On Tuesday, November 7, 2017, Muslim groups and civil liberty advocates launched the constitutional challenge we all knew was coming. Last week, I and many others predicted that Bill 62 would be headed straight for the courts on grounds that it violates the freedoms guaranteed in Canada’s constitution and Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights.

I’m not going to go over the details of Bill 62 as I did that last week. Instead, let’s talk about the legal challenge.

The plaintiffs in the constitutional challenge say in their court filing that:

“Such blatant and unjustified violations of freedom of religion, as well as of the quality guarantees of the Quebec and Canadian charters, have no place in Quebec or Canada,” and that this cannot be justified in a free and democratic society.

The plaintiffs include the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and Warda Naili (formerly Marie-Michelle Lacoste), a convert to Islam who has chosen to wear the niqab as an expression of her faith.

The CBC spoke to some women who wear the niqab, something the Couillard government failed to do before passing Bill 62. For the most part they claim they have no issue showing their faces for identification and medical purposes, but that the law’s insistence that they show their faces regularly is not only humiliating them and forcing them to act in violation of their faith, but has also exacerbated the harassment they’ve experienced due to their beliefs.

The law, it seems, has sent the message to the most bigoted repulsive members of Quebec society that harassing a woman for how she dresses is perfectly ok. All you have to do is claim religious neutrality and secularism.

The motion filed in Superior Court on behalf of the aforementioned groups comes despite claims by Premier Philippe Couillard that Bill 62 was written to ensure its compliance with the Canadian and Quebec Charters. Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée is also on the defensive, claiming the law only applies where uncovering one’s face is needed for communication, identification, or security. She’s said she believes the law will survive a constitutional challenge, though her confidence about this seems forced.

Other leaders in Quebec, including former Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, newly elected mayor Valérie Plante, and the Quebec Association of municipalities have all come out against the law with one exception.

In a rare show of solidarity, Parti Québecois leader Jean-François Lisée has come out in support of the law, though he wanted even stricter secularist legislation. In spite of this, he too foresaw the constitutional challenge and has stated that a PQ government would use the Notwithstanding Clause to keep it in place should the courts strike it down.

The Notwithstanding Clause Lisée is so fond of is not the perfect fail safe the PQ leader makes it out to be. It is not a way for the Quebec government to flip the judiciary the legal bird should the constitutional challenge not go their way.

Section 33 aka The Notwithstanding Clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms says:

“Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.”

Sections 7 to 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms deal specifically with legal rights such as the rights of people charged with criminal conduct, as well as equality rights such as that of equal protection before the law and freedom from discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. The clause allows governments to keep legislation that violates these rights in place provided they expressly declare that the law will remain in effect notwithstanding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms…

…But there is a catch.

The Notwithstanding Clause also contains a rule stating that this declaration and the law it allows can only remain in effect for five years.

The delay was created so legislators could rework the law in question to make it conform to the Charter. The five-year delay is renewable, but even laws the most stubborn politicians take pride in are reworked after being struck down by the courts.

Bill 101 is a perfect example. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled it unconstitutional, so the Quebec Government invoked the Notwithstanding Clause. During that time, the law was tweaked so it conformed to the Canadian Charter of Rights, thus eliminating the need to renew the Notwithstanding Clause and preventing future legal challenges to it.

Lisée’s mention of the Notwithstanding Clause is an indirect admission that Bill 62 is unconstitutional and would not survive a legal challenge. Once the courts strike it down and all government appeals are exhausted, it is certainly within Couillard and any other elected provincial government’s power to use and renew Section 33, but the Canadian people’s embrace of their Charter rights would make it a highly unpopular move.

With the striking down of Bill 62 a certainty, the only question left is how much more hate Quebec governments want to push on us.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Quebec politicians desiring of success must be in want of the support of the French speaking majority. There is no clearer demonstration of this than the Couillard government’s intention to modify Quebec’s existing language laws.

On May 3rd of this year, Culture Minister Hélène David announced modifications to Quebec language laws that would force businesses with trademarked non-French names to add French language elements to their signs. This would include making Starbucks add the word café to its name and having Home Depot add matériaux de construction to theirs.

The proposed modification seems to serve two purposes.

First, it’s clearly an attempt to pacify the more extreme members of the Quebec population – the ones who voted for the Parti Québecois despite the whole xenophobia scandal related to the now defunct Secular Charter. It’s a move that seems to be unnecessary. The reason the Liberals demolished the PQ in 2014 is the people’s revulsion with former premier Pauline Marois’ push of legislation much of the province considered racist and xenophobic.

The second purpose of the proposal is to punish businesses like Best Buy for the legal case they won in 2014, a victory confirmed on appeal in 2015.

