candidate and they did eventually go through the formality of letting membership officially elect Ignatieff once he was already in place with no challengers.
Still, the Liberal Party establishment’s choice failed worse than any other leader the party ever had in over a century. And that was with steps taken that the NDP establishment doesn’t even seem to want to attempt.
Bellavance mentioned Nathan Cullen and Guy Caron as possible interim choices. While Caron may be the current Parliamentary Leader, he didn’t just lose to Singh in the last leadership election, he finished fourth, so the party brass would probably go with Cullen, who didn’t run.
While Cullen may be a skilled debater and charismatic, he wouldn’t be able to overcome the fact that he wasn’t actually running for Prime Minister. Instead of “what I would do differently” he would have to talk about “what the person my party picks as leader and PM in a few months” would do differently.
Sure, if the NDP did win the election and form government with an interim leader, that person would probably become the actual party leader and PM very quickly, but there would still be no shaking the interim label during the campaign. It would be as if the NDP was saying “we won’t win, but vote for us anyways.”
Not only that, replacing a leader who had been on the job just over a year with someone else months before an election screams that the party is in disarray. Yes, the Ontario PCs did that and won, but they were already poised to win, not trailing in third place.
As a card-carrying NDP member, I didn’t vote for Jagmeet Singh in the last leadership election. In fact, I volunteered for one of his opponents, Niki Ashton.
That said, my fellow NDP members spoke and elected Singh as leader and I respect that. When we voted, it was to select the candidate to lead the party into the 2019 election, we all understood that.
When Tom Mulcair became leader, to say I was disappointed would have been an understatement. Still, I didn’t think that replacing him with someone else at the last minute before the election was an option, because it wasn’t.
Singh may still win the by-election. In fact, I suspect that talk of him losing is being amplified by the Liberals in hopes that the NDP will pull more money and resources out of places like Outremont and bring them to BC.
If he does lose, though, and resigns of his own accord, then another leadership race voted on by party membership is the only option if the party hopes to have any chance of maintaining what it has and gaining. If Singh loses in Burnaby South but wants to stay on as leader, then he should be allowed to do so and to run in 2019 as a party leader still looking for a seat.
NDP members knew he didn’t have a federal seat when they elected him. If he goes into the election running personally in some GTA riding where he is bound to win, then the party will do way better nationally than they would with a placeholder running as leader.
Pushing out a leader elected by the membership and replacing them with a handpicked party establishment favourite voted in by just the caucus is something that blew up in the Liberals’ face, and they’re the party of establishment insiders. Imagine what will happen if a party that is supposedly the progressive alternative pulls the same thing, and not very well.
* Featured image by ideas_dept via Flickr Creative Commons
Unemployment in Quebec is the lowest it’s been in forty years. Despite this, Quebec has a massive labour shortage and it’s only getting worse.
The baby boomers are retiring in ever increasing numbers and they and the generations that followed didn’t have enough children to fill the vacancies they leave behind. The newly elected Coalition Avenir du Québec (CAQ) does not feel that immigration is the answer, but business owners in Quebec see no other way out.
As stated in my previous article, the jobs that need to be filled in Quebec fall into two categories: survival jobs – defined here as low paying jobs that require little experience or education i.e call centers, retail, etc., and highly skilled workers. It is the latter category that I will be discussing today, specifically with regards to one major obstacle in the filling of skilled jobs: the recognition of foreign credentials and work experience in Quebec.
The employers in Quebec wanting skilled workers are not looking for anyone with any university degree. They are looking for people with specific degrees, skillsets, and certifications.
Rather than bring in more skilled people to fill the labour shortage, the CAQ wants to cut immigration to Quebec by twenty percent and make use of people already here. The problem is not just that Quebec is lacking in skilled workers, it’s also that the skilled immigrants we have cannot get their work experience, education, and other credentials recognized so they can fill those jobs.
It’s a huge problem in Quebec, with many immigrants overqualified, underemployed and unable to find jobs in their respective fields. During the recent election, the concerns of recent immigrants lay in the fact that the best jobs they could get were survival jobs like working in call centers.
All parties in the election recognized the issue and the fact that many immigrants opt to leave the province because of it. Within ten years of their arrival, many immigrants leave Quebec.
Provincial governments have always treated the problem as a language issue, but that’s only part of it. To fully succeed in the Quebec job market, you need to speak French, but as it stands, lessons are primarily offered in classroom settings which don’t work for new arrivals needing steady incomes to feed their families. This is only part of the problem because many immigrants to Quebec are French speakers from North African countries like Tunisia.
