Yesterday, in a continued response to COVID-19 (aka the Coronavirus) Quebec Premier François Legault ordered all shopping malls, hair salons, sit-down restaurants and spas closed until May 1st and extended school closings to that date as well. He also announced that police would now be enforcing a ban on groups of more than two people either gathered outside or indoors (where not everyone lives in the residence).
Yesterday there were 219 cases, today there are 628. While the new number is a little less than triple the previous one, it is also the first time the government is including presumed cases along with confirmed ones.
This jump was also anticipated, given the time it takes for the virus to show up. It’s still too early to tell how well the social distancing measures, which began here when Legault ordered all bars and gyms closed last Sunday, are working.
With the larger number, though, Legault ordered all in-person businesses not deemed essential to close by midnight tonight until April 13th. Or, as the Premier put it: “Quebec will be on hold for three weeks.”
What Is Considered Essential
Quebec just released the list of what is considered essential (post updated from a previous version without the list). You can read the complete list, currently in French only, on quebec.ca
In addition to healthcare (including veterinary), government (including garbage collection, postal service and snow removal) and infrastructure services and some construction services, the following can remain open:
Grocery stores and other food businesses
Big box stores in commercial centres with separate entrances offering hardware, grocery or pharmacy products
Agricultural product stores
SAQ and SQDC
Funeral homes, crematoriums and cemetaries
Takeout and delivery restaurants
Cleaners and laundromats
Medical and orthopedic supply businesses
Pet food and supply businesses
Workplace security equipment businesses
Telecommunications (equipment and service)
Local and national media (not just indie media like us that already work remotely)
Newspaper printing presses
Banking (at the bank and support centres)
Financial market services
Electricians, plumbers and similar services supporting emergency services
Construction equipment rental
Building maintenance and related services (alarms, ventilation, etc.)
Taxis and adaptive transport
Ports and aeroports
Vehicle repair and service stations
Businesses in the supply chain of essential businesses
We will update you on any changes as this promises to be a developing story for weeks to come.
We are in the midst of a global pandemic and Quebec has declared a state of emergency. Schools are closed and Premier Legeault just announced that bars, libraries, theatres and other public spaces will be as well. CLSCs and hospitals are turning people away, and the immune-compromised are being advised to stay home to avoid the Corona Virus.
During these trying times of toilet paper hoarding, quarantines, and hand sanitizer shortages, common sense and decency are the keys to getting through this epidemic in one piece. I am here to offer you some.
This article will give you a crash course on what to do and not do during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Virus Itself
There is an excellent video out there by Dr. Peter Lin, a family physician in Toronto. He talks in depth about the virus, but I’m going to give you the basics.
The Corona virus is a virus that started in animals and got transmitted to humans via a live animal being sold at a fish market in Wuhan, China. The virus itself is a family of viruses that latches on to your lungs and can cause everything from the common cold, to SARS or MERS.
The symptoms of the virus start off as those of the common cold i.e. runny nose, sore throat, cough, and fever, and diarrhea. As it gets worse, people get short of breath, have difficulty taking in fluids, and their kidneys shut down.
Because the virus is new, there’s currently no way to treat the virus directly, so doctors are just quarantining people and addressing their symptoms. The people most at risk of catching it and dying are those with compromised immune systems; that means the elderly, babies, and people with chronic illnesses i.e. diabetes.
So How Can You Fight the Virus?
Wash your damn hands, and wash them often for at least twenty seconds. If you’re on the move, use hand sanitizer – a real one, not these all-natural snake oil versions so many idiots are promoting or posting recipes for online.
You should also avoid touching your face, as the virus spreads that way. Sadly, the surgical masks most people are wearing aren’t really helpful at preventing the virus because they’re not air tight.
That said, they are useful because they keep us from touching our faces and in cases where you’re coughing or sneezing, the masks keep whatever virus you have from spreading. No mask to cough or sneeze into? Use the crook of your elbow or a tissue.
If You Are Coughing or Sneezing, Wear a Mask
Do NOT get defensive or angry if you’re coughing or sneezing up a storm and someone offers you hand sanitizer or a clean mask. Remember that the flu kills thousands of people every year, and an epidemic is not the time to be a dick about this.
Whether it’s a common cold, allergies, or the flu causing your cough or congestion, don’t be a dick, wear a mask in closed spaces like elevators, metro cars, buses, and waiting rooms. If you refuse, do not be surprised, defensive, or angry if you are asked to leave.
This is a time when human contact should be avoided. I know in Quebec we love to do the two-cheek kiss thing, but that very well might be part of what got us in trouble to begin with.
Want to greet someone? Here are some alternatives from pop culture and around the world that do not involve touching one another:
In the Philippines and Mexico, they will put their left hand over their heart and bow to one another
The Vulcan “Live long and Prosper” hand gesture
A friendly wave
In Japan and China, bowing is common
Smile at the person
Touch elbows like Gene Wilder and Madeleine Kahn in Young Frankenstein
If you can afford to stay home, stay home. The virus is spreading in crowds, which is why the NHL and NBA have put their seasons on hold and concerts are being cancelled left and right.
Experts are recommending people avoid public transport, going to work etc. You may feel silly sitting in your apartment for two weeks, but self-isolation may very well save us all.
For those of you with day jobs, work from home if you can. Remember that your employer can and should face serious legal consequences if they try and penalize you for taking necessary precautions, even if that means not coming in to work.
In 2020 it is utterly absurd that with today’s technology employers are still insisting so much of the workforce do their jobs on site. The only thing that should matter to your employer is that the work gets done and sent to them, not where it’s done from.
Do not hoard toilet paper and other necessities. Unless you have severe gastro-intestinal symptoms, you’re just a jerk if you bought every last roll of it from your local store.
If you did stockpile toilet paper and are having regrets, share some with your more vulnerable neighbors i.e the elderly, disabled. You don’t have to put it in their hands. Leave a pack on their doorstep when they’re home with a friendly note and ring the doorbell. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.
If you were travelling recently, especially if your trip was to the US, you need to self-isolate immediately. The US has declared a state of emergency and your immune system was likely compromised by the travel itself.
If you have ANY symptoms or questions about COVD-19, call this number: 1 877 644-4545. The Info Sante number – 811 – has been having technical issues lately that caused waits of up to three hours this week so the government set up an alternate line. Call them if you need to.
Don’t Be Racist
Last but not least, DO NOT use the virus as an excuse to be racist to Asian people. The virus may have originated in China, but it has now spread worldwide.
In spite of this, people of Asian descent, be they Chinese, Vietnamese, Filipino, Korean or Japanese are seeing an uptick in business boycotts and racist attacks. As a Filipino Canadian, I cannot help but shake my head at the stupidity of it all.
Here’s a wakeup call: Asians have been in Canada since before Confederation. Those railroads that allowed John A. MacDonald to unite Canada from sea to shining sea were built largely by early Chinese immigrants.
Whether it’s the descendants of those who built the railroads, those interned in camps during the Second World War, Filipinos who built communities in Montreal and Toronto, and refugees from the Vietnam War, Asian Canadians are part of what makes this country strong. In spite of this, there’s been vandalism in Chinatown.
Though Italy is on lockdown because of the virus, I haven’t seen any attacks on Italian Canadians in the news and the reason seems pretty obvious. Italians look Caucasian, Asians do not.
That said, don’t be racist, and call out anyone you see being racist towards Asian Canadians. Same goes for anyone picking on Iranian Canadians because the virus has spread in Iran.
The Corona virus is in Canada and things are crazy right now. Let’s keep a cool head and do what it takes to get through this in one piece.
December 12th, 2019 was a sad day for visible minorities in Quebec. The Quebec Court of Appeal denied the application to suspend certain sections of the Laicity Act aka Bill 21 until the Superior Court decides on their constitutionality.
A lot of eyes were on the Quebec Court of Appeal in anticipation of this ruling. Some in favor of Bill 21 even tried to undermine the court by questioning the impartiality of the chief justice, Nicole Duval Hesler. Among them were historian and Dawson College professor Frédéric Bastien, who publicly argued ten days before the ruling that Hesler could not be impartial because she has spoken in favor of multiculturalism and religious accommodation.
