The provincial government is officially on board with Anticosti joining UNESCO’s World Heritage list.  Although this would permanently ban oil exploitation on the Island, Petrolia’s oil exploration contract still stands, says Quebec.

The minister of Energy and Natural Resources Pierre Arcand announced that Quebec is endorsing Anticosti’s and Saguenay Fjord’s bids for the World Heritage list in a press briefing on Wednesday. As the government is well aware, oil exploitation is forbidden on UNESCO-protected sites, which has a particular significance for Anticosti, where Petrolia is in the early phase of a colossal project. “There won’t be any petroleum on Anticosti if they get the status” confirmed Arcand, as quoted by La Presse.

However, Anticosti’s application still has to be approved first by the federal government and then by UNESCO itself. Best case scenario: they get their status in 2020. Meanwhile, Petrolia is free to continue its exploration.

“For us it doesn’t change much of the project” Arcand told the press. “We always said, since the beginning, that we will respect the contract.”

In this case, respecting the contract means allowing Petrolia to continue digging wells and begin hydraulic fracturing, and giving them $57 million of public money to help. This is all for the first, “exploration” phase, the one where they look for shale gas and petroleum that they hope to extract. This phase includes massive investments, which will return no benefit until the “exploitation” phase – a phase that will never happen if Anticosti gets its protected status.

While Arcand was insistent that the government wasn’t backing out of its contract, a letter expressing Quebec’s support to the municipality had a slightly more reassuring tone.  The letter, signed by Christine St-Pierre, minister of International relations, and Luc Blanchette, minister of Forests, promises that the government is already working on ensuring that they will be able to protect the entire Island in 2020.

With the province’s blessing two days before the deadline, Anticosti’s application can now be evaluated on the federal level. Ottawa, which has been conspicuously noncommittal on the matter so far, will decide in December if they will submit Anticosti’s candidacy to the UNESCO or not. There are currently 18 Canadian sites listed as World Heritage, including Vieux-Québec and Nahanni National Park Reserve.

On Thursday morning, Françoise David officially announced her immediate resignation both as Gouin’s MNA and as Québec Solidaire’s spokesperson.

At a press conference in her home riding, she explained that she was exhausted from politics, but insisted that her optimism and confidence in her party remain unaltered. “I take this decision with regret, but also with serenity,” she assured.

Although she had implied in September that the next provincial election would probably be her last, her departure mid-mandate comes as a surprise. She will not seek the transition allocation provided to MNAs who cannot finish their mandate.

“Why not hold on until the 2018 general election? It’s simple: I don’t have the strength anymore,” she admitted at the start of her allocation. Although she would have wanted to finish the electoral cycle, she came to the conclusion that she had to quit to avoid a burn-out.

“I know many are disappointed today, but I dare to hope that people will accept this decision, which became unavoidable for me. I also ask them to have confidence in Québec Solidaire for the next steps,” she pleaded. She restated her certainty that others, young, enthusiastic and full of the energy she once had, were ready to pick up the torch.

As for her own future plans, for the time being, they amount to getting some rest, some family time, and reflecting on future actions. “There will most certainly be future actions,” she vowed “I want to continue being useful to society.”

David might be giving up politics, but she is not giving up her fight for a better society: “One thing is clear: I do not intend to keep quiet in the face of injustice, intolerance, sexism, racism and the destruction of the planet.”

The next step

“We won’t replace Françoise, because Françoise is irreplaceable,” declared the president of QS Andres Fontecilla. He conceded that the party will have many challenges to face in the wake of the departure of one of its pillars and co-founders, but also insisted that they were up to it.  “We have the confidence and the ambition to respond to Quebec’s thirst for change,” claimed Fontecilla. Both he and David underlined the successes of the party in recent years.

However, in a very practical sense, QS will have to replace Françoise David. Fellow MNA Manon Massé is currently assuming her role as spokesperson and will be until the party votes for a replacement at their annual congress. They will also have to prepare for the byelections in Gouin, for which the timetable and candidates should be announced shortly. This will be a vital for QS, as they risk losing one of their three seats in the National Assembly.

 

Premier Philippe Couillard appeared in a live interactive interview on Radio-Canada (French CBC) Wednesday night. It was the first time a Premier tried such an exercise and he didn’t have an easy time of it. Throughout the 60 minute interview, Couillard was confronted with the consequences of what he still refuses to call austerity.

“I don’t like (that term) because it’s inexact,” Couillard maintained. “when we talk about austerity, we think about other examples in Europe, where the ministries’ budgets were massively cut. I am repeating that we never diminished the budget of any ministry. We augmented them more slowly, that’s true, but we’re light-years away from what happened in Greece, England or Spain.”

It is true that every ministry’s spending in absolute numbers went up. When inflation and the normal growth of population are factored in, however, it still means that affected sectors have less money to do more.

It is quite fortunate for Couillard that he refrained from claiming, as he often did in the past, that those measures wouldn’t affect services to the population. It would have put him in quite an awkward position when the questions from the public came in. People from every part of Quebec called and shared stories about jobs lost to budget cuts and children with learning disabilities without access to proper educators.

“I am living with the rigour” said a woman who lost her job after government cut subsidies for rural employment programs, “I have exhausted my unemployment benefit and I see the specter of welfare on the horizon.”

Monique Loubry, who spent 30 years as a nurse in CHSLDs, observed “chronic deficits in staff and material.” When she asked what concrete measures would be taken to improve the situation, the Premier had two answers: optimize the management and make sure that government finances were being handled carefully. Investing in care for senior citizens will be a priority “as soon as the ‘compressions’ (meant to be less harsh than ‘coupures’ though both translate as ‘cuts’ in English) give enough financial room to the government, he assured.

Mrs Loubry was not convinced: “I have nothing against virtue, Sir, but until there are concrete numbers on the table and quality standards set, I will be waiting.”

In fact, the Premier’s responses to concerns about healthcare, state-funded kindergartens and education were all roughly the same: the lack of funding was a lesser problem than the inadequate management of it and reinvestment will come when Quebec will have made sufficient room for it in the budget.

Even if he delivered his responses as confidently as ever, he is facing growing skepticism. According to the Léger-Le Devoir survey published last week, an all-time high of 68% of Quebeckers are unsatisfied with the Couillard administration.

Half-way through his mandate, the PM’s appearance on national television was an admittedly courageous attempt to connect with the population, but not a successful one. While Couillard’s persistence in talking about “compressions” and “rigour” instead of budget cuts and austerity might have been reassuring once, it now only seems to emphasize his disconnect with the people’s reality.