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
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.
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.
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?
Jagmeet Singh 70%, 1639 votes
1639 votes - 70% of all votes
Niki Ashton 18%, 409 votes
409 votes - 18% of all votes
Charlie Angus 4%, 99 votes
99 votes - 4% of all votes
Guy Caron 2%, 52 votes
52 votes - 2% of all votes
Peter Julian 1%, 33 votes
33 votes - 1% of all votes
I support another party 1%, 30 votes
30 votes - 1% of all votes
I'm not Canadian but thanks for asking 1%, 29 votes
29 votes - 1% of all votes
Not Sure Yet (you can change your vote before the poll expires) 1%, 20 votes
20 votes - 1% of all votes
Bring back Tom 1%, 13 votes
13 votes - 1% of all votes
I support the NDP but don't like any of the current choices. Someone else, please. 1%, 12 votes
On March 23, 2017, M- 103 on “Systemic Racism and religious discrimination” passed in the House of Commons. The motion was introduced by Iqra Khalid, a Liberal MP from Mississauga Ontario and is considered to be Canada’s anti Islamophobia motion, though it has little worth beyond its symbolism.
The motion met opposition on both sides.
On the one hand you had white supremacists using the good-old “slippery slope” argument in which they claimed that passing the motion was one more step towards forcing Canada under Sharia Law. On the other side you had liberal Canadians – secular and religious, white and people of colour – decrying the gesture as being frivolous.
The motion is not a law.
The motion uses convoluted wording demanding that the government “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism, and religious discrimination” when the motion has no power to do so. Believed to be a politically motivated act to get some pats on the back in wake the Quebec City Mosque massacre, the motion is also completely redundant.
Canada has a lot of protections against discrimination, and they’ve been in our legal system at least thirty years.
First, there’s the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the brain child of the late Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau when he repatriated our constitution from Great Britain in 1982. The Canadian Charter is entrenched in our constitution, which means that it has primacy over all other laws in Canada and any law deemed to be incompatible with it can be struck down.
The Canadian Charter lists our fundamental freedoms which include those of conscience and religion, of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, and freedom of peaceful assembly and association. It also contains our legal rights to life, liberty, and security of the person, and to equal protection before law without discrimination based on race, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age, or physical disability.
The Charter only applies to government entities which include everything from Citizenship and Immigration Canada to public schools to hospitals. If a law is discriminatory, the Canadian Charter allows us to go to court to seek redress for the discrimination. Once one side proves the violation it’s up to the government to prove that the law is within reasonable limits as per the Charter’s main failsafe that allows legislation to survive in spite of itself because the ends justify the means.
Then there’s the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.
Enacted in the 1970s, the Quebec Charter applies to both private and public entities. The Quebec Charter prohibits discrimination based on race, sex, colour, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, disability and the use of any means to ease it.
The Quebec Charter not only prohibits harassment based on those grounds, but also has provisions against discrimination in everything from access to public spaces, employment, and housing. It also prohibits the distribution or publication of notices, symbols, or signs authorizing discrimination. People whose rights have been violated as per the Quebec Charter can also seek redress via the courts and the Quebec Human Rights Commission.
Last but not least, we have the Canadian Criminal Code.
The Criminal Code has laws about hate propaganda and public incitement of hatred. Publicly advocating for genocide could result in a prison term of up to five years. Publicly inciting hatred and willfully promoting it in a circumstance other than in a private conversation could result in up to two years in jail.
Perhaps the most significant way our Criminal Code punishes hate crimes is via its sentencing guidelines. When the court must determine the sentence of an offender, it must consider a bunch of aggravating circumstances in order to decide whether to give the maximum or not. The first of these aggravating circumstances is:
“evidence that the offence was motivated by bias, prejudice or hate based on race, national or ethnic origin, language, colour, religion, sex, age, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, or any other similar factor,”
Since our laws already punish hate crimes, what is it that the federal government could do to further fight racism and discrimination?
Here are a few ideas that would have greater impact than any frivolous motion at a time in which Canada’s visible and religious minorities are asking for more than symbolic acts to prove the government will protect them.
First, the federal government should make transfer payments to the provinces for education conditional in part on the inclusion of a history or social studies course at the primary or secondary level about Canada’s different cultural and religious communities and their contributions.
It is widely acknowledged that racism is a learned behavior. Education is the key to enlightenment and such a course could prevent kids from becoming hate mongering adults while giving provinces the funds to create the curriculum and fix existing courses that leave people other than the French and English out of Canadian history.
The federal government should also demand that the Implicit Association Test be mandatory for law enforcement as part of their entrance exams.
The Implicit Association Test was created by Harvard University and is useful for determining people’s hidden biases against, for example, a particular ethnicity or gender. Any candidates shown by the test to have strong prejudices against a particular group should be made to undergo training about the groups they’re biased about as a condition for their admission to law enforcement. This would help to tackle racial profiling and police brutality and weed out some of the racists from law enforcement.
Candidates for judicial appointments should be subjected to the same test as a condition of their appointment. Strong negative biases would result in mandatory training as a condition of their appointment. This would not only help with discrimination towards religious or visible minorities, but would also prevent judges like former Judge Robin Camp from ever hearing a rape trial.
Last but not least, the federal government could increase its support for organizations that actively fight discrimination. The Center for Research-Action on Race Relations would be a good one to start with.
Talk, like that in Motion 103, is cheap. The need for symbolism is over. It’s time the government took real action against hate.
I’ve always loathed how a politician’s style and personal likability and trustworthiness seems more important to pundits and the public than the policies they put forward. After watching the first NDP Leadership Debate in Ottawa today, though, I’m inclined to push substance aside for the moment and focus on style.
I suggest New Democrats concerned with the future of their party do the same. This is the only time in recent memory that it’s actually been safe to do so in the search for a major federal party leader.
Last NDP Leadership contest, it would have been way too risky. There was a charismatic candidate who had floated the idea of cooperating with the Liberals electorally and a frontrunner who was great in the House of Commons but who was only progressive in a few areas and to the right of the Liberals in others.
The four candidates I saw today, though, seemed to be cut from the same orange cloth as Jack Layton. While there were minor differences in approach to some issues, by and large they agreed on pretty much everything. These were four voices from the left who knew that the best way forward for the party was to reconnect with its progressive base. A connection that was lost in a Mulcair-driven failed attempt to form government at all costs.
