Host Jason C. McLean and Special Guest Samantha Gold discuss Quebec Premier François Legault’s seemingly immovable and uncaring paternalistic approach to pandemic management (and a bit of Montreal politics too).
We didn’t hear all that much about Montreal municipal politics in 2020. Plenty was happening on the local front, but with COVID-19 raging for most of the year, our focus remained on the response.
Yes, our city administration did play a part in that response, but it was mostly limited to initiatives to cope with what was happening. The big picture stuff like what money is coming to bail individuals out and whether or not we are on lockdown and what that means were the perview of our Federal and Provincial governments respectively.
Throw the political madness south of the border into the mix and our local politics just got buried, for the most part. It looked like that would change in 2021, but almost right out of the gate we got a curfew across Quebec and a failed (but still ongoing) coup attempt in the US.
This year, though, is an election year in Montreal, so the local political scene will undoubted come to the forefront, whether world events want it to or not. I spoke with Niall Clapham-Ricardo about the upcoming election in the latest FTB Fridays and one thing that became clear was that this was Valérie Plante’s election to lose.
Who is the Opposition?
While Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante and her party Projet Montréal suffered some setbacks in 2020 and did some things that really annoyed even some die-hard supporters, their opposition is divided. She is running opposed by many, but at the same time running pretty much unapposed.
The primary and Official Opposition in City Hall is Ensemble Montréal, formerly known as Équipe Denis Coderre pour Montréal. Lionel Perez is their interim leader.
And by interim, I mean he’s not running for Mayor of Montreal against Plante. At this point, no one is.
There are rumours that Denis Coderre might try for another kick at the can in 2021, something the former mayor hasn’t ruled out and even hinted at. If he does go for it, he will undoubtedly be able to retake the reigns of the party created for him.
This could explain why Ensemble has waited this long to pick his replacement. If Coderre decides not to run, though, they might find themselves scrambling to find a new standard bearer to challenge Plante.
If the former mayor is in, though, the fact that he chose to stay on the sidelines for four years will undoubtedly be a factor, as will stuff that he did as mayor before losing. The 2017 election was as much a repudiation of Coderre’s pit bull ban, his handling of the Formula E race and his general demeanor as mayor as it was a vote for Plante.
Meanwhile in Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Borough Mayor Sue Montgomery is starting her own party. Originally elected under the Projet banner, Plante kicked Montgomery out of the party’s caucus for refusing to fire her Chief-of-Staff earlier last year.
Montgomery recently won a court case against the city and my colleague Samantha spoke with her last week about the decision and the political situation in the borough. It’s important to note that while they’re not against branching out, Montgomery’s new party will currently only be running candidates within the borough (same with the upstart CDN-NDG party which has no affiliation with Montgomery’s organization).
CDN-NDG is the city’s most populous borough, and while losing ground there will almost certainly affect Projet’s control of City Council, there is still no direct challenge to Plante’s leadership coming from the borough. That is unless you count Ensemble Interim Leader Perez, who I don’t.
As for other potential challengers to Plante, some have floated David Heurtel’s name as a potential candidate, but it looks like the former Quebec Immigration Minister is waiting to see if Coderre is in or out before going for Ensemble leadership.
Meanwhile, former Montreal Allouettes player and former Projet candidate for Borough Mayor of Montréal-Nord Balarama Holness is considering a run for the city’s top job, but hasn’t said with which party.
Even former Projet councillor Guillaume Lavoie, who lost a leadership bid to Plante in 2017, is considering running. Some speculate he is looking to take the reigns of Mélanie Joly’s former party Vrai changement Montréal.\
Currently, there is only one declared candiate to unseat Plante as Mayor of Montreal: Félix-Antoine Joli-Coeur, who has previously counselled former Mayor Gérald Tremblay and former Quebec Premier Pauline Marois. This will undoubtedly change, but whether or not they sign up with enough time for the voting public to get to know them remains to be seen.
So, this election is shaping up to be all about Plante. With that in mind, let’s look at how that could play out electorally:
Haters Gonna Hate, Loyalists Gonna be Loyal
Even before the latest election season began, there were people predisposed to hate everything Valérie Plante and Projet Montréal might do. These are people who, for the most part, didn’t vote for them the last time, and certainly won’t vote for them this time.
They’re the type who will find any story that could be spun to show the current administration in a negative light and do just that. You had better believe they will be voting on election day and will likely coalesce behind the candidate and party that has the best chance of beating Plante and Projet, regardless of who that is.
On the other hand, Projet has its loyalists. People who have supported the party since Richard Bergeron was leader and continue to do so. For them, the party can do no wrong.
These two groups will presumably cancel each other out at the polls. So the decision then falls to two other groups:
Group 1: The Projet Machine
This is the smaller of the two groups, but potentially the most influential in the outcome. Voter turnout in municipal elections isn’t traditionally the greatest, so a dedicated group of people getting out the vote can be, and frequently is, the difference.
The Projet Machine is impressive, or at least it was when I last witnessed it in action on Election Day in 2017. Full disclosure, I not only supported and voted for Projet since it was formed, but also volunteered on the phone for the party for the past few elections.
I saw a well-organized, smart and motivated group of people. There were seasoned political professionals as well as people just giving all the time they could to help out.
The one thing they all had in common was dedication. Not to the Projet brand specifically, but to the progressive approach to city management it represented. To a new way of doing things.
While Plante and her party have lived up to many of their promises, they have also taken some decisions that could alienate a good chunk of their militant base. So the question becomes: How much of that base will stick with them?
While I see myself as part of this group, I can’t speak for it as a whole. What I can do is go over some of the things Plante and Projet have done that weaken my resolve to support them.