The Quebec government does offer services other than French classes to help skilled immigrants. One such initiative is the website qualficationsquebec.com.
Created with funding from the province’s Immigration Ministry, it’s a quick way to see if your qualifications will be recognized in Quebec and if they are not, what you need to do to work in your profession. Unfortunately, the website is mostly in French and clicking on the English option at the top of the page will only get you a phone number to a career counsellor.
If you can manage in French, here’s how it works: type in your profession and click the search icon. You will then have the option to enter information about your age, sex, whether you’re currently in the province, and where you got the education related to your profession, a step you can skip. It will then bring you to a page indicating the likelihood of getting a job, a link to the possible annual salary, and what professional orders you have to join.
Professional orders act as gatekeepers to many of the skilled professions in Quebec and can pose a major barrier to immigrants working in their fields. Without membership in said orders, engineers, registered nurses, appraisers, chartered accountants and many other skilled professionals from abroad cannot work in their fields in Quebec. Membership is not easily accessible, and requests to have your education and credentials recognized by an order are often costly.
Quebec’s Order of Charter Appraisers, for example, charges a $200 fee for the evaluation of your credentials. And that’s only after you get a Comparative Evaluation for Studies done outside Quebec.
This is an assessment provided by a government expert at Immigration Quebec comparing your education to similar degrees obtained in the province. The Evaluation fee is $170 and does not guarantee you a job even if your education is deemed equivalent to a Quebec education, and only works for certain professions.
For those learning French, access to the orders can be even more difficult. Though the Ordre des infirmières/infirmiers du Québec (OIIQ), the province’s nursing union, allows applicants to write their entrance exams in English, the union came under fire in 2015 for the poor quality of the exam’s English translation. This resulted in a 47.3% pass rate for those writing in English, compared with the 78.7% pass rate for those who wrote the exam in French.
This reporter spoke to a Filipino nurse who arrived in Canada in the late sixties seeking a better life. She was able to join the OIIQ and worked for over 25 years before retiring. She had some choice words about the Ordre des infirmières/infirmiers du Quebec.
“They’re racists,” she said.
Which brings us to the other barrier facing skilled immigrants looking for work in Quebec: discrimination. Discrimination does not necessarily refer to overt acts of racism. Most employers know that openly discriminating against anyone can have serious legal consequences.
That said, the province still has people like Abdul Waheed, a chemist from Pakistan who told the CBC in September of this year that despite sending out hundreds of CVs, he could only get a job in a call center. Though we have tons of skilled immigrants, employers are still showing a preference for applicants with Francophone or Anglophone names, a likely result of the fear of change immigrants may or may not bring to Quebec language and culture.
The CAQ has promised to make skilled professions more accessible to the immigrants we have, but they cannot do it alone. The professional orders and government bodies in charge of recognizing the skills of immigrants need to work together and to do it faster. If they don’t, the labour shortage will get worse and they’ll have only themselves to blame.
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh just put a new face on the opposition to Quebec’s religious symbol ban: his own.
In an interview with CBC Radio Montreal’s Daybreak, host Mike Finnerty asked him about the new CAQ government’s promise vigorously enforce a religious symbol ban and fire civil servants (police, teachers, etc.) who wear religious symbols on the job. While most of the public focus has been on Muslim women who wear the hijab, Singh, a Sikh, who wears a turban and kirpan (Ceremonial dagger), would also be affected by this ban if he was a Quebec civil servant:
Singh responded to this the best way possible, Sure, he couldn’t very well have said that wearing a turban is fine for Prime Minister but not a schoolteacher, but it’s still good that he’s taking a solid stand. It’s also quite politically savvy of him to refer to the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms when asked about the Canadian one.
This is way better than the “I don’t like it personally, but you’ve got to respect the courts” message former NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair put out during the last federal election. Sure, the Bloc Québécois was attacking the NDP over their opposition to the Harper Government’s challenge to a court ruling that allowed women to wear a niqab at citizenship ceremonies, but they were doing it viscerally and Mulcair responded with an appeal to respect judicial rulings and an attempt at partial appeasement.
Not sure what he was thinking, really. The staunch bigots were going to return to the Bloc regardless, unless the NDP changed its stance, which wasn’t going to happen. Progressives, on the other hand, were looking for stronger anti-Harper messaging.