So when there was a “lightning round” of absolute fluff, stuff like favourite Quebecois movie, food and sport (that they all didn’t just answer hockey was astounding) with a couple of interesting questions mixed in (favourite feminist and last book you read), I thought good call, NDP moderators! I’m sold that they would all make great progressive Prime Ministers, let’s see who has the best chance to get there with some typical non-policy questions politicians get.
Actually, let’s now take a look at who has the best chance of bringing the NDP message forward, now that I’m confident that message will be a progressive one.
The four contenders are Charlie Angus, Niki Ashton, Guy Caron and Peter Julian. Going in, I was leaning Ashton, as I was familiar with her and voted her my #2 pick in the last leadership election. I also was familiar with Angus, but mostly as a musician who made it to Parliament. I was aware that there was an MP named Peter Julian and this is my first time hearing of Guy Caron.
Let’s see how they did:
When it comes to style, it’s important to remember that this is the person who will have to hold their own in debates with the selfie PM/international faux-progressive posterboy and all around great talker Justin Trudeau and whatever iteration of the right (TV businessman or true believer xenophobe) the Conservatives elect. The NDP needs a standout in that mix.
On stage today I saw three different models of NDP leader from the four candidates.
Ashton came across as fiery, like someone on a mission. She was the most passionately progressive person on that stage.
Angus, meanwhile, evoked the working class hero. Relaxed, someone you could have a beer with, but also someone who’s not afraid to call out BS and injustice when he sees it.
Caron and Julien, meanwhile, both seemed to play the part of the likable, principled middle manager/uncle who you respect but that’s about it. Think Tim Kaine but actually on the left.
To be elected Prime Minister (if you’re running with the NDP), you absolutely need to be bilingual. Sure, Quebec MPs don’t make up as much of the caucus as they did before the 2015 Orange Crash, but this province is still a huge factor in any roadmap to victory for the New Democrats. So is winning a decent number of seats throughout English Canada.
Caron fared the best in both official languages. His English was as solid as his French, just with an accent. His confidence and style didn’t change much when he switched languages.
Ashton and Julien were equally bilingual. Neither sacrificed the pacing of their speech in French to search for the right words. Yes, there were a few flubs, but they were barely noticeable given the confidence with which they spoke.
Angus, unfortunately, did mess up the second language test on both counts. He made quite a few errors and substituted English words on more than one occasion. That wouldn’t be so bad if his delivery remained constant. Unfortunately, it didn’t. In English he was relaxed and charming, in French, he sounded like someone reading a text for the first time.
Bringing the Progressive Message Home
All the candidates on the stage in Ottawa espoused progressive values and a return to the true left for the NDP, however, there were a few standout moments where they really drove that message home.
Ashton did this not once but twice. First, she spoke of the base that had “distanced” themselves from the party and then mentioned that the NDP lost the 2015 election because they had strayed too far to the perceived political centre that Trudeau’s Liberals were able to outflank them on the left.
Julien impressed when he acknowledged that in some cases it was impossible to reconcile the employment needs of Canadians with avoiding the potential environmental catastrophes that the Kinder-Morgan and Energy East pipelines might bring. He was the only one to answer that question in such a bold way.
Both Angus and Ashton opened the debate by acknowledging that it was taking place on unceded Algonquin territory (Ottawa). Julien also thanked Ashton for her acknowledgement, echoing the statement on stage and on Twitter.
So if, for the moment, we are safe with policy, let’s look at who’s best to deliver it.
M-103, the Private Members’ Motion introduced in the House of Commons by Iqra Khalid, Liberal MP for Mississauga—Erin Mills, to fight Islamophobia in Canada has sadly and predictably sparked anger and debate. While most of the venom being spewed in comments sections and at rallies comes from Islamophobes afraid they may have to stop hating Muslims in public, the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) is fighting it in a different way, at least officially.
The CPC’s Religious Freedom Critic David Anderson introduced a counter-motion which doesn’t use the word Islamophobia and instead calls on the government to “condemn all forms of systemic racism, religious intolerance and discrimination of Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus and other religious communities.”
Looks like this was the kind of “doesn’t sound that bigoted” cover some were waiting for. I’m now seeing arguments on social media that start by asking why Muslims should be singled out for protection. Of course these are made by some of the same types of people who have no problem singling them out for criticism.
Generally, a few comments later, or sometimes even in the same paragraph, their cover drops and they show exactly why we need to take Islamophobia seriously. As if the recent Mosque attack in Quebec City, Friday’s “anti-Islam” blockade in Toronto and the threats received by Khalid and Heritage Minister Melanie Joly over this motion weren’t each enough to do just that.
The CPC approach sounds very familiar to that employed by opponents of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US and here in Canada as well. Instead of speaking out against police indiscriminately murdering people in communities of colour, some opted to promote the All Lives Matter narrative instead.
Basic deflection. Saying Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean that other lives don’t whereas insisting that people say All Lives Matter instead means that you want everyone to ignore the disproportionate amount of young people of colour being murdered by police. No one counters a Stop Cancer fundraiser by saying All Diseases Matter.
And that’s exactly what’s happening here. Yes, there are hate crimes against other religions, too. Here in Montreal, synagogues get vandalized on a regular basis. Antisemitism is a problem that needs to be dealt with and people are trying to fight it. That doesn’t mean Islamophobia shouldn’t be attacked as well.
When there is a real and present danger to a specific group of people within a society, that danger needs to be admitted, addressed and fought. I’m not sure if a motion in the House of Commons is anywhere near enough to fight Islamophobia, but admitting that it is a problem that needs to be dealt with is essential.
The CPC would stop us from performing even that most basic of civic duties. Meanwhile, some of their leadership candidates are openly campaigning for the Islamophobic vote. It’s two sides of the same coin, like the All Lives Matter crowd and the open racists.
Defending the right of the special snowflakes in their base (two can play at that particular name game) to be bigots is no justification to block fighting Islamophobia. Muslims are a target and no amount of defensive re-wording of language will change that, only action.
* Featured image of David Anderson in the House of Commons
We might get to hear Kevin O’Leary speak French, after all. The Conservative Party leadership favourite will attend a bilingual debate in the Montreal area on February 13th. O’Leary has so far not spoken a word of French in public, conspicuously announcing his candidacy the morning after the only mandatory French debate.
He and ten others confirmed they will take part in a debate in Pointe-Claire, organized by the local association of Lac–Saint–Louis and Pierrefonds–Dollard. Since it’s not officially set up by the Conservative party of Canada, it is on a voluntary basis. It will start at 7pm at the Holiday Inn. According to CBC, the central themes of the debate will be the economy and national security.