You won’t find blocking cars from taking a shortcut across the mountain, more bike paths, cancelling the Formula E contract or any of the measures like expanded terrasses and decreased traffic passed to encourage neighborhood tourism during a pandemic on this list. I strongly supported those initiatives and still do. This is what we voted for.
Here is where, IMHO, they screwed up:
- Sending Riot Cops to a Homeless Encampment: While homelessness is a complex issue, going full authoritarian is never a good move. Instead of coming down personally to the tent city the homeless had built as a safe alternative to shelters in a time of COVID and demanding the Legault Government provide an adequate alternative, Mayor Plante sent in the riot cops.
- Not Standing Up Forcefully Against Bill 21: This should have been a no-brainer. Montrealers oppose Bill 21 (aka the Religious Symbol Ban) by a wide margin. The current Quebec Government, which only won two seats on the Island of Montreal, wants to impose it to appease their rural base. While Plante said she is personally against it, she decided not to oppose and potentially block its implementation here.
- Waiting Too Long to Appoint an Anti-Racism Commissioner: Ultimately this one turned out to be something Plante should be applauded for. Naming Bochra Manaï as the city’s first Anti-Racism Commissioner last week was a good move, and one that drew the ire of Premier Legault because Manaï had strongly opposed Bill 21 (apparently Legault had hoped someone from the SPVM would be appointed instead – really). The question remains, though: Why did Plante wait this long?
- Changing Names: Now this one is a bit personal for me and may not resonate with other former Projet die-hards. Shutting down calls to rename Lionel-Groulx Metro after Oscar Peterson is one thing (and one that is arguably not the city’s call). Changing plans to rename a street after Daisy Sweeney is another (and one that is very much the city’s call). Randomly suggesting that the Griffintown REM stop be named after Bernard Landry and then doubling down on it speaks to a pattern: we don’t mess with history unless it pleases the majority.
Honestly, I’ll probably still vote for Plante again, because the alternative is probably worse. But it would take either a major shift in the administration responding to Quebec City (not on COVID, they don’t really have a choice) or other progressive priorities or the scary prospect of a Coderre victory to get me to volunteer again. Not sure, though, if they can bring the rest of the base back.
Group 2: The General Public
This is the group that doesn’t pay close attention to municipal politics for the most part of each four-year cycle. Their vote will be decided, most likely, in the weeks leading up to the election.
While a solid persuasion campaign, followed by a get-out-the-vote campaign is crucial, people first need to believe that they are voting in their best interest.
Plante is the name that they know. If they are reasonably satisfied with how things are going under her leadership, they will vote for her.
That is unless another name, say Coderre, comes down the pipe and convinces them otherwise. If the challenger is Coderre, then his legacy as Mayor comes into play as well.
Regardless of who it is, this is Plante’s election to lose, or win.
Host Jason C. McLean and special guest Niall Clapham-Ricardo discuss the 2021 Montreal Municipal Election and whether or not Valérie Plante and Projet Montréal can get back their militant base in time.
Quebec is now officially under an 8pm to 5am curfew which began Saturday night and is scheduled to last for four weeks. This is the first time there has been a curfew here since the October Crisis of 1970.
While previous and current measures implemented by Premier François Legault’s government to slow the spread of COVID-19 have been about restricting what we can do (selected business closures and bans on gatherings) or hygiene (masks and hand sanitizers), this one is different. It’s not about what we can do, but when we can do it.
First, it’s important to stress that COVID-19 is a very real threat and Quebec’s numbers are the highest they have been since the start of the pandemic. Any measures that will significantly drop the spread of COVID are worth implementing. Full stop.
That said, will this new strategy work? I honestly don’t know, but I don’t think Legault does either.
Unlike the premier, or at least unlike what he says publicly, I have my doubts as to the effectiveness of fighting a virus that spreads at any hour, day or night, by restricting the specific hours we can be outside of our homes.
I wonder if it could end up having an opposite effect to what is intended. Well, let’s start with a hypothetical, though very plausible scenario…
For Your Consideration
Let’s say there are 100 people who all live in the same area and go for a walk each day. 70 of them take their walks during the daytime, while the other 30 prefer a quieter walk at night.
Now impose an 8pm to 5am curfew.
The 30 people who walked at night and want to keep active now have to take their strolls during the daytime to avoid breaking curfew and getting fined. The other 70, meanwhile, continue their daytime walks.
So, instead of 70 people out during one period of time and 30 during another, we now have 100 people on the streets of the same area in the same period of time. We now have crowded sidewalks where social distancing is more difficult.
Likewise, night time grocery shoppers in the same area now have to get their shopping done before 8pm alongside the daytime shoppers. There will be more people in the stores at the same time and when the store hits its limit of patrons, lines will form outside, creating additional obstacles for the increased number of people going for a walk.
Grocery store and depanneur employees will be exposed to more people seeing as the stores will have the same number of customers, but these will now be spread out over fewer shifts. Also, many of these employees will pack public transit at the same time to get home before curfew.
So, in this scenario, the risk of COVID-19 transmission actually increases, albeit minimally, even if everyone is wearing masks and trying to socially distance as much as possible.
Quebec’s Director of Public Health Dr. Horacio Arruda made the same argument I just did a lit quicker when asked about curfews in the March 16, 2020 presser (this video should start at the right spot, but if it doesn’t, skip ahead to 14:32):
A Very Real Problem For The Homeless
Meanwhile, Quebec’s homeless population faces a situation that is very much not hypothetical, nor is it just an inconvenience. Fining or even harassing someone who can’t afford a place to live for being outside past curfew is just plain cruel and appalling.
Legault’s claim that there “is enough room available” in shelters is out of touch at best and willfully ignorant at worst. The situation wasn’t great before the pandemic began and while shelters have been able to find some additional space in old hospitals, social distancing requirements offset quite a bit of that.
