Four years after the Parti Québecois’ colossal defeat over their quietly racist but aggressively secular Charter of Values, and less than a year after a man entered a mosque in Ste Foy, Quebec and opened fire, the government we elected to spite them is bringing up a debate no one wanted to hear. Last week, the Quebec Liberals under Premier Philippe Couillard passed Bill 62, “An Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality” and, in particular, to provide a framework for requests for accommodations or religious grounds in certain bodies.
It should be said right off the bat that this law is clearly a political ploy. The Couillard government is up for re-election in 2018. With scandal after scandal rocking his administration, he’s clearly given up on his base and is trying to attract the most secularist racist members of Quebec society who would otherwise vote for the Parti Quebecois.
It is also clear that it is meant to discriminate against non-Christians in Quebec. The law acknowledges Quebec’s history, but the decision to leave the cross up in the National Assembly means that their version of history leaves out the Jews, Muslims, and other groups that have made the province what it is today.
With all the talk about how this law will hurt people, we need to look at what it actually says.
The law applies to all employees of government departments, members of the Quebec public service, city employees with the exception of those governed by the Cree and Naskapi, public transit authorities, school boards, universities, and vocational colleges, peace officers, doctors, midwives, dentists, and anyone else appointed by the government. The employees of childcare centers and government-subsidized daycare centers are also subject to the new rules. Anyone seeking services from these bodies is also subject to the new law.
That means that contrary to the belief that the law will only affect public transport employees and people who work in government offices, teachers at all levels as well as doctors, dentists, and midwives will be subject to this law, as well as anyone who benefits from their help i.e. students, people who ride the bus or metro, and even people in need of medical care.
The law’s mantra is one of State religious neutrality, as the words “religious neutrality” are repeated constantly throughout its text. It requires that all employees subject to this law keep their faces uncovered in the execution of their duties. It also requires that anyone seeking services from employees bound by this law have their faces uncovered in order to receive them.
As only some Muslim women are required by their faith to keep their faces covered in public, the law is clearly written to prejudice them. However, as the law is pretty unclear. People with colds or flus who generously choose to cover their faces in public in order to avoid spreading illness could also find themselves denied services. The government is scheduled to put out a regulation clarifying certain aspects of the law in the near future.
Bill 62 does have some exceptions written into it. People who provide spiritual care and guidance in universities, vocational schools, and correctional facilities are exempt. Health professionals will not be barred from refusing to provide certain medical services that conflict with their spiritual beliefs. For everyone else, there is a process by which you can apply for accommodation on religious grounds, but it is a limited and complicated one.
Applications for accommodations must be based on the right to freedom from discrimination provision in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Requests for accommodation will be handled primarily by the justice minister, who has to decide the request on the following grounds:
“The request is serious”
The accommodation requested is consistent with notions of gender equality, specifically that between women and men
The request is “consistent with the principle of State religious neutrality”
The accommodation is “reasonable and does not place undue hardship” on the state and the person seeking it has already tried to find another solution
Where the law would force someone to be absent from work, additional criteria must be taken into account:
The frequency and duration of the absences on religious grounds
The size of the body the person works for and the “interchangeability” of its workforce – in other words, if the person can easily be replaced, they will likely not be accommodated
The consequences of the person’s absences
The possibility of a modified work schedule or use of bankable hours and vacation days
Fairness regarding other personnel in said government body
More rules apply where the law affects school attendance. The criteria in this case include how a refusal to accommodate will affect compulsory school attendance, the schools’ basic mission to impart knowledge “in keeping with the principle of equal opportunity” and the ability of the school to provide the educational services required by law.
The arguments in favor of Bill 62 are twofold.
Couillard has publicly said that he should be able to see a person’s face when dealing with them, a remark that is not only culturally insensitive, but also rules out any exchanges done by phone or email.
