Just when you thought you had heard the last of xenophobia and hate driving mainstream Quebec politics, they’re back! Or rather, they never left.

I’m well aware that the vicious undercurrent of bigotry in Quebec has only gotten bolder in the past year. There was the attack on the Mosque in Ste-Foy, then there was that Front National copycat poster that went up during the Gouin by-election. Just last week, local members of the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant group La Meute were spotted marching with neo-Nazis and the Klan in Charlotteville and now a former organizer of the xenophobic group PEDIGA is looking to start a far-right political party.

When it comes to major Quebec political parties (ones that actually have a chance of being elected), though, it really looked like we were finally beyond hate and fearmongering for votes. After all, electoral Islamophobia had failed twice at the ballot box: there was the electoral disaster the Charter of Quebec Values brought to the PQ and the Bloc’s failed attempt to use Harper’s opposition to the niqab as a wedge issue – sure, it did knock down the NDP, but it helped Justin Trudeau sail to a majority government.

While it’s likely the PQ under the leadership of Charter architect Jean-François Lisée may try a re-branded version of the failed legislation come election time, that would really be an act of desperation. It looks, though, like the party that won a majority in 2014 largely by opposing Pauline Marois on the Charter now plans to one-up her with much more restrictive bigoted legislation.

The Charter on Steroids

In 2015, Philippe Couillard’s Liberals tabled Bill 62, the so-called “religious neutrality bill” which banned people providing government services and those receiving them from covering their faces. It didn’t go as far as the PQ’s Charter in that it focused on one religious symbol, the Niqab or Burqa, and had a limited scope in its application.

That scope may be getting wider if the Liberals have their way. Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée wants it to apply to municipalities, metropolitan communities, the National Assembly and public transit organizations and proposed amendments to the bill last Tuesday to make that a reality.

One of the places the Liberals want to ban the burqa (image: Jason C. McLean)

The most jarring aspect is, of course, extending it to public transit. Think about that for a moment:

Not only is being asked to remove a face covering for the duration of a trip on the bus or metro a humiliating experience, it is also something that may very well deny access to public transit to people who need it. Forcing someone to choose between their faith and an essential service that many who live in a city need is just plain wrong.

It is discrimination that serves no valid purpose whatsoever, unless you count getting votes from clueless bigots as a valid purpose.

I have rode on the metro with a woman in a burqa in the next seat several times. It didn’t bother me in the slightest. Just fellow passengers dressed differently than I was. There are frequently people on my commute wearing various religious garb and it is just a part of life here in Montreal. I’m more concerned about the creeps and assholes whose faces are uncovered along with their shitty demeanor.

But, of course, this legislation isn’t designed to appeal to me or my fellow Montrealers. It’s designed to get votes from people in rural ridings, many of whom have never rode public transit with someone wearing a hijab, never mind a burqa, in their lives. Them and a handful of suburbanites and maybe a few big city bigots whose intolerance supersedes their daily experience.

While I rarely give props to Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, on this one I have to. He has announced plans to use the city’s status as a metropolis to not implement the amendments if they pass. I’m pretty sure Projet Montreal would do the same if they were in power.

Regis Labeaume’s False Equivalence

The Mayor of Quebec City, however, seems perfectly content fanning the flames of intolerance.

While Régis Labeaume did say that La Meute was not welcome back to the city he governs after last weekend’s protest, he extended the same sentiments to those who showed up to oppose the hate group’s public display of bigotry and intolerance.

La Meute marching in Quebec City (image: CBC)

If you think that sounds a little too close to a certain Nazi-sympathizing American politician’s much maligned comment about hate and violence existing on “all sides” in Charlottesville, you’re not alone. Jaggi Singh was in Quebec as a participant, not an organizer, but that didn’t stop Labeaume from using “la gang à Singh” as a descriptor for those protesting La Meute.

Singh responded in a Facebook statement which has since been republished by several media outlets. Here’s a excerpt:

“Mayor Labeaume, like Donald Trump, is claiming equivalency between anti-racists — and the varied tactics and strategies we use — and the racist far-right. His false equivalency, like Donald Trump’s after Charlottesville, is absurd. With his comments today, Mayor Labeaume is essentially pandering to racists in Quebec City, repeating a disgusting tactic he has used since he’s been a public figure.