Also, there have been COVID outbreaks in shelters, prompting many this past summer to set up tents instead of taking the risk.
A petition demanding that homeless people be exempt from curfew enforcement and fines already has over 6500 signatures.
More Than An Inconvenience
When it comes to people who have homes, yes, for some, like me, the curfew is a mild inconvenience. Well, in my case it’s a mild inconvenience mixed with a bit of existential dread.
I have a roof over my head, set my own schedule and have access to friends and family via the internet. I don’t need to go for a walk or the dep after 8pm, but the fact that I am not allowed to scares me.
Others aren’t so fortunate:
- People who work a standard 9-5 or 10-6 shift from home now have limited hours for exercise, grocery shopping or even a bit of fresh air.
- People from visible minority communities who work at night and are legitimately heading home or to work may be disproportionately stopped and harassed by police who now have wild discretionary powers to enforce the curfew (and without the potential of a citizen journalist passing by and filming the encounter).
- People in domestic abuse situations who minimize the risks by going for long walks at night when the abusive partner is home no longer can.
- People who, for their own mental stability, just need to get out of the house at night (for whatever reason).
What the Government Actually Wants
One thing that became clear in the press conference announcing the curfew and in subsequent pressers by government officials is that people going for strolls or buying groceries at night as well as the homeless are just collateral damage. Their real target is people visiting friends or family at home in small gatherings that bend or slightly break the rules.
The government admitted that they didn’t see that many large parties (those get reported and shut down anyways), but knew there were many small gatherings (which are harder to track). A curfew may eliminate some of those, but the rest will just move to the daytime or have their friends stay over or catch the first metro home once the curfew lifts at 5am.
The curfew will also put an end to people gathering outdoors in parks at night. Now, if this was the summer, that would have a measurable impact, but it’s not. It’s frickin’ January in Montreal!
Sure, there may have been some people out there previously risking hypothermia along with COVID who now won’t be able to. So add them to the people who decide not to crash at their friends’ places or gather earlier.
Is that enough reduction in potential transmission to offset the potential increase by having everyone go for walks, buy groceries and take public transit at the same time? Best case scenario, (that I can see) yes, but not by much. Worst case: COVID numbers actually continue to rise more.
Curfew Success Stories
It’s true that curfews have been part of successful COVID fighting packages of measures. The key word here is packages.
In Italy, they went from nothing except maybe wash your hands more to a full-on lockdown that included a curfew. Yes, that worked, but going from nothing to everything doesn’t prove that one part of the everything, the curfew, solved the problem.
In Melbourne, they imposed a curfew along with several other measures. As a great editorial in The Gazette points out, though, their success wouldn’t have been possible without serious restrictions on the manufacturing sector, including meat packing plants, something Legault hasn’t done.
He isn’t even keeping the schools closed (there’s even a petition now to implement more safety measures in schools) or halting construction. It’s akin to fighting climate change by banning plastic bags and straws without doing anything to curb the giant corporate polluters.
Shock and Not Much Else
In the press conference, Legault and his colleagues referred to their move as “shock therapy” and shock is just what we have seen since the curfew took effect. Images of deserted Montreal streets and highways from Saturday night coupled with stories of large fines for people being outside their homes after 8pm filled our newsfeeds Sunday morning.
Given that last time we had a curfew here, it was for a terrorist threat, having one now, 50 years later, is most definitely a shock to the system.
Yes, it may shock some of the people visiting friends to stay home. It may also shock people like me, who have been following the rules and doing our best to fight the virus, while at the same time trying to retain some semblance of normalcy by not thinking about COVID 24/7, into being more perma-disturbed.
But the question remains: Will it shock the spread of COVID-19 so we also get the awe of the numbers going down significantly? Or is this just a bit of performative paternalistic pandemic management that will do much more harm than good?
While I hope it’s the former, I feel like it may be the latter.
Legault Knows Best?
While Legault’s initial reaction to the pandemic was swift and in line with nothing but the facts, it seems like since the fall, his government’s approach has been guided by a different principle: Protect the 9-5 economy as much as possible, it’s social gatherings that are to blame!
Now while the virus most definitely can spread when people from different households have dinner and drinks at home, it also can spread at school or in a manufacturing plant. For Legault, though, work is important, socialization with those you don’t live with isn’t.
It’s beyond capitalism, it’s the preservation of whatever the Quebec version of Norman Rockwell is at all costs. It even took a numbers spike too big to ignore to get them to cancel Christmas gatherings.
When the numbers kept going up, rather than re-think their strategy, Legault and his government decided to ignore other options like keeping schools closed or restricting manufacturing and construction and double-down on it. Instead of admitting their approach was wrong, they’re going to implement extreme measures to force it to be right.
It seems like the curfew is a strategy to prove Papa Legault knows best regardless of the consequences rather than one to effectively stop the spread of COVID-19.
For all our sakes, I hope I’m wrong.
Jason C. McLean and guest Der Kosmonaut discuss the roots of pro-Trump domestic terrorists storming the US Capitol on Wednesday, the hypocrisy of the police response and what needs to happen immediately to save American Democracy and the reputation of the US around the world.
On the latest FTB Fridays, host Jason C. McLean and guest panelists Samantha Gold and Jerry Gabriel take a look back at 2020 covering federal and provincial politics, the US Election, streaming services and, of course, COVID.
Happy New Year!
On this edition of FTB Fridays, Jason C. McLean and special guest Niall Clapham-Ricardo discuss Canadian Politics, Minority Parliaments, Canada getting the COVID Vaccine after Mexico, International working-class solidarity and Jagmeet Singh Twitch streaming with AOC.
