Michelle Blanc won’t win in Mercier and Parti Québécois (PQ) Leader Jean-François Lisée knows it. Keeping her on the ballot is all about how removing her would play outside of Montreal.
Mercier, which includes a large chunk of the Plateau and Mile End, is Amir Khadir’s riding, or at least it will be until he is replaced in this year’s Quebec Election (he’s not running again). It’s the first riding Québec Solidaire (QS) won (they took it from the PQ) and it remains a stronghold for them.
The prospect of the PQ reclaiming Mercier from QS was a longshot to begin with, even with Khadir gone. Running Blanc, a trans woman, as the candidate, might have seemed to the PQ brass like a shot in the dark that might just get some progressive voters to flip back to them.
The problem is Blanc turned out to be quite the racist and overall problematic candidate.
“An employee insists on calling me ‘Sir’ because my voice is masculine. My response, your voice is African and I don’t call you my little (n-word).”
Lisée defended Blanc by arguing that she was a private citizen, not a candidate, when she wrote the tweet and we shouldn’t be judged by our past mistakes. The past, in this case, being six months earlier.
Around the same time, Blanc called philosophy professor and blogger Xavier Camus a pedophile in another tweet after Camus blogged about ties between the PQ and the far right. This time Blanc apologized herself and deleted the tweet after Camus filed a cease and desist order.
Then, a 2007 blog post surfaced in which Blanc complained about members of the Hasidic Jewish community not saying hello to her and wished that they would just “diappear” from her sight. This time there would be no apology from either Blanc or Lisée, instead she offered “no comment” and her party leader started talking about free speech.
So why doesn’t Lisée just drop Blanc as a candidate? Or, at the very least, why doesn’t he urge her to re-think alienating the Hasidic community, which makes up part of the riding she is running to represent?
That would be an easy calculation to make if the PQ’s goal was, in fact, to take back Mercier. While it may have been that originally, now the party’s biggest concern is not alienating voters who agree with Blanc’s bigoted statements in ridings where the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) is poised to win.
The PQ, over the past ten years at least, has really had two bases: progressive sovereignists in Montreal and Quebec City and right-leaning nationalists everywhere else. For the most part, they have managed to play to both of them, with a few notable exceptions like André Boisclair losing the right and Pauline Marois losing the left with her Charter debacle.
Now, a chief architect of the Charter is heading the party, looking at poll numbers and calculating that the only way the PQ can remain relevant is to give up on winning in Montreal and hope the right-leaning part of its base doesn’t think the party has turned its back on them. Keeping Blanc on the ticket in Mercier is a sure way to show them that they haven’t abandoned the bigots.
Blanc won’t re-take Mercier and Lisée may even lose his seat in Rosemont, but that doesn’t really matter to the PQ now
Are you excited for the 2018 Quebec Election? With the voting just under seven months away, my answer is maybe, and that’s huge for me.
I’m a political junkie. I closely follow all political races with gusto: federal, municipal, American, European, fictional (Bartlet 2020). Well, almost all races.
Quebec provincial politics have always failed to deliver for me. Sure, I’ll vote, watch the results pour in and even write an op-ed or five, but something is lacking.
It’s not that nothing changes, it’s that change doesn’t even seem like a far-fetched possibility.
Two Parties, Same Pander
It’s not just that we’re in a two party system that has been around since the 70s, it’s not even that the Quebec Liberals (PLQ) and the Parti Québécois (PQ) only differ on a handful of issues. It’s that they’re not even trying to appear different anymore and people keep voting them in.
Sure, the PQ did sink below Official Opposition status when Andre Boisclair was leader, but that was only due to homophobia in their base. They haven’t forgot to pander to bigots since.
When the 2012 student protests forced “Charest Dehors!” (and into a law firm, guess the protesters weren’t able to find him a “job dans le nord” after all), Pauline Marois wasted no time turning her back on the reasons she got the Premier job in the first place and went all-in on Islamophobia. The Charter of Quebec Values didn’t get her a majority and cost her re-election, but that hasn’t stopped the PQ from banging the hard-right war drum.
They have dropped all pretense of being interested in progressive votes and their pander to bigots isn’t even limited to attacking Muslims anymore. They even went so far as to mock the practice of declaring that an event is taking place on unceded native land.
Now, though, the PLQ are trying desperately to pander to the same xenophobic base. Bill C-62, the law that forces bus drivers and librarians to refuse service to anyone covering their face, wasn’t a PQ invention, but rather that of the party that won government by campaigning against the PQ’s Charter.
Both main parties in our two-party system already had a similar right-leaning approach to the economy, the environment and other important issues. Now they seem in lockstep on xenophobia, too and pretty much only differ on the federalism/sovereignty divide.
So why do I think this election may actually result in some change? There are a few reasons.
The PQ is Ready to Implode
Things aren’t looking good for the PQ:
They have only been in power for a brief time with a minority government in the past 15 years.
Their leader, Jean-François Lisée, is the guy who got the job only after the guy people actually knew quit after holding the position for less than a year.
Their attempt to form an alliance with smaller pro-sovereignty parties failed
Their federal ally the Bloc Québécois is in complete disarray
They are banking everything on getting the xenophobic vote. Not only did that fail them last election, but now the PLQ are targeting the same voters, as is the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ).
Put that all together and there is very real potential that the PQ will sink to third or maybe even fourth party status and never recover. Even if this means another Liberal government, ugh, with the CAQ in opposition, double ugh, it also means that the two party system we have had for over fourty years is done. One down, one to go.
QS Wants to Win
Québec Solidaire (QS) is entering a new phase in more ways than one. They have two new spokespeople: Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques MNA Manon Massé, who will run for Premier, and former student leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, who would be Vice-Premier in a QS administration.
The prospect of a QS administration, or rather the fact that they are talking about what that would look like, signals a new approach for the party that is far beyond a simple changing of the guard. They don’t just want to keep the three seats they have and maybe add a couple more, they want to win. Like really win. Form government win.
It’s a longshot and an extremely improbable one at that, but political shifts in Quebec happen en masse (think the NDP’s Orange Wave), so it’s not impossible. If the PQ was reduced to a handful of ridings with the CAQ picking up most of their far-right holdings, QS would still need almost all progressive sovereignists and enough progressive federalists to flip a few Liberal ridings to break for them to make it happen, but, again, this is Quebec.
Even if the perfect storm doesn’t happen for QS this election, their change in approach will at least win them more influence, especially in a minority government. It may land them opposition or third party status, which would be huge for them and even bigger for the future of Quebec politics.
While QS is the only left-leaning party currently represented in the National Assembly (with three seats), they’re not the only one hoping to make a dent in the Quebec political landscape by promoting progressive policies and values.