The other implicit theme will be how well can each candidate connect with French-speaking Quebeckers. The French debate on January 17th showcased the cringe-worthy language skills of most conservative candidates. Although the Montreal debate is advertised as bilingual, it is not clear how much of it will be in French or whether all questions will be translated.
Despite being a Montreal native, O’Leary has never been fluent in French. When Tout le monde en parle host asked him “Parlez-vous français?” in 2014, he replied: “No I don’t. I left here when I was six years old and I am very ashamed of that. If I had been able to stay longer, I probably could have done it.”
He sang a wildly different tune in more recent interviews. One year ago, he told David Akin, host of Everything is Political on SiriusXM Canada Radio that learning French was not necessary to be Prime Minister. He said he was amused by politicians who thought they could score some points in Quebec by learning French in accelerated classes. “I know what Quebec wants in Canada because that’s where I came from,” he claimed.
He refused to be shamed for blatantly avoiding the French debate, retorting instead that he spoke the language of jobs and economy. On January 18th, he told Global News: “There’s three official languages in Canada: There’s English, there’s French, and there’s the language of jobs.” He added that Trudeau will never be fluent in jobs. He has nonetheless promised to get better at French too.
Ten days later, his campaign associates are very confident about his French skills. “Let’s just say that I’m pretty sure that he’s going to surprise a lot of people,” said O’Leary’s Quebec organizer, Norm Vocino, in an interview with CBC.
His press secretary Ari S. Laskin told FTB that O’Leary has been working on his French on a daily basis for several weeks and that “he will be able to hold his own in a debate against Justin Trudeau.” Laskin assures that “it is a priority for him to be able to engage with the entire country in both national languages.”
He denies that O’Leary has ever been flippant about the importance of French: “I don’t think French wasn’t a priority. He was born in Montreal and has incredibly deep respect for the bilingual culture.”
O’Leary still on top
As to how O’Leary will appeal to the notoriously anti-Tory Montrealers, the language of jobs and economy still seems to be his favourite answer. According to his press secretary, Quebeckers are as tired as the rest of the country of Trudeau’s “platitudes” in that area. “What Mr O’Leary wants is to make sure that we have a strong economy and jobs created on a daily basis,” he said.
O’Leary has been called Canada’s Trump. Like him, he is a Reality TV star with a flourishing financial empire and he is leading the race despite the fact that he has no political experience.
He is currently the top candidate for the leadership of the party with 26% of the votes. His closest competitor, Maxime Bernier, polls at barely 11%. The leader of the Conservative Party will be elected on May 27th.
Panelists David DesBaillets and Jerry Gabriel discuss the Conservative Leadership Race and Montreal’s 375th Anniversary with host Jason C. McLean. Plus News Roundup. Community Calendar and Predictions!
David DesBaillets: Blogger, Doctoral student and political junkie
When you look back on 2016, you may think of all the greats we lost like David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and, most recently, Carrie Fisher and her mom Debbie Reynolds. You may also remember it as the year the UK decided to leave the EU or the year the US decided to leave its senses politically.
No matter how you saw it, though, you have to admit that quite a bit happened. With that in mind, we take a look back at 2016 in the News.
As this post had two authors, parenthetical initials indicate if the section was written by Jason C. McLean (JCM) or Mirna Djukic (MD).
2016 was the first year of the post-Harper era and it was an agitated one in federal politics.
Justin Trudeau’s popularity soared for a while, still largely carried by the expectations built during his campaign and his undisputable quality of not being Stephen Harper. To his credit, he did score some significant points in his first months in office by immediately opening the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and rebuilding relationships with our neighbours (which gave us both the most hilarious handshake attempt of all time and the TrudObama Bromance).
One of the first flies in the ointment was the infamous #elbowgate incident in the House of Commons. Last May, the Prime Minister took it upon himself to escort Conservative Whip Gordon Brown through a cluster of opposition MPs in order to move the procedures along and accidentally elbowed NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest. This was perhaps a fairly embarrassing show of temper for the PM, but it degenerated into something out of a Shakespearian comedy in the following days, with Trudeau issuing apology after apology and the opposition throwing words like “molested” around.
Inopportune elbows aside, the Liberals took quite a few steps during the year that caused the public to question how different they really are from their predecessors. Not only did they go through with the $15 million arms sale to Saudi Arabia, but they also quietly changed the country’s policies about export controls to ensure that they could continue to trade arms with shady regimes with a lot less obstacles.
As for the Greens, they started the year as the underdogs who were doing unexpectedly well. The increased attention, though, revealed a world of messy internal struggles. These started when the party voted in favour of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Leader Elizabeth May disliked this so much that she considered resigning. (MD)
Indeed, discrepancies between the government’s discourse and their actions accumulated throughout the year. None was more flagrant than their attitude toward pipelines.
The Liberals campaigned on promises to restore the trust of Canadians in the Environmental Assessment Process, “modernize” the National Energy Board and make Canada a leader in the worldwide climate change fight. Trudeau was the first to admit that the current environmental assessment protocols were immensely flawed and he mandated a committee to review them.
While still waiting for their conclusions, though, he had no problem with major projects still being approved by that flawed process. He had no comments when it was revealed that the NEB board members in charge of reviewing Energy East had secretly met with TransCanada lobbyists nor when indigenous resistance against various projects started rising.
If he thought that the population was on his side, or that they would remain passive about it, he was sorely mistaken. In August, the NEB consultations about Energy East were shut down by protesters. Anger and mistrust towards the NEB only grew after that, with environmental groups calling for a complete overhaul.
None of this stopped the government from approving two contentious pipelines in late November. Both Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain project and Enbridge’s Line 3 were officially accepted. Fortunately, they did reject Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, which was set to go through the Great Bear Rain Forest. (MD)
2016 was the year that saw the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe emerge victorious (for the moment) over big energy and the North Dakota Government.
In July, Energy Transfer Partners got approval for the $3.78 Billion Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, the tribe’s only source of drinking water. The plan also saw DAPL cut across sacred burial grounds.
The Standing Rock Sioux challenged this both in court and with water protectors on the front lines. They invited others to stand in solidarity with them and assembled the largest gathering of Native American tribes in decades.
Things came to a head on Labour Day Weekend early September when DAPL sent private corporate security to attack the water protectors with pepper spray and dogs. Democracy Now’s shocking footage of the incident got picked up by major networks and there finally was major media attention, for a while.