Featured Image via WikiMedia Commons (from Sam on Flickr)
Jason C. McLean and Special Guest Samantha Gold (artist, activist, FTB contributor and online makeup instructor) discuss the Legault Government’s seemingly arbitrary holiday rules for COVID-19 Red Zones. Are they following the health data or just playing to the CAQ base by singling out Christmas?
In the premier of the FTB Fridays video series, Jason C. McLean speaks with spoken-word artist, writer and seasoned political observer Der Kosmonaut about the fallout from the 2020 US Presidential Election and what might happen in the courts and the streets if Joe Biden wins but Donald Trump refuses to leave.
Now that the second COVID-19 lockdown has taken effect here in Montreal and people are upset with the Legault Government for its seemingly haphazard approach (no gatherings but schools are still open), I think it’s a good time to take a trip back to last week. Way back when our Federal politicians were responding to the pandemic by doing exactly what a Minority Parliament should do — or at least some of them were.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh not only knows how to do his job effectively, he excels at it. He currently has the job of both opposition leader in a Minority Parliament and the head of a party that, at its core, looks out for the average working-class Canadian.
Last Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s governing Liberal Party delivered their Throne Speech, complete with tons of unnecessary pomp and circumstance. I’m talking about a five minute minivan ride from the Senate Building to the House of Commons and back to pick up the MPs who had already agreed to attend, all carried on live TV.
The speech itself was full of platitudes and vague promises. That didn’t stop the Conservative Party, our Official Opposition, from saying that they would vote against it because there was nothing specifically for the West. The Bloc Québécois, meanwhile, indicated that they would vote against it unless there were extra transfers to the provinces (to Quebec, really) without conditions on how the money was to be spent, so a no-go.
Since the Liberals are a Minority Government and the Throne Speech is one of those things that needs to pass if they are to hold power, all eyes shifted to the NDP. Singh’s New Democrats are the only remaining party that holds enough seats to avoid a fall election by voting with the Libs in favour of the speech.
Turning Words Into Action
In his press conference following the speech, Singh said that the Throne Speech was just “words on paper” with no real-world effect. He made it clear that if the Libs wanted the NDP to vote Yea on it, they needed to turn some of that flowery language into legislation before the vote.
In particular, Singh outlined that the NDP wanted two things:
- When the government transitions the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) to the Canadian Recovery Benefit (CRB), they won’t claw back $400 a month and turn $2000 a month into $400 a week every two weeks. The bi-weekly approach is fine for the NDP, but they want it kept at $500 a week.
- Federal paid sick leave for Canadian workers.
This set off a predictable series of questions from reporters trying to get Singh to make a firm commitment on the Throne Speech vote, casting what he was asking for as amendments. Singh held his ground and even corrected one journalist who erroneously claimed that no other legislation was possible before the Throne Speech vote.
Turns out Singh was right. Bill C-2 is currently being tabled in Parliament with the changes the NDP asked for.
This legislation dealing with the transition from CERB to CRB will no longer cut $400 a month from benefits. Singh announced this negotiation victory in a Facebook post last Thursday:
Then, last Friday evening, we got word that C-2 would also include a massive extension of access to paid sick leave. And with that, news that the NDP would vote for the Throne Speech, provided, of course, C-2, when tabled, includes the negotiated changes, which it does.
That, my friends, is how you do it. You don’t focus on electoral politics or that weird little cult the PM was part of (We Charity), you recognize that a political opponent needs your support to survive and you use this as an opportunity to get some concrete policy that will actually help people enacted in exchange for it.
This isn’t a time for political glory, but rather one of policy success. Sure, it’s Justin Trudeau who will be proverbially signing the cheques, but everyone knows Jagmeet Singh raised the amount on them.
You don’t ask for the moon, either. Instead, ask for a couple of things that are major, but that you also have a real chance of getting.
As for the Liberals, this was a real no-brainer. On one hand, they could accept a couple of changes that would only endear them to the left and the recipients of the benefits while, at the same time, not lose any corporate donors because they “had to do it” to get the NDP on board. On the other hand, they avoid an election during a pandemic that they very well may be blamed for.
Minority Parliament FTW
Minority Parliaments in recent years (recent decades, to be honest) have been treated by the public, the media and the Members of Parliament themselves as placeholder governments. The party in power just wants to turn it into a Majority, while the opposition parties are looking for the right moment to bring the government down without being tagged with it going into a new election.
That’s unfortunate, considering what Minority Parliaments have achieved in the past. In 1966, for example, a Minority Parliament passed our first National Universal Healthcare law.
That was also a Liberal Minority Government being supported/propped up and pushed further left by a strong NDP.
Who knows what we’ll get if the Trudeau-Singh show keeps going? Some are even speculating Universal Basic Income (UBI).
Sure, UBI may be a pipe dream, but we currently have the right plumbers for it. Even if it doesn’t happen, though, our current Minority Parliament may achieve more than any Liberal or Conservative Majority has in the past half-century.
At the very least, though, we can be happy that, for the first time in a long time, a Minority Parliament is behaving the way it should.
Featured image by Makaristos via Wikimedia Commons
By CHRIS DODD
A good many years before John A. Macdonald’s statue was pulled down from its perch in Montreal’s Dominion Square, my high school history class had a debate on the case of Louis Riel. In real life, Riel stood accused of high treason by the government of John A. Macdonald for the ‘crime’ of resisting the transfer of a Métis settlement to the Canadian government. Our class assignment was called: Riel. Hero or villain?
Riel, as you might remember, went onto become the villain in the real story. He was ordered executed by Macdonald and hung in effigy by my history class, which is regretful, since it was my part of class project to defend him. But what chance would a 15-year-old student have as the defender of minority rights when the only knowledge on the topic was gained from books written by English setters?