A Greener Political Left
The Quebec Green Party (PVQ) is the Quebec political outfit whose policies align closest with my own. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to vote for them last time as they weren’t fielding a candidate where I lived as well as in several other ridings.
Now, it looks like that is changing. Leader Alex Tyrrell hasn’t just been spending his time running personally in every by-election that popped up in order to ensure PVQ ideas are heard, he has been building a slate of candidates to give voters a Green option in as many parts of Quebec as possible.
So far, I’ve seen two people I know and respect throw their hats in the ring as PVQ candidates in what are undeniably Liberal strongholds. While these races will inevitably be uphill battles for the Green candidates, they could be where the PVQ breaks ground.
While ambiguous on the so-called national question in the past, under Tyrrell, the PVQ have declared themselves federalist. Voters who like almost all of QS’s policies and want to vote progressive but just can’t live with voting for a party that is sovereigntist may park their votes with the Greens and those voters can be found largely in Liberal ridings.
Well, It Worked for Jack
The Quebec Greens won’t be the only ones hoping to pick up some federalist lefty votes this October. There’s a new Quebec version of the NDP (NPDQ) running. And by new, I mean there was already a provincial NDP in Quebec up until a few decades ago and, long story short, the remnants of that party are currently part of QS.
Talk of a potential new Quebec party surfaced following the Orange Wave of 2011 when Jack Layton led the federal NDP to Official Opposition status for the first time in the party’s history thanks largely to a massive shift in Quebec votes. Initially, the Quebec wing of the federal party rejected the notion of a new NPDQ, but in 2014, they registered the name.
The NPDQ went public in 2016 and this past January elected Raphaël Fortin as leader. If they are thinking that the Orange Wave can be duplicated at the provincial level, they might be right, but if it happens this election, it likely won’t be with them.
Jack Layton having the perfect response to Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe’s bragging during a debate is what set the NDP Quebec landslide in motion in 2011. Fortin probably won’t get anywhere close to the debate stage.
A good chunk of people who vote NDP federally here vote QS provincially. So if there is any kind of leftist wave, it’s most likely to break for them.
If the NPDQ’s plans are more long term and involve becoming the progressive federalist alternative to the Liberals, then they better hope they get funding and support from the federal party. The Greens are going for the same voter base and have a significant headstart.
Might Be Exciting This Time
So when you consider the potential or, as I like to think of it, imminent implosion of the PQ and then factor in the strong push for leftist votes from three different parties, it looks like things may be changing in the Quebec political sphere. Throw in the recent election of Valérie Plante and Projet Montréal at the municipal level here in Montreal and it starts looking like we may be ready to scrap the status quo in Quebec City as well.
At least the 2018 Quebec Election may be exciting for a change.
Wow, they’re actually admitting it. On-again/off-again Bloc Leader and die-hard soverignist Gilles Duceppe endorsed Denis Coderre, a staunch Liberal and federalist, in his bid for re-election as Mayor of Montreal.
During the last Montreal Municipal Election campaign in 2013, there were rumors that supporters of the Liberals (both provincial and federal), the Bloc Québécois (BQ) and the Parti Québécois (PQ) were secretly pushing Melanie Joly’s candidacy for Mayor, not in hopes that she would win, but that she would split the anti-establishment vote and prevent a Projet Montréal victory. Whether there was involvement from those forces or not, that’s exactly what happened: Coderre won and Joly was off to greener pastures in Ottawa.
But why would these seemingly divergent groups have a common goal? The argument goes that establishment parties would do anything to stop anyone loosely aligned, even in terms of who supports them, with parties like the Federal NDP or Québec Solidaire (QS) provincially.
While that may seem like pie in the sky conspiracy stuff, Gilles Duceppe just endorsed Denis Coderre and he said why. Mixed in with reasons/excuses like how he feels the Pink line is unrealistic and there are a couple of soverignist candidates on Equipe Coderre, Duceppe said that Plante and Projet were “too close to QS and the NDP.”
For decades, both the federalist provincial and federal Libs and the sovereignist PQ and BQ thrived on everyone being focused on the National Question and the division it brings instead of more pressing issues like the corporate dominance, austerity and, more locally, transit. Now that their dominance is threatened at the municipal level by an arguably leftist party with a dynamic leader who is concerned with making life in Montreal better above all, they are scared.
Moreover, they are getting desperate. Desperate enough, apparently, to get in bed together publicly.
Earlier this week, establishment press tried to make a big deal out of Projet Leader Valérie Plante not answering a question about how she voted in the 1995 referendum, a smart move considering this election is about Montreal, not the specter of sovereignty and both sovereignists and federalists can be found in both main parties running. I wonder if they will give equal play to Coderre getting an endorsement from a prominent sovereignist like Duceppe.
Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Gilles Duceppe endorsed Denis Coderre. The other shoe has dropped.
This election is about the staus quo versus a new way of doing things and it only took the Liberals and the Bloc to make that crystal clear.
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 few months after claiming that the PQ “will survive the storm,” Bernard Drainville is jumping ship. The Parti Québécois representative in Marie-Victorin officially confirmed he was resigning from all political functions on Tuesday. As if the news of his departure weren’t bewildering enough, he also announced that he would replace Nathalie Normandeau as a co-host on Éric Duhaime’s salacious lunch hour program on FM 93.
Tuesday morning, Drainville claimed that his decision had been well thought through since the party’s last chief, Pierre-Karl Péladeau, resigned in May. “I won’t deny that Pierre-Karl’s departure was a hard blow,” he said, “it cut my legs out from underneath me.”
Drainville has been Marie-Victorin’s MNA since 2007. He also handled the Ministry of Democratic Institutions under Pauline Marois and held the role of parliamentary leader. He was a candidate to be Marois’ successor in 2014, but abandoned the race in favour of supporting Pierre-Karl Péladeau’s campaign. Péladeau’s resignation after barely a few months at the head of the PQ left Drainville at a dead end.
Bernard Drainville is most remembered for pushing the controversial Charte des valeurs, but during his brief time as a minister, he also fathered several democratic reforms. Most notably, he allowed students to vote on campus and restricted the funding of political parties to $100 per person.
Shock in the PQ
While the party is in the middle of another leadership race, Bernard Drainville quit halfway through the mandate he was elected for. There is certain irony there, considering how vehemently he reprimanded those who did the same throughout the years. In his own words, “a representative who chooses to resign before his mandate is fulfilled does not respect the moral contract he signed with his electors.”
Agnès Maltais, another Parti Québecois MNA, expressed similar sentiment to Énergie Québec 98,3 on Monday: “he is leaving mid-term. I’ve never liked that.” Even if Maltais is apparently the only member to express anything more than deep respect and regret at Drainville’s decision, she certainly isn’t the only one to feel that way. The partial elections in Marie-Victorin will cost $500 000$ in public funds.