As more people joined the camp and solidarity actions, including Facebook Check-Ins from around the world, increased, corporate media interest waned. Meanwhile the Governor of North Dakota Jack Dalrymple activated the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which brought law enforcement from ten different states to Standing Rock.
With most media focused on the elections, police used tear gas and water cannons on water protectors in freezing temperatures. The US Army Corps of Engineers sent an eviction notice demanding the camp be cleared by December 5th and roadblocks went up.
The Sioux Tribe’s infrastructure survived, however, and once 4000 veterans showed up in solidarity, the official stance changed. President Obama’s administration got the Army Corps to change its tune and deny the easement over Lake Oahe, meaning the DAPL will not go through Standing Rock, at least not until the Trump Administration takes office.
While their fight may not be over, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe did flip the script in 2016 and was even named FTB’s Person of the Year. (JCM)
Indigenous Issues in Canada
Meanwhile in Canada, indigenous issues did make their way a bit more to the forefront in 2016. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women finally got underway September 1st.
While long overdue, the Inquiry will be independent of the Federal Government and has a budget of $53.86 million to be spent over two years. While overall optimistic, some in Canada’s First Nations communities are concerned that the scope of the inquiry is too broad, making it easy to not investigate police forces and specific cases.
Quebec is considering its own inquiry. It’s needed, especially when you consider that the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) treated accusations that its officers were assaulting native women in Val d’Or by going after Radio-Canada and its journalists for reporting on the story and no one else.
Meanwhile, conditions in many First Nations communities continued to deteriorate. An indigenous police force in Ontario even recommended its own disbanding for lack of proper funding. (JCM)
The provincial government keeps slowly but steadily dropping in the polls. According to a Léger-Le Devoir poll conducted in November, the Liberals hit their lowest approval rating since the 2012 crisis. With only 31% of the intended vote, they are now barely 1% ahead of the PQ.
The fact that they did reach a budgetary surplus as a result doesn’t seem to have calmed the popular discontent. The shadow of past corruption scandals also remains.
Couillard assured the public that none of the scandals happened under his watch and that his administration is fully committed to fighting corruption. This commitment was, however, brought into question by a recent report which accuses the government of lagging behind on the Charbonneau recommendations.
In any case, the party was left in turmoil. It wasn’t long before another of its prominent figures left. Bernard Drainville, champion of the infamous Charte des valeurs, but also a major architect of the party’s policies and democratic reforms, decided it was time to call it quits. In a slightly surreal move, he announced that he was retiring from politics to co-animate Éric Duhaime’s notoriously salacious radio show.
Those who had hoped that his departure would help the PQ move toward a better relationship with minorities and immigrants were disillusioned by the conclusion of the leadership race. Veteran Jean-François Lisée and his divisive views on immigration won by a landslide, while the favorite, Alexandre Cloutier was left in the dust with Martine Ouellet and Paul Saint-Pierre Plamondon.
However, let’s not forget that Quebec’s political scene is not limited to the two major parties. In fact, a new player is preparing to enter it before the next election. FTB learned that a provincial NDP is in the works, hoping to provide the voters with a progressive option that doesn’t aim for Quebec’s independence. (MD)
Rape culture neither started nor ended in 2016, but it did seem to find its way to our newsfeed frighteningly often.
First came the disappointing conclusion of the Gomeshi trial in May. The fact that a celebrity with so much airtime on the CBC and elsewhere had been sexually harassing his colleague for years and committing multiple sexual assaults while his entourage and superiors turned a blind eye was outraging enough on its own. The fact that four counts of sexual assault and one of overcoming resistance by choking pretty much ended with a slap on the wrist from the court was worse. It made it very hard to keep pretending that our institutions and our society were not rigged to protect aggressors and silence victims.
Barely a month later, as if to demonstrate the scale of the problem, there was the Brock Turner case. Turner, a 20 year old student athlete at Stanford and a perfect mix of white, male and class privilege, was standing trial for raping a young woman on campus. Caught in the act by other students, he was found guilty. This could have landed him in prison for more than a decade, but he got six months in a county jail (he only served three).
A horrible event brought the discussion about rape culture a lot closer to home for many Quebecers in the fall. Multiple attackers entered the dorms of Université Laval and assaulted several students during one night in October. This sparked a wave of compassion and awareness with province-wide protests.
During a solidarity vigil in Quebec city, a young student named Alice Paquet revealed that she was raped by Liberal MNA Gerry Sklavounos back in 2012. Despite an onslaught of victim blaming and skepticism, Paquet decided to finally press charges, and her lawsuit is now in front of the Directeur des Poursuites Criminelles et Pénales. The latter will decide if the case goes to court. (MD)
US Presidential Election
For most of the year, politicos everywhere, including here in Canada, were glued to what was transpiring in the US Presidential Election. And for good reason, it was an interesting one, to say the least.
First there was the hope of some real and unexpected change in the form of the political revolution Bernie Sanders was promising. The upstart Vermont senator managed to go from basically nothing to winning 23 states in the Primaries and even got to meet with the Pope, but that wasn’t enough to beat the largest political machine out there and the Democratic Party establishment’s chosen candidate Hillary Clinton.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump, another upstart candidate, though one of the secretly pro-corporate and openly far-right variety, easily clinched the Republican nomination. With the exception of a bit of plagiarism on opening night and the whole Ted Cruz non-endorsement incident, the GOP Convention was quite unified behind Trump.
The Democratic National Convention was a completely different story. Sanders delegates booed speakers endorsing Clinton and connected to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and even left the room in protest when Clinton officially won the nomination.
The ensuing General Election campaign went back and forth for a few months with each candidate having their ups and downs. Clinton’s health rumours and Wikileaks revelations and Trump’s…well, his being Donald Trump.
Well, on Election Day, the unthinkable happened. The ideal “pied piper candidate” the Democrats had sought to elevate, because he would be so easy to beat, ended up beating their “inevitable” future President.
The bogeyman came out from under the bed and was elected to office. The joke went from funny to scary. Failed casino owner and third-rate reality star Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote and became President Elect of the United States.
As Trump started building his brand new bubble filled with climate change deniers, corporate execs and white supremacists, the fight against him in the streets started and shows no signs of stopping in 2017. The real question is now: will the Democrats change gear and become a progressive alternative or stay the establishment course that led them to defeat at the hands of an orange carnival barker? (JCM)
At least Montreal didn’t spend 2016 electing a frequently cartoonish populist who doesn’t listen to experts. We had already done that back in 2013.