As an adult armed with knowledge obtained outside of the education system, it is now tempting to weigh Riel’s ‘crime’ against that of some of North America’s colonizers, whose actions are rarely put to such ‘hero or villain’ scrutiny. Take Christopher Columbus for example, accused of genocide, slavery and torture of the indigenous people of the Caribbean. He is celebrated as a hero in the United States, whose shores he never reached.
George Washington made it to Mount Rushmore despite owning slaves, who some history books prefer to call ‘domestics.’
Canada’s own John A. stands accused of supporting the starvation of First Nations people, instituting the residential school system, and condemning Riel to his death. Hero or villain? Well, when you see his face on your money, and his name on schools, highways, a mountain, and an airport, you know the verdict has been reached.
But there was no ‘hero or villain’ debate in my high school history class about Macdonald, although our teacher did throw in a few ‘fun facts’ about him just to make sure that Canadian history didn’t seem too boring. “Oh sure Macdonald was a drunk,” the teacher joked, and “Macdonald married his cousin too, but both of those things were fairly common in those days.”
“Even our heroes have warts,” our teacher said, a familiar refrain that is still heard today “but Canada needs heroes, and Macdonald built our nation,” so that was the end of the story. If only I could go back in time to ask some very uncomfortable questions about those ‘warts’ and the nation that Macdonald was trying to build. Somehow it was never mentioned in my class that Macdonald was the architect of policies so disturbing and inescapably racist that greater knowledge of this history would undermine Canada’s reputation as a tolerant society.
Macdonald recently joined a growing list of bronzed ‘national heroes’ felled by protesters around the world, from Confederate American leaders like Robert E. Lee to the British slave trade profiteer Edward Coulson.
British PM Boris Johnson accused demonstrators in his country of trying to “…censor our past,” and “impoverish the education of generations to come.” Donald Trump, being the American President who, when asked during a TV interview, was unable to recall the name of a single book he had read, somehow felt privileged to provide lectures on history, saying “We should learn from the history,’ to his partisans on Fox News, “and if you don’t understand your history, you will go back to it again.”
Reaching for the low bar with a more conciliatory tone than Trump, Quebec Premier Francois Legault called the Macdonald toppling unacceptable, but added “Of course we need to fight against racism, but that is not the way to do it…we have to respect the history.”
But this is the same Legault who insisted that systemic racism does not exist in Quebec, although it’s difficult to tell, since one sure symptom of systemic racism is the steadfast refusal to acknowledge it. But the ability to express such surefooted opinions on racism from those unlikely to experience it is a Canada-wide phenomenon, starting with education systems that entrench ideas about the British and French ‘founding’ of Canada at the expense of other perspectives. That is what makes Macdonald a hero and Riel the villain. It is also what makes these men lecturing about the need to respect history absurdly hypercritical.
Behind much of the ‘history’ of Canada is the uncomfortable truth that the original plan for Canada was as the North American version of 19th century Britain, designated one of the ‘White Dominions,’ a not so subtle way to distinguish Canadians from others in their global Empire that needed to be ‘colonised’ and ‘civilized.’ Canada’s First Nations stood in the way of that vision, especially since they held valuable land and incompatible cultural values.
The problem with not learning much of this in school and having to find it out for yourself (along with topics such as the existence of slavery in Canada, the wartime internment of Japanese Canadians, the segregation of racial groups on undesirable land such as Halifax’s Africville, the imposition Chinese head tax, and so much more) is that a large part of the population will never know much about them. The sad part about erasing parts of the past that don’t suit the dominant narrative is that it contributes to the ongoing marginalisation of non-White people in the country — in the present.
Still, it is an open question whether dismantling statues is the best way to reclaim history by those left out of it, or as an effective way to protest against racial inequality. Well, actually no, that question is already settled. Macdonald’s downfall has been universally denounced by the press and has provided red meat for the culture war. Such acts are referred to as ‘thuggery’ by some right-wing commentators. The latest example of ‘cancel culture,’ others cry. “An angry mob out to steal ‘your’ history and culture to impose their own,” shout many social media posts.
But how is it not also considered ‘cancel culture’ when the lack of diverse voices in Canada’s mainstream media means that popular opinion is often reflective of that same narrow range of views? Meanwhile, the history, struggles and accomplishments of minorities are minimalised, or even ignored.
These commentators should consider it a privilege not to have been subjected to the ‘cultural genocide’ of the residential schools system. The victims of that system might walk past a statue that reminds them that the country that ignores their history also honours a man who called their people ‘savages’ who ‘must be removed from their parental influence to acquire the habits and modes of White men.’ Is that not also part of the history we have to respect, M. Legault?
We can also question Prime Minister Trudeau’s reaction, saying that such acts of ‘vandalism’ are “…not advancing the path towards greater justice and equality in this country.” But how many concrete achievements toward these goals have been ticked off by the Trudeau government in its five years in office, to match all the talk about the strength of Canada’s diversity and reconciliation with its First Nations?
Action is what happens when people get tired of such talk. Marginalised groups turn to desperation only after they talk about their experiences and notice few people listening.
History has not been changed by pulling down statues of racists. But doing so opens a window for dialogue about history that would otherwise not take place. Such drastic action is often ‘plan B,’ as it is often said. Many other ways of raising awareness about issues of social injustice have been tried. But how has that been working out?
Featured Image: Still from CBC News Video
Last Saturday, Defund the Police protesters, in solidarity with Black Lives Matter marched through the rainy streets of Downtown Montreal. When they arrived in Dominion Square, a group unrelated to the demonstration organization (no one knows who) pulled off something some have tried to do before: they took down the statue of Sir John A. MacDonald:
It was really beautiful how it played out. While it was the activists that pulled Sir John from his pedestal (not an easy feat), the statue was decapitated by the laws of physics themselves.