To his credit, Drainville won’t receive any severance bonus. This is thanks to a law banning bonuses for MNAs who resign mid-term which Drainville championed and the assembly finally passed last year.
The loss of one of its most prominent figures is bleak news for a party that is struggling to convince the population that it isn’t agonizingly decomposing. It has indeed been a rough couple of years for the PQ, starting with a brutal electoral defeat after only six months in office. Pauline Marois, Pierre-Karl Péladeau and Stéphane Bédard have all resigned since then.
Although there is no denying Drainville’s influential role in the past, his future in the party didn’t hold much promise. He didn’t enter the current leadership race (reportedly for family reasons) and none of the candidates aligned naturally with his views like Péladeau did.
Drainville on FM 93
Maybe the end of Drainville’s political career shouldn’t have been so surprising, but his next step was rightly met with more than a few raised eyebrows.
A politician recycling himself as a commentator or host is hardly a shock. What is bewildering is that Drainville chose to do so on Quebec City’s infamous “Radio-poubelles” in the company of an icon of aggressive right rhetoric.
Duhaime’s lunch hour program, like most of FM 93 shows, is notorious for its routine attacks on immigrants, unemployed citizens, students, feminists and just about every minority. During the last few months for example, Duhaime’s favourite topics included how feminism oppressed men, how state-funded kindergartens were a communist plot and why Marine Le Pen is an outstanding politician.
Wow! Bernard Drainville qui va remplacer Nathalie Normandeau au FM 93!! Merci aux politiciens de vouloir faire de l’humour à notre place.
What makes the whole thing even more ridiculous is that Bernard Drainville will not be the first politician to take on the job. In fact, liberal ex-minister Nathalie Normandeau co-hosted Duhaime, le midi right up until she was arrested by the Permanent Anti-Corruption Unit (UPAC) in March. She is currently facing charges for fraud, corruption and breach of trust for her actions as a minister under Jean Charest.
For decades, the political scene in Quebec has been in a quagmire. The national question has dominated the discourse, replacing the left-right axis found almost everywhere else with a sovereigntist/federalist one.
Two parties have benefited both greatly and equally from this setup – The Parti-Quebecois (PQ) and the Liberal Party of Quebec (PLQ) have been in power since the 1960s.
At first, many progressives felt they had no choice but to park their vote with the PQ, knowing that a better and more just world would always take a backseat to sovereignty, language and national identity. Federalist progressives, on the other hand, could either vote PQ and hope there wasn’t a referendum or hold their nose, push their ideals to the side, and vote Liberal.
Recently, other options have emerged, most notably Quebec Solidaire (QS) and a re-born provincial Green Party. Unfortunately, the two-party system seems too powerful to break. If there was ever a time for someone to come along and prove, once and for all, that the PLQ and PQ were just two sides of the same coin, neither being a place for progressives to park their vote, now would be that time.
Looks like the savior of Quebec politics may have just arrived. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Pierre-Karl Péladeau, or PKP as his friends, enemies and pretty much everyone else knows him.
Not surprising, really. A party that was down in the dumps after losing badly now has a leader with name recognition beyond the political sphere. He’s an avowed sovereigntist, too.
Who can forget him almost shouting “Je veux un pays!” It is, after all, the moment that pretty much derailed the Marois campaign.
He is a businessman, known for getting what he wants. He wanted a national right-wing cable news network, he got one. He wanted to raise our cable and internet rates, he did that, too.
You can see how some have faith that this businessman who wants to make Quebec a country can achieve that goal, too. They can ignore the fact that their new savior of Quebec is famous for creating a network accused of Quebec bashing on many occasions as long as he gets the job done.
The honeymoon, however, may be short-lived, and cracks in his armour may begin to show sooner rather than later.
Not a Great Business Man
One of the issues the PQ has had to deal with constantly over the decades is that their nationalist ideals were out of touch with economic reality. And an independent Quebec would spell financial catastrophe. In the early days, the party took an approach that opposed the capitalist system, so unconventional economic ideas were possible. Things have changed.
The PQ now wants to show that separating from Canada is possible and good for business. Who better to lead this initiative than a businessman with a proven track record, right?
Well, if you look at PKP’s track record as a businessman, it’s really not that great. Sure, Quebecor is a powerhouse, but it’s the house Pierre Péladeau, PKP’s father built. Since PKP took over, Quebecor has underperformed most major media companies in Canada and failed at international expansion with Quebecor World. Not to mention the fact that Sun News is no more, after just under four years in operation.
Is this what the PQ is basing their pro-business future on? At this rate, he’ll get his country, but it will only last three years and a bit.
Not a Union Man
The PQ has always relied on union support to win power. Not only does their new leader lack any pro-union cred, his name is as reviled in union circles as the Trudeau name is hated in sovereigntist ones.
No matter how corrupt Quebec politics may be, selling the man who locked out workers for over a year to union membership is just a non-starter. This is when the recognition factor starts to work against Péladeau.
The unions really don’t have many other options. The Liberals, the party of austerity and pension cuts are out of the question. Will they actually bite the bullet and back QS, a party with only three seats? Time will tell.
Without union support, the PQ will be desperate to pull any type of progressive allies they can. PKP is also the man who directed his media outlets to discredit the student protests in 2012. So a Marois-style appeal to more radical elements of Quebec society is out of the question.
One Issue Party
René Lévesque was first elected on two promises: to make Quebec a better place to live through progressive social policies and to hold a referendum. He delivered on both.
He wanted to show just what kind of a country Quebec could be before giving people the chance to make it his dream a reality. Lévesque must now be rolling over a homeless man in his grave.
PKP wants a country, too, but it’s the same sort of country Quebecers already have through Harper. His nationalism is purely ethnic and linguistic with no hint at being progressive on any other fronts.
A Smaller Base
The PQ has always had two main bases of support: progressive sovereigntists and conservative nationalists. Marois clearly favoured the latter and risked alienating the former, but PKP has no chance with the former to begin with. The only support he will get from progressives will come from those who want a country at all costs.
It is a much smaller base to pull from. If the union support is out, he’ll just have to wrap himself in the Quebec flag and pray for a miracle. The best he can hope for is opposition or maybe a minority government if the Liberals really screw up bad.
But where will all that formerly potential PQ support go? It won’t be to the Liberals for sure. Progressives may just not turn up to vote, or possibly it will galvanize behind another party, one that puts actual societal change at the forefront, leaving the national question on the backburner.
If that happens, and the discourse in Quebec politics shifts to a new axis, people will have one man to thank: Pierre-Karl Péladeau.
So how do I feel about the Quebec 2014 election results? Hmm, well, that’s a tough one. Really, it is.