More generally, Mayor Labeaume is replicating the rhetoric of the racist far-right by essentially telling people to “go back to where you came from”. This is the main talking point of far-right anti-immigrant groups, including the racists of La Meute, the Storm Alliance, and Soldiers of Odin, all of whom have a strong presence in Mayor Labeaume’s Quebec City.”

It’s not just a moral false equivalence, though, but a numerical one as well. The counter-protesters clearly outnumbered the La Meute gang, who hid in a parking garage for a good portion of the protest protected by police.

That didn’t stop Labeaume from saying that La Meute had won the popularity contest. Putting aside for a minute the fact that they clearly didn’t, to frame a conflict between hatemongers and those opposed to racism and fascism as a popularity contest shows a clear lack of…oh screw it, the guy’s a grade-A asshole Trump-wannabe who at best panders to racists and doesn’t care about it and at worst is one himself.

Quebec bigots, for the most part, may not be so obvious as to carry around swastika flags like their American counterparts, but they are just as hate-filled and virulent and their mainstream political apologists and supporters like Couillard, Lisée and Labeaume are all too happy to pander for their votes.

La plus ca change…

The stage is now set for round two of the charter debate. It’s sort of like a Star Wars sequel, only in this one it’s the bigots and the political opportunists that strike back. Maybe in some ways it’s the Empire, if you mean by that the dominant oppressive forces that are in play in Quebec and broader Canadian society nowadays.

During the infamous debate about the charter, I wrote that Pauline Marois, with her quest into the heart of darkness of Quebec, had given Harper and the Conservative Party a priceless electoral blueprint. In fact, contrary of common knowledge, the Conservative movement and the Sovereignist movement have a lot more in common than the rest of the electoral pack.

With C-51 it looks as if, unfortunately, that my prediction has been vindicated. Xenophobia sells in Canada in general and in Quebec in particular. The snake oil of security and secularism in disguise has become but another means to divert attention away from unpopular neo-liberal shock doctrine while reinvigorating the omnipresence of the state.

For all that the libertarian prophecies of neoliberal and neoconservative think-tanks, their rhetoric of “no government is good government” and that “government is the problem,” C-51 is nothing more than a power swap in favor of more state power. It’s an 18th of Brumaire coup that allows neoliberal forces to consolidate their coercive power.

C-51 is ultimately a brilliant strategic move. It enables this Conservative government to do two things. First and foremost, they can use it to sideline any in depth debate about the economic model that they have imposed on Canadians from coast to coast to coast since their tenure in power, a model that is tatters. You just have to take a look at Alberta. Secondly, it allows them to crush any resistance that might have already been brewing, to kill in the egg social and environmental movements such as Idle No More or more recently ShutDownCanada.

In the House of Commons, Liberals and Conservatives alike called for non-partisanship and for consensus, even though consensus cannot happen in the absence of debate. That, though, is the objective. The incidents that took the lives of two Canadian Army officials, in Ottawa and in St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, gave the Conservatives the perfect opening to apply their shock doctrine.

In the wake of those events the country was in shock. It was time to pass legislation that couldn’t be passed before, and this is where C-51 comes into play. This bill is the armed-wing of the economic policies that have been put forward by this Conservative government.

C-51 will outlaw any tentative to unseat or destabilize the Conservative economic agenda. Further with the Liberal Party voting in favor of it, it seems that at the end of the electoral cycle win or lose, if the Liberals win, Stephen Harper still wins.

In this context “Islamic Radicalism” and “Terrorism” are merely facade. Needless to say, when toddlers kill more Americans than terrorism, it puts the whole debate into perspective. It’s a means, a destructive means towards a destructive end. Quell the opposition to the petrostate once and for all.

The good news coming out of C-51 is that we are all or can possibly be defined as “domestic terrorists” within the months to come. We should wear that badge with pride and oppose this bill vehemently in the streets and the courts. Let the battle begin! #iamaterrorist.

A luta continua!