Justin Trudeau, our current Prime Minister who won a Majority Government with more than a handful of seats in Quebec, including some former Bloc strongholds that had flipped to the NDP in the 2011 Orange Wave, had this to say on the subject at the time:
“You can dislike the niqab. You can hold it up it is a symbol of oppression. You can try to convince your fellow citizens that it is a choice they ought not to make. This is a free country. Those are your rights. But those who would use the state’s power to restrict women’s religious freedom and freedom of expression indulge the very same repressive impulse that they profess to condemn. It is a cruel joke to claim you are liberating people from oppression by dictating in law what they can and cannot wear.”
That was bold. That was principled. That’s what someone not politically timid and completely controlled by advisers who favour the safe choice says.
Too bad he turned out to also be a total shill for Big Oil, which, incidentally, was the other part of the Bloc’s attack on the NDP in 2015 (Muclair was kinda wishy washy on pipelines). The Bloc actually released an ad with an oil pipleline dripping crude that turned into a niqab.
Eco-left and hard right in the same ad. Only in Quebec, I guess.
This is a strange place politically. We embrace leftist ideals and inclusiveness on many issues, but then go and elect a reactionary provincial government that promises a form of exclusion that even Trump hasn’t tried.
I think Singh gets this. That’s why he made a point of mentioning his support of LGBTQ and women’s rights and that Conservative leader Andrew Scheer wants to head in the other direction along with his opposition to the religious symbol ban.
Singh, and everyone else, knows that the Bloc is imploding, this time with no outside help. He wants to make it clear to Bloc supporters jumping ship that voting Conservative means supporting a bunch of things that they may not be ready to get behind. They can’t greenwash or pinkwash their bigotry this time.
What’s most interesting, though, is how Singh is attempting to redefine the ban on religious symbols as anti-secular. During the interview (not during the clip above), he said:
There’s no way to say that you’re not supporting one identity or other, because there are certain identities that don’t require a kippa. But there are other identities that have headgear. I think it’s a hard argument to make, that one is more neutral than the other, because there’s always a certain tradition that may not have headgear and one that may or may not have a certain way of dress. I think that the point should be that we we have a society that is secular through the values that we promote — that sets freedom and access to justice for all. That there’s no barriers based on who you are. Those are the ways that we ensure that it is a secular society.
He’s right. Secularism means no state religion, not the state banning individuals, including those working for the state, from wearing the garments of their religion on the job while at the same time keeping a symbol of one religion on display in the National Assembly.
Singh is also reminding Quebecers that Muslim women who wear hijabs aren’t the only ones targeted by this ban. Sikhs who wear turbans like him and Jews who wear kippahs are also in the crosshairs, if not in the spotlight.
Will this bold strategy work? Honestly, who knows. Quebec politics are always a gamble.
Sure, a recent poll showed that nearly two thirds of Quebecers are in favour of a religious symbol ban, but that poll doesn’t show how many of them consider it an important enough issue to base their vote on. Maybe the CAQ won in spite of their bigotry, not because of it.
One thing is clear, though: trying to play it safe by appeasing the hard right while running as a left alternative is a recipe for disaster, especially in Quebec. When Mulcair tried it, he effectively turned Trudeau into the principled, inclusive opposition to the Bloc and, in the eyes of the rest of Canada, Harper. At least Singh won’t make that mistake.
Whether this stance translates into a better Quebec performance for the NDP has yet to be seen. Regardless, Jagmeet Singh speaking out against the religious symbol ban and redefining what it means is what the federal NDP needs.
* Featured image Creative Commons via OFL Communications Department
When I was growing up in the eighties and nineties, I was taught that I had to get an education and that it didn’t matter what I studied so long as I got a DEC and a Bachelor’s degree. This seems to be the narrative Gen Xers and Yers were fed, and many of us went into debt trying to get that coveted degree that would allegedly guarantee us a job when we were ready to enter the market.
Sadly, the reality we encountered was very different when we started looking for work in the early 2000s. Employers questioned us on our degrees and why we chose to study a given subject. Unlike previous eras, many were unwilling to give us on-the-job training that would compensate for any specialized education, and many of us went back to school and into more debt hoping get another degree that would get us a job with a modicum of financial stability.
In spite of how highly educated many of us are, Canada, and especially Quebec, is suffering from a massive labour shortage. This article is going to discuss the labour shortage and why it has happened. Next week I will be going over the controversial issue of the recognition of foreign degrees and qualifications in Quebec.
Quebec needs workers.
During the Quebec election, Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume called for more immigration to fill the 17 000 jobs on the north and south shores of the city, telling the CBC he didn’t see any other way to find people for them. In October 2018, Montreal Board of Trade President Michel Leblanc expressed concern over the Coalition Avenir du Québec (CAQ) government’s plan to cut the number of immigrants saying “we need to have more.”