While most people would consider Hesler an enlightened judge, her critics cried bias, going insofar to file a complaint against her with the Canadian Judicial Council, the body responsible for ensuring the quality of judicial services in Canada.
The authors of the law knew that Bill 21 could not withstand a legal challenge by an objective court. It’s why they wrote the Notwithstanding Clause into the law, and why in anticipation of the Court of Appeal’s decision, they attempted to undermine its chief justice.
Turns out the bigots were wasting their time questioning Hesler’s impartiality, for while Hesler voted to grant the appeal, she was overruled by her fellow judges. In the 2-1 decision, the court decided that the Notwithstanding Clause written into the law made suspension of articles within it impossible until the Superior Court gave their own ruling on its constitutionality.
Now let’s talk about the Court of Appeal decision.
The ruling was the outcome of an appeal of a Superior Court decision rendered on July 18, 2019. The plaintiff in this case is Ichak Nourel Hak, a student scheduled to complete her Bachelor of Education this winter. She hoped to teach high school French in Quebec, but the passing of Bill 21 last June made that impossible.
The law bans many public service employees – including teachers – from wearing religious symbols while working. Hak wears a hijab, and the law as it stands only allows existing employees who wear such symbols to keep their jobs.
New hires and people seeking a promotion would have to remove the signs of their faith in order to work. As it stands, and in spite of the teacher shortage in Quebec, many people have found their job offers rescinded or their applications denied since the enactment of Bill 21.
Hak and three other groups, among them the English Montreal School Board and the Canadian Council of Muslims, are all working to challenge the law in court, but until those challenges are heard and decided, the law remains in effect.
Hak went to the Superior Court seeking an injunction to suspend articles 6 and 8 of the Laicity law until the constitutional challenges were decided.
Article 6 prohibits certain public employees from wearing religious symbols. It also defines religious symbols as all objects, especially clothing, symbols, jewelry, accessories and headgear worn with religious conviction or belief, as well as anything that could be considered religious clothing. Article 8 requires that members or employees of public institutions carry out their duties with their faces uncovered, and that anyone wishing to receive government services must uncover their faces in order to receive them – a clear reference to the Niqab worn by some Muslim women. Though the Laicity Law is supposed to apply to everyone equally, experts agree its effects will be felt mostly by Muslim women in Quebec.
The Superior Court refused to suspend these parts of the law because of the Notwithstanding Clause written into it. The Quebec Court of Appeal maintained that decision.
So what is the Notwithstanding Clause and why can it affect a provincial court decision?
All laws in Canada, be they provincial or federal, are subject to the Constitution, which takes precedence over all other laws. Included in the Constitution is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Laws that violate the Constitution can be challenged in court, and in the case of a successful challenge, struck down. In order to avoid such challenges, governments can use the Notwithstanding Clause.
The Notwithstanding Clause is section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is written into our constitution to allow governments, provincial and federal, to enact laws that violate sections seven to fifteen of the Canadian Charter – sections referring to equality, freedom from discrimination, and the rights of the accused in criminal cases – provided they indicate within the law that it applies notwithstanding the Charter.
The Clause is not, however, the great block to legal challenges Premier François Legault makes it out to be, as it’s only valid for five years. At the end of the five year period, the National Assembly can let it expire thus opening it to new legal challenges, or they can renew it by another act of parliament.
The five-year limit allows for governments to change and in cases where a law has been struck down by the courts, it can buy governments time to keep the law in effect while they rewrite the law so that it conforms to the Charter.
Any legal challenges to the Laicity law will either have to wait for the five years to expire, or find ways around the Notwithstanding Clause to successfully challenge the law. Current challenges include, but are not limited to:
That the law violates section 28 of the Canadian Charter guaranteeing equal treatment before the law of males and females given that the law disproportionally affects women. In the past, section 28 has only been used to interpret laws, not challenge them.
That the law criminalizes the wearing of religious symbols in certain professions and therefore is unconstitutional on jurisdictional grounds as it was enacted by a provincial government when only the Federal government can enact criminal legislation
The law is too vague
The Court of Appeal was not there to render a decision on the Laicity law’s merits. It was there to decide whether or not the law allowed them to suspend certain parts of the law until its merits are decided by another court.
The Court of Appeal recognized that the Laicity Law causes harm to the people it affects, especially women. It recognized that the grounds for the legal challenges – set to be heard by the Superior Court in October 2020 – have merit. It refused to suspend the law until those challenges are heard and decided, stating that the use of the Notwithstanding Clause tied their hands at this stage.
Until the actual challenges to the Laicity law are heard and decided, do not lose hope. Be an open and vocal critic of François Legault and his government and step between those using the law as an excuse to harass and assault innocent people.
Support movements like “Non à la Loi 21” and wear one of their buttons with pride. Show solidarity with Quebec’s religious minorities and laugh openly and loudly at people who defend the law as anything but the legalized bigotry it is.
The fight is not over until we say it is. So keep fighting.
Featured Image of the Quebec Court of Appeals building in Montreal by Jeangagnon via WikiMedia Commons
On October 30th, 2019 the Quebec government under François Legault and the CAQ announced that they would be making an addition to the requirements for people seeking to immigrate to Quebec. It’s a test of allegedly ‘democratic values and Quebec values’. The announcement resulted in praise by some, harsh criticism by others.
It should be said right off the bat that this article is not going to discuss how blatantly xenophobic this announcement is. It is not going to address the fact that, like Bill 21, this values test is clearly pandering to the most disgustingly xenophobic racist people in Quebec and that the path the government has taken may unfortunately culminate in a slew of hate crimes in Legault’s name. My colleague, Jason C. McLean did an excellent job of addressing this last week.
This article is going to look at the practical aspects of such a test and what impact it would really have on would-be immigrants to Quebec.
For those unfamiliar with the immigration process, federal and provincial governments have concurring jurisdiction on issues of immigration. However it must be noted that while Quebec can choose its immigrants through Quebec Selection Certificate (CSQ) program, it is Ottawa that ultimately gets the final say as to who gets to live in Canada permanently as permanent residents and eventually citizens.
The Quebec government announced that all adult immigration applicants and their adult family members will be required to take the test and get at least 75% to pass. If they fail, they will have an opportunity to take the test a second and third time. Minors and people with a medical condition preventing them from obtaining a selection certificate would be exempt.
The same day, the Quebec government released a series of sample questions that might appear on the test. The questions include those about the equal rights of men and women, LGBTQI rights, and regarding Quebec’s controversial religious symbols ban. If the samples are any indication, it is highly possible that some Canadian Conservative and People’s Party voters would not themselves pass it.
In order to fully grasp the actual impact this test would have, I reached out to the people with the Non à La Loi 21 group, who have been leading the fight against the religious symbols ban François Legault forced through the National Assembly last March. As they have been actively fighting prejudice in Quebec, I asked if they had any thoughts on this test. They put me in touch with Me William Korbatly, a lawyer operating out of Ville Saint Laurent.
He says that the Quebec government is within its rights to impose any condition in order to get a CSQ. Korbatly feels that such a test would be easier to pass than the mandatory French test required in order to get a CSQ, and would therefore not have a significant impact on the immigration process.
He points out that the test is useless because many people would have no problem giving the correct answers on the test even if they themselves don’t believe in what they’re answering. Once applicants have their CSQ or permanent residency, the government won’t be able to hurt them even if they openly declare their disagreement with so-called “Quebec values”.
“The problem lies not in the technicality but rather in its raison d’etre. We all know the hardline nationalist identity political agenda that the CAQ is pursuing. This test is merely another publicity populist coup to show to their audience that they stand up for their values and the ‘valeurs québécoises’.”
Me Korbatly feels that this values test is just another distraction from what is really going on in Quebec and the failures of our current government.
“Presenting the ‘laicité’ as defined by the CAQ and which was passed and integrated within the Quebec Charter of Rights by a closure motion, as a Quebec value is dishonest and doesn’t represent the real open and tolerant nature of Quebec and Quebeckers. What the CAQ is doing since the passing of Bill 21, is hijacking the opinions of all Quebecers and reducing them to their populist identity agenda and wedge politics so they can hide their failures in the execution of most of their promises such as the deal with specialist physicians, Hydro Quebec, the maternelle 4 ans, the maisons pour les ainés, and the list is long.”
