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.

 

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).

Canadian Politics

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 the year went on, the government kept up the progressive discourse that got them elected, but too often failed to follow it up with actions. The Prime Minister even blatantly went back on his promise of electoral reform, driving the last nail in the coffin for a good portion of increasingly disgruntled voters.

This year was not any less turbulent for smaller parties.

The NDP was licking its wounds and doing some soul-searching after their grueling 2015 loss. Fortunately, many members signed an open letter recognizing how disastrous their electoral strategy of aiming for the middle ground was and declaring their desire to go back to the unashamedly leftist positions they used to hold

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)

Canadian Pipelines

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)

Standing Rock

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)

Quebec Politics

Couillard struggling during a TV interview

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.

This is undoubtedly linked to the fact that the real impact of the budget cuts in public services started becoming more apparent. In a memorable interactive interview with Radio-Canada last June, Premier Philippe Couillard was confronted with an onslaught of people suffering from his austerity measures. Some had lost their jobs and others were overwhelmed healthcare workers and angry parents.

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.

If the PQ is now breathing down their necks in the polls, it is hardly due to their own accomplishments this year. In fact, the Parti Québécois spent most of 2016 trying to find a new leader after the freshly elected Pierre-Karl Péladeau resigned, citing family reasons. His excuse, standard as it might be, is not very hard to believe, considering he was later found to be stalking his ex-wife and is now in a grim legal battle against his late girlfriend’s ex.

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

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

Painting by Samantha Gold, buy the original on eBay

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.

Then it looked like it was finally over for the Donald with the release of the Access Hollywood tape. That was the last straw for several prominent members of the Republican establishment. Was the GOP going to implode?

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)

Montreal Politics

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.

By June there were already approved proposals for really ugly granite fake tree stumps for Mount-Royal and a national anthem for the borough of Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles. How was the city going to pay for all of this? In August a task force gave the Mayor one option: taxes on water consumption and trash collection.

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.

The Montreal Police (SPVM) were also in trouble this year. They were caught spying on at least four journalists in November. Famed whistleblower Edward Snowden even mentioned this story ahead of his livestream talk at McGill University.

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.

The Mayor said he stands by his police chief before cancelling an investigation into the matter.

Coderre probably wants Montrealers to forget good chunks of his 2016 and focus instead on 375th celebrations, then vote him back in near the end of the year. The opposition has another idea, though.

Official Opposition party Projet Montreal held its first ever leadership race in fall 2016 culminating in the election of Valérie Plante early December. (JCM)

Black Lives Matter/Police Killings

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.

This prompted solidarity protests across the US. There was also an impromptu BLM sit-in during the Toronto Pride Parade and a couple of Montreal marches which highlighted that racist police violence was not just an American problem.

BLM sit-in during Pride Toronto, photo Hector Vasquez (BlogTO, Creative Commons Licence)

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)

Syria

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.

The Anti-ISIS coalition lead by the US is also responsible for a lot of civilian casualties. Amnesty International and the official opposition of al-Assad even called for a suspension of their airstrikes after they were reported to have killed between 100 and 200 civilians in the region of Manbij over two months.  This number is now confirmed to have surpassed 300, although the US still refuses to acknowledge it.

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!

The New Democratic Party of Quebec will soon be a thing. We spoke to its interim leader, Pierre Ducasse, on the phone.

“An alternative for people who want to have a progressive, social democratic voice, but at the same time a party that wants to work within Canada.” That’s what the NDPQ aspires to be in the next provincial elections.

Pierre Ducasse, three time candidate for the federal NDP and once Jack Layton’s “Quebec lieutenant”, officially kicked off the NDPQ public campaign this Wednesday.

“We have to get out of this political void and gloom. Maybe it’s time to give a home – a real one this time- to political orphans,” he wrote in an open letter on Facebook.