The other argument is one of benevolent sexism masquerading as feminism, specifically that the law will somehow save women from oppressive religious practices. This presumes that women who wear a niqab are doing so because someone coerced them to, or they simply don’t know better. It’s an argument that infantilizes the women by making the presumption that they are not mature enough to make their own decisions about how to publicly express their faith.
This law does not save anyone. It robs them of their sense of agency. If a woman can only leave her house with her face covered and she is welcome at government funded institutions as such, she may feel comfortable going to a public library and grabbing a book on feminism. She may also be comfortable going to a sports center to take a self-defense class.
The law clearly violates the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms rules against religious discrimination and the freedom of religion and equality rights of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The moment this law comes into effect there is sure to be a constitutional challenge to it.
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.
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.
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.
On June 1st, 2017, Premier Philippe Couillard announced that the time has come to reopen the constitutional debate in Quebec. The response across much of Quebec and Canada was: WHY?
As it turns out, the announcement is merely a confirmation of a promise Couillard made in 2013 when running for leadership of the province. Back then he boldly said he planned to get Quebec to sign the constitution by Canada’s 150th anniversary. As it stands, Quebec has never signed the Canadian constitution. In order to understand why, we need to go back in time.
(The story is a long one, so apologies to any history buffs who feel that vital information is missing.)
Before 1982, Canada’s constitution remained in London and only the British government could amend it. However, the act of getting permission from Great Britain became a purely symbolic act as Canada and other former British colonies asserted their independence. All Canada had to do was ask the British to amend their constitution and the crown would rubber stamp their request. Nonetheless, in the late 1970s and early 80s, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, father of our current prime minister, came up with a plan to bring Canada’s constitution home.
Trudeau’s plan consisted of repatriating the constitution, modifying it by entrenching his charter of rights, what we now know as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and establishing an amendment formula. In order to do so, he got provincial leaders together, one of whom was the father of the Quebec Sovereigntist movement, René Lévesque.
The goal was to get the provinces to agree to Trudeau’s plan. At the same time, the Prime Minister put the question of what was allowed to the Supreme Court in a case we now know as the Patriation Reference.
The Supreme Court had to answer many questions, but the main one was whether Ottawa was bound by law to get the consent of the provinces to amend the constitution. The Court said no.
Quebec wanted recognition of itself as a distinct society, a veto over constitutional amendments, as well as an opt out clause that would allow provinces an out of certain aspects of the constitution with some kind of compensation so they would not have to pay for any federal actions that were not in their interests. Lévesque and Quebec were denied, and the constitution was repatriated and entrenched without Quebec’s consent.
Two more attempts were made to get Quebec to sign the constitution, but both failed. As it has never consented to the current constitution, Quebec remains bound by it only because it remains part of Canada.
With Couillard’s announcement came the release of a two hundred page document outlining his government’s vision for Quebec and its place in Canada. The document cannot be called a plan because it sets no timeline for Quebec to sign and no step by step procedure his government would want to use.
The document has a lot of words, but says nothing of value.
It asserts the Quebecois identity as “our way of being Canadian” but when it comes to identifying the people of Quebec, the text limits them to four groups: French speakers, English speakers and the First Nations and Inuit. Allophones such as the Jews, the Greeks, the Italians, Eastern Europeans and the Asian communities who helped to build Quebec are almost completely left out.
The only time Allophones are mentioned in the text is in the context of “interculturalism” and “integration” which, when put together, sound dangerously like assimilation. Since Quebec policy treats Allophones as potential Francophones by making their children go to French school, this is hardly surprising. The text also fails to address the growing problem of Xenophobia in Quebec, which begs the question as to whether the document’s definition of the English Speaking Quebecois refers exclusively to white English-speakers in the province.