I’ll break it down for you:
The Good: Xenophobia lost hardcore
This election may be remembered as a historic loss for the PQ and an end to Pauline Marois’ long political career, but that’s not the real story. This was primarily a rejection of the Charter, state-sanctioned xenophobia and the politics of ethnic and cultural division. And that is a very good thing.
Marois wasn’t elected to ban hijabs and turbans and when she staked her re-election on it, she lost resoundingly. I doubt the PQ, or any other Quebec political party for that matter, will try using extreme identity politics again.
I’m proud that the place I call home won’t be known internationally as the racist part of Canada for much longer. That was sooo 2007.
I’d also like to congratulate Manon Massé for winning in Sainte Marie-St-Jacques. Quebec Solidaire now has three MNAs and a strong, committed activist now has a voice in the National Assembly.
The Duh: Liberal Victory
It makes sense. After PKP’s fist bump and Marois desperately trotting out Charter supporters who apparently had no clue what the proposed law was supposed to do (seriously, Janette Bertrand needs a better rental agreement and maybe a psychiatrist, not a government edict) it became apparent that the PQ was going to lose power.
I know that barring a political wave (they do happen here from time to time), Quebec wasn’t ready for a QS or Green government and the CAQ was fast becoming redundant. That leaves the Liberals.
I was fully expecting a Liberal victory and thought the prospect of Couillard as premier for a bit was a necessary evil that I could endure. Except…
The Bad: It’s a Liberal Majority
I like a minority government situation. It forces the party in power to either work with the other parties and by extension the voters who put them there or pull a Marois and try to re-work the social fabric and go out in a blaze of wealthy Islamic fundamentalist McGill students stealing your pool time.
It also sends a strong message about voter intentions. Giving an opposition party minority government status is more a rejection of the outgoing party than approval of the incoming one.
In 2012, people voted against Jean Charest, Bill 78 and his austerity agenda more than they voted for the PQ. It was clear to almost everyone except Marois, but then again, she also thought the Charter was a good idea and believed that PKP wouldn’t stab her in the back, not the sharpest tack in the drawer.
If this time around the result had been a Liberal minority, it would have been clear that people voted against Marois and the Charter and the Liberals happened to benefit. Instead we have a majority and the Couillard can claim to have a mandate from voters, because, well, he does.
A few months from now, very few will remember how we ended up with the PLQ in power. When Couillard passes austerity measure after austerity measure, tries to privatize healthcare and raise tuition again, there won’t be anyone standing up saying “dude, you’re only here because the last premier was a racist nutjob and an international embarrassment.”
Couillard isn’t Jean Charest. He’s more of a placeholder PLQ leader who found himself with a majority government because of a strategically inept PQ. I can only hope he recognizes that and doesn’t try to foist an agenda on people who were, for the most part, listening to what the PQ was saying when they voted Liberal.
If instead he tries to be Charest, we’re in for four years of social unrest that may make the Maple Spring look like a day in the park.
We asked our readers to tell us who they planned to vote for in the 2014 Quebec Election. When our poll closed at midnight, the results were clear.
With 115 votes cast in total, 50% of people chose Québec Solidaire. The Liberals finished in second place with 33% of the vote and the newly re-vamped Green Party came in third with 11%. The Parti-Québécois and Coalition de l’Avenir du Québec tied for fourth place, garnering three votes apiece and beating out “none of the above” and “not sure yet” who tied for fifth. Option Nationale and “there’s an election?” round off the list, each getting one vote.
Our readers’ reasons for voting the way they did are most likely quite varied and some may even be strategic. Blocking the PQ is very in this year and the best party to do that with depends on where you live (people living in Rosemont and the Plateau, for example, have a better chance of stopping Marois with a QS vote than one for the PLQ).
So I’m not going to try and guess their reasons. What I will do is mention what the top three parties on our survey are offering.
Quebec Solidaire: A new approach
A vote for Quebec Solidaire is a vote for a new social justice-focused way of doing things. It’s a vote against the old two-party system, a way to vote against Marois without re-hiring the PLQ which Quebec voters fired just 18 months ago.
They are are offering a renewed investment in social programs, healthcare (some CLSCs will stay open 24 hours in their plan), a tuition freeze leading to free education and free public transit in the next ten years. These all serve as job creation programs, too. QS definitely supports workers’ rights but won’t sacrifice the environment for the economy as they are opposed to fracking for shale gas on Anticosti Island.
Instead of pie in the sky (not to be confused with the pie on their poster about a more equal society), they have a plan to pay for all their projects. In keeping with their approach, it relies largely on taxing the banks more.
While QS is a sovereigntist party, they’re not offering the xenophobic vision of it that the PQ is. Instead, they want to reform Quebec democracy by bringing in proportional representation then create inclusive constituent assemblies with the goal of concentrating less power in federal hands and put the result of those assemblies to a vote in a referendum.
Quebec Liberals: What You’d Expect
As for the Liberals, who were on top of our poll for a while and by all indications will form the next government, well, we pretty much know what we can expect. After all, we just got over nine years of PLQ rule.
Now Phillippe Couillard is not Jean Charest, He seems more rational, calmer and less autocratic than our former premier was at the end. He has also promised to slow down shale gas exploration, though not abandon it completely (his party was the one who first brought up the idea) and decided against re-instating the previous PLQ government’s tuition hike, opting to keep Marois’ indexation plan instead.
That doesn’t mean that the Libs are no longer the party of austerity, quite the opposite. It’s just that their austerity doesn’t include strong restrictions on personal and religious freedoms to please the socially conservative the way the PQ version does through their charter. They’re also committed federalists and overall have the best chance of replacing the PQ.
Green Party of Quebec: Strong platform, small slate of candidates
The Green Party of Quebec under new leader Alex Tyrrell are focused on eco-socialism, which for them includes no shale gas fracking and free public transit in five years (instead of the decade in the QS platform). They are also the only party completely opposed to the Charter in any form (the PLQ, QS and CAQ all have versions of it, albeit less overreaching than the PQ version).
To be honest I love their platform and voted for them myself in this poll. To also be honest, they’re not running a full slate of candidates, so even if there was a green wave (in the volatile world of Quebec politics, anything is possible) they still couldn’t form government.
So there you have it. FTB readers have spoken and now you have until 8pm to vote, if you haven’t already. For info: monvote.qc.ca
The hustle and bustle of the election will finally come to a halt on Monday evening as the polls close and slowly the votes start to trickle in. This will mark the end of one of the most divisive and “dirtiest” electoral cycles in Quebec’s modern history. For those that see a sliver lining in the clouds with the victory of Couillard’s Liberals and the ousting of Pauline Marois’s short-lived administration, be careful for what you wish for.