The idea has been in the air for some time. In fact, the New Democratic Party first got registered at the DGE in 2012, even if it was just to protect the name. “A few years earlier, a conservative tried to register the name New Democratic Party of Quebec, so we didn’t want that to happen,” explains Ducasse. With only about 300 members to date, the NDPQ is ready to start recruiting. The interim leader is confident that it will be a fully functioning party before the 2018 elections.

“Organizationally, it might be tough, but we can’t give a free pass to this government anymore,” he admits.

Despite the declining enthusiasm of Quebeckers for the federal NDP, he feels that the timing is just right to “shake up the political dynamics” in the province.

What makes the timing right?

For me, the decision to create a Quebec NDP relies exclusively on analysis of the context. That context is that feeling of morosity; the feeling that Quebec is not moving, that there is no project that builds bridges and brings people together. There is the lingering issue of sovereignty where people are still polarized in a way that is not useful.

With Couillard and Charest before him… when we look at it, they are not really liberals, are they? They are more conservatives…. This has to stop because we sense so much arrogance with this government, scandal after scandal. Ethics and fighting corruption: they are not our number one priorities and they should be.

At the same time, I think a lot of Quebeckers are fed up with the constant polarization around the national question. A lot of Quebeckers – it’s been clear from the polls- don’t want another sovereignty referendum. But, sadly, the PQ and others want to bring us in this direction.

Between the unconditional federalist partisans of the Status Quo on one side and the unconditional independentists on the other side, the rest of the population feels held hostage. We need to find a way to move beyond this debate – well not beyond it, but beyond how it’s debated ducasse-fbright now.

Except on the independence issue, your positions seem similar to Quebec Solidaire’s. Are you concerned about splitting the left vote?

I said repeatedly that we can’t steal the votes from other parties for one simple reason: the vote belongs to the citizens; it doesn’t belong to the parties. Some people think that Quebec NDP would divert support from QS mostly, others think that it would be at the liberals’ expense mostly… The only way to know is to do it.

One thing I can say for sure is that I do not consider Québec Solidaire my opponent or my enemy. For me the adversaries are these right-wing policies, whether they’re from the liberals or from any other party: those austerity policies, the lack of focus on education and health and fighting poverty. And right now they are embodied by the Quebec Liberal party – who is ideologically closer to a conservative party.

How many people do you think vote Liberal, not because they necessarily like them, but because they could never vote for a sovereignist party? A lot of people say ‘we hold our nose while voting”. Well, maybe holding our nose is not something we should do while voting,

Your assessment of Quebec’s political landscape is pretty harsh. Referring to the Liberal party, you said “when we ask for nothing, chances are we will get it.” What is the NDPQ going to ask of Ottawa?

It’s too soon to get into specifics, but look at the Liberals… what I’m saying is they have not put forward a vision, like: this is how we see provincial-federal relations, these are the issues we’d like to work cooperatively with other provinces and these are issues where we might have a different approach…

Sadly, the only two files in which we had a sense that the Couillard government really took a firm stand against Ottawa, were in terms of pensions and healthcare. And in both cases, it was, in my mind, the wrong decisions! When the federal wanted to strengthen the pension plan and the Régie des rentes du Québec: that was an example of when we should have worked with other provinces. I certainly support the principles of the Canada Health Act and certainly support that we can’t have more health care privatization, but we shouldn’t wait for somebody else to tell us.

The federal NDP has had a rough time since last elections, especially in Quebec where it lost 75% of its membership. Why would Quebeckers be interested in a provincial version of it?

I was there, building the party in the beginning of the 2000s with Jack [Layton], and I remember a time when we had 1% in Quebec. That didn’t stop us: we believed in the project and we moved forward and a decade later there was the Orange Wave.

I’m well aware that the 2015 elections did not have the results we had hoped. We’ll see what happens federally. The liberals tend to talk on the left, but for a lot of issues, it’s the same policies as Harper.  But the federal Liberals are at least pretending to be progressive, where the Quebec Liberals are not even pretending!