What Couillard’s document does do is reiterate what Quebec wants from a relationship with Canada as party to the constitution:
Recognition of the Quebec Nation
Respect for Quebec’s areas of jurisdiction
Flexibility and asymmetry
Cooperation and administrative agreements
This is all sealed together with the assertion that Quebec’s “full and complete participation in Canada” must come from a “concrete and meaningful recognition” of the province as “the only predominantly French-speaking state in North America and as such, heir to a rich and unique culture that must be protected, supported, and developed.”
Couillard’s plan to reopen the constitutional debate has been met with mixed feelings.
Bloc Québecois leader Martine Ouellet acknowledges that it’s a political move but welcomes it as an opportunity to reopen discussions about Quebec sovereignty. Though the Parti Québecois has decided to put aside the issue of sovereignty for the time being, leader Jean-François Lisée commended Couillard for acknowledging the need to address Quebec’s place within Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has more or less said it’s not a topic to be reopened, while Amir Khadir, an MNA for Québec Solidaire, claims it’s a ploy by the Couillard government to deflect attention from the scandals surrounding the Premier and his party.
It is Khadir’s interpretation of Couillard’s move that seems the most plausible. A simple Google search of Couillard’s name with the word “scandal” will reveal much about the shortcomings of his government. There is everything from the arrest of deputy-premier Nathalie Normandeau for corruption, to Quebec Health Minister Gaetan Barrette’s mismanagement of our health care system and Barrette’s defensive victim-blaming, to the police surveillance scandal, to the Bombardier executive bonus scandal available to learn about online. With his government up for reelection next year, there is much Couillard needs to deflect attention from.
Let’s not take the bait, and keep our eyes where they belong: not on a can of worms that should not be opened, but on the government holding the can opener.
When you look back on 2016, you may think of all the greats we lost like David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and, most recently, Carrie Fisher and her mom Debbie Reynolds. You may also remember it as the year the UK decided to leave the EU or the year the US decided to leave its senses politically.
No matter how you saw it, though, you have to admit that quite a bit happened. With that in mind, we take a look back at 2016 in the News.
As this post had two authors, parenthetical initials indicate if the section was written by Jason C. McLean (JCM) or Mirna Djukic (MD).
2016 was the first year of the post-Harper era and it was an agitated one in federal politics.
Justin Trudeau’s popularity soared for a while, still largely carried by the expectations built during his campaign and his undisputable quality of not being Stephen Harper. To his credit, he did score some significant points in his first months in office by immediately opening the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and rebuilding relationships with our neighbours (which gave us both the most hilarious handshake attempt of all time and the TrudObama Bromance).
One of the first flies in the ointment was the infamous #elbowgate incident in the House of Commons. Last May, the Prime Minister took it upon himself to escort Conservative Whip Gordon Brown through a cluster of opposition MPs in order to move the procedures along and accidentally elbowed NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau in the chest. This was perhaps a fairly embarrassing show of temper for the PM, but it degenerated into something out of a Shakespearian comedy in the following days, with Trudeau issuing apology after apology and the opposition throwing words like “molested” around.
Inopportune elbows aside, the Liberals took quite a few steps during the year that caused the public to question how different they really are from their predecessors. Not only did they go through with the $15 million arms sale to Saudi Arabia, but they also quietly changed the country’s policies about export controls to ensure that they could continue to trade arms with shady regimes with a lot less obstacles.
As for the Greens, they started the year as the underdogs who were doing unexpectedly well. The increased attention, though, revealed a world of messy internal struggles. These started when the party voted in favour of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Leader Elizabeth May disliked this so much that she considered resigning. (MD)
Indeed, discrepancies between the government’s discourse and their actions accumulated throughout the year. None was more flagrant than their attitude toward pipelines.
The Liberals campaigned on promises to restore the trust of Canadians in the Environmental Assessment Process, “modernize” the National Energy Board and make Canada a leader in the worldwide climate change fight. Trudeau was the first to admit that the current environmental assessment protocols were immensely flawed and he mandated a committee to review them.