We are now amidst what could probably become one of the most polarizing electoral cycles of contemporary Quebec history, certainly a pivotal moment in many ways. As I said in my last article, the Parti Québecois’ shift to the right and its realignment with a right-wing nationalist discourse is a seismic shift in and of itself. But from the onset, this election is merely the culminating point of a pattern of political instrumentalisation that has impoverished the political discourse in Quebec for the past thirty years.

The infamous Charter of Quebec Values is a strategy for the PQ to preserve power. In the context of a growing sentiment of disenfranchisement and bewilderment that many Quebeckers feel towards the current state of affairs of Quebec, the Charter is the transfiguration of this sentiment of malaise into a political force.

Inherent to the process of transfiguration of this sentiment of disorientation into political points at the ballot box are two simultaneous movements: the creation of an other and the creation of an us. The other is a direct threat to the existence of the collective us, thus supposedly the other is the antithesis of the collective us, but in this case the other is the main condition of existence of the collective us and the collective us is built in reaction to the existence of others. This explains how slowly but surely since the start of the debate about the Charter, the PQ has been able to amass exponential support.

pq plq
Same thing last election (image by flubu.com)

The main objective behind these political maneuvers is to camouflage the austerity agenda which has created such havoc in the day-to-day lives of Quebeckers of all walks of life. The dismantlement of Quebec’s social structure, the commodification of many aspects of Quebec’s culture and the liberalization of the market.

The vectors of disorientation are occulted, the invisible enemy. The automatized march of an unrestrained and unregulated reckless flow of capital is substituted by the tangible threat of an foreign usurper trying to undermine the values of Quebec.

The comprehension of this process of the creation of the other, how and why it is used is key to understanding Quebec politics in general and this election in particular. This phenomenon pre-dates current events by quite some time, it’s inherent to the system of Quebec politics, the PQ and the Parti Libéral du Québec.

Movements such as Coalition Avenir Québec or Action Démocratique du Québec will come and go. They have become prisoners of this paradigm.

The PQ and PLQ have crafted the frame within which the political discourse flows in Quebec. To reinforce their grip on Quebec politics they instigate divisions within Quebec society and create fictional fault-lines, almost as if there were between these two political formations a political pact similar to the Treaty of Tordesillas (treaty signed between the Portuguese and the Spanish in 1494 which divided the world between Portuguese zones of influence and Spanish zones of influence).

The PQ takes the souvereignist vote aka the Francophone vote and the PLQ takes the federalist vote aka Anglophone and traditionally the Allophone vote. With this arrangement both get roughly ten years behind the wheel in Quebec City and alternate terms of power between themselves.

johnson bourassa

In this manichaean set-up, the tempo is driven by debates without substance, by opposing buzzwords such as independence versus unity and slogans such as “masters of our house” versus “real issues.” Unfortunately these terms are void of substance, because they are words that never translate into action.

Today the PQ advocates for independence and yet offers no alternative agenda to the neoconservative agenda of Ottawa; one must wonder then, in these circumstances, what would be the purpose of independence? The PLQ refutes independence by using the usual whish-washy argument that independence would be detrimental for the economic prosperity of Quebec and yet in the past nine years of PLQ economic governance, the prosperous have only been a few.

The charter didn’t appear out of thin air. It’s the direct consequence of a system in which divisive and sectarian politics is the name of the game.

Marginalized are the political parties that try to bridge the gaps or start a meaningful debate. Simultaneously the more ugly the debate, the more potent becomes the force of attraction that brings all of the parties to the centre of the political spectrum.

When you prescribe austerity in economics, I guess it’s only normal to prescribe austerity of the political discourse. It truly is a shame, because the wealth of Quebec is found in its diversity, something that is not represented within the discourse of the most prominent political parties in Quebec.

At the end of the day these parties only offer lip service to the notion of democracy and of debate, because all main political parties in Quebec thrive within this framework, without it they are nothing. Thus it’s key for them to maintain the illusion of debate but never to start a real conversation about the future of Quebec.

We can seek comfort in the recent phenomenon of the rise and fall of both the CAQ and the ADQ. It’s proof that this system is becoming saturated and that people are yearning for an alternative.