This was the year, though, that our Mayor, Denis Coderre, really started to shine. And by shine I mean make Montreal nationally and even globally famous for some really bad decisions and ideas.
2015 ended with the Mayor dumping untreated sewage right into the river. With that out of the way, 2016 was going to be the year where we planned for our big 375th Anniversary in 2017.
Coderre’s focus was squarely somewhere else in the last half of the year, though. After a 55-year-old woman was killed by a dog in June, Coderre tabled rather extreme Breed-Specific Legislation aimed at pit bulls, despite no initial proof that a pit bull was the culprit (and the later revelation that it absolutely wasn’t).
There were protests and even international condemnation, including that of celebrities like Cyndi Lauper. Coderre would hear none of it, though, even ordering the mic cut on an citizen during a City Council meeting.
When the so-called Pit Bull Ban, officially the Montreal Animal Control Bylaw, became law in September, the proverbial other shoe dropped. People started picking up on some of the other aspects of it, in particular the fines and fees and the fact that it covered other breeds of dog and cats, too.
The SPCA got a temporary injunction on the “dangerous breeds” aspects of the law in early October which was overturned on appeal in December. The bylaw comes into full effect March 31, 2017, at which point the SPCA will no longer deal with stray dogs or accept owner surrenders.
In September, another project met with a legal obstacle. Turns out fines Société de transport de Montréal (STM) security officers were handing out constituted a human rights violation.
While the STM will be appealing the Montreal Municipal Court decision, for now at least, they’re not supposed to be sending out squads of transit cops acting as glorified revenue generators. In practice, though, we’ve heard reports they’re still doing it.
What was really surprising was that the SPVM got warrants for this surveillance. What was not surprising at all is how high this probably went. Police Chief Philippe Pichet must have known, and he was handpicked by Mayor Coderre a few years prior.
2016 continued the sad tradition of police murdering innocent people of colour for no good reason and getting away with it (for the most part). The Black Lives Matter movement also continued to speak out against these killings.
There were two such murders in early July very close together, to the point where it was possible to confuse notification of one with the other. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile died at the hands of police in different cities in different states within 24 hours of each other.
In Dallas, Texas, a lone sniper, not part of the peaceful protest, decided to murder nine police officers, which, of course, became a national tragedy and an excuse for the right wing to incorrectly attack BLM.
In September, following the police murder of Keith Lamont Scott, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina erupted. There were days of protest and the governor declared a state of emergency on the second night.
There is sadly no sign that any of this will change in 2017, especially given the positions of the incoming administration on race and police. (JCM)
Sadly, this year was marked by the continuing conflict in Syria. Dictator Bashar al-Assad has again been accused of deliberately targeting civilians. The carnage in Aleppo reached new heights as the regime’s forces renewed their assault, driving residents to send their goodbyes over social media.
Local groups have been fighting the rising terrorist factions in Syria, namely the now famous Kurd “women’s protection unit”, also known as YPJ. However, despite their important role, their status with the international community is on shaky ground. One YPJ fighter is currently detained in Denmark under terrorism charges. (MD)
So that’s our look back at 2016 in the news. Here’s hoping for overall more uplifting stories in 2017!
A young Inuit woman addressed the assembly at the UN Conference on Climate Change on Canada’s behalf this past Wednesday in Marrakesh.
Maatalii Okalik, president of the Inuit Youth Council, accompanied the Minister of the Environment Catherine McKenna to the 22nd Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP 22) where she pleaded for the world leaders to take native communities into account.
“With your continued leadership that will define our future on climate action, I am hopeful that it is done in cooperation with Indigenous peoples,” Okalik said.
Okalik’s brief allocution was showcased in Canada’s national statement. The Minister introduced her as “an incredible young leader for the Canadian Arctic and a strong voice for Inuit youth.”
The liberal government seems determined as ever to display its good intentions to include indigenous communities in its decisions, at least on social media. On Tuesday, McKenna shaed a picture of Okalik on a stage with several indigenous leaders on Snapchat. The picture was captioned “Amazing panel on Indigenous role on climate action. I want Canada to be a leader on this.”
According to National Post, the Canadian delegation in Marrakesh comprises around 17 representatives from various indigenous groups.
The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) decided to send its own delegation to Marrakesh. Manitoba Regional Chief Kevin Hart and Elder Francois Paulette of the Dene Nation are both attending. Their mission is to ensure that First Nations have “a strong voice” in the plan for climate action.
“First Nations are in a unique position to be leaders in climate change initiatives because of our knowledge of the sacred teachings of the land. We must not be situated as passive recipients of climate change impacts. We must be agents of change in climate action,” Elder Paulette declared in a communiqué.
Chief Hart, who is also co-chair on the Chiefs Committee for Climate Change, insisted on the importance of indigenous rights and responsibilities being fully recognized.
Both he and Okalik alluded to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Although the Canadian government officially supports this treaty, the Trudeau administration deemed it “unworkable” as a Canadian law.
Although Trudeau is not attending this year, Canada sent a sizable delegation. Several provincial Premiers and environment ministers are there, including Quebec’s Philippe Couillard and David Heurtel. Union representatives as well as environmental advocacy groups like Equiterre and Ecojustice Canada are also there.
Where does Canada stand in Marrakesh?
COP 22 is a two week long event that will end on Friday the 18th. Its purpose is to form strategies to reach the goals set one year ago in Paris for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).
In November 2015, freshly-elected Justin Trudeau arrived at the COP 21 with nothing but the timid goals set by the Harper government: bring GHG emissions down to 30% under 2005 levels before 2030. But according to the grapevine, Canada will revise its ambitions upwards. Greenpeace Canada told La Presse Canadienne that Canadian officials in Marrakesh said that the new goal was to bring GHG emissions 80% below 2005 levels before year 2050.
The measures to be deployed in that regard are vastly unknown. Last month, the federal government announced that all provinces and territories will have to implement a carbon tax of at least 10$/ton by 2018, to reach 50$/ton in 2022. Canada had already promised $2.65 billion over five years to help developing countries access and create clean technologies.
On Wednesday, the government announced a contribution of $2.5 Million to the Climate Technology Centre and Network to that effect. The CTCN is an agency created by the UN to help emerging countries access and develop new technologies, both to fight climate change and to deal with its effects.