While still waiting for their conclusions, though, he had no problem with major projects still being approved by that flawed process. He had no comments when it was revealed that the NEB board members in charge of reviewing Energy East had secretly met with TransCanada lobbyists nor when indigenous resistance against various projects started rising.
If he thought that the population was on his side, or that they would remain passive about it, he was sorely mistaken. In August, the NEB consultations about Energy East were shut down by protesters. Anger and mistrust towards the NEB only grew after that, with environmental groups calling for a complete overhaul.
None of this stopped the government from approving two contentious pipelines in late November. Both Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain project and Enbridge’s Line 3 were officially accepted. Fortunately, they did reject Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, which was set to go through the Great Bear Rain Forest. (MD)
2016 was the year that saw the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe emerge victorious (for the moment) over big energy and the North Dakota Government.
In July, Energy Transfer Partners got approval for the $3.78 Billion Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River at Lake Oahe, the tribe’s only source of drinking water. The plan also saw DAPL cut across sacred burial grounds.
The Standing Rock Sioux challenged this both in court and with water protectors on the front lines. They invited others to stand in solidarity with them and assembled the largest gathering of Native American tribes in decades.
Things came to a head on Labour Day Weekend early September when DAPL sent private corporate security to attack the water protectors with pepper spray and dogs. Democracy Now’s shocking footage of the incident got picked up by major networks and there finally was major media attention, for a while.
As more people joined the camp and solidarity actions, including Facebook Check-Ins from around the world, increased, corporate media interest waned. Meanwhile the Governor of North Dakota Jack Dalrymple activated the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, which brought law enforcement from ten different states to Standing Rock.
With most media focused on the elections, police used tear gas and water cannons on water protectors in freezing temperatures. The US Army Corps of Engineers sent an eviction notice demanding the camp be cleared by December 5th and roadblocks went up.
The Sioux Tribe’s infrastructure survived, however, and once 4000 veterans showed up in solidarity, the official stance changed. President Obama’s administration got the Army Corps to change its tune and deny the easement over Lake Oahe, meaning the DAPL will not go through Standing Rock, at least not until the Trump Administration takes office.
While their fight may not be over, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe did flip the script in 2016 and was even named FTB’s Person of the Year. (JCM)
Indigenous Issues in Canada
Meanwhile in Canada, indigenous issues did make their way a bit more to the forefront in 2016. The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women finally got underway September 1st.
While long overdue, the Inquiry will be independent of the Federal Government and has a budget of $53.86 million to be spent over two years. While overall optimistic, some in Canada’s First Nations communities are concerned that the scope of the inquiry is too broad, making it easy to not investigate police forces and specific cases.
Quebec is considering its own inquiry. It’s needed, especially when you consider that the Sûreté du Québec (SQ) treated accusations that its officers were assaulting native women in Val d’Or by going after Radio-Canada and its journalists for reporting on the story and no one else.
Meanwhile, conditions in many First Nations communities continued to deteriorate. An indigenous police force in Ontario even recommended its own disbanding for lack of proper funding. (JCM)
The provincial government keeps slowly but steadily dropping in the polls. According to a Léger-Le Devoir poll conducted in November, the Liberals hit their lowest approval rating since the 2012 crisis. With only 31% of the intended vote, they are now barely 1% ahead of the PQ.
The fact that they did reach a budgetary surplus as a result doesn’t seem to have calmed the popular discontent. The shadow of past corruption scandals also remains.
Couillard assured the public that none of the scandals happened under his watch and that his administration is fully committed to fighting corruption. This commitment was, however, brought into question by a recent report which accuses the government of lagging behind on the Charbonneau recommendations.
In any case, the party was left in turmoil. It wasn’t long before another of its prominent figures left. Bernard Drainville, champion of the infamous Charte des valeurs, but also a major architect of the party’s policies and democratic reforms, decided it was time to call it quits. In a slightly surreal move, he announced that he was retiring from politics to co-animate Éric Duhaime’s notoriously salacious radio show.