The Quebec NDP would be independent, there is no automatic affiliation between the two but there is certainly an ideological proximity with the Federal NDP. Many members might be involved in both so, the ideas are similar, but it doesn’t mean they will be exactly the same all the time. If it’s a distinct autonomous party, it means that it may not be always exactly the same.

 

Over the next few months, the NDPQ will be forming riding committees and organizing training sessions about Quebec’s electoral law for its members.

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.

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.

A Short Honeymoon

Since becoming PQ leader, at least officially (as if it was really a contest), PKP has enjoyed some positive numbers. Support for the PQ is up and so is support for sovereignty.

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.

pkp je veut un pays

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?

pkp sun news canadian flags

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.

rene levesque

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.

Yesterday like hundreds of fellow UQAM students, I occupied the J-A. De Sève building. Like hundreds of my fellow students, I occupied my university to send a simple and clear message to a megalomaniac and intransigent administration,.completely high on power administration; a dignified university; and a post-secondary educational institution that calls itself such belongs first and foremost to the students and the teachers.

Yesterday, I couldn’t have been prouder of being a UQAM student. I was proud of my fellow students, of the ecstatic sense of solidarity that filled the air, and of being part of it. Yesterday, I couldn’t have been prouder of my teachers, who stood arm in arm with us on the front lines and denounced the presence of anti-riot squads within our campus.

Applying to university many people look for prestige, for a name on a diploma. I applied to UQAM because UQAM fights, because education is more than just sitting in a classroom, because we learn as we struggle, as we fight together.

Today, the mainstream media, as per habit, will rain down blame and accusations on the students, those “ragged bunch of anarchists” and “masked terrorists” who rampaged and put to fire and sword our beloved university. There will be calls across the board to put an end to the “violence” and “intimidation.”

But let’s be clear here. Is there any violence that is symbolically or quantitatively more violent than that of university administration calling on riot-cops to club and charge their own students? Within a university, there isn’t greater violence than that of silencing dissident voices!

Certainly, however, there have been excesses at UQAM and that’s the excesses of the administration, that isn’t recognized by those it supposedly represents!

Like many in the past weeks, I have been discouraged and demoralized by the internal fighting that has plagued our movement, in particular surrounding the former executive of ASSÉ. This harmed the movement and the articulation of our message more than anything else.

Some have said we’re in need of a unifying moment, we found such a moment yesterday!

To all of those who don’t want to get involved, unfortunately you have no other choice – we collectively have no other choice. Either we take full repossession of our university – we re-take what is rightfully ours – or we capitulate at the feet of a logic of commodification that uses brute force to impose its world view. Either we uphold the democratic decisions of our student association, our student democracy, and the right for students to have a say in their education, or we lose democracy altogether!

To civil society, to those that are students, but not students of UQAM, to the workers, and in general, to those most affected by the austerity measures, do you not see the inequality of opportunity this government wants to impose on us? This struggle is yours as well!

This struggle belongs to all of those that believe in the “radical” idea that education and profit aren’t synonymous. They’re antithetical! This struggle belongs to those that believe that a university isn’t a factory, that we can aspire to more than being service-sector, minimum wage, 9 to 5, cubicle confined workers.

This struggle belongs to everyone who believes in the fundamental idea that some things are more important than “profit” – that people are more important than profit! Our struggle is a struggle to uphold one of the most fundamental freedoms and a guiding principle that should be laid at the foundation of every society: the principle that the transmission of knowledge should be non-merchandised, universally accessible to all regardless of your class, your race, your gender, your sexual orientation, your political beliefs, your religious beliefs.

If you believe in such things your place is alongside us, with us on the front lines.

We won’t give-up a centimeter, we will resist, we will overcome!

La lutte continue!

Photograph by Benjamin Prunty.

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.

Last week Justin Ling,  host of he podcast Some Honourable Members (Canada’s version of the Young Turks) reported in the National Post that the Federal NDP had discreetly registered itself with Quebec’s Elections Office. Hence, giving itself the power to fundraise and put forward candidates in the next provincial election.