On Tuesday morning as Quebec awakes to a new government and a premier, one thing will not have disappeared. The dismissal of the PQ will not dismiss discrimination. If there’s but one prognostic I will make for Monday night it’s that roughly 80% of the new occupants of the National Assembly will be aligned with the right and will full-heartedly push for more austerity and more cuts, thus pushing for further inequality and economic discrimination.
The most fascinating aspect of this election for me was that discrimination or the fight against discrimination was a central theme of this campaign. In the end it seems that many of my fellow electors are quite alright pushing aside the allegations of corruption that have been made against the PLQ in past years to fend off the threat of “ethnic nationalism” under the auspices of an hypothetical PQ government. And yet few who follow this logic have taken into account the most brutal form of discrimination: inequality.
According to the polls (they might be wrong but let’s say they’re right) Mr. Couillard will become the next premier of Quebec and the Liberals will form the next government. Quebec will elect yet another Liberal administration with a mandate to dismantle every social safety net they can, battle unions and the economic gains that were fought for during generations and generations, liberalize the economy and slowly hatchet the social fabric of Quebec society. Well, at least we’ll have the consolation prize of having defeated “institutional discrimination” at the ballot box.
Unfortunately we might wake up sooner rather than later to the gruesome reality that the phantoms of discrimination still roam freely and unhindered by the results of the election. When the Charter became the central theme of the campaign, it threw a veil over many important issues, making them non-existent specters within the political arena.
But most importantly, the Charter had the direct consequence of making inequality, the most recurrent form of discrimination within Quebec society today, invisible. From the start of this campaign the PQ gave victory to the Liberals on a silver platter, for it’s the Liberal trademark to make discrimination solely an affair of individual liberties while on the other hand promoting economic discrimination and the denial of fundamental economic rights.
Those that will vote PLQ “strategically” Monday to chase away the ghosts of discrimination that have haunted this province for the past six months will assure these specters merely a stronger place within our society. A vote for the PLQ on Monday could be compared to a morbid ghostly dance, a clear invitation to the phantoms of discrimination to make themselves at home in a society that will protect the principal and not the practice of equality.
During the campaign we heard the PQ say that a vote for the CAQ was a vote for the PLQ, we heard the PLQ say that a vote for the CAQ was a vote for the PQ, the truth is that a vote for the PLQ is a vote for the PQ if you’re voting against discrimination. A vote for the PLQ, PQ or CAQ is a vote for discrimination, do not fool yourselves.
Inequality will always be the worst form of discrimination, because poverty is the worst form of violence.
Quebec Premier Pauline Marois surprised reporters this morning when she announced that the Quebec election, originally slated for next Monday, would be postponed until August the 27th.
“With students from Ontario trying to steal our democracy by registering to vote,” Marois explained, “I cannot afford to let this election go forward on the originally planned date.”
Marois cited her earlier decision to go back on a promise of fixed election dates constitutional justification for this move. The Directeur général des élections du Québec confirmed that the elections had, in fact, been postponed, adding that April 7th will remain an advanced polling date in selected ridings. The DGEQ assured voters that any correlation between PQ strongholds and ridings allowed to vote on the original date was purely coincidental.
The Journal de Montreal, who seemed to have been tipped off in advance, are praising Marois for this move in an editorial which argues that with a much longer election cycle, Quebec is getting much more democracy. But not everyone is happy.
Liberal leader Phillipe Couillard said that he was deeply concerned that the premier would use such tactics. He added that at least it would give Quebeckers time to see what happens when Marois and her husband appear before the Charbonneau commission.
CAQ leader Francois Legeault, on the other hand, applauded the premier’s move.
“Madame Marois,” he said, echoing his recent debate performance, “Madame Marois has shown us that we don’t need the bureaucracy of an election date to practice democracy in Quebec. I welcome these extra months to connect with voters.”
Green leader Alex Tyrrell, while shocked at the announcement, wondered if this would finally show Quebeckers that the big parties did not have the people’s interests at heart. Former candidate Anarchopanda, meanwhile, started laughing uncontrollably and still hasn’t stopped.
It was Quebec Solidaire’s Francoise David, though, who made the most astute observation. After her initial surprise, she said:
“Oh, I get it, very funny. Poisson d’Avril!”
For those who don’t speak French, that means April Fools!
It’s enough to make any true bleu Quebec nationalist quake in their boots. It’s also enough to make Quebec Anglos who already feels persecuted raise up their fists.
On one hand, we have the threat of hordes of Ontario and BC students trying to steal Quebec’s election. On the other we have an all-powerful PQ practicing Anglo voter suppression and a sympathetic electoral body playing along.
It’s enough to make moderates take sides and pick up (verbal) arms. It’s enough to make people who had no intention of voting when the election was called try and do just that.
It’s also enough to distract from what the real game here is. This has nothing to do with the linguistic or national divide, it’s not even about students, though they are the ones who will bear the brunt of the bullshit.
This all started when a now former electoral officer in St-Marie St-Jacques raised a now discredited red flag about an abnormal amount of out-of-province students trying to register to vote. What followed was a back and forth in the media reminiscent of those old battles between sovereignists represented by the PQ and federalists represented by the Liberals.
The only problem is that the Liberals don’t really have a chance in SMSJ, they haven’t for decades. Even if a bunch of students originally from elsewhere in Canada did register to vote, it’s unlikely they would vote en masse for a party so many of them were protesting just a couple of years ago.
Quebec Solidaire, on the other hand, is poised to take SMSJ and other left-leaning ridings on the island of Montreal. Thanks to the xenophobic nature of the charter and Marois’ massive miscalculation in making notorious union-buster Pierre Karl Peladeau a candidate, any progressive cred the PQ may have had left seems to be evaporating and they’re getting nervous.
They hope that cries of non-francophone (read: anglo and the “other”) voter fraud help mobilize their nationalist base. Can people afford to take the chance and vote QS when there’s a threat from Ontario?
It’s also a possible out for Marois if she loses the election. The PQ is notorious for discarding leaders that don’t perform well and maybe she thinks that being able to say it was because of “Ontario et le vote étudiant” will allow her to keep her job at the head of the party.
Regardless of the narrow, selfish reasons behind the move, it is having real repercussions. Some are direct and others are much more subtle and insidious.
To vote in Quebec elections, you need to be over 18 years of age, a Canadian citizen and domiciled in Quebec for at least six months. The first two points are objective, the last one is left up to the electoral officer’s discretion.
Basically, a voter needs to prove their intent to stay in Quebec. The electoral officer is supposed to look at where they pay their taxes, which provincial government they have a health card with and other factors and decide if they’re just here for their studies or the long haul.