The alternative lays with the parties that have a unifying message and that push beyond their base, that engage in dialogue with all sections of Quebec society, that do not instrumentalise and pit Quebekers against one another but rather have a discourse that transcends the barriers of language, religion, heritage, etc…

As Marx said “philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.” The PQ and the PLQ have identified the fault lines within Quebec society and created a framework which plays on these fault lines to divide and rule. It’s up to us to change that!

The worst kept secret in Quebec is now public knowledge. Premier Pauline Marois confirmed this morning that there will be a Quebec election on April 7th.

Since the start of the polarizing debate about the Quebec Charter of Values, the Parti Quebecois has never been stronger and it seemed to be gaining strength in the lead-up to the election announcement. It also seems like many pundits, political commentators and some of the PQ’s rivals have accepted the fact that the PQ will come out of this election in a stronger position, many dare to say they might even win a majority.

quebec liberal party free education ad 1960
Quebec Liberal Party ad from 1960 promoting free education (including university)

One thing is certain: if the PQ does win a majority it’s because they succeeded in framing a divisive debate revolving around supposedly “Quebec Values” without ever defining what these values are. Not to mention almost every single political party expect Québec Solidaire in la chambre bleue let them get away with it because they too have turned their backs on the values of Quebec.

So what are the values of Quebec? Did they just suddenly appear in the past six months, a by-product of the PQ’s agenda of xenophobic and ethnic nationalism? Are they values that could fit into an extreme laissez-faire economic agenda? Are these values compatible with the values of austerity? To all of the above the answer is NO!

The values of Quebec that all of the political parties claim to represent are the values that were brought about by the Quiet Revolution: the values of solidarity, of inclusiveness, the fight against obscurantism (the grip that the Catholic Church had on Quebec society), the values of economic equality through welfare redistribution.

During this time, the PLQ fought for free education. The PQ itself was born out of this radical redrawing of the boarders of Quebec society.

From its inception, the PQ was nothing more than the political representation of la Révolution Tranquille, a movement that wanted to transcend the barriers of the Duplessis era. An era which had pitted Quebeckers against one another, and instead create a country in which all Quebeckers, all residents of Quebec no matter their creed, primary language or vestimentary habits, would be “maîtres chez nous” (in English “masters of their own house”), of our common house. We would be masters together or not masters at all.

In the past weeks, I’ve heard a lot of criticism of the PQ pinning them down as  “traitors” because of Anticosti Island and their green light to hydraulic fracturing, or because of their decision to raise the cost of daycare. The truth is far more bitter, today the PQ, by aborting it’s initial blueprint to build a progressive sovereignist movement, has become it’s worst enemy, it’s own antithesis, its own archenemy, the PQ has become the biggest obstacle to independence-more on this in the upcoming weeks-.

Without a doubt, the PQ has betrayed Quebec, but instead of focusing on a panoply of individual events, we should take into account the broader context. Once you connect the dots, an irrefutable fact appears, the PQ has betrayed la Révolution Tranquille and thus has betrayed the principals and values that gave it birth.

When these recent events are viewed in the historical context of the past forty years of Quebec, René Lévesque’s caution that a political party, such as the PQ, should only be around for twenty years is materializing before our eyes. The PQ is nothing more than a political machine, its sole function is to gain and maintain power and thus the PQ has lost its raison d’être.

The difference between the PQ and l’Union Nationale, the right-wing nationalistic party of Maurice Duplessis and the instigator of la Révolution Tranquille, is slim, if not non-existent. This polarizing debate about Quebec values has served its purpose: to allow the PQ to keep power through the normal divide and conquer device.

marois levesque

And in the long run it has hurt Quebec society in substantial ways. It has rolled back the progress gained during the Quite Revolution, given a stage to extremist, nationalist, xenophobic and even some openly racist groups. Unfortunately for everyone, if the pundits are right and the PQ does win a majority, it’s back into the darkness of la Grande Noirceur.

In the past week, an interesting article was published in Jacobin magazine by Mike Gonzalez: Is Venezuela Burning? The author argued that only a deepening of the Bolivarian Revolution would save Venezuela. Here in Quebec only a deepening of la Révolution Tranquille will save us.

We must remember the legacy of the Quite Revolution, which the PQ has shamelessly abandoned. La Révolution Tranquille is far from over and it is our responsibility to ensure that the struggle of Lévesque and Bourgault, of Godin and Miron was not in vein, because the PQ will not.