This will come as a relief for those of us on the federalist progressive side of the political equation in La Belle Province, many of whom (including at least one member of the NDP’S elected federal caucus) have had to grudgingly cast their votes for the nominally sovereingtist Quebec Soldaire, or, worse still, the Parti Québecois or Liberal Party of Quebec, in past elections. As Thomas Mulcair has said in many interviews, Quebec is unique in Canadian politics in that, historically, the ideological divide has been along Separatist/Federalist lines, as opposed to the traditional left/right divide one finds in the rest of the country.

Full disclosure: I am a card carrying Québec Dipper whose recruitment into the cult of orange began back in 2004. Therefore, I have some connections to the party in Quebec and elsewhere and feel like that gives me a good perspective on whether such a project has a good chance of taking root in my home province. Incidentally, the claim by Ling about the failed Union des Citoyennes du Québec “attracting Federal NDP organizers” seems a bit dubious. No one I know in the Party, inside or outside Quebec, worked for them in the last election.

While I’m as excited as the next poli-sci nerd to see how the whole thing turns out and love the idea of finally being able to go to the polls in Quebec elections without holding my nose, I do have a few reservations.

For starters, when the party (anonymous source) says it expects the grass roots to do all the “leg work” in terms of building a political machine that could contend with the established parties in Quebec, do they realize how shallow those roots are at this point? The party only really acquired a solid membership base in the post 2011 era, greatly helped by the leadership race and recruitment drive in the wake of Jack Layton’s death. Many ridings are still struggling to attract new members and retain those that joined over the past couple years.

As well, as even Mulcair himself admits, the focus of the Federal NDP must remain on defeating Harper in the upcoming federal election. Spending precious resources on building (or re-building ) the party in Québec should not be the top priority until that comes to pass.

The NDP must also be careful about how it goes about building a provincial wing in Quebec, given some of the differences culturally, politically, socially and economically between Quebec and the rest of Canada (i.e. Charter of Values debate). Great care will have to be taken to only select those people that reflect the core values of all Canadian New Democrats as well as progressive Quebeckers of the federalist persuasion. The last thing the party needs is for the new Quebec NDP to wind up being at odds on some important election issue with their federal cousins.

In the end, a strong socially democratic political movement in Quebec will surely reinforce the NDP at the national level and finally provide a viable federalist option for Quebec voters who desperately want to see change in their political landscape and are sick and tired of the old Red Team vs. Blue Team binary that has blatantly failed to deliver an honest government or even a competent one in a very long time. In much the same way Canadians in unprecedented numbers rejected the same dichotomy and opted for Jack Layton’s NDP in the 2011 national election.

Even though I’m a news and politics writer, I’ve been neglecting the provincial election in my own front yard. My apathy comes from there being no major candidate I can, in good conscious, support.

Picture Quebec politics as a box of melted chocolates: no matter which piece you reach for, you know your hand is going to get dirty.

Quebec politics of the last forty years hasn’t been about left or right, instead it’s been about whether you would check the yes or no box during a referendum on Quebec independence. Voting along these lines for decades has led us to a 2012 election where you have fascists, separatists and French supremacists vying for the Quebec crown. Make no mistake; both the French and English are to blame.

The Fascists

Let’s start with the former federal PC leader turned Liberal Premier of Quebec Jean Charest. Since his election in 2003, Jean Charest has consistently garnered the criticism of the labour unions in the province thanks to his pro-business policies. In fact, with a full corruption investigation underway it may turn out that Charest and/or his Liberal Party was overly generous to the construction industry and possibly organized crime.

Jean Charest

Charest has raised taxes every which way on ordinary Quebecers in order to increase government revenue. He raised Hydro rates, auto insurance premiums, most government fees, and he even raised the provincial sales tax by a full percent. The only tax Charest introduced on corporations was a carbon tax in which the fossil fuel industry pays less than a cent on every litre of gasoline it ships.