This statue needed to come down. MacDonald may have been Canada’s first Prime Minister, but he also laid the groundwork, both rhetorically and practically, for the institutionalized subjugation of the original inhabitants of this land and the cultural (and also very real) genocide that made it possible.
I could spend the rest of this piece talking about the details, but I won’t. We’re publishing an article about just that this weekend, and there are plenty of sources already available online with that info.
Also, no one will forget John A. MacDonald without the statue, we just won’t be celebrating him in Downtown Montreal — he is on our money after all!
Instead of the moral reasons for why the statue needed to come down, I’m going to put on my political hat, my very cynical political hat, and offer some free advice to our current politicians in power. I’m being practical here.
My real hope is that the statue doesn’t go back up. Ideally, something celebrating either our diversity or (even better) the First Nations replaces it and that there are no negative repercussions for the people who pulled it down (if they are ever identified). If I have to appeal to baser political instincts to make that happen, so be it.
So Far, Not So Good
For her part, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante responded the same day of the incident with a strong condemnation of “acts of vandalism,” followed by saying that she understands and shares “the motivation of citizens who want to live in a more just and inclusive society” but that this is not the way, followed by a statement that the SPVM (Montreal Police) are gonna do what they gonna do:
Now I am, for the most part, a Plante supporter, but this was the wrong way, politically, to respond. Of course she can’t be in favour of vandalism, but she could have said just that without the strong condemnation, and not even mentioned the SPVM (and behind the scenes told them to not bother investigating).
Instead she irritated her own base. The people who love Sir John and care about this above all else aren’t generally those who support Projet Montréal.
Meanwhile, Quebec Premier François Legault said that the statue will be “dusted off, restored and put back” where it was, presumably with the head re-attached. While I get that Legault’s base is right-leaning, last time I checked, Sir John A. MacDonald wasn’t one of their heroes.
While I believe Quebec Nationalism is just as colonial as the Canadian variety, this is one case where I kinda wished Legault’s latent sovereignist aspirations had reared their ugly head. Instead we found out that the CAQ is more interested in right-wing values of “law and order” than in Quebec values.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on the other hand, sounded just like you would expect him to. He kept things in the conceptual: vandalism is not the way (appeal to the right), we need to examine the legacy of former Prime Ministers (appeal to the left) including his own father’s (make it personal). End scene!
Of course Trudeau won’t decide if the statue goes back up or not. And neither will Legault. It’s a municipal decision.
So the ball’s in Plante’s corner, and I strongly encourage her to drop it and then kick it back to the wall. She should only pick this particular ball back up when we are ready to move on to a different statue.
That is unless she wants to truly own the moment and either look for or propose other people to honour. But if she doesn’t, then inaction for the moment, in this case, is fine.
The Statue Will Go
Getting rid of paint is one thing. Fixing then replacing a statue that has already been toppled and decapitated is a whole other ballgame.
It would be akin to being the administration that decided to spend money on commemorating Sir John A. MacDonald in the first place. In 2020.
This statue will be down for good eventually. If it gets replaced and the official process to remove it doesn’t work, you’d better believe protesters will take it down again…they clearly know how to do it.
Don’t let the unsanctioned way the statue came down justify putting it back up. The protestors did you a favour by accomplishing what the bureaucracy could not.
Sure, don’t support what they did officially, but don’t go after them either. Be a politician.
Recognize that your base wants the statue down, those who want it back up probably won’t vote for you anyways, and most people just don’t care enough for it to matter.
Do the smart political thing. It just so happens that it’s also the right thing to do.
Featured Image: Still from CBC News Video
Joe Biden officially named Kamala Harris as his running mate in the 2020 US Election on August 11th. Since then, all eyes have understandably been on the California Senator and former Presidential candidate.
Biden was leading in the polls prior to the Democratic National Convention, and performed better than expected at the DNC. The former Vice President has already said that he will rely quite a bit on his VP if elected. Also, to put it as delicately as possible, if Biden wins, there is a chance that his VP pick might secure the nomination for President or the Presidency itself sooner than eight years from now.
So who Biden’s running mate is carries a weight both in terms of winning and governing that VP picks don’t usually have to deal with.
The Right and the Establishment React
Right-wing pundits have dusted off the whole “radical left agenda” chestnut, proving that they will level those claims at truly anyone the Dems put up. Also proving that actually having a radical left agenda is no more dangerous for a candidate than not, as Fox News and speakers at the Republican National Convention (RNC) will say you do regardless. But I digress…
As expected, so-called centrist Dems, or the Democratic Establishment (basically the MSNBC crowd), are all very excited and supportive of the VP choice. So are the Liberal-supporting centrists here in Canada.
They are joined, though, by more than a handful of Canadian progressives. I’m talking “I vote NDP but wish they went more left, Trudeau’s just Harper with good hair and slightly better social policies” progressives.
Not sure if it’s because, when it comes to US politics, the bar is in a much different place, or the fact that Harris is an ex-Montrealer who went to Westmount High School. I didn’t go to Westmount High myself, though quite a few friends did, and it isn’t a private school, but a public one with a bit of a rough reputation — at least it had one in the late 70s and early 80s when she attended.
When it comes to American progressives, the VP nod has split opinion into three camps:
Kamala the Cop
Some have brought back the “Kamala is a Cop” narrative, to remind people of her significantly less-than-stellar criminal justice record as both a District Attorney and the California Attorney General. Given that she once referred to herself as the “top cop” in the state, you can’t really say the charge is unfair.