Given that the test will be ultimately meaningless, here’s hoping new arrivals to Quebec say what is needed to pass so they can come here. After all, diversity is strength, and the more diverse Quebec is, the more our leaders will have to abandon their hate.
Featured image by abdallahh via Flickr Creative Commons
Lately, talk in Quebec political circles has focused on the CAQ Government’s proposed law 21. Currently a bill before the National Assembly, it is better known as the Religious Symbol Ban.
In a nutshell, it bars people considered to be public servants, such as teachers, bus drivers, nurses and police officers, from wearing religious symbols while on the job. This includes hijabs, kippahs, turbans and, what some may erroneously think is the only item banned, the Niqab.
Canada is a secular society, but we are a society that has recognized that secular laws and practices can coexist with many people’s religious beliefs and expressions. It is why in Montreal, for example, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and seculars live together in relative harmony. If Quebec Premier François Legault gets his way, this might all change.
Legault and his Coalition Avenir du Quebec party ran on a platform of promising to bar people who wear religious symbols from positions of authority in the province. They are attempting to do this with Bill 21.
This article is not going to discuss how the CAQ is so clearly pandering to the most disgustingly racist, xenophobic members of Quebec society. It is not going to talk about how the Bill represents the longstanding dispute between welcoming, diverse, multicultural Montreal and the rest of Quebec.
This article is going to talk about what Bill 21 actually contains and the very real fallout for the Quebecois affected if the bill passes. For the purposes of this article, “Quebecois” means anyone living in Quebec (and not just people descended from the original French settlers).
Bill 21 contains important changes to the Quebec Charter of Human Rights, a quasi-constitutional law enacted in the 70s that contains some of Quebec’s strongest protections against discrimination. As the Quebec Charter is only quasi-constitutional, it can be changed by a simple act by the National Assembly.
Bill 21 changes section 9.1 of the Quebec Charter from:
“In exercising his fundamental freedoms and rights, a person shall maintain a proper regard for democratic values, public order and the general well-being of the citizens of Québec.
Section 9.1 Quebec Charter of Human Rights, current text
“In exercising his fundamental freedoms and rights, a person shall maintain a proper regard for democratic values, state laicity, public order and the general well-being of the citizens of Québec.”
Proposed version of Section 9.1 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights
The change thus creates an obligation among citizens to have respect for democratic values, state secularism, public order etc. in the exercise of their fundamental rights and freedoms under the Quebec Charter. It does not, however, abolish section 10 of the Quebec Charter which states that:
“Every person has a right to full and equal recognition and exercise of his human rights and freedoms, without distinction, exclusion or preference based on race, colour, sex, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age except as provided by law, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a handicap or the use of any means to palliate a handicap. Discrimination exists where such a distinction, exclusion or preference has the effect of nullifying or impairing such right.”
Section 10 of the Quebec Charter of Human Rights
The Charter also forbids discrimination in “the hiring, apprenticeship, duration of the probationary period, vocational training, promotion, transfer, displacement, laying-off, suspension, dismissal or conditions of employment” based on the aforementioned grounds. As these sections of the Quebec Charter remain on the books, any institutions that enforce Bill 21 could find themselves open to legal action under said Charter which also states victims’ rights in such cases:
“Any unlawful interference with any right or freedom recognized by this Charter entitles the victim to obtain the cessation of such interference and compensation for the moral or material prejudice resulting therefrom. In case of unlawful and intentional interference, the tribunal may, in addition, condemn the person guilty of it to punitive damages.”
Quebec Charter of Human Rights
Matt Aronson, a lawyer in Montreal says that “if a state funded institution practices discrimination as an employer, causing damages to a citizen, it’s possible that not only could a citizen sue to have the discrimination stopped, they may even be able to sue for punitive damages. Now, there is a section of the Quebec Charter that allows for rights and freedoms to be limited in scope by laws, but that would be a fairly difficult retort to state sanctioned discrimination.”
As a result, the government can and will find itself open to costly lawsuits if Bill 21 passes as increasing numbers of people have publicly committed to fighting back.. The English Montreal School Board, for example, has publicly stated that they will not enforce the Bill, and a public protest in scheduled on Sunday, April 7th, in Montreal.
True to Legault’s election promise, Bill 21 bars government employees from wearing religious symbols in the exercise of their functions. This is the list of employees who will be affected – I am including the full list so people fully understand how many will be hurt if this law passes:
Judges, clerks, deputy clerks, and sheriffs
Members of the Comité de déontologie policiere – the group responsible for holding police to account for misconduct
Members of the Commission de la fonction publique
Members of the Commission de la protection du territoire agricole
Members of the Commission des transports du Quebec
Members of the Commission Municipale
Members of the Commission quebecoise des liberations conditionelles
Employees of the Regie de l’energie
Employees of the Regie d’alcools, courses, et jeux
Employees of the Regie des marche agricoles et alimentaires du Quebec
Employees of the Regie du batiment du Quebec
Employees of the Regie du Logement
Members of the Financial Markets Administrative Labour Tribunal
Members of the Administrative Tribunal of Quebec
Chairs of the Disciplinary Council
Commissioners appointed by the government under the Act Respecting Public Inquiry Commissions and lawyers and notaries working for said commissioners
Arbitrators appointed by the Minister of Labour in accordance with the Labour Code
The Quebec Justice Minister and Attorney General
The Director of penal prosecutions
Lawyers, notaries, and penal prosecuting attorneys
Peace officers who exercise their functions mainly in Quebec
Principals, vice principals, and teachers of educational institutions under the jurisdiction of the school boards
It must be noted that the law does contain a grandfather clause allowing all current employees wearing religious symbols to keep their current jobs. That said, anyone hoping for advancement would have to choose between their faith and a promotion to even be considered a candidate for one.
In addition to barring people wearing religious symbols, Bill 21 also demands that some government employees keep their faces uncovered in the exercise of their functions, a provision clearly meant to exclude women who choose to wear the niqab. Those affected include:
Members of the National Assembly (MNAs)
Elected Municipal officers except in certain Indigenous communities
Personnel of elected officers
Personnel of MNAs
Personnel of the Lieutenant Governor
Commissioners appointed by the government under the Act respecting public inquiry commissions
Persons appointed by the government to exercise a function within the administrative branch including arbitrators whose name appears on a list drawn up by the Minister of Labour in accordance with the Labour Code
Peace officers who work mainly in Quebec
Physicians, dentists, and midwives
Persons recognized as home childcare providers
Anyone else designated by the National Assembly
Employees of government departments
Any bodies receiving government funds
People and bodies appointed in accordance with the Public Service Act
Employees of municipalities, metropolitan communities, and intermunicipal boards, and municipal and regional housing bureaus with the exception of some in Indigenous communities
Employees of Public Transit Authorities
Employees of school boards established under the Education Act
Employees of public institutions governed by the Act respecting health services and social services
Employees of bodies in which most of the members are appointed by the National Assembly
Institutions accredited under the act respecting the Ministere des Relations Internationales
Private family-type resources governed by the Act Respecting Health Services
In addition to barring certain government employees from having their face covered in the exercise of their functions, the law also requires certain people to show their faces in order to receive government services “where doing so is necessary to allow their identity for security reasons.”
The law does make an exception where the face is covered for health reasons, a handicap, or requirements tied to their job. The law also says that there will be “no accommodation or derogation or adaptation,” which means there are no exceptions anywhere.
Bill 21 not only alters the Quebec Charter of Human Rights to exonerate the government from open acts of discrimination, it also applies the Notwithstanding Clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Notwithstanding Clause allows governments to bypass articles 2 and articles 7 to 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms simply by including in a discriminatory law an article stating that said law applies notwithstanding the Charter.
Articles 2 of the Canadian Charter deal with fundamental freedoms including the freedom of conscience and religion, and articles 7 to 15 deal with legal rights including the rights to life, liberty, and security of the person, equal treatment before the law, and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Article 30 of Bill 21 states that it applies notwithstanding these articles of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, though the Notwithstanding clause has a failsafe in it requiring the government to renew the law in five years or open itself to legal challenges when that time expires.