On lâche rien!

It certainly isn’t an understatement to say that in the past weeks the political debate in Quebec has revolved around the charter. It is my personal belief that it is a very important debate to be had, not because the charter itself has any premise but rather because the purpose of the charter is wrongful and would be extremely harmful for Quebec society at large. But I also don’t believe that it’s an understatement to say that the charter is but a smokescreen made to emphasize ‘differences’ that have never existed in the first place.

Yes, it is my belief as I have said in one of my past articles that the charter was a sort of electoral shortcut, a magical illusion serving the purpose of creating a debate that couldn’t hold it’s ground in the real world, the place outside the realm of political spin. All the evidence shows that there is no ‘integration’ problem in Quebec, the number of reasonable accommodations has never been flagrant and comparatively to other immigration situations throughout the world, especially in Europe, there hasn’t been any ‘flare-ups’ such as 2005 in France or London 2013.

Why the charter debate then? There are many explanations, especially political ones, but the truth is that it’s a debate that suits the ‘neo-liberal’ forces in the Quebec National Assembly because with such a smoke screen they can make their true intentions disappear.

On Tuesday the announcement was made, in very vague terms, that hypothetically in the near future public hospitals would have the possibility to charge patients for their beds. In clearer terms it means the death of public health care as we know it.

Unlike the debate on the charter this is a debate in which all three main political parties, the PQ, the PLQ and the CAQ, in Quebec City are on the same wavelength.

In this dire situation, should the charter still be at the center of our political debate? Should the charter still be on everybody’s mind?

Well that’s were it gets problematic, doesn’t it? The fact is that discrimination is unacceptable in any condition, but while the charter continues to monopolize all the space within the public arena, economic discrimination is at its point of culmination.

The fight against the charter must go hand in hand with the fight against economic discrimination, because in the end, discrimination, whether its origin is xenophobia or economic inequality, is still discrimination. The fight for a more just society encompasses the fight for public universal health-care, the fight universal public education and the fight for minority rights, the rights of refugees, the fight for civil rights.

The false dichotomy that divides civil rights from economic and social rights must be abolished. Until then, our struggles are but disjoint pieces of a huge jigsaw.

The theoretical right to be a free entity able to express one’s singularity is a fundamental human right. The debate revolving around the charter is an important one because we must defend that fundamental human right, but what is theoretical freedom worth if, in practice, outside the world of theory, the balance of your bank account is the soul decider of if you live a decent life or a miserable one, if you enjoy all the freedoms at your disposal or not, if you succumb to sickness or survive.

Over my dead body will any government privatize public health care.

* Top image: Rémi Prévost, marxist.com

Provincial Democratic Institutions Minister Bernard Drainville commenced public hearings into the proposed Charter of Quebec Values by asking that the impending debate remain respectful.


The charter is disrespectful in and of itself. That the separatists are wasting precious public funds to have a public debate only adds insult to injury. It reminds of me of when Ahmadinejad would convene conferences denying the existence of the Holocaust. It’s the premise that’s fucked.

The problem the charter intends to solve doesn’t really exist. The culture of Québec is not threatened, never was, least of all by a few members of various religious minorities with public-sector jobs.

That this charter will result in people, citizens, taxpayers, having to choose between their faith and their jobs, all the while entrenching ‘overt public displays’ of Catholicism as an apparently crucial component of Québec’s cultural identity is incredibly hypocritical. It’s obscene.

Quebec Values Charter,

Moreover, it’s unnecessary. All Canadians are already protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the Charter specifically states we have the right to be free of religious persecution.

Telling civil servants they can’t keep their jobs if they continue to wear a hijab, a turban or a yarmulke is religious persecution. Telling the people their culture is more-or-less doomed to extinction unless everyone blindly goes along with a plan to institutionalize racism is damn near fascistic. Suffice it to say I can’t imagine the charter in its current form would survive a Supreme Court challenge…

But therein lies the rub.

After it’s ruled as unconstitutional, the péquistes in government can invoke the notwithstanding clause and go ahead with it anyways. That or the PQ will simply say that because Lévesque stubbornly refused to sign the Constitution Act they’re not bound by it anyways and can do as they please.