The government also promised an investment of $1.8 Billion to “mobilize” the private sector to do the same.
A more detailed national strategy is awaited in the next couple of days.
Last fall, Justin Trudeau was unequivocal: if he won the elections, he would make sure that it would be the last election to happen under the first-past-the-post system. After exactly one year in office, the Prime Minister is backpedaling.
In an interview with Le Devoir on Thursday, Trudeau was much vaguer on his plans for electoral reform: “We’re going to see what happens at the consultations, the reactions and the results of the reports.”
He explained that smaller improvements could be made more easily: “Less support and a small change; that might be acceptable. A bigger change would need more support.”
What constitutes a small or a bigger change? Those questions will be answered through “rigorous and intelligent conversations with Canadians,” according to Trudeau.
A committee mandated by the government is currently conducting consultations through the country about how to make the voting system more representative. A report containing their conclusions and recommendations is awaited on December 1st.
Trudeau is not ready, however, to promise the recommendations will be followed, according to Le Devoir. What sort of proof of popular support does the government need to go forward with a “bigger” electoral reform is not clear either.
“We’re not going to prejudge what is necessary, but when we say a substantial support, it means something,” said Trudeau.
Lack of popular support?
The minister of democratic institutions, Maryam Monsef, has frequently brought up the importance of having the support of the population before going forward with the reform in the last few months. It didn’t seem particularly significant, considering the undisputed popularity of the idea.
After all, the Liberals were counting on on it during their campaign in 2015. After one year in office, though, they seem a lot less certain.
“Under Mr Harper, there were so many people who were dissatisfied with the government and its approach that people were saying ‘it takes an electoral reform so we’ll stop getting governments we don’t like’. And under the current system, they now have a government with whom they’re more satisfied, so the motivation to change the system is less glaring,” argued Trudeau.
However, a poll conducted by Abacus Data (commissioned by Broadbent Institute) in December showed that Canadians wanted the Liberals to uphold their promise. 83% of respondents thought the way MPs were elected needed at least some changes, with 44% believing it needed either major changes or complete transformation. Unsurprisingly, Quebeckers and supporters of Greens, NDP or Bloc were the most likely to want drastic changes.
In 2015, the Liberals won a majority government with 39% of the vote, just like the Conservatives did in 2011.
It should be noted that all major parties, except the Conservative Party, are in favour of electoral reform. Needless to say, the questions period on Thursday was not an easy one for the Prime Minister.
“The Prime Minister said that while he liked the idea of getting rid of our unfair first-past-the post-system, now that he has been able to get elected using that very system, it might not be so bad after all!” summarized Thomas Mulcair, the leader of NDP. He claimed that the desire of Canadians for an electoral reform was clear.
Rhéal Fortin, interim leader of Bloc Québécois, later commented that Trudeau was betraying the trust of the voters. Even Conservatives joined in, accusing the Liberals of self-contradiction.
The government will be conducting public consultations about the electoral reform throughout October.
After years of pleading, debating and waiting, the Quebec Ministry of Health officially released the funds to open three supervised injection sites (SIS), as well as one mobile unit in Montreal. Two such sites are already in function in Vancouver, but it will be a first for Quebec.
Quebec will release $12 million over three years to three community centres in Montreal: Spectre de rue, CACTUS and Dopamine. One part of the money will help the centres prepare the locations and fulfill all the requirements to be granted an exemption from the law on drugs by the federal government.
The other part will be used for the launching and running of the sites’ operations. One mobile unit will also be providing services in a few boroughs. No official date is set for the opening of the facilities, but Le Devoir mentioned that it could be as soon as March 2017.
The project is far from new. In fact, six years have already passed since the Director of Public Health started pushing for the opening of SIS in Montreal. In June 2015, Mayor Coderre had announced his plan to go forward with the facilities, with or without Ottawa’s approval.
At the time, the provincial government decided to lend a hand. According to Lucie Charlebois, Quebec’s Minister of Health and Healthy Living, “we are now at the final step” of the process.
She told Radio-Canada that the work on installations and the hiring of medical staff was already on track. “That means we’re advancing quickly.” She commented that she discussed the matter with her federal counterpart, Jane Philpott: “she is very receptive towards it, but we have to fit certain criteria, that is clear.” Charlebois stated that she believes that getting the federal approval will be a formality.
Sandhia Vadlamudy, the director of CACTUS, told FTB by phone that this formality requires a lot of paperwork, but no problematic modifications.
Last year, CACTUS distributed 610 000 clean syringes in an effort to prevent transmission of infection, which is around 65% of distributed materials on the island, including those distributed in CLSCs and drugstores. With their supervised injection site finally going forward, they will be able to “add one more tool to prevent infections and overdoses.”
Some have argued that the government would do better to focus on treating drug addiction or even on cracking down on drug crime instead of improving the conditions of drug use. Vadlamudy doesn’t think that promoting abstinence and prohibition is sufficient.
“This approach is more based on pragmatism; which is to say drugs exist and people take them.”
She argued that SIS are beneficial for more than just drug users, highlighting that, within four years of operation, SIS start saving money for the healthcare system by preventing overdoses and health deterioration in users.
It will also help reduce the number of intoxicated people and of used needles left on the streets “and thus improve the quality of life of everyone in the community.”
Slowly breaking the taboo
According to the Director of Public Health, there are 4000 regular users of injectable drugs in Montreal. People who use injectable drugs are 59 times more like to be infected with HIV. An average of 70 people die of drug overdoses every year in Montreal.
In the eyes of many, SIS remain a marginal, controversial option for desperate cases, when they are not a silly progressive scheme. But their growing popularity around the world and the expanding stack of evidence in their favour are now hard to ignore.
The first North American facility, Insite, opened in Vancouver 13 years ago. In 2008, federal health minister Tony Clement called it “a failure of public policy, indeed of ethical judgment.” Just last spring, Toronto’s Police Association expressed firm opposition to the idea of opening SIS in their city.
“Insite is not a model we want to see replicated,” association president Mike McCormack said, fearing that SIS would attract crime and loitering and thinks that government money would be better spent on treatment options.
Insite handles 600 injections daily. Not one person has died of an overdose within its walls. According to the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, there was a 35% decrease in overdose deaths in the area of forty blocks around the site. BC’s HIV and Hepatitis C infection rate went from the highest of the country to one of the lowest. More than thirty peer-reviewed papers were published about Insite’s beneficial impact.