Harris’ time as a prosecutor has been both decried as regressive and even hailed as progressive. Democracy Now recently had two guests on that outlined their points.
Given the current climate, Harris’ record, when combined with Biden’s co-authorship of the 1994 Crime Bill, puts up a couple of red flags progressives find hard to ignore. And many aren’t.
Apparently the answer to a movement for black lives is someone who helped perpetuate a lock em up regime while letting the powerful in Silicon Valley and Wall Streeters like Steve Mnuchin loot with impunity. Happy 2020. #BidenVP https://t.co/EQNKglP0gM— Krystal Ball (@krystalball) August 11, 2020
It’s also what might help deflect any last-ditch attacks from the Trump camp. With the current President’s COVID-19 response failing across the board, the Law and Order card is the last one he has to play, and it may backfire if he tries to play it against former prosecutor Harris.
Kamala the Progressive Senator and Paradigm Breaker
Harris is both the first black woman and the first Asian-American to be a major party nominee for the Executive Branch. So this would be a paradigm-breaking administration, which is needed, especially given the rise of white nationalism under Trump.
That, along with the argument that her Senate record on Criminal Justice Reform, which many argue is significantly more progressive than her prosecutorial one, has some on the left genuinely excited by her candidacy. This includes some you wouldn’t expect.
In 2018, Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King said that the two candidates he would not support with 99% certainty were Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Good thing he didn’t say 100% because last week he tweeted this:
That’s it for me.— Shaun King (@shaunking) August 11, 2020
I am incredibly proud to see a brilliant Black woman, and HBCU grad, chosen as a Vice Presidential nominee.
I’ve done political work my whole life. It’s rarely things dreams are made of.
Kamala Harris is the most progressive VP nominee in American history.
Kamala the Better Opponent
There’s another line of thinking espoused by some progressives, including hosts on The Young Turks and by me, at least in solidarity. I can’t vote in the US Election, but if I could, this would be my stance.
Put simply, it poses the question: Who would you rather fight for four years?
Joe Biden is clearly not in the progressive camp of the Democratic Party, far from it. But he is someone who listens to people in the room.
Kamala Harris may have a few more progressive bona fides than her running mate, but she is also far from an ideal lefty choice. She is, however, also someone who knows how to read the room and who acts accordingly.
Harris was originally for Medicare-for-All…before she was against it. While that may be something a typical shifty politician would do, it also means there is an opportunity to get her to switch her position back to the left.
Of course that is unlikely, but at least there is room to try. And if her and Biden don’t deliver, they can be primaried in 2024.
Come to think of it, if Biden serves out his full first term but declines to run again, Harris will most likely face multiple primary challengers, even from the center and right of the Democratic Party. These challenges would not even be motivated by ideological ideals, but by old-fashioned greed.
Even if that doesn’t happen, fighting against people who will listen and who need your votes to stay in power is a helluva lot better than the alternative.
Donald Trump and Mike Pence won’t listen in political circles. And if the RNC’s actions this week are any indication, they will make fighting back in the streets very difficult.
Oh yeah, there’s the whole inevitable dive into unchecked fascism that a second Trump term will bring. But I digress again.
It’s clear who the better opponents are.
Last night, a gunman shot and killed two protesters in Kenosha, Wisconsin and injured a third. This was on the third consecutive night of protests sparked by the police shooting of Jacob Blake. Blake, and unarmed black man, was shot in the back seven times in front of his three young sons, paralyzing him.
Today, US President Donald Trump tweeted that he will be sending federal law enforcement to Wisconsin after getting Governor Tony Evans to agree to the deployment:
It’s clear to anyone who has been following Trump’s response to protests these past few months that the “violence” he hopes to quell is the protests themselves. In reality, though, the most devastating violence in Wisconsin these past few days was at the hands of the police and the young gunman.
What We Know
Speaking of the gunman, there are reports from witnesses that he passed a line of police before the shooting, carrying a large weapon, and they thanked him for being there. Multiple people on the scene claim that he is part of one of the “self-styled militias” that have been present at the protests.
He was arrested in Antioch, Illinois and while authorities initially refused to give his name as he is a minor, various social media posts and now CNN confirm that he is 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse of Antioch. I generally shy away from repeating the names of murderers who crave notoriety, but in this case, it may not be an open-and-shut case legally, plus his influences are relevant, so making him famous could be a necessary step towards getting justice.
So what do we know about him? At this point, not much for sure.
Is he a member of an organised militia? Probably.
Is he a white supremacist? No evidence of that, but it honestly wouldn’t surprise me.
One thing we can tell through his social media posts is that he is very much pro-police. I’m talking cosplay fetish-level pro-cop.
So it’s not too much of a stretch to say that he viewed the protests as a threat. Of course, the fact that he crossed state lines to march around them with a large weapon pretty much confirms that.
Mirroring Trump’s RNC Message
This is all happening while the Republican National Convention is in full swing. One of the recurring themes of the RNC this year is that America is under attack from “dangerous leftist radicals” in groups like Black Lives Matter and Antifa (which isn’t even an organized group, but whatever).
Forget the heady days of “good people on all sides” as a way to normalize white supremacists by drawing a false equivalency with anti-racist and anti-fascist protesters. Now, Trump and his GOP cronies are full-throated police state advocates.
Their messaging is clear: People protesting police violence are a threat! Their messaging to protesters is equally unambiguous: Stay off the streets! If some vigilante influenced by us murders some of you, rest assured that we’re still coming for you, not them!
Whether Rittenhouse was actually inspired directly by what’s being said currently at the RNC or not is irrelevant. The narrative that leftists are dangerous that started with them has now sunk through to other levels of society, including armed 17-year-olds.
Donald Trump’s messaging has casualties in Wisconsin.