When budget time came last year, Charest decided that in order to tackle the provincial deficit he would raise student tuition fees by $1625 a year over five years rather than raising any corporate taxes which are among the lowest in North America. The students of Quebec didn’t take kindly to Charest’s policy and promptly acted.

The result was this past spring’s student strike that saw hundreds of protests throughout the province over a four month period which reaped international attention. Charest feeling the pressure, but unwilling to give in to student demands decided to suppress the student protesters by passing bill 78, one of the most anti-democratic laws the province has ever seen.

Despite Jean Charest’s possible corruption, pro-business views and draconian laws, Charest knows he can always count on the federalist vote thanks to the ever present fear of Quebec sovereignty. English voters in the province have blindly flocked to the Liberal Party for decades thinking they are the only Federalist Party around. I would bet, even if the Liberal Leader suddenly went on a deadly shooting rampage, he would still get the majority vote in Montreal’s West Island.

The Separatists

Thanks to the splintering of the Parti Québécois (PQ) over the years, there are now at least three major separatist parties in the province, Québec Solidaire, Option Nationale and of course the PQ.

François Legault

Option Nationale is a hardcore separatist party founded in 2011 by former PQ MNA Jean-Martin Aussant. The party says a vote for Option Nationale is an electoral decree for complete independence and would adopt the constitution of Quebec as an independent country even before a referendum was held. Option Nationale was recently indorsed by former PQ premier Jacques Parizeau.

Québec Solidaire represents the left wing of the separatist movement and is one of the newer party’s in the province formed only six years ago. QS shares many of the same principals as the federal New Democratic Party including social justice, environmentalism, aboriginal rights and proportional representation. If elected they would eliminate student tuition fees and raise corporate income taxes to more moderate levels—it’s just too bad they want to break up the country.

The conservative Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) leader François Legault claims his party is neither sovereignist nor federalist, but nationalist and has called for a ten-year moratorium on a new sovereignty referendum. Regardless, the party wants to decentralize healthcare, provide government resources to businesses, and they are a big advocate of austerity. Furthermore, they want to limit immigration and decrease the use of the English language in Montreal (making it easier to win a referendum down the line).

The French Supremacists

In a province where 95% of the populace speaks French fluently and less than 8% of the population speaks English, you have to wonder what PQ leader Pauline Marois has up her ass. Throughout her campaign she has repeatedly spoken of the need to toughen up on the already-ridiculous language laws in the province. Within 100 days of taking power, companies with between 11 and 50 employees would come under her revised French-language charter and needless to say, millions more in government funds will be spent on the language police.

Pauline Marois

Marois has also promised to bar non-francophone citizens from running for public office. If you’re an Anglophone from Montreal who wants to run for office you’ll be forced to pass a French exam beforehand, the same goes if you’re an Inuit running for a seat up north. Marois has since backpedaled on this issue, but only because of the outrage that it received.

A PQ government would also bar members of religious minorities working on the government payroll from wearing religious symbols such as Jewish kippahs or Muslim head scarves. Why? Because the French population is predominantly Catholic. The crucifix would still be permitted.

Since the 1970’s, there have been 244,000 Anglophones who have taken the “bon voyage” down the 401. They might have preferred to drive away than stand their ground, but at least the exodus has more or less stopped in recent years. The PQ knows that in order for a future referendum on independence to be successful, they must try something more than just chasing the immigrants and English out of the province.

Marois has promised to pick fights with the Canadian Government if she’s elected, but they will not be the typical battles we normally see between premiers and the Prime Minister’s Office. Marois knows that if she passes these “French Supremacist” laws, they will be overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada and she will then use it to her political and separatist advantage.

I have always placed great importance in voting, but nothing would make me happier to see these candidates end up with 0% of the vote. But since I live in the real world and I’ve never been a big fan of placing a “strategic” vote, I’ll still be voting, just not for a fascist, separatist or French supremacist.

Get up, get out and vote!

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