Those who had hoped that his departure would help the PQ move toward a better relationship with minorities and immigrants were disillusioned by the conclusion of the leadership race. Veteran Jean-François Lisée and his divisive views on immigration won by a landslide, while the favorite, Alexandre Cloutier was left in the dust with Martine Ouellet and Paul Saint-Pierre Plamondon.
However, let’s not forget that Quebec’s political scene is not limited to the two major parties. In fact, a new player is preparing to enter it before the next election. FTB learned that a provincial NDP is in the works, hoping to provide the voters with a progressive option that doesn’t aim for Quebec’s independence. (MD)
Rape culture neither started nor ended in 2016, but it did seem to find its way to our newsfeed frighteningly often.
First came the disappointing conclusion of the Gomeshi trial in May. The fact that a celebrity with so much airtime on the CBC and elsewhere had been sexually harassing his colleague for years and committing multiple sexual assaults while his entourage and superiors turned a blind eye was outraging enough on its own. The fact that four counts of sexual assault and one of overcoming resistance by choking pretty much ended with a slap on the wrist from the court was worse. It made it very hard to keep pretending that our institutions and our society were not rigged to protect aggressors and silence victims.
Barely a month later, as if to demonstrate the scale of the problem, there was the Brock Turner case. Turner, a 20 year old student athlete at Stanford and a perfect mix of white, male and class privilege, was standing trial for raping a young woman on campus. Caught in the act by other students, he was found guilty. This could have landed him in prison for more than a decade, but he got six months in a county jail (he only served three).
A horrible event brought the discussion about rape culture a lot closer to home for many Quebecers in the fall. Multiple attackers entered the dorms of Université Laval and assaulted several students during one night in October. This sparked a wave of compassion and awareness with province-wide protests.
During a solidarity vigil in Quebec city, a young student named Alice Paquet revealed that she was raped by Liberal MNA Gerry Sklavounos back in 2012. Despite an onslaught of victim blaming and skepticism, Paquet decided to finally press charges, and her lawsuit is now in front of the Directeur des Poursuites Criminelles et Pénales. The latter will decide if the case goes to court. (MD)
US Presidential Election
For most of the year, politicos everywhere, including here in Canada, were glued to what was transpiring in the US Presidential Election. And for good reason, it was an interesting one, to say the least.
First there was the hope of some real and unexpected change in the form of the political revolution Bernie Sanders was promising. The upstart Vermont senator managed to go from basically nothing to winning 23 states in the Primaries and even got to meet with the Pope, but that wasn’t enough to beat the largest political machine out there and the Democratic Party establishment’s chosen candidate Hillary Clinton.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump, another upstart candidate, though one of the secretly pro-corporate and openly far-right variety, easily clinched the Republican nomination. With the exception of a bit of plagiarism on opening night and the whole Ted Cruz non-endorsement incident, the GOP Convention was quite unified behind Trump.
The Democratic National Convention was a completely different story. Sanders delegates booed speakers endorsing Clinton and connected to the Trans-Pacific Partnership and even left the room in protest when Clinton officially won the nomination.
The ensuing General Election campaign went back and forth for a few months with each candidate having their ups and downs. Clinton’s health rumours and Wikileaks revelations and Trump’s…well, his being Donald Trump.
Well, on Election Day, the unthinkable happened. The ideal “pied piper candidate” the Democrats had sought to elevate, because he would be so easy to beat, ended up beating their “inevitable” future President.
The bogeyman came out from under the bed and was elected to office. The joke went from funny to scary. Failed casino owner and third-rate reality star Donald Trump won the Electoral College vote and became President Elect of the United States.
As Trump started building his brand new bubble filled with climate change deniers, corporate execs and white supremacists, the fight against him in the streets started and shows no signs of stopping in 2017. The real question is now: will the Democrats change gear and become a progressive alternative or stay the establishment course that led them to defeat