The newly-elected CAQ wants to cut immigration to Quebec by twenty percent – a clear indication that they feel the solution to the labour shortage is not to bring in more people from abroad. Their platform includes encouraging older workers to stay active as long as possible to address the fact that jobs are not being filled at the rate that the baby boomers are retiring. The boomers did not have as many children as their parents did and the result is fewer native-born people in the labour market.
The CAQ also wants to enhance vocational and technical training programs to fill labour market needs and offer more job-study programs. Whether the labour of students in job-study programs would be paid or not remains to be seen, but it must be addressed as people cannot live on “learning experience” and many young people are reluctant to do them because they cannot pay for living expenses at the same time. Another idea the CAQ has put forward is that of encouraging cooperation between businesses and universities to better tailor education programs to business needs.
Part of the labour problem lies in the mismatch between the degrees people in Quebec are getting and the jobs available. One of the clearest indications of this is the employment offered at Montreal’s most recent job fair.
On October 24th and 25th, 2018, JobBoom.com hosted a massive job fair at the Palais des Congrès in Montreal. The employers present were calling for two types of employees. On the one hand you had businesses calling for highly specialized workers like nurses, accident assessment specialists, engineers, chartered appraisers, accountants, industrial security and safety specialists and so on. On the other hand were employers calling for what my generation was taught were “survival jobs” such as retail, security guarding, telemarketing, customer service, and administrative support.
Employers wanting specialized workers are not seeking people with any old Bachelor’s degree or DEC, but rather people with specific degrees, certifications, and even memberships to professional orders. While there is demand for chartered appraisers, for example, in order to become one in Quebec you need a Bachelor of Commerce with a concentration in real estate, followed by a yearlong internship, interview, and entrance exam, all of which come with their own sets of tuition fees, stage fees, and administration and exam costs. This likely means copious amounts of debt given wage stagnation for survival jobs.
For the purposes of this article, I’m going to define a survival job as a low paying job in which little experience or education is required. Many born in Canada were taught that survival jobs were meant to be temporary – the kinds of jobs you took to get by until you found a job that fit your education and career aspirations given the low pay and the often mindless, unfulfilling nature of the work.
It must be said that there is no shame in working a survival job. Many of us do not have the luxury of being choosy in employment due to our financial situation and anyone who depends on us for the income we earn. The only thing that’s really shameful about a survival job is how impossible it is to actually survive on the wages they pay due to wage stagnation in Canada. They are also generally the kinds of jobs that immigrants are most willing to fill due to the adjustment period following their arrival as well as the difficulties having their education and credentials recognized in Quebec.
In conclusion, there are jobs to be had in Quebec, lots of them. If you want to invest in higher education to get a good job, in today’s market you need to be very specific about what you study and make sure the program you choose fits a job in demand. If you need to work to survive, there are jobs for that too; they probably won’t be very fulfilling but you might scrape by. Go get ’em!
* Featured image by Brenda Gottsabend, Creative Commons
Quebec City versus Ottawa. Quebec’s provincial government versus Canada’s federal one. It’s the sometimes amicable rivalry, sometimes bitter fight that has dominated our politics for the past fifty years or so.
Now, with the election of a Coalition Avenir du Québec (CAQ) government for the first time ever, it looks like things are going to change. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may have already called out new Premier François Legault a couple of times, there’s only so much he can do without risking federal over-reach, which is never a good ideal in Quebec. Plus he will soon be busy fighting to keep his own job.
It looks like the next great intergovernmental battle, at least for the next three or four years, will be the National Assembly versus Montreal City Hall. Legault versus Plante. Here’s why:
From Side-Pander to Not Necessary
Back in the day, from the late 1960s to a few weeks ago, power always shifted between Liberal (PLQ) and Parti Québécois (PQ) governments. Both parties understood that Montreal votes were important enough for them to pander to us a bit during during election campaigns but not as important as votes off-island and across the rest of Quebec, which most of their policies were crafted to deliver.
Now, the governing party has almost no representation in Quebec’s largest city. They won only two seats here, Bourget and Pointe-aux-Trembles, both on the island’s eastern extremities. Flip them to any other party and the CAQ still has a strong majority.
Legault has a mandate, but he didn’t get it from Montreal. He doesn’t even have to pretend to care about what Montrealers care about, he doesn’t need us to hold power. We’ve gone from a side-pander to not needed to win.
That doesn’t mean their policies won’t affect us. In fact, the most overtly reactionary will pretty much only affect us.