In 2014 Best Buy, Old Navy and other retailers with trademarked English names took the Quebec government to court to find out if they were obligated to add generic French terms to their signage. The Quebec Attorney General said they did. The courts disagreed and in 2014 the Court of Quebec ruled in favor of Best Buy, a decision confirmed a year later by the Superior Court of Quebec.

The government does not like to lose in the courts, for such a loss is a failure in the public eye. Fortunately for governments, there is a way to save face by enacting legislation that reinforces the government’s position in the case they lost.

The legislation that came into question in 2014 is the Quebec Charter of French Language. Enacted in the seventies when tensions between Francophones and Anglophones were at their peak, its purpose was to establish and ensure the primacy of the French language in Quebec by establishing it as the language of government, commerce, and law.

The French Charter created strict rules regarding the language of business and education and established the Office québécois de la langue française (OLFQ) to enforce them. According to article 58 of the French Charter public signs, posters, and commercial advertising must be in French. Penalties for disobeying the law can be anything from fines of six hundred to six thousand dollars for a natural person and fifteen hundred to twenty thousand dollars for businesses.

For every subsequent offense the fine is doubled, and on request from prosecutors the courts can even make an offender pay an additional fine equal to any profits gained from committing the offense. If a person incites, assists, or encourages someone else to commit an offense, they are also considered to have committed the violation.

Best Buy won their case because the law and applicable regulations allow for exceptions in cases where the sign contains a legally recognized trade-marked name even if the name isn’t in French. The new law would do away with that exception except in cases where the trademarked name is an actual person’s name like McDonald’s or Tim Horton’s.

The French Charter currently allows the Quebec government to grant exceptions to the rules to certain businesses that apply for them. All other businesses would have three years to comply with the new law.

Having said all that, let’s clarify what the OLFQ’s current powers actually are.

The Office québécois de la langue française’s primary purpose is to ensure that French is the language of work, communication and commerce in Quebec. It can take any appropriate measures to promote the French language which includes inspections and inquiries for the purpose of enforcing the French Charter.

It can conduct these inquiries of its own volition or following receipt of a written complaint. Though complaints to OLFQ are widely believed to be petty and mean spirited, the theory ignores the rules regarding how the Office has to handle complaints and widely exaggerates its powers.

The OLFQ is legally obligated to refuse any complaints it considers “manifestly unfounded or in bad faith.” It can refuse to act if it feels that the complainant already has appropriate recourse or if the circumstances surrounding the complaint don’t justify its intervention. If the Office refuses to pursue the matter it has to justify the refusal to the complainant.

When the OLFQ conducts an inquiry, even a discovered violation won’t always result in legal action. Only the Attorney General of Quebec and the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions or someone else authorized by the Quebec government can take the case further and these always have some discretion as to whether or not to pursue a case. Though cases that go to court are often won by the Quebec government, databases of legal decisions don’t take into account all the times OLFQ and Attorney General of Quebec have backed down.

In 2001 the OLFQ went after L. Berson & Fils, a monument company on St Laurent Boulevard that had been serving Montreal’s Jewish community since 1922. The sign has Hebrew lettering of almost equal size to the French wording. When the government started harassing the owners about their signage the overwhelming response was one of outrage, their actions widely perceived as anti-Semitic. The Quebec government quickly backed down.

The proposed tweaks to Quebec’s language laws are unnecessary, which makes you wonder why they’re being raised at all. With the Couillard government under heat for its austerity measures – measures that have cut much needed hospital beds and closed seniors’ homes, the only answer is the one of divide and conquer. After all, a population busy fighting over language is one too busy to throw eggs and tomatoes at the government.

Guaranteed Minimum Income is always a sweet spot for “progressives” and left-wingers throughout the world. Its mere enunciation rings like poetic justice to the ears of some. Once the frantic racket mutes, and you actually take a better look at the current PLQ plan here in Quebec and most Universal Guaranteed Income implementation plans throughout the world, the objectives become clear.

It would be odd for an ultra neoliberal ideologue such as Philippe Couillard to all of a sudden declare a new-found love of social justice and endorse “commie” policies such as the redistribution of wealth. The practitioners of the shock doctrine à la Québecoise haven’t renounced prescriptions yet. Quite to the contrary Universal Guaranteed Income is but their latest pain-killer.

Universal Guaranteed Income has become dogma, promoted as a monolithic vaguely defined concept. Universal Guaranteed Income is good, first dogma. Second, it will reduce inequality within society. Third it will allow to a certain extent a decommodification of certain aspect of life. Our concept of time with regards to labor will be transformed and thus guaranteed minimum income has the amazing power to deconstruct our entire rapport with value, growth, production and consummation.

All of these things are true, but they must be put into perspective. Guaranteed Minimum Income is a tool, not the spearhead of a movement designed to take certain aspects of life out of the realm of the market.