Featured Image via Democracy Now!
Sure, I had “Donald Trump Attempts to Cancel US Democracy Itself” on my 2020 Bingo Card. I even had the excuses he would use (mail-in voting/Coronavirus) and the method of notification (tweet). But, let’s be honest, so did pretty much everyone else.
It is, at the same time, an unprecedented and frightening attack on the fundamentals of American Democracy, plunging the US one giant step closer to dictatorship, and a move so predictable I could have written most of this post a few months ago and just filled in the blanks with details today.
This morning, US President Donald Trump tweeted:
With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 30, 2020
No, He Can’t Just Do That
In case you were wondering, no, he can’t, on his own, postpone a Presidential Election, or any election, for that matter. Unlike parliamentary democracies such as Canada, where Minority Governments are a thing, US election dates are fixed.
The Presidency is a four-year term, no more, no less, period. That’s why, when a president is impeached, steps down, or passes away before the four years are up, the office and all of its powers transfer to the next one in line instead of holding an election when it’s not the appropriate time.
The only way to move the voting day, even slightly, is with a law passed in both the House of Representatives and the Senate and then signed by the President. Changing the date a new president takes office or an incumbent president starts their second term, on the other hand, would take a constitutional amendment. (As a Canadian, thanks to Cenk Uygur of TYT for this info, which apparently most Americans learn in high school civics.)
Say what you will about Nancy Pelosi and her sometimes lackluster legislative opposition to Trump, there’s no way she lets him get away with this one in the House. Meanwhile constitutional amendments take years, not the weeks, and the election is fewer than 100 days away, so also a no-go.
So Why Worry?
So, if Trump can’t legally pull off what he suggested in his tweet, why worry? Putting aside the fact that legality doesn’t seem to be that much of an obstacle for him, the real concern is the tweet itself.
While it’s structured like a typical Trump toilet tweet, there are some noticeable differences:
- He only uses all caps twice to highlight specific words.
- He says there is a difference between absentee voting and mail-in voting (there isn’t) in an attempt to preempt a common argument that his opposition to mail-in voting is hypocritical because he votes absentee himself and wrong because US troops stationed overseas have been doing it for years.
- There are no glaring grammatical errors.
- It was posted at 8:46am, a good time to be in the morning news cycle, and not at 3am like other tweets.
All this leads me to believe that someone else read it and edited it before he sent it. Maybe someone else even wrote it. This is Trump on-prompter written to sound like Trump off-the-cuff.
It’s not the unhinged ramblings of a troll. It’s a political test balloon.
They’re seeing how many people will go along with subversion of democracy either before or after the election and laying the groundwork for a challenge to the election results if Trump loses. And it looks like he might very well lose.
Sure, the polls in 2016 were saying that Hillary Clinton would win, but not by as much as they are saying Joe Biden will win this time. Also not in the same places – Trump’s poised to lose the suburbs hard.
Biden’s strategy of staying at home, poking his head out occasionally and letting Trump destroy himself in the spotlight seems to be working. Subverting American Democracy itself may be the current president’s last option.
We all knew it would come to this, but that doesn’t make it any less scary.
Featured Image: Painting by Samantha Gold
A few years ago, there was a push to rename Lionel-Groulx Metro after late Montreal jazz legend Oscar Peterson. Now that movement is back, currently in the form of a petition.
Of course it has returned now. With statues to racists and colonialists toppling all around the world, and in particular in the US, people are re-evaluating not only who needs to go, but who needs to be honoured instead.
Oscar Peterson was an eight-time Grammy winner praised by Duke Ellington as the “Maharaja of the keyboard” despite the keys only being his second instrument with a career that lasted over 60 years. He also grew up and honed his talents in Little Burgundy, one of the two communities directly served by the metro station.
As for the current namesake, Lionel Groulx, he was a vocal member of a far-right Quebec nationalist group from 1929-1939. Some, most notably Esther Deslile and Mordecai Richler, argue that the group, Groulx included, were borderline fascist and quite anti-Semetic.
Groulx also opposed Jewish immigration to Quebec in the time leading up to World War II and wanted people to boycott Jewish-owned Montreal businesses.
Was Groulx a slave-owner, murderous colonialist like Amherst, or avowed Nazi? No. Was he a virulent anti-Semite? Sure seems like it. Is he, at best, a problematic figure? Yes. Does he have anything to do with Little Burgundy or Montreal’s Sud-Ouest? Absolutely not.
So why name one of the most used metro stops in the city after him? There’s a small avenue bearing his name that intersects with Atwater Avenue right in front of the metro and the STM likes to name their stations after streets or places.
So, a quick fix would be for the city to rename Avenue Lionel Groulx in Little Burgundy Avenue Oscar Peterson and then the STM would have no excuse not to follow. Or, they could simply name the green area surrounding the metro Place Oscar Peterson, as with the area surrounding Place-St-Henri Metro.
Renaming a metro station won’t be erasing Lionel Groulx. There’s also a CEGEP named after him and a street in Saint-Leonard.
But isn’t Oscar Peterson already honoured? Yes, Concordia’s concert hall on the Loyola Campus bears his name, as it should, but that’s at the western end of NDG, two metro stops and a bus ride from the community he grew up in.
Shouldn’t our metro stations and other landmarks honour our local communities and, in particular, our racialzied communities? Why does some white Quebec nationalist theorist with problematic views get a Montreal Metro station in between Little Burgundy and St-Henri named after him when there is clearly a better, more locally representative and internationally renown option?
It’s not just about removing, it’s about respecting and reflecting our communities. We need Metro Oscar-Peterson. If you agree, sign the petition.
Featured image of Peterson in 1977 by Tom Marcello via WikiMedia Commons