Supervised rooms for drug consumption started popping up as a response to AIDS epidemics and the spike in overdoses in the eighties and nineties. There are now about 90 of them around the world.
The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction recently published a study in which they found overall that those sites increased safe and hygienic drug use and reduced risky behaviours. They also found that, contrary to Toronto’s Police Association’s concerns, there was no evidence that those sites increased drug related crime and violence in their vicinity.
*Featured image by Todd Huffman, WikiMedia Commons
Alberta officially started its path to reach a minimum salary of $15 an hour by 2018. The cabinet passed the legislation to launch the phased hike on Tuesday. This surprisingly progressive move will make Alberta the province with the highest minimum wage in the country, and by far.
On October 1st, Alberta’s minimum salary will go from $11.20 to $12.20. It will rise to $13.60 in October 2017 and finally reach $15 on October 1st 2018.
The government has already reduced the gap between the general minimum wage and the one for servers and bartenders (these employees are generally paid less to compensate for the tip they receive) by half. The gap will be completely eliminated next month.
Premier Rachel Notley had promised to raise the minimum wage during last year’s provincial elections. She is now following through with it, despite backlash from business groups and other parties.
Unsurprisingly, detractors of the hike have predicted terrible consequences for the economy. The opposition is convinced that unemployment will soar and small businesses will burn. Representatives of small businesses have launched a petition against the $15 wage. It should be noted that, despite popular beliefs, research has failed to prove a clear correlation between job losses and minimum wage hikes.
Notley’s party, the Alberta NDP, have relentlessly defended the hike as a necessity.
“Every Albertan should be able to afford rent, transportation and food. These increases will help insure that low wage earners can at least meet their basic needs,” said Labour Minister Christina Gray, when the plan was outlined in June.
There are approximately 305 000 Albertans currently living on minimal wage. According to the government’s numbers, almost two thirds of them are women. 44% have children under eighteen and 7% are single parents.
In 2015, 3.1% of Albertan workers were on minimum wage, but a much larger percentage, currently paid under $15 an hour, will be positively affected by the hike.
The proportion of workers on minimum wage is twice as high in Quebec. In August, Minister of Finance Carlos Leitao made it very clear what he thought of raising the minimum wage. According to him, $10.75 is within the “advisable range” and the slight readjustment made every year for inflation is more than enough. “I don’t see why we would accelerate this process,” he declared to the Journal de Québec.
He was responding to Alexandre Taillefer, a businessman who gained notoriety through the TV show Les Dragons. Taillefer had called for a $15 minimum wage during the World Social Forum. Parti Québécois and Québec Solidaire are also supporting this idea.
*Featured image credited to Chris Schwartz, Government of Alberta
The national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) officially starts today.
Less than two years ago, the killing of hundreds of indigenous women and girls wasn’t “really high on [the] radar” of Canada’s Prime Minister.
Yet here we are, with a new government chanting a very different tune, kicking off a national inquiry with a budget bigger than promised. But the long awaited hearings are not yet about to start, warned the Chairwoman Marion Buller. “I just hope the public expectation is somewhat qualified by the fact that tomorrow we’re starting at square one,” she told the CBC on Wednesday.
Here is a list of the most important things you should know before they actually start:
What exactly is the Inquiry About?
Indigenous women and girls disappear and get murdered at a much greater rate than any other group in Canada. It’s been like this for at least thirty years and it’s been happening across the entire country. Yes, it is a proven fact and no, it can’t be explained away by high criminality and poverty on reserves.
In 2014, a report published by the RCMP brought this alarming fact to the public’s attention. It documented 1017 homicides of indigenous women between 1980 and 2012. This is 4.5 times what has been recorded for the general population.
For the same period, the RCMP’s counted 164 unsolved disappearances of indigenous women. However, even this alarming number is probably a gross underestimation, considering the general distrust between police forces and native communities.
The accounts of police forces failing to follow criminal leads or to investigate suspicious deaths are countless. CBC investigated 34 cases filed as accidents or suicides, despite the families of victims being convinced otherwise. They found signs of foul play for many of them. A Globe & Mail investigation found that indigenous women were seven times more likely to be murdered by a serial killer than non-indigenous women.
The real number of murdered aboriginal women and girls between 1980 and 2012 could reach around 4000, according to the Native Women’s Association of Canada.
What will the Inquiry do?
The Commission’s mission is to investigate the systemic causes of the high rates of violence against indigenous women and girls and to make recommendations about how to remove them. They will look into underlying factors for the greater aggression and vulnerability of aboriginal women, such as economic, historical, institutional, sociological or cultural factors.
In order to do so, the commission will reach out to families, survivors and community members to hear their “experience and views, including recommendations” and require the testimonies of whoever they see fit. It might also set up regional committees formed of loved-ones and survivors to address specific local situations and issues.
It will review existing reports and research about the issue at hands and related matters.
The federal government will allocate two years and $53.86 million to the process. An interim report should be produced in Fall 2017 and a final one by the end of 2018.
What can the commission do?
The commission is supposed to act completely independently of the government. As per the National Inquiry Act, it has subpoena power, meaning it can legally oblige people to testify or hand over documents.
Provinces and territories have also agreed to let the Inquiry address matters that fall outside federal jurisdiction, like child welfare and policing.
However, the Inquiry cannot determine any civil or criminal responsibility nor lead to accusations. Furthermore, it was announced in early August that commissioners can’t force police to reopen cases, to the disappointment of many families who are still waiting for answers.
Who is on the commission?
The government appointed five indigenous commissioners to lead the inquiry. They are from different corners of Canada, but none are from Atlantic Canada. Four have careers in law, one is a key figure of aboriginal activism in Quebec who has also served as deputy minister of Quebec’s status of women.
The chief commissioner, Marion Buller, was the first indigenous female judge of BC’s provincial court. She has advanced law studies and a bachelor’s degree in anthropology. She was a pioneer of numerous battles for aboriginal rights, including the formation of the First Nations Court of British Columbia in 2006. Thanks to her, First Nations’ members in BC can now choose to be judged by this court focused on rehabilitation and reconciliation with the community. She lives in Port Coquitlam (BC) but is still member of the Mistawasis band in Saskatchewan.
What to watch out for?
The terms of reference set for the Inquiry make it clear that the focus will be on prevention and solutions. Advocates and families of victims want that, of course. But they also want answers and accountability.
The negligence and mishandling of indigenous cases by the police is a key issue. However, the terms of reference do not make any specific mention of investigating police forces. Instead, they talk about “systemic causes” and “institutional policies and practices”.