(l-r) Premier Couillard and François Blais the new Employment and Social Solidarity Minister who will spearhead this project
(l-r) Premier Couillard and François Blais the new Employment and Social Solidarity Minister who will spearhead this project

Our current concept of production and value stems from the Ricardian theory put forward by 19th Century classical economist David Ricardo. It is based on time. Only labor can produce value and value is merely a crystallization of the labor time put into production. Needless to say this is an oversimplification of an idea that has been at the heart of political economy since its inception.

The principal premise of a Basic Income is that it would eliminate two important pillars of the capitalistic framework. First it would end the “need” to work, if every individual was attributed with a certain sum of purchasing power, enough to reproduce himself comfortably, no individual would be forced to work to feed himself. Secondly it would completely alter our notion of value and the productive forces, coercive powers that have for conceptual foundation that specific notion of value.

And yet one must wonder why would a neoliberal government be inclined to accept such an erosion of everything that is at its core and guiding principals? Because neoliberal theory has taken the utopia of a Guaranteed Minimum Income, altered it and sculpted it into the spearhead of a new phase of an in depth re-engineering of the state.

The blueprint is the following:

Guaranteed Minimum Income is put forward as a mechanism for the betterment of society, the abolition of poverty and all those good things. In reality, though, it actually serves the purpose of a complete commodification of the last aspect of society that are outside of the realm of the market.

In the book the Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State authored by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, a demagogic masterpiece and an anti-democratic pamphlet of reactionary social engineering,  Guaranteed Minimum Income joins privatization of public services and the transformation of universal health care and education into voucher systems as a way to reduce the state.

Guaranteed Minimum Income for Couillard & Co is a neoclassical economics wet dream. Each actor becomes its own isolated unit, then Guaranteed Minimum Income is used as an argument to slash social programs and to privatize large sectors of society, opening-up new parts of human life to the logic of the market.

In an age where the market needs expansion to bypass its internal contradictions, the dynamic of austerity is the avant-garde of this revolution, breaking down the barriers erected to ensure that society and not the market would still have some semblance of prevalence. Karl Polanyi argued that the market was in a struggle against society itself. To prevail, the market needed to disembed itself from society and control politics as well as society’s effect on its environment.

A striking parallel to this new liberal ideal of Guaranteed Minimum Income is the system that was put in place in reaction to the novice brutality of a nascent market system, the Speenhamland reforms. They were designed to keep rural wages artificially high in 19th century England. One of Polanyi’s most ardent critiques of the system was that it not only allowed the Bourgeois and corporate class to rob, pillage and abundantly privatize rural communities, but it also gave a direct subsidy from the government to private interests to do so.

Guaranteed Minimum Income, within the current dynamic, will be the same. It will be used as an argument to privatize galore, to introduce the user-payer notions into every last bastion of resistance towards commodification including health-care, education and more.

But most importantly it will silence the voices that are calling for wealth redistribution, equity and economic reparations. The notion of class, of inequality not only with the realm of economic capital but in heritage and assets and holdings, in cultural capital etc… will never take the spotlight. Guaranteed Minimum Income becomes the perfect mechanism to silence a powerful movement calling for the prevalence of the society over the individual, of the political over the market, of the people over the market, of uncomodifying every aspect of life, of the embedding of the market in society and not the other way around.

The biggest illusion of the Basic Income psychosis is that the ruling neoliberal consensus driven by the cult of profit would benevolently have a change of heart and embrace socialism. Social gains in any shape or form aren’t given, they are taken.

Equality and equity entail a struggle, protests, strikes, occupations, the creation of networks outside of the logic of the market. We will build our future, it won’t be dictated to us or handed down, crumbs from the throne.

A luta continua,

Niall

A wise man once spoke ill of political parties. He suggested that they should exist only for as long as it takes to accomplish their goals, and that once this is done they disband, for they tend not to age very well. The longer a political party continues to amble along, the higher the chance it will grow inept and corrupt. It will lose sight of its original purpose and become increasingly defensive in trying to justify its existence. Given enough time it will become the personification of all the errors that it originally sought to correct.

The wise man that I’m paraphrasing is none other than René Lévesque, and he was speaking specifically of the future of the Parti Québécois from around the time he resigned as premier back in 1985.

Much to ‘Oncle René’s’ likely chagrin, the PQ has become the tired old party of Quebec politics and the 2014 election has demonstrated their current incarnation is wholly unfit to govern the province because of how it chooses to self-identify. Marois made the decision to make this election about institutionalizing discriminatory hiring practices and running headlong into another interminable round of go-nowhere constitutional negotiations. I cannot recall another instance in Canadian politics in which a major political party has been so thoroughly out of touch with the population it represents; and therein lies the problem.