Montreal needs to stand up to the CAQ and, at least on a few issues, it looks like we already are or are prepared to.
Banning Religious Symbols
Legault has promised to strictly enforce Bill C-62 which bans those providing or using government services (teaching in a school or riding the metro, for example) from doing so while wearing religious symbols. He plans to use the Notwithstanding Clause if the courts stop him.
The PLQ, who won the most seats in Montreal, are unlikely to fight against the implementation of a law they wrote and passed (sure, they probably thought they would get some votes on the right before the courts struck it down, but Legault won’t let the Canadian Charter stop him). Québec Solidaire (QS), who came in second here, may help fight this, but they only have ten seats in a Majority Government.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, on the other hand, has said she has no problem with civil servants wearing religious symbols, including police officers. She opposed Bill 62 as a candidate and while she said she will wait and see what the CAQ plan looks like, opposing it would just make sense.
The Greater Montreal area and the Island of Montreal are the most ethnically and culturally diverse parts of Quebec. It’s also where most immigrants live. Here, a Muslim woman wearing a hijab or a Jewish man wearing a kippah is not a strange sight, it’s part of daily life. They are members of our community with the same right to provide or avail themselves of government services as the rest of us.
Of course it’s like that. Montreal is a metropolis. Cultural, religious and ethnic diversity are essential parts of being and staying a world-class city, as important as a large population and a decent public transit system.
Close to two million people live on the Island of Montreal and over four million in the Greater Montreal area. The CAQ wants us to look as white and Christian as, say, Trois-Rivières with a population under 150 000. While he claims to be a Quebec nationalist, Legault’s attitude towards Quebec’s officially designated metropolis is not only bigoted, it’s also quite, um, provincial.
If Plante does ultimately end up refusing to implement the new Quebec Government’s plan when it comes to Montreal employees and people receiving services from the city, I don’t know what Legault could do to make her. Things could get interesting.
Implementing Cannabis Legalization
When it comes to legal weed, Plante isn’t taking a wait and see approach. In Montreal, you can smoke your legal cannabis anywhere you can smoke tobacco or vape, but you can’t spark a joint near schools, on a terasse, in hospitals, on a bus, or basically anywhere you can’t smoke a cigarette.
Legault, on the other hand, is considering a province-wide ban on smoking pot in public, such as on sidewalks or in parks. Basically he’s treating it like booze, while conveniently forgetting that there are public places called bars where you can legally consume alcohol and if you bring a sandwich to a park along with a bottle of wine, it’s a picnic.
Five Montreal boroughs, all held by the opposition party Ensemble Montréal (formerly Équipe Denis Coderre), are planning similar bylaws. While it’s a really out-of-touch idea, I understand how a borough can make such a regulation, just as I understand how a city can make an opposing regulation.
What I don’t get is how a provincial government can pass what should be a municipal zoning regulation to supersede existing zoning regulations. Pot smokers aren’t criminals anymore, just people facing fines if they light up in the wrong place.
If Plante tells the Montreal Police (SPVM) not to enforce provincial ban on smoking cannabis in public, except in the boroughs where it was banned, and they listen, would Legault send in the SQ to enforce it? Could that even work?
And then there’s the Pink Line. A Plante campaign promise that would see a new metro line run from Montreal North through Rosemont, the Plateau, Downtown and NDG, all the way to Lachine.
As bold as that is and as pie in the sky as it may sound, Plante already got the Federal Government to sign off on investing money in it. While QS fully incorporated it into their transit proposal, Plante decided to have a photo-op during the campaign with Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard who had only said he would consider it.
It’s clear her transit plan caused her to have an unofficial ABC (Anyone But CAQ) approach during the campaign. And with good reason: Legault had said his administration would oppose the new metro line.
So, faced with the worst possible election outcome for the future of the project, Plante adopted a go big or go home approach and announced yesterday that she was moving ahead with the Pink Line and creating a project office to study the potential impact on urban development, mobility and socio-economic needs. This office will compliment studies the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) is already doing and have a budget of $1 Million.
Basically, if project office determines that the Pink Line is feasible and shows how it can be done right, and two thirds of the money is already there, Legault, who will probably be sitting on a pile of legal cannabis sale revenues and tax money by then, will be boxed into a corner. It’s a bold strategy and one that may pay off.
Whether it does or not, prepare for a fight. Maybe a slow-moving, incredibly polite and bureaucratic one, but a fight nonetheless. A political fight on three, maybe more, fronts. Montreal versus Quebec has just begun.