Many worry that those broad terms will allow commissioners to stay clear of touchy subjects that might ruffle too many feathers, like direct criticism of police work.
Indeed, there is no shortage of systemic causes and Institutional policies contributing to the vulnerability of indigenous women. The Indian Act, centuries of under-funded health, education and justice services in indigenous communities, residential schools, reserves… pretty much everything that happened since 1492.
We don’t need the national inquiry to tell us that Canada has treated First Nations like shit and is still doing so in many aspects. We might need it to tell us why a certain case was closed or if the disappearance of a native child is treated with the seriousness it deserves.
The Minister of Indigenous affairs, Carolyn Bennett, said that the terms of reference are so broad only to give the maximum latitude and independence to the commissioners. Let’s hope they use this latitude to fully address the faults in the functioning of our courts and police work, and not to skirt over the less comfortable issues.
Another thing we should be looking for is who will really cooperate with the Inquiry. Who will demand to be heard, who will come willingly and above all, who –if anyone- will be subpoenaed into it.
Chief Commissioner Buller has expressed to CBC that she is “cautiously optimistic” about getting full cooperation from the police. Past evidence suggests that police forces are not very receptive to being investigated, but well, there’s a first for everything.
A recent statement by Commissioner Michèle Audette also signaled a possible development for Quebec.
Chief of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, Ghislain Picard wanted Quebec to have its own inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women. The Minister of Justice had refused, pleading that the emotional cost of testifying twice for families and victims was too high. However, Audette says that a provincial inquiry could coexist with the national one, if it had a clearly different mandate.
She said this to La Presse on August 31st, so we’ll have to see if anyone will push on the door she just opened. Maybe, optimistically, this will lead to a more transparent way of looking into the abuse of indigenous women by police forces in our part of the country. Enquête’s uncovering of the behaviour of SQ agents in Val-d’Or certainly made it clear that the issue needs to be addressed, and the police-investigating-police method we’re currently using is not good enough.
A panel of experts has been mandated to review Canada’s environmental assessment process. On Monday, Minister of the Environment Catherine McKenna presented the four members of the committee in charge of this effort to modernize our environmental laws.
The committee is tasked with producing a report “in early 2017.” To do so, they will “engage broadly with indigenous groups, the public and a wide range of stakeholders across Canada,” according to the government’s website.
Who is on This Committee?
The chairwoman of the committee is Johanne Gélinas, a leading consultant on environmental law. She was the Canadian Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development from 2000 to 2007 and also served ten years in the Environmental Public Hearings Office (better known as BAPE) in Quebec.
Also sitting on the Panel are René Pelletier, a lawyer from the Maliseet community who specializes in Aboriginal rights and environmental law, and Rod Northey, another prominent environmental lawyer. The last member is Doug Horswill, who previously served as Deputy Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources of BC and as chairman of two Mining Associations.
What Will Happen Now?
The committee presented by McKenna will get input from Canadian citizens and organizations during September. People can already communicate their opinions via the internet. Dates for in-person hearings should be decided shortly.
By early 2017, the panel will present a summary of the input received along with its conclusions and recommendations. The Ministry of Environment will then “consider” the recommendations and “identify the next step to improve federal environmental assessment processes.”
This is a step towards making the process more “open, transparent and inclusive,” according to a press release from Minister McKenna.
The review of the environmental assessment process is one of the three parts of the Liberal plan to improve environmental regulations that was officially launched this summer. The two other parts are modernizing the National Energy Board and restoring the protections under the Fisheries Act and the Navigation Act that were lost under the Harper government.
The Liberal environmental platform is mostly defined by two key points repeated ad-nauseam since 2015: restoring the population’s trust in the environmental assessment process and insuring that their decisions are based on “evidence, facts and science” (because redundancy sounds much more inspiring).
During and since the elections, they have advertised their intention to involve the population, and especially the aboriginal communities, more directly in the approval of projects that could be dangerous to the environment.
Indeed, they have launched and publicized many public consultations. They also announced up to $223 000 of funding for Indigenous participation to Federal Government reviews of Environmental Assessment Processes and National Energy Board Modernization.
They will hear the opinion of Canadians and they will “consider it.”
Consultation after consultation, the government is working to make the population feel more involved and to restore their trust in the system. But is it working to insure that this trust is warranted? They have yet to take any concrete action to put science and research at the base of their policies on environmental issues.
* Featured image of Squamish River by James Wheeler via Flickr Creative Commons
The World Parliamentary Forum opened on Wednesday in Montreal with very notable absentees. Ottawa denied visas to six of the invited foreign parliamentarians. Organizers and participants suspect that this attitude is linked to the leftist orientation of the event.
The World Parliamentary Forum (WPF) is the closest thing to a world convention of left-oriented politics. It is organized in context of the World Social Forum (WSF), an international event where politicians, militants and other actors meet to discuss and advance global alternatives to capitalism. Montreal is hosting the event from August 9th to August 14th. It is the 12th edition of the WSF and the first taking place in the Northern Hemisphere.
However, the chosen location is proving inaccessible to an unexpected number of people. Canada denied visas to more than 200 people who wanted to attend the WSF.
On Wednesday, politicians from here and abroad, along with some civil groups, are meeting in UQUAM to discuss the issues and the future of left-wing politics for the WPF. But six representatives from Palestine, Columbia, Malaysia, Mali and Nepal won’t be able to take part. One co-organizer of the event and one ex-presidential-candidate of Mali were refused, among others.
Apparently, immigration authorities were not convinced that their stay was intended to be temporary. A strange concern, considering that the people in question are all elected members in their home countries’ parliaments.
Alexandre Boulerice, a NDP MP, called the decision “indecent and shameful” in a statement to Le Devoir. “It’s completely silly,” he said, “those people regularly attend international forums.”
André Fontecilla, from Québec Solidaire, believes that Ottawa’s decision deliberately targets elected members of the political left. He affirmed to Le Devoir that “it is certain that if this was a forum promoting free-trade, the response would have been completely different. Those people could have entered the country without problems”.
The ministry of immigration maintains that the decision has nothing to do with politics. Visa demands are being treated on case-by-case basis. Decisions are not taken by politicians but by simple civil servants.
“Parliamentary or not, if they don’t fit the criteria, they cannot come,” said Félix Corriveau, spokesperson for the Immigration Minister John McCallum. “We simply can’t know who those people are.”