The PQ has demonstrated, unequivocally, that they call the shots on who they consider to be Québécois. They, somewhat like the federal Tories, are disinterested in appealing to anyone ‘outside the tribe’, anyone who isn’t already a diehard supporter and, as such, narrowed the margins on who will vote for them by a considerable degree. In sum, those who will vote PQ will have had their minds made up well before the writ was dropped. How anyone in the PQ camp could have thought this was a good idea is beyond me. Perhaps it proves the point – the Parti Québécois is so convinced of the justness of their cause they’re completely blind to how they’re perceived by the public they ostensibly hope to represent.

And so today we pull the trigger, but let’s face it: the decision has already been made. Philippe Couillard will be the next premier of Quebec and it’s entirely possible he’ll win enough seats to form a majority government.

This reality is not a consequence of any grand vision or sensible plan on the part of the Quebec Liberal Party or its leader, but entirely as a result of how they responded to the unmitigated political disaster of a campaign put on the Parti Québécois.

In boxing it’s called ‘rope-a-dope’ and Muhammad Ali used it to successfully defeat George Foreman in the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle bout held in Kinshasa. The technique involves one man taking a defensive position from the outset and letting his opponent flail away until exhaustion, at which point the defender begins exploiting the inevitable mistakes and subsequent weaknesses until overcoming his opponent. By propping himself against the edge of the ring, Ali was able to transfer the shock of Foreman’s repeated blows onto the elasticity of the ropes rather than his own body. All of Foreman’s effort was for naught, and the more frantically he tried to land the perfect punch the more he opened himself up to increasingly debilitating strikes.

Forty years later the same basic concept may have been used by Couillard and his tacticians to expose the xenophobic, intolerant and unreservedly opportunistic péquiste government for what it truly is. And frankly, we’re better off for it. Everyone who ever questioned the PQ’s social-democratic and progressive integrity has been vindicated. We now have actual proof the PQ is more concerned about correcting imagined threats to our culture and bickering with the federal and other provincial governments than it is with the well-being of the people of Quebec.

QC_polling_campaign_2014

In 2013-14 the PQ sold out its base. First they rammed through austerity measures and increases to tuition, alienating itself from the student movement that played an important role in getting Jean Charest evicted from power. Then they proposed a Machiavellian charter ostensibly designed to ensure men and women are equal in our province and that secularism reigns in the civil service, but in reality effectively institutionalizing discriminatory hiring practices and forcing religious minorities – a significant number of whom are women – from their jobs.

So much for social democracy and progressivism.

And then, just when you thought the PQ couldn’t make any more appallingly foolish political decisions, they turn around and hire the union-busting C. Montgomery Burns of Quebec media, Pierre-Karl Péladeau. The man who owns Quebecor and Sun Media/Sun News Network, the media conglomerate nearly single-handedly responsible for all the yellow journalism, anti-Quebec, anti-Canadian and general anti-immigrant sentiment in the whole country, this was to be the economic wizard of a newly independent Quebec.

Needless to say all of this didn’t sit very well with Quebec voters. On the idea of a referendum Quebecers of all languages, religions and cultural backgrounds are emphatically opposed. The simple reality is that we’re poor, a have-not province, and independence isn’t going to change that (other than eliminating equalization payments and creating a lot more debt). The people of Quebec want jobs, good jobs, jobs they can work until they retire that will afford them a modest middle class lifestyle and the means to raise a family. Dreams of independence went over like a lead zeppelin – what are the people here to dream of when their bread and butter concerns aren’t being addressed? And the more Pauline Marois or Françoise David pushed the dream of an independent country, the more they pushed themselves away from a sizable group of people in this province who are savvy enough to question the near fanatical devotion of separatist politicians to the cause.

We’ve been preached to enough. The people of Quebec have toiled for many generations under those who proselytised to the masses with ideas of future paradise in exchange for present-day suffering.

By the end of the day we may have four years of uninterrupted Liberal governance to look forward to and a neurosurgeon for a premier. We’ll have a man who got his start under Charest but has so far managed to keep his name out of Charbonneau Commission hearings. We’ll have a man who doesn’t believe multi-lingualism will threaten the sanctity of Quebec culture. We’ll have a man who was either in cahoots with or was duped by Arthur Porter (and I’ll add the list of names in the latter camp is far longer than those in the former) and who made the choice to legally deposit his earnings from some years working in Saudi Arabia into an offshore tax haven, rather than his home province where he’d lose about half to the state. Perhaps most importantly, we’ll have a man with enough political intelligence to be against another referendum and virulently opposed to the very essence of Bill 60. In my opinion, given the poverty of our provincial politics, this is the lesser evil, the best-case scenario.

But don’t take this as any kind of personal endorsement either. I’m not impressed across the board, and haven’t yet decided whether or not I’ll spoil my ballot. This is merely an opinion on the campaign and what I believe to be the likely outcome, no more or less.