That said, all hope is not lost. The law is currently tabled, meaning that the National Assembly has begun to consider it. It has not, as of the publication of this article, passed.
That means there is still time to resist. If you value our province’s protections against discrimination, contact your members of the National Assembly and pressure them as you never have before.
Point out that Quebec has a labour shortage and alienating and barring people won’t work to solve it. Tell them that the scores lawsuits they’ll face will be more expensive than any benefit they hope to gain if the Bill passes.
Tell them that if they want a truly secular state, all towns and streets and institutions bearing the names of Catholic saints should be changed immediately. Let them know how ridiculous their position is.
The fight is only over if we the people give up, so keep fighting.
Featured Image: Screengrab of François Legault defending Bill 21 in a Facebook video
Today, the Plante Administration announced that after City Hall renovations are complete, they won’t put the crucifix back in the City Council chambers. Yes, this move is about secularism of the state, as the Mayor made clear:
“The crucifix is an important part of Montreal’s heritage and history, but as a symbol, it does not reflect the modern reality of secularism in democratic institutions.”
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante at a press conference on March 20, 2019
Plante also reiterated that she still opposes Quebec Premier François Legault’s plan to ban public sector employees from wearing religious symbols like kippahs and hijabs. The state, for her, and for me, and for anyone who really thinks it through, is the democratic institutions, like the City Council. chambers and not the wardrobe of teachers and bus drivers who work for the government.
Or, to put it in other words, a council member wearing a crucifix and, say, a security guard wearing a turban in the council chamber are just two people expressing their personal beliefs through what they wear. A religious symbol on the wall, though, is the state aligning with the particular religion the symbol comes from.
Not everyone sees it this way. I’ve already seen quite a few internet comments decrying the move as an attack on our traditions and I’m sure there will be talking heads on TV tonight and columnists in Quebec’s dailies tomorrow pissed off about what Plante did as well.
I’m sure that a good chunk, if not most, of the people coming out in opposition to removing the crucifix today will turn out to be the same people who were screaming religious neutrality of the state when the topic was Legault’s plan. I’ve already seen some commenters try and spin it that Plante is just anti-Christian and pro-Muslim.
While few will be that openly bigoted, those that previously supported the religious symbol ban and now oppose the move to remove the crucifix should admit that it isn’t about secularism at all, but about assimilation. They just lost any progressive secularist cover they may have enjoyed until now.
Those that support Plante’s move, want to get rid of the crucifix in Quebec’s National Assembly as well and support Legault’s ban, well, at least you’re consistent. Those that oppose both the symbol ban and removing the cross, you’re consistent as well.
Those like me, and now Montreal’s mayor, who don’t want the state to dictate what teachers can wear and think a government chamber is no place for a religious symbol, our logic makes perfect sense.
Those who think we should ban all religious symbols but the Christian ones, you’re not secularists, you’re cultural fundamentalists. And you just lost your political cover.
The past few weeks have been insanely eventful on the political scene. In the US, the Americans are dealing with a president who is a white supremacist, a misogynist, and a fraudster seeking to keep the poor fighting each other so he and his fellow billionaires can enrich themselves with the very institutions established to protect the people. We Canadians would love to point and laugh, but unfortunately, we have a scandal of our own to deal with.
The buzzword up here is actually a name: SNC Lavalin. This article will give a crash course on what is going on and what it means.
Founded in 1911, SNC Lavalin is one of the leading engineering and construction firms in Canada, handling everything from infrastructure to clean energy projects. Though they operate internationally, their head office is in Montreal and they are a major employer in Quebec and thus highly regarded in the province.
Since 2015 SNC Lavalin has been in hot water with prosecutors and the RCMP. This is due, in part, to their dealings in Libya from 2001 to 2011, where they are alleged to have paid out $48 million in bribes to public officials in the country in an attempt to influence the government. The RCMP’s investigation also alleges that the company defrauded Libyan businesses of $130 million, actions in violation of the Corruption of Foreign Public Officials Act which criminalizes giving loans or bribes to a foreign public official “in order to obtain or retain an advantage in the course of business.”
In addition to the charges related to the SNC Lavalin’s activities in Libya, the company is also facing charges for a bribery scheme involving a $127 million contract to fix the Jacques Cartier bridge. In 2017, the former head of Canada’s Federal Bridge Corporation pleaded guilty to accepting $2.3 million in bribes from SNC Lavalin in relation to the contract.
The company is thus facing charges of corruption and fraud which, if convicted, could result in SNC Lavalin being barred from bidding on federal contracts for ten years. SNC Lavalin has maintained that they will cooperate with authorities but claim that the people involved are third parties or are no longer with the company.
In February 2019, prosecutors were ready to start bringing charges against SNC Lavalin.
SNC Lavalin in turn was seeking to avoid criminal charges via the new Deferred Prosecution Law passed in June 2018. Under this law, corporations can avoid criminal prosecution with a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) in which they must cooperate with the Crown and the courts including paying penalties and reparations, giving up any benefits acquired because of their crimes, stop their wrongdoing (obviously), and adopt any compliance measures.
Agreements are allegedly to protect employees from layoffs, as well as shield shareholders who knew nothing of the crimes while holding corporations to account for them. In order to be eligible for such an agreement, the crimes must be economic in nature, did not cause serious bodily harm, and there must be a reasonable likelihood of conviction for the offenses.
Unsurprisingly, SNC Lavalin was the first company to seek such an agreement under the new law. There was, however, a hitch. Under the law, the Attorney General of Canada must consent to the negotiation of the agreement.
This is where Jody Wilson-Raybould comes in.
Until she was switched to be the Minister of Veterans affairs in January 2019, she was the Attorney General of Canada. According to her testimony before the House of Commons at the end of February 2019, she experienced a:
“Consistent and sustained effort by many people within the government to seek to politically interfere in the exercise of prosecutorial discretion in my role as the attorney general of Canada, in an inappropriate effort to secure a deferred prosecution agreement with SNC-Lavalin.”
Jody Wilson-Raybould in the House of Commons
The accusation is that the Prime Minister’s office repeatedly pressured Wilson-Raybould to offer SNC Lavalin a Deferred Prosecution Agreement and that if such an agreement were not offered, there would be serious political consequences. As Attorney General, Wilson-Raybould had oversight and discretion over whether to intervene in cases that might be prosecuted by the Crown.
The director of public prosecutions, Kathleen Russel, informed Wilson-Raybould in September 2018 that her office had decided not to invite SNC Lavalin to negotiate a Deferred Prosecution Agreement. By September 17th, having reviewed the materials, the then Attorney General decided not to interfere, despite the pressure from cabinet members and their staff about what this would mean with regards to Quebec and the upcoming election.
In January 2019, Wilson-Raybould was informed by the Prime Minister that she would be moved or shuffled out of the position of Attorney General to that of Minister of Veterans Affairs. Shortly thereafter, in February, she resigned from the Trudeau cabinet. Shortly thereafter, Gerald Butts, Prime Minister Trudeau’s principal secretary resigned over the SNC Lavalin affair. On March 4, 2019, Treasury Board president Jane Philpott also resigned from the Trudeau cabinet.
Why is the Prime Minister so bent on protecting SNC Lavalin?
Simple: it’s an election year and SNC Lavalin plays an important role in the Quebec economy. If SNC Lavalin falls, there is a concern about the economic consequences for the province. Trudeau needs Quebec to win the and is clearly concerned that acting against its prized engineering firm will affect his chances victory in November.
Given all the scandal this has caused, protecting the SNC Lavalin may not have been worth the trouble after all. Only time will tell.
First, let’s talk about our existing rights as workers.
On June 12, 2018 the National Assembly passed legislation changing Quebec labor law, presumably for the better. Some of the changes came into effect immediately, others only as of this January, and others as of May 2019. This article will discuss those changes, what’s missing, as well as provide a crash course on the existing rights of workers in Quebec.
When I was looking for a job I, like many others, had my CV up on a couple of job search websites with a profile indicating that I was actively looking for work. Within a couple of days of posting my CV I was bombarded with phone calls from companies asking me to come in for an interview for customer service work. Upon arriving at the interview I was given the ugly truth: the “job” that was being offered was commission-only and there would be no base pay for my work.
According to Quebec’s Act Respecting Labour Standards, all jobs in Quebec have to pay a wage. That means that whether you sell something or not, for example, your employer still has to pay you.
So these jobs are either illegal or have found a way around the law, possibly by not considering their workers to be employees, but rather independent contractors. If it’s the latter, then be aware that you also won’t be eligible for benefits like paid vacation.
If you are confident enough in your selling skills you feel you can get by this way, then by all means, give the “job” a try. Just be aware that you will also not be able to avail yourself of the important legal protections outlined in this article.
The minimum hourly wage employers must pay you is set by the government and currently stands at $11.25 an hour. As of May 2019, the minimum wage jumps to $12 an hour. Those who make minimum wage with tips will see their hourly pay increase to $9.80 per hour in May.
You are not considered to be paid unless the amount can be deposited within two days of receipt. If you get a call asking you to come in for an interview for customer service work, be sure to establish whether or not you will be paid a wage for your work so you don’t waste your time.
Quebec’s human rights laws also include protections for employees. According the Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights, employers are not allowed to discriminate in “hiring, apprenticeship, duration of the probationary period, vocational training, promotion, transfer, displacement, laying-off, suspension, dismissal or conditions of employment” on the basis of “race, colour, sex, gender identity or expression, pregnancy, sexual orientation, civil status, age except as provided by law, religion, political convictions, language, ethnic or national origin, social condition, a handicap or the use of any means to palliate a handicap.”
The only time the law allows for discrimination on any of the above is if the organization is a non-profit, charitable, religious, or other organization devoted exclusively to the well-being of a given ethnic group.
In addition to paying you and not being a discriminatory douchebag, here’s a couple of other things your employer must do:
Allow you to do your job. That doesn’t just mean giving you access to your workspace, it means protecting your health, safety, and dignity in a way that’s consistent with the nature of the work.
If your boss decides to fire you, they must give you a reasonable notice of termination, taking into account, once again, the nature of the employment, the circumstances in which the work is carried out, and the duration of employment.
If your employer infringes on your rights, you have a couple of options. You can try to resolve the dispute privately with them, you can go to the Commission des normes, de l’équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail (CNESST – what we still call “Normes de travail”), or, if it’s a case of discrimination, you can go to the Quebec Human Rights Commission.
If you choose to resolve the dispute with your employer amicably, be sure to speak to a legal professional or the CNESST’s information line before you sign anything. There are lots of affordable and pro-bono legal services available in Montreal. Contact one.
Important Changes to Quebec’s Labour Law
Under the old law, employees were entitled to three weeks of paid vacation after five years working for the same employer. As of this January, you only have to have worked for said employer for three years in order to get three weeks paid vacation. It also allows for more paid time off for illness and or if you’ve been a victim of domestic abuse or sexual assault.
Under the old law, employees had ninety days to report psychological harassment at work, and sexual harassment was not considered a form of said harassment. As of June 12, 2018, sexual harassment falls under the definition of psychological harassment, and victims have up to two years to report the incident, presumably to ease their fears of immediate reprisals.
As of January 2019, employers must have a psychological harassment policy in place as well as complaint management procedures. The CNESST even has a guide available online for employers to help establish such policies and practices.
The new rules also address absences for family reasons, with the definition of “family” expanded to include the family of a spouse or partner. Under the new rules, employees are allowed up to five days off following the death of a loved one instead of the one day under the old law.
The changes also allow employees up to sixteen weeks a year to take care of a loved one, with more time allotted if the person in need of care is a minor.
Another significant change to the rules is that employees have a legal right to refuse to work more than two hours beyond their normal work hours. This change is clearly meant to address the issue of unstable working hours, forcing employers to give at least five days notice if they want their employees to work more than the aforementioned two hours.
The changes, brought in by the previous provincial government, are a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, they’re incomplete.
They fail to address the increasingly common practice of treating long term employees as temporary hires to avoid paying them the wages and benefits of a permanent hire. Ideal labor legislation in Quebec would penalize employers with workers that have been with them a year or more without permanent employee status.
The government that voted in the changes to Quebec labor law has been voted out. We have a new government in place that wants to fix the labour shortage without bringing in new people.
If the government wants to encourage people to fill vacancies their advice to employers should be simple: treat your workers nice and pay them better.
When I was growing up in the eighties and nineties, I was taught that I had to get an education and that it didn’t matter what I studied so long as I got a DEC and a Bachelor’s degree. This seems to be the narrative Gen Xers and Yers were fed, and many of us went into debt trying to get that coveted degree that would allegedly guarantee us a job when we were ready to enter the market.
Sadly, the reality we encountered was very different when we started looking for work in the early 2000s. Employers questioned us on our degrees and why we chose to study a given subject. Unlike previous eras, many were unwilling to give us on-the-job training that would compensate for any specialized education, and many of us went back to school and into more debt hoping get another degree that would get us a job with a modicum of financial stability.
In spite of how highly educated many of us are, Canada, and especially Quebec, is suffering from a massive labour shortage. This article is going to discuss the labour shortage and why it has happened. Next week I will be going over the controversial issue of the recognition of foreign degrees and qualifications in Quebec.
Quebec needs workers.
During the Quebec election, Quebec City Mayor Regis Labeaume called for more immigration to fill the 17 000 jobs on the north and south shores of the city, telling the CBC he didn’t see any other way to find people for them. In October 2018, Montreal Board of Trade President Michel Leblanc expressed concern over the Coalition Avenir du Québec (CAQ) government’s plan to cut the number of immigrants saying “we need to have more.”
The newly-elected CAQ wants to cut immigration to Quebec by twenty percent – a clear indication that they feel the solution to the labour shortage is not to bring in more people from abroad. Their platform includes encouraging older workers to stay active as long as possible to address the fact that jobs are not being filled at the rate that the baby boomers are retiring. The boomers did not have as many children as their parents did and the result is fewer native-born people in the labour market.
The CAQ also wants to enhance vocational and technical training programs to fill labour market needs and offer more job-study programs. Whether the labour of students in job-study programs would be paid or not remains to be seen, but it must be addressed as people cannot live on “learning experience” and many young people are reluctant to do them because they cannot pay for living expenses at the same time. Another idea the CAQ has put forward is that of encouraging cooperation between businesses and universities to better tailor education programs to business needs.
Part of the labour problem lies in the mismatch between the degrees people in Quebec are getting and the jobs available. One of the clearest indications of this is the employment offered at Montreal’s most recent job fair.
On October 24th and 25th, 2018, JobBoom.com hosted a massive job fair at the Palais des Congrès in Montreal. The employers present were calling for two types of employees. On the one hand you had businesses calling for highly specialized workers like nurses, accident assessment specialists, engineers, chartered appraisers, accountants, industrial security and safety specialists and so on. On the other hand were employers calling for what my generation was taught were “survival jobs” such as retail, security guarding, telemarketing, customer service, and administrative support.
Employers wanting specialized workers are not seeking people with any old Bachelor’s degree or DEC, but rather people with specific degrees, certifications, and even memberships to professional orders. While there is demand for chartered appraisers, for example, in order to become one in Quebec you need a Bachelor of Commerce with a concentration in real estate, followed by a yearlong internship, interview, and entrance exam, all of which come with their own sets of tuition fees, stage fees, and administration and exam costs. This likely means copious amounts of debt given wage stagnation for survival jobs.
For the purposes of this article, I’m going to define a survival job as a low paying job in which little experience or education is required. Many born in Canada were taught that survival jobs were meant to be temporary – the kinds of jobs you took to get by until you found a job that fit your education and career aspirations given the low pay and the often mindless, unfulfilling nature of the work.
It must be said that there is no shame in working a survival job. Many of us do not have the luxury of being choosy in employment due to our financial situation and anyone who depends on us for the income we earn. The only thing that’s really shameful about a survival job is how impossible it is to actually survive on the wages they pay due to wage stagnation in Canada. They are also generally the kinds of jobs that immigrants are most willing to fill due to the adjustment period following their arrival as well as the difficulties having their education and credentials recognized in Quebec.
In conclusion, there are jobs to be had in Quebec, lots of them. If you want to invest in higher education to get a good job, in today’s market you need to be very specific about what you study and make sure the program you choose fits a job in demand. If you need to work to survive, there are jobs for that too; they probably won’t be very fulfilling but you might scrape by. Go get ’em!
* Featured image by Brenda Gottsabend, Creative Commons
Only in Quebec could we bungle legal weed this badly.
The Société québécoise du cannabis (SQDC) is now considering closing stores because they can’t seem to keep their shelves stocked (UPDATE: The SQDC announced that they will be closing all stores on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays until further notice). You read that right, their solution to skyrocketing demand is to close stores, not get more product to meet it
This is an industry that has reaped millions in revenues for state governments in the US, money that can be used to fix roads, invest in new infrastructure projects and do better at providing essential services. And that was just through taxing sales, not even the governments selling the product themselves.
Here, it’s a government monopoly, which is something we’re pretty good at. You won’t catch the SQDC’s parent company the Société des alcools du Québec (SAQ) running out of whiskey, let alone all hard alcohol, in any of their many (much more than the SQDC) stores.
So did those tasked with setting up and running the SQDC actually think pot was a niche product only enjoyed by a handful, albeit a significant handful, of the population? Did they not realize that once the legal restrictions were lifted, it would rival alcohol sales or come close to it?
Well, maybe, but only if they were so much in their bubble that they limited their market research to data on people who didn’t mind telling a stranger that they enjoyed a product that was at the time illegal. Looking at the data from other places that legalized the plant would have been much more, um, logical.
If they weren’t completely out of touch, though, they would have anticipated that their planned rollout would not meet the demand. So, if that’s the case, either they just couldn’t get a proper operation up in time for legalization or they wanted to not be able to deliver.
If it’s the former, then, geez, c’mon guys, you had a few years to prepare for this. Does everything in this province have to operate at the efficiency of a construction project?
If it’s the latter, then why? Is it a moral thing? If so, then I’d like to point out that the Quebec Government actively promotes and profits from booze and gambling.
It can’t be that they want to help out your friendly neighbourhood dealer. If that was the case, they would have made it possible for people to apply for licenses to sell weed legally, thus eliminating by legalizing much of the so-called black market.
Could it be that they wanted legal cannabis to be difficult to get so people would seek other options and police would be able to continue to arrest and/or fine people (predominately marginalized people and people of colour) for selling what is now a legal substance also sold by the government? Nah, that’s just some wild conspiracy theory with a 90% chance of being true.
So, moving forward, the SQDC and the Quebec Government have two choices:
Open the Market
They could let people apply for licenses to sell weed and cannabis products, either through storefronts, with delivery or both. They wouldn’t have to close the SQDC, or even change it that much.
Government pot stores would be specialized the same way you can get beer and wine at every dep, but some brands only at the SAQ. The government would, of course, tax all sales.
Keep the Monopoly But Do It Right
First, make the supply overshoot the demand. I’m talking about more stores and more suppliers, in fact all the suppliers possible, provided they produce a quality product.
Then, it’s time to market. Yes, I know that marketing cannabis, or even selling t-shirts with the pot leaf on it, is now banned in Quebec, but that doesn’t help anyone. Why monopolize an industry if you don’t want it to thrive.
You’re a pot dealer now, Quebec, start acting like it! Hang photos of buds in the stores and let people smell the product…in the SAQ you can even taste-test wine. Have a points card and sell shopping bags with the pot leaf on it made of, wait for it…hemp! (You can have that idea for free, SQDC)
I do not write this as a pot smoker. In fact I don’t smoke weed. I write this instead as someone who never wants to hear a provincial politician say “How are we going to pay for that?” when an idea like free post-secondary education or a new metro line is floated.
It could be like living in a petro-state, except instead of reaping the benefits of the destruction of the planet’s climate, we’d be reaping, and hopefully redistributing, the benefits of selling a product probably less damaging to society than alcohol, which has been legal for decades.
Pot is legal here. Time for Quebec to embrace that fact rather than being embarrassed by it and embarrass us as a result. At the very least, we should acknowledge that closing stores is not how you handle too much demand.
Quebec City versus Ottawa. Quebec’s provincial government versus Canada’s federal one. It’s the sometimes amicable rivalry, sometimes bitter fight that has dominated our politics for the past fifty years or so.
Now, with the election of a Coalition Avenir du Québec (CAQ) government for the first time ever, it looks like things are going to change. While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau may have already called out new Premier François Legault a couple of times, there’s only so much he can do without risking federal over-reach, which is never a good ideal in Quebec. Plus he will soon be busy fighting to keep his own job.
It looks like the next great intergovernmental battle, at least for the next three or four years, will be the National Assembly versus Montreal City Hall. Legault versus Plante. Here’s why:
From Side-Pander to Not Necessary
Back in the day, from the late 1960s to a few weeks ago, power always shifted between Liberal (PLQ) and Parti Québécois (PQ) governments. Both parties understood that Montreal votes were important enough for them to pander to us a bit during during election campaigns but not as important as votes off-island and across the rest of Quebec, which most of their policies were crafted to deliver.
Now, the governing party has almost no representation in Quebec’s largest city. They won only two seats here, Bourget and Pointe-aux-Trembles, both on the island’s eastern extremities. Flip them to any other party and the CAQ still has a strong majority.
Legault has a mandate, but he didn’t get it from Montreal. He doesn’t even have to pretend to care about what Montrealers care about, he doesn’t need us to hold power. We’ve gone from a side-pander to not needed to win.
That doesn’t mean their policies won’t affect us. In fact, the most overtly reactionary will pretty much only affect us.
Montreal needs to stand up to the CAQ and, at least on a few issues, it looks like we already are or are prepared to.
Banning Religious Symbols
Legault has promised to strictly enforce Bill C-62 which bans those providing or using government services (teaching in a school or riding the metro, for example) from doing so while wearing religious symbols. He plans to use the Notwithstanding Clause if the courts stop him.
The PLQ, who won the most seats in Montreal, are unlikely to fight against the implementation of a law they wrote and passed (sure, they probably thought they would get some votes on the right before the courts struck it down, but Legault won’t let the Canadian Charter stop him). Québec Solidaire (QS), who came in second here, may help fight this, but they only have ten seats in a Majority Government.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, on the other hand, has said she has no problem with civil servants wearing religious symbols, including police officers. She opposed Bill 62 as a candidate and while she said she will wait and see what the CAQ plan looks like, opposing it would just make sense.
The Greater Montreal area and the Island of Montreal are the most ethnically and culturally diverse parts of Quebec. It’s also where most immigrants live. Here, a Muslim woman wearing a hijab or a Jewish man wearing a kippah is not a strange sight, it’s part of daily life. They are members of our community with the same right to provide or avail themselves of government services as the rest of us.
Of course it’s like that. Montreal is a metropolis. Cultural, religious and ethnic diversity are essential parts of being and staying a world-class city, as important as a large population and a decent public transit system.
Close to two million people live on the Island of Montreal and over four million in the Greater Montreal area. The CAQ wants us to look as white and Christian as, say, Trois-Rivières with a population under 150 000. While he claims to be a Quebec nationalist, Legault’s attitude towards Quebec’s officially designated metropolis is not only bigoted, it’s also quite, um, provincial.
If Plante does ultimately end up refusing to implement the new Quebec Government’s plan when it comes to Montreal employees and people receiving services from the city, I don’t know what Legault could do to make her. Things could get interesting.
Implementing Cannabis Legalization
When it comes to legal weed, Plante isn’t taking a wait and see approach. In Montreal, you can smoke your legal cannabis anywhere you can smoke tobacco or vape, but you can’t spark a joint near schools, on a terasse, in hospitals, on a bus, or basically anywhere you can’t smoke a cigarette.
Legault, on the other hand, is considering a province-wide ban on smoking pot in public, such as on sidewalks or in parks. Basically he’s treating it like booze, while conveniently forgetting that there are public places called bars where you can legally consume alcohol and if you bring a sandwich to a park along with a bottle of wine, it’s a picnic.
Five Montreal boroughs, all held by the opposition party Ensemble Montréal (formerly Équipe Denis Coderre), are planning similar bylaws. While it’s a really out-of-touch idea, I understand how a borough can make such a regulation, just as I understand how a city can make an opposing regulation.
What I don’t get is how a provincial government can pass what should be a municipal zoning regulation to supersede existing zoning regulations. Pot smokers aren’t criminals anymore, just people facing fines if they light up in the wrong place.
If Plante tells the Montreal Police (SPVM) not to enforce provincial ban on smoking cannabis in public, except in the boroughs where it was banned, and they listen, would Legault send in the SQ to enforce it? Could that even work?
And then there’s the Pink Line. A Plante campaign promise that would see a new metro line run from Montreal North through Rosemont, the Plateau, Downtown and NDG, all the way to Lachine.
As bold as that is and as pie in the sky as it may sound, Plante already got the Federal Government to sign off on investing money in it. While QS fully incorporated it into their transit proposal, Plante decided to have a photo-op during the campaign with Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard who had only said he would consider it.
It’s clear her transit plan caused her to have an unofficial ABC (Anyone But CAQ) approach during the campaign. And with good reason: Legault had said his administration would oppose the new metro line.
So, faced with the worst possible election outcome for the future of the project, Plante adopted a go big or go home approach and announced yesterday that she was moving ahead with the Pink Line and creating a project office to study the potential impact on urban development, mobility and socio-economic needs. This office will compliment studies the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) is already doing and have a budget of $1 Million.
Basically, if project office determines that the Pink Line is feasible and shows how it can be done right, and two thirds of the money is already there, Legault, who will probably be sitting on a pile of legal cannabis sale revenues and tax money by then, will be boxed into a corner. It’s a bold strategy and one that may pay off.
Whether it does or not, prepare for a fight. Maybe a slow-moving, incredibly polite and bureaucratic one, but a fight nonetheless. A political fight on three, maybe more, fronts. Montreal versus Quebec has just begun.
Recreational cannabis is now officially legal across Canada. We are the second North American country to do this, with Mexico having decriminalized marijuana for personal use in small amounts in an attempt cut back on drug violence. It must be said that legalization should not be taken as an invitation to smoke weed more often, and that while recreational use is legal, it is not without restrictions.
I’m here to help.
This article is a brief crash course on the legalization of cannabis and how it will be implemented in Quebec. Other provinces have set their own rules so if you’re reading this from outside of Quebec, you’d best contact the local government about it or give it a google.
The new laws divide cannabis into two categories: cannabis and illicit cannabis.
Illicit cannabis is cannabis is that is sold, produced, imported, or distributed by anyone not allowed to do so under the federal Cannabis Act and corresponding provincial acts. In Quebec, it is the Société Québécoise du Cannabis (SQDC), a subsidiary of the Société des Alcools du Québec (SAQ), that can legally sell marijuana and marijuana products in Quebec.
They open their first 12 stores at 10am today (in Montreal people have been lining up since 4am) and have already started selling online. They have three strains for sale: indica, sativa and hybrid. They won’t be advertising their products in the window as advertising cannabis products remains illegal.
Private dealers’ activities will continue to be illegal under the new law. While the legal stores will offer dry bud, oils, pre-rolled joints, oral sprays, as well as pills, they will not be offering edibles. Prices will start at five dollars and fifty cents in order to be competitive with the black market.
Though the federal law says that it is legal to possess and cultivate up to four cannabis plants for personal use, in Quebec it is illegal and carries a fine between two hundred and fifty and seven hundred and fifty dollars. This is undoubtedly a measure to ensure the Province’s monopoly on sale and distribution.
As of midnight, it is legal to possess up to 30 grams of legal cannabis or cannabis products in public. The government measures these amounts according the weight of dried cannabis.
The federal government has published a list indicating what a gram of dried cannabis would be equivalent to in other products:
5 grams of fresh cannabis
15 grams of edible product
70 grams of liquid product
0.25 grams of concentrates (solid or liquid)
1 cannabis plant seed
In private residences it is legal to possess up to 150 grams of cannabis – once again using a measure of dried cannabis as a reference to determine amounts. This maximum applies regardless of how many people are living in the residence at any given time. That means that if you are, for example, living with three other roommates, you are legally only allowed total of 150 grams in the household, amounting to 37.5 grams each if you were divide the cannabis evenly between you.
If you were living alone, that 150 could legally be all yours. However, the law also says that you cannot have that amount in multiple residences, meaning that the maximum you would be allowed to possess stays at 150 grams regardless of whether or not you have multiple homes.
Anyone who exceeds the 150 gram limit is looking at fines ranging from $250-$750. Similar fines are in place for possession of cannabis on the premises of educational institutions and childcare and daycare centers, though there is an exception for student residences at college-level institutions.
Minors cannot legally possess or distribute cannabis and there will be strict penalties for people caught selling or giving it to them. In Quebec, the age of majority is 18 years old (in many other provinces it’s 19). Cannabis has to be stored in a place that is not easily accessible to minors. Minors caught in possession or giving cannabis are liable to a fine of $100.
With regards to where you can smoke it, the rules are similar to those for cigarettes. There is no smoking on the grounds of health and social services buildings, on the grounds of post-secondary schools, and places where activities for minors are provided, with an exception in the latter if activities are in a private residence.
It is also illegal to smoke it in most enclosed public spaces, the common areas of residential buildings containing two or more dwellings, private seniors’ homes, palliative care facilities, and tourist accommodation establishments. Smoking marijuana is also illegal in restaurants and other places offering meals for money, casinos, public transportation, and in the workplace unless said workplace is in a private residence.
Anyone who breaks these rules is looking at fines ranging from $500 to $2250.
There are, however, exceptions, as health and social services centers, seniors’ homes, and palliative care facilities can set up enclosed rooms for the purposes of smoking cannabis. Same goes for the common areas of private residences containing two or more dwellings.
Cannabis is officially legal now Amidst all the celebrations, remember the rules.
Quebec provincial elections are less than two weeks away and there is a lot to learn before we go to the polls. There are four major political parties to choose from: the incumbent Liberal Party (PLQ), the Parti Québécois (PQ), Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), and Québec Solidaire (QS).
There are smaller parties running too and I’ll be writing about them next week, but today I’m focusing on the four parties that participate in the debates and the ones most likely to get seats in the National Assembly and therefore a say in how our province is governed at the top. That said, deciding on the party that will best suit your needs can be difficult.
I’m here to help.
This article will give you a rundown of where the four major political parties stand on some key issues. I’m going to limit this article to key aspects of their stances on healthcare, employment and education, the environment, and Quebec culture and how it fits into broader discourse about immigration, language, and secularism.
Let’s get started.
All four parties agree that something is amiss – a view that is shared by patients and workers within the provincial healthcare system. A social worker told me that resources are scarce. The news is filled with reports of insane wait times and nurses burning out due to mandatory overtime and ludicrous patient-to-nurse ratios.
The Liberals have sustained the brunt of the critiques and here’s how they plan to fix it:
Improve access to pharmacist services, particularly vaccines and consultation services
Open 25 more super clinics to offer primary health services that will be open twelve hours a day, seven days a week
Offer more health services via telecommunication such as teleconsultation and tele-support
“Take necessary measures” to help GPs and specialists meet patients needs and expectations
The Parti Québécois approach is a little different – their plan focuses on giving more autonomy to health professionals:
Giving more discretionary power to local health care professionals
Guaranteed access to nurse-practitioners in CLSCs seven days a week until 9 pm
Allow for autonomous clinics consisting solely of nurse-practitioners
More funding and support for community organizations dealing with health and social services
The Coalition Avenir Québec‘s plan is simpler but succinct in what they feel the province needs:
Allowing patients to make appointments online
Better access to first line care without appointment in CLSCs and clinics in the evenings and weekends to alleviate ER wait times
More full-time positions for nurses with no mandatory overtime and a revision of nurse to patient ratios
Deal with unnecessary medications and diagnoses – a possible attempt to address the opioid crisis
Québec Solidaire is focused on prevention and fighting discrimination, including:
A mandatory study of the effects of mines and hydrocarbons on public health, the results of which will be publicly accessible
Fighting discrimination against those with HIV and Hepatitis C
Reinforce and increase financing to existing CLSCs to offer a complete network of multidisciplinary clinical services such as disability support, help with addiction, homelessness, and psychiatric care
Universal pharmaceutical coverage
Support research into women’s health care
Employment, Education, and the Economy
I lumped the three Es together because they are all linked. Quebec has a labour shortage that is only getting worse as the population ages and birth rates remain low.
In addition to a lack of natural growth, the province is failing to attract people due to fewer opportunities for professional and personal development, low growth prospects, a lack of flexibility in existing jobs, and a disparity between the available labour force and the kinds of jobs up for grabs.
Here is how the parties plan to deal with it:
Encourage older workers to stay active as long as possible and offer fiscal initiatives to support this
Reduce red tape for entrepreneurs and self-employed workers to get their activities off the ground
Promote cooperation between businesses and universities to create programs that better reflect the current job market
Introduce a policy that would promote private and foreign investment, innovation, and job creation
Abolish tuition fees for students registered in part-time professional training programs leading to a DEC
Create forty more workplace-based training programs over four years – whether or not students will be paid for their work is suspiciously absent given the growing concern about unpaid internships, something working-aged adults have rightfully identified as a form of slave labour abused by would-be employers
Adapt professional training programs to the modern workforce and regional needs
Provide the municipalités régionales de comté (MRCs) with funds and support to help them attract and retain foreign workers
Ten million annually to support francization services
Gradually introduce free-post secondary education
Encourage “teletravail” which would allow more people to work from home
Updating the Labour Code to forbid employers from hiring external services or goods during strikes
Create a detailed national registry of the workforce needs of businesses according to their declaration of revenue
Free public education up to and including the first five years of university
Improving student financial aid and paid internships – of all the parties, QS is the only one to address this issue
Establishing a guaranteed basic income pilot project in several municipalities
Fight tax evasion and establish taxation that is more reflective of people’s income
Revise business taxation rules to make sure they are paying their fair share
All the political parties agree that climate change is a problem and our reliance on fossil fuels is expensive and unsustainable. Sadly while all the parties address this issue, only Québec Solidaire does it in any detail.
Strive for a 95% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050
Improve public transport and the adoption of electric vehicles in public transit
Improve transportation between municipalities and in less populated areas – presumably to reduce the need for cars
Have Hydro Quebec spearhead programs for energy efficiency, the production and distribution of clean energy, and research
Institute a National Water policy to find and protect sources of freshwater
Investigate the risks of activities that affect water quality
Encourage the repairing of goods and equipment rather than throwing them away
Improve existing recycling practices in the province
Make the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) independent from the National Assembly
Give citizens are more participatory role in environmental policy
Provide financial incentives for people buying electric or hybrid vehicles and setting up home charging stations for them
Invest a hundred fifty-five million over three years to establish a fast public charging service for electric cars
Increase energy exports of clean hydroelectric power to the rest of Canada and the US to reduce their dependence on coal, gas, and nuclear power
Updating sorting and recycling plants to reduce waste with Recyc-Québec having a say
Revise the Provincial Building Code to ensure the use of energy saving products and methods
Promote the environmental sciences, green technologies, and the development of cleaner alternative energy sources
Encourage the switch to electric forms of transportation
Encourage researchers and entrepreneurs via the « Baie James de la transition énergetique » project for green energy with the hope of not only improving the environment, but creating jobs
Cooperation with different industries to promote greener business practices
Quebec Culture, Immigration, Sovereignty and Language
I saved this topic for last because it is the one that distinguishes the parties the most. It is on these issues that words like racism, xenophobia, and Islamaphobia get thrown around so they need to be addressed. The parties’ attitudes about language can be seen in part in their websites.
Of the four major parties, only PLQ and CAQ have English translations of their platforms available online. Since all parties are courting the English vote to the point of sending their leaders to debate in English and clearly have the resources to pay for a translation, not doing so only hurts them.
Here is where all the parties stand.
Couillard’s Liberals have come out in support of encouraging people in Quebec to know French. With regards to immigration, they support the status quo of a fifty to fifty-three thousand limit on new arrivals. They have been mostly silent on the issue of identity, a fact that makes them attractive to voters that do not want a PQ or CAQ government. However, this is also the party that introduced Bill 62, a religious neutrality law that would forbid the wearing of religious symbols when receiving government services – a clear attempt to pander to PQ voters. The law is currently being challenged in the courts.
The Parti Québécois are sovereigntists and hardcore secularists. Though they are pushing for the rights of LGBTQ+ people, they are also pushing aggressive state secularism, a measure that cost them the last election. Their platform champions the arts, but they have also come out in support of Robert Lepage, whose latest works have outraged Quebec’s Indigenous and black communities with their whitewashing and cultural appropriation. With regards to immigration, they claim to want to depoliticize the issue and go with the recommendations of the Auditor General.
Coalition Avenir Québec is easily classified as the anti-immigration party. They want to see immigration to Quebec reduced by twenty percent and new arrivals evaluated on whether or not they adhere to “common values”. Though they want Quebec recognition as a nation, they want that recognition within Canada. Like the PQ, they are pushing for aggressive state secularism with the banning of religious symbols worn by people in positions of authority – a measure that will limit the job prospects as well as the societal integration of people whose faiths require wearing religious symbols.
Québec Solidaire is sovereigntist, and like the other three parties, they want people in the province to learn French. They are also the only party to call for the establishment of a commission to investigate systemic racism and want police statistics on hate crimes publicly accessible. They also want to improve conditions for migrant workers, domestic helpers, and other new arrivals in Quebec. Unfortunately, they also want to push French as the official language of signage in Quebec, a measure that usually comes at the expense of religious and cultural minority business owners.
The election is on October 1, 2018. Vote wisely.
* Featured image from Elections Quebec via YouTube screengrab
It’s one of those headlines that sounds great: “Anglos, it’s time to get over the 1995 Quebec referendum.” Yes, it is. Glad The Montreal Gazette finally realized it.
However, the paper’s Facebook plug of the op-ed revealed what guest opinion writer Lise Ravary only got to at the end of her piece. That fear of another Quebec referendum was “a bad reason to spurn Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ)” this election.
Fine, sure, it’s not. By the same token, fear of a referendum is not a good reason to spurn Québec Solidaire either. But there are several good reasons not to vote CAQ this year or any year.
They’re not an alternative to Quebec’s two natural governing parties, the Liberals (PLQ) and the Parti Québécois (PQ). They’re the same, only meaner.
The PQ gave us the Charter of Quebec Values and lost, in large part, because of it. The PLQ, who had campaigned against the Charter, brought in the absurd Bill C-62, turning bus drivers and librarians into the Niqab police.
Not to be outdone, the CAQ is proposing that all prospective immigrants to Quebec have to pass a values test. Women who wear the Niqab would have to remove it while taking the test.
While a “values test” is, in and of itself, a huge red flag to anyone who believes in cultural diversity, tacking on the bit about the Niqab is a pander to the basest instincts of the far right. Sure, only 50-100 women in Quebec wear the Niqab out of a population of over eight million, but François Legault is on the case and will make sure another 10 or 20 don’t sneak in!
The non-cultural aspects of the CAQ policy doesn’t differ much from the status quo pro-corporate stance of their main rivals, which is probably why The Gazette has no problem easing the fears of Anglos considering them as an alternative. They’ve been leading in the overall polls, too, since last November.
For years, I have been waiting for the so-called “national question” not to be a factor in a Quebec election, especially for the Montreal Anglo community, my community. I’ve also been waiting for a break in the PLQ/PQ cycle of dominance that has lasted over 50 years.
But not like this.
The CAQ isn’t change. They’re more of the same with a different branding, one tweaked for the far right. They’re the bigots Anglos, most Anglos, don’t have to be afraid of.
Yes, we should get over the 1995 Referendum, but no, electoral xenophobes should not benefit.