Meanwhile, unemployment continues to rise, Northern economic development is stillborn, infrastructure crumbles and the people of Québec are asked, as we’ve grown accustomed, to do more with less and settle into a lower standard of living. The charter hearings serve merely to distract the public from the PQ’s consistently reprehensible economic and social records. Not to say the Quebec Liberals are much of a better option, but at least they generally have the sense not to stir up trouble for short-term political gains. In any event, an election is expected this year, and you better believe the PQ is going to do just about everything they can to keep attention focused on the problems they’ve created or invented.

marois press conference

It’s gutter politics really – a party acts as spokesperson for a vaguely defined ‘silent majority’ whose core values are threatened simply because they say so. This majority for whom the party speaks is silent for a reason. It is ultimately the illusion of an exclusive club and the message is always party, not people, driven. The message is always the same: the minorities are a threat to the sanctity of the majority’s identity and something in turn must be done.

In Israel, far-right anti-immigrant parties hold rallies where hysterical women wail at the microphone about how they fear being raped ‘by packs of wild Africans,’ or relate completely groundless anecdotes to the same point. Members of this party, if you can believe it, actually favour rounding up all African immigrants in Israel and sticking them in concentration camps.

In Eastern Europe, far-right ultra-nationalist parties preaching even more violent means of eliminating undesirable ethnic minorities (notably the Roma) use much the same rhetoric as their Israeli counterparts to justify their own hate and prejudice.

Granted, Bill 60 isn’t as bad as all that, but the it’s rooted in the same kind of hate, ignorance and shitty populism.

The PQ defines who is and who isn’t Québécois and they only ever represent the Québécois who fit their narrow description. Anyone who questions the legitimacy of the party or its purpose, anyone who criticizes the leadership, anyone who refuses to support needlessly divisive legislation such as Bill 60 – these people are not Québécois in the PQ’s eyes, they are obstacles on the road to independence.

When ethno-nationalist governments run out of any kind of political legitimacy they create social panics concerning a potential loss of cultural identity, typically resulting in punitive social policy that aims to further marginalize minorities while claiming they represent a clear and present public danger.

Québec, in this particular case, is very much like a host of small, impotent nations driven pointlessly into national (but not economic) sovereignty as a consequence of invented ethno-nationalist panics. As a proud Québécois, I want my ‘nation’ to aspire to be greater than Serbia, Croatia or Uzbekistan.

charter of quebec values protestWhat’s particularly onerous is that the bill, ostensibly designed in part to protect women from various abuses (real and imagined) in conservative, male-dominated religiously observant households, will in fact put working women out of their jobs: nurses, doctors, teachers, social workers, early childhood educators, government employees of all kinds, these are precisely the kinds of jobs that can help entrench a family in the local middle class.

It’s hard enough to integrate into Québécois society and culture. What does it say of the PQ when they’re proposing we ‘respectfully’ discuss throwing religious minorities out of their rightfully earned jobs?

I’ll have none of it.

I want out of this discussion because I fail to see any reason to have it in the first place. The proposal is flawed, politically expedient by appealing to base populism and motivated by a desire to define the forthcoming election in terms of whose better suited to protect Québécois against the threats dreamt up by the PQ.

I can’t respectfully abide any of this. I don’t think we’ve seen obscenely manipulative politics like this in our province since the Duplessis Era.

The list of really strange bedfellows lining up against the Quebec Secularism Charter (formerly known as the Charter of Quebec Values) keeps growing. The Jewish General Hospital, QPIRG Concordia and even Harley Davidson have opposed this piece of legislation each in their own way, among other groups and now Anonymous has joined them.

The hacker collective has released a video in French criticizing Pauline Marois for acting just like most of the other major world governments, removing liberties and using distractions like the Charter to make people forget about the real economic and social problems facing our society. At the end, they call for her to step down or she will become their next target. Not sure what type of justice they have in mind for her (hacked websites, release of documents) but they have been successful in the past.

Regardless, Marois’ ability to get groups as varied as this together in opposition to a piece of legislation shows that she may well be a great rassembleuse after all.