The government, hoping to keep students paying out-of-province tuition, already makes it hard for them to be officially domiciled here, but now those who did manage to jump through all the appropriate hoops are finding it difficult or impossible to vote here. Unfortunately, it looks like discretion has given way to rejection.
The Directeur général des élections du Québec has been rejecting would-be voters who have all the documents to indicate that they plan to stay and even declared a candidate ineligible to vote. Whether this is a normal, generally unreported practice in Quebec elections, as some have suggested, or DGEQ officials airing en masse on the side of not wanting the PQ to be able to say the elections were stolen, the damage has been done.
Students are historically a tough group to get to the polls under normal circumstances. Now, with stories out there about how difficult and ultimately fruitless trying to register to vote may be, I wouldn’t be surprised if some who may have tried to vote will just decide to stay home and not deal with the hassle.
And that, in a nutshell, is voter suppression with a Quebecois twist.
Harper would be proud, hell, the GOP would be proud. Marois has taken a strategy directly from the Republican playbook and it seems to be working.
If we don’t want a distinct Quebec culture with American-style electoral politics, there are still a few days to register to vote. QPIRG Concordia and QPIRG McGill are helping students who would like to vote but fear they may be denied or have already tried and would like to try again.
No matter who you want to vote for, or even if you plan to scratch your ballot or vote Parti Nul, if you plan to be in Quebec for most or all of the next government’s mandate, you have a right to have your say.
Pierre Karl Péladeau, or PKP, is the name on everyone’s lips since the announcement last week that he would be running in the riding of St-Jerôme for the Parti Québécois. Debates have blossomed throughout the Quebec political spectrum.
For some it was the coup de grâce that would help seal the unity of the right-wing and the left-wing of the sovereignist movement. Supposedly the momentum that PKP would bring to the PQ would be enough to ensure a majority. Others noted that this was the milestone that would forever infamously indicate the death of the left within the PQ. Unfortunately the arrival of Pierre Karl Péladeau within the ranks of the PQ is the explicit manifestation of an ideological rapprochement between the Stephen Harper neoconservatives and Pauline Marois’ strain of “xenophobic” nationalism.
It’s obvious that the framework and rhetoric that has been brought forward by the PQ through the Charter of Quebec Values is on many levels very similar to the wedge politics that the Conservatives have imposed in Ottawa. The rhetoric used by the PQ and the federal Conservative Party or the Wildrose Party in Alberta is dangerously similar. Another transversal characteristic of these three political movements: their strategy of divide and conquer, through which they have effectively targeted sections of the electorate with key issues thus polarizing the debate in their respective political spheres.
Put in the boarder context of the political strategy of polarization, PKP’s arrival on the Quebec political scene is far from trivial; to the contrary it appears to be the normal course of action. Evidently the right-wing media, Sun News or the outlets of Quebecor, are natural allies of the PQ’s quest to flood the public space with senseless rhetoric void of any substantial content.
The similarities between the various movements gives us insight into the dynamic that fuels the PQ’s capsizing to the right. The fact that “Free Speech” becomes a justification for almost any statement no matter how derogatory, hateful or out of line it might be, is a simple recipe to capture and control attention. Commanding attention is a must in every political contest and in this specific case, the Quebec elections of 2014, it allows the PQ to sideline any meaningful debate.
Since the very start of this debate about the Charter, many Canadians from the ROC (Rest Of Canada) have found comfort in the fact that such a debate is only possible in Quebec, which implicitly implies somehow that the ROC is some what less xenophobic, less prone to racist behaviours. Sorry to break the news to my compatriots in the ROC but this is a myth.
PKP’s dashing entry into Quebec’s political arena was a timely reminder. After all, the tentacles of his media empire extend far beyond the borders of Quebec. When Marois talks of the threat of Muslim fundamentalism she’s perfectly in tune with the “high priests” of the neoconservative right embodied by none other than Ezra Levant, who happens to be (certainly a pure coincidence) on PKP’s payroll as a pundit for Sun News (technically PKP stepped down from Sun’s parent company Quebecor to run, but he still holds shares).
Has the coming of Pierre Karl Péladeau been beneficial for the PQ? Everything indicates that it hasn’t. The latest polls indicate it has actually compromised the PQ’s blueprint for Quebec in more ways than one.
If anyone has made the connection between the arrival of PKP within the PQ and the potential for the Conservatives to garner support in Quebec in the next federal election, it’s certainly the main strategists of the Prime Minister’s Office. The Conservatives now know for a fact that by using a rhetoric that appeals to xenophobia and islamophobia , something the Conservatives excel at, they can make substantial gains in the rural regions of Quebec in the next election.
No matter what the outcome on the 7th of April, new fractures have appeared in Quebec society, the void left by the Bloc Quebecois and the resurgence of an ethno-centric strain of nationalism fuelled by the Charter has created the space for the Conservatives to make substantial gains. Pauline Marois has made a massive bet and with every substantial bet comes an exponential amount of risk.
The PQ might get a majority, although that’s also up in the air, but madame Marois might have also leaked to the Conservatives the blueprint to win over the “heart” of Quebec.
We are now amidst what could probably become one of the most polarizing electoral cycles of contemporary Quebec history, certainly a pivotal moment in many ways. As I said in my last article, the Parti Québecois’ shift to the right and its realignment with a right-wing nationalist discourse is a seismic shift in and of itself. But from the onset, this election is merely the culminating point of a pattern of political instrumentalisation that has impoverished the political discourse in Quebec for the past thirty years.
The infamous Charter of Quebec Values is a strategy for the PQ to preserve power. In the context of a growing sentiment of disenfranchisement and bewilderment that many Quebeckers feel towards the current state of affairs of Quebec, the Charter is the transfiguration of this sentiment of malaise into a political force.
Inherent to the process of transfiguration of this sentiment of disorientation into political points at the ballot box are two simultaneous movements: the creation of an other and the creation of an us. The other is a direct threat to the existence of the collective us, thus supposedly the other is the antithesis of the collective us, but in this case the other is the main condition of existence of the collective us and the collective us is built in reaction to the existence of others. This explains how slowly but surely since the start of the debate about the Charter, the PQ has been able to amass exponential support.
The main objective behind these political maneuvers is to camouflage the austerity agenda which has created such havoc in the day-to-day lives of Quebeckers of all walks of life. The dismantlement of Quebec’s social structure, the commodification of many aspects of Quebec’s culture and the liberalization of the market.
The vectors of disorientation are occulted, the invisible enemy. The automatized march of an unrestrained and unregulated reckless flow of capital is substituted by the tangible threat of an foreign usurper trying to undermine the values of Quebec.
The comprehension of this process of the creation of the other, how and why it is used is key to understanding Quebec politics in general and this election in particular. This phenomenon pre-dates current events by quite some time, it’s inherent to the system of Quebec politics, the PQ and the Parti Libéral du Québec.
Movements such as Coalition Avenir Québec or Action Démocratique du Québec will come and go. They have become prisoners of this paradigm.
The PQ and PLQ have crafted the frame within which the political discourse flows in Quebec. To reinforce their grip on Quebec politics they instigate divisions within Quebec society and create fictional fault-lines, almost as if there were between these two political formations a political pact similar to the Treaty of Tordesillas (treaty signed between the Portuguese and the Spanish in 1494 which divided the world between Portuguese zones of influence and Spanish zones of influence).
The PQ takes the souvereignist vote aka the Francophone vote and the PLQ takes the federalist vote aka Anglophone and traditionally the Allophone vote. With this arrangement both get roughly ten years behind the wheel in Quebec City and alternate terms of power between themselves.
In this manichaean set-up, the tempo is driven by debates without substance, by opposing buzzwords such as independence versus unity and slogans such as “masters of our house” versus “real issues.” Unfortunately these terms are void of substance, because they are words that never translate into action.
Today the PQ advocates for independence and yet offers no alternative agenda to the neoconservative agenda of Ottawa; one must wonder then, in these circumstances, what would be the purpose of independence? The PLQ refutes independence by using the usual whish-washy argument that independence would be detrimental for the economic prosperity of Quebec and yet in the past nine years of PLQ economic governance, the prosperous have only been a few.
The charter didn’t appear out of thin air. It’s the direct consequence of a system in which divisive and sectarian politics is the name of the game.
Marginalized are the political parties that try to bridge the gaps or start a meaningful debate. Simultaneously the more ugly the debate, the more potent becomes the force of attraction that brings all of the parties to the centre of the political spectrum.
When you prescribe austerity in economics, I guess it’s only normal to prescribe austerity of the political discourse. It truly is a shame, because the wealth of Quebec is found in its diversity, something that is not represented within the discourse of the most prominent political parties in Quebec.
At the end of the day these parties only offer lip service to the notion of democracy and of debate, because all main political parties in Quebec thrive within this framework, without it they are nothing. Thus it’s key for them to maintain the illusion of debate but never to start a real conversation about the future of Quebec.
We can seek comfort in the recent phenomenon of the rise and fall of both the CAQ and the ADQ. It’s proof that this system is becoming saturated and that people are yearning for an alternative.
The alternative lays with the parties that have a unifying message and that push beyond their base, that engage in dialogue with all sections of Quebec society, that do not instrumentalise and pit Quebekers against one another but rather have a discourse that transcends the barriers of language, religion, heritage, etc…
As Marx said “philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” The PQ and the PLQ have identified the fault lines within Quebec society and created a framework which plays on these fault lines to divide and rule. It’s up to us to change that!
A couple days back I was at the mayor’s press conference concerning the provincial budget and something he said, and repeated, caught my attention. In essence he insisted Montreal is a metropolis that requires a greater say in how provincial tax dollars are spent in our city. I couldn’t agree more and I know where I heard this before.
Referring to the provincial budget, Coderre shrugged and said, simply, that it was realistic, but generally gave the impression he thought it was uninspired and was far too vague on the specifics of provincial money earmarked to develop social housing and improve infrastructure. A few months ago, Richard Bergeron was more direct: Quebec has to revisit its pact with the city.
Yesterday’s news is that the open trench of the Ville-Marie Expressway will be covered over between Hotel-de-Ville and Sanguinet and Coderre has put Bergeron in charge. Though plans to cover the trench go back nearly thirty years, it was Bergeron and Projet Montréal that campaigned on the idea during the last election.
Bergeron’s plan, as you might expect, is bold. He wants to cover the entirety of the trench from the Palais des Congres all the way to the Champ-de-Mars métro station, adjacent to the new superhospital. Coderre’s plan is limited – initially – to the easternmost section, where hospital, métro station and city hall meet. By pushing this idea, with or without Transport Quebec’s initial approval, Coderre may encourage private developers to get interested in the project and this in turn may encourage the transport ministry to get on board.
Why the province is apparently in charge of the aerial construction rights over our city’s exposed highway trenches is anyone’s guess. Why one of the most conservative and arguably corrupt ministries in this province is even allowed onto the island to do any roadwork is another.
But this aside, Coderre and Bergeron have something in common: neither are keeners vis-à-vis PQ and provincial interventions in this city’s affairs. They both want opportunities to show we can take care of ourselves, and in my opinion this couldn’t possibly come at a better time.
As long as the PQ is sabre rattling about how Quebec would be better off without ‘interference’ from the Fed, so too should the city of Montreal make it known we’d be better off without the meddling of the province. If Quebec requires autonomy from Canada, Montreal requires autonomy from Quebec.
Given that we’ve got a provincial election coming up, and a federal one after that, having an ardent federalist and Liberal in the mayor’s seat is just about the best situation for our city and its citizens.
There’s more though. Coderre made important changes to the role of the city inspector general based on recommendations by Bergeron and Projet Montréal. And further still, Bergeron has indicated he’s sticking around in municipal politics for longer than he originally thought. Perhaps he thought he’d be useless with Coderre in power. Perhaps he underestimated Coderre.
I feel an unlikely bromance is developing. Coderre’s recent announcement concerning the Ville-Marie isn’t a matter of one stealing another’s ideas. The idea has been around for a while. Rather, it’s that Coderre seems to be listening to Bergeron and the two of them are clearly working together on key points of mutual interest.
While this might not satisfy hardcore Projet Montréal purists, this is about as good it gets local-politics wise. That Coderre has specifically mentioned he wants this portion of the highway trench to be redeveloped as a public space is only further indicative that Coderre is aware of the value and necessity of Projet Montréal’s platform.
If Coderre really is going to be our city’s 21st century equivalent to Jean Drapeau, then I can only hope Bergeron is our latter day Lucien L’allier. So far I’m encouraged by Denis Coderre in his role as mayor, though in Montreal politics, as we should all know by now, mayors generally start out well and finish in the dumps. I’m hoping this process came to an end with the disastrous Tremblay/Applebaum administration. What encourages me most is that Coderre has reached out to his chief rival (let’s be real, Joly wasn’t really interested and Coté didn’t have a chance) and the two men have found enough common ground they’re actively working together.
That both men are further insistent we handle our own affairs in this city, possibly to the chagrin of the Parti Quebecois, is music to my ears. Anything, any legislation or political relationship that limits what the PQ can do to us is a victory for not only our city and its citizens, but the country more broadly.
If the PQ is destined to win a majority simply as a result of vote-splitting and uninspired leadership, so be it. Without Montreal, the PQ has no hope of achieving its single primary goal, its raison d’être. With two ‘bulldogs’ in city hall, the next few months should prove very interesting indeed.
It certainly isn’t an understatement to say that in the past weeks the political debate in Quebec has revolved around the charter. It is my personal belief that it is a very important debate to be had, not because the charter itself has any premise but rather because the purpose of the charter is wrongful and would be extremely harmful for Quebec society at large. But I also don’t believe that it’s an understatement to say that the charter is but a smokescreen made to emphasize ‘differences’ that have never existed in the first place.
Yes, it is my belief as I have said in one of my past articles that the charter was a sort of electoral shortcut, a magical illusion serving the purpose of creating a debate that couldn’t hold it’s ground in the real world, the place outside the realm of political spin. All the evidence shows that there is no ‘integration’ problem in Quebec, the number of reasonable accommodations has never been flagrant and comparatively to other immigration situations throughout the world, especially in Europe, there hasn’t been any ‘flare-ups’ such as 2005 in France or London 2013.
Why the charter debate then? There are many explanations, especially political ones, but the truth is that it’s a debate that suits the ‘neo-liberal’ forces in the Quebec National Assembly because with such a smoke screen they can make their true intentions disappear.
On Tuesday the announcement was made, in very vague terms, that hypothetically in the near future public hospitals would have the possibility to charge patients for their beds. In clearer terms it means the death of public health care as we know it.
Unlike the debate on the charter this is a debate in which all three main political parties, the PQ, the PLQ and the CAQ, in Quebec City are on the same wavelength.
In this dire situation, should the charter still be at the center of our political debate? Should the charter still be on everybody’s mind?
Well that’s were it gets problematic, doesn’t it? The fact is that discrimination is unacceptable in any condition, but while the charter continues to monopolize all the space within the public arena, economic discrimination is at its point of culmination.
The fight against the charter must go hand in hand with the fight against economic discrimination, because in the end, discrimination, whether its origin is xenophobia or economic inequality, is still discrimination. The fight for a more just society encompasses the fight for public universal health-care, the fight universal public education and the fight for minority rights, the rights of refugees, the fight for civil rights.
The false dichotomy that divides civil rights from economic and social rights must be abolished. Until then, our struggles are but disjoint pieces of a huge jigsaw.
The theoretical right to be a free entity able to express one’s singularity is a fundamental human right. The debate revolving around the charter is an important one because we must defend that fundamental human right, but what is theoretical freedom worth if, in practice, outside the world of theory, the balance of your bank account is the soul decider of if you live a decent life or a miserable one, if you enjoy all the freedoms at your disposal or not, if you succumb to sickness or survive.
Over my dead body will any government privatize public health care.
The real targets of the Charter of Quebec Values are the CAQ, Quebec Solidaire and the NDP. Muslims, Sikhs, Jews and Orthodox Christians are just innocent victims caught in political crossfire.
For decades, Quebec politics split into two camps. Federalists and most anglos voted Liberal provincially and either Liberal or Conservative federally. Soverigntists voted PQ and Bloc.
Progressive voters, especially progressive anglos, didn’t have much choice at all. With the PQ leaning increasingly to the right on social and economic issues, even progressive soverigntists had to hold their noses when voting PQ.
I hate to generalize, but in this case I have to. The PQ has always had two political bases: left-leaning secular soverigntists living predominately in urban areas and ultra-nationalist Catholics in the suburbs and countryside who veer right politically, sometimes to the point if xenophobia.
The nationalist base also flirted with homophobia when openly gay Andre Boisclair was leader. The PQ fell to third place for the first time ever as nationalist right wing voters found refuge in the ADQ, who only had to not rule out the idea of a separate Quebec.
The current incarnation of the ADQ, the Coalition de l’Avenir du Quebec, are separatist at the core but promise not to hold a referendum right away. This allows them to pick up right wing anglos fed up with the Liberals but also take hard right nationalist votes away from the PQ.
Meanwhile, upstart leftist sovereignist parties like QS and Option Nationale threaten to take soft separatist votes. Throw in some progressive federalist voters and lefties who care more about social policy than which flag is flown and the PQ stands to lose seats in their urban enclaves.
In the last federal election, progressive soverigntists who realized Ottawa was the wrong place to fight for independence banded together with progressive federalists and decimated the Bloc, taking a bunch of Liberals down too. The Orange Wave that saw the NDP take most of the seats in Quebec was part love affair with Jack Layton and part rejection of the status quo of Quebec politics.
It’s that status quo that the PQ desperately needs to reestablish both provincially and federally. Enter the Charter, with it’s rules against public sector employees wearing “ostentatious” religious attire.
Small crosses are okay as are Star of David and Muslim Crescent trinkets which have no religious meaning whatsoever. Burqas, niquabs, turbans, yarmulkes, kippahs and Orthodox Christian crosses (generally larger than the Catholic ones) aren’t.
The target audience is clearly the right-wing nationalist side of the PQ’s base, but Marois and company probably figure that the reasonable accommodations crowd will go for a ban on turbans and burquas with little prodding. So the marketing push is focused instead on secular leftists, talking about women’s rights and the neutrality of the state.
Arguing that a law which targets specific groups is neutral is a stretch at best, explaining how banning a Jewish man from wearing a kippah or a Sikh from wearing a turban has anything to with women’s rights, meanwhile, is downright impossible. But it doesn’t matter. This strategy gives progressive PQ supporters enough political cover to defend their party without having to admit they support far-right social conditioning.
They’ll also be able to criticize QS, a feminist party, who opposed the charter on principle. Expect a repeat of the baseless accusations that surfaced before the last election, claiming that QS is just a puppet of the NDP.
Thomas Mulcair opposes the Charter, as do Justin Trudeau and Stephen Harper. In fact, the only federal party supporting it is the Bloc. No surprise they booted Maria Mourani for speaking out against it (and in the process, kicked out a fifth of their caucus and their only female MP and their only representation from the island of Montreal).
The CAQ thinks the Charter goes too far, but does support it when it comes to government employees in a position of power. Their position, squarely seated on top of the fence, makes sense: the Charter plays to right wingers who they covet but it’s also bad for business, their other key demographic.
The Quebec Liberals, predictably, are opposed to the Charter outright. The PQ’s traditional opponent in stark opposition, just like old times.
The PQ’s endgame is not separation, it hasn’t been for years. The threat or promise of it is just another tool to achieve their real goal: bringing back those good ole days when it was them and the Bloc versus the Quebec Liberals and the rest of Canada.
Now Marois can claim that only the PQ and the Bloc speak for Quebec and its values. All she had to do was redefine the values of half her base as those of Quebec.
It doesn’t matter how many people are discriminated against and leave Quebec. It doesn’t matter how many people are accosted in public for no good reason. The only thing that’s actually valuable to her and her party is for Quebec politics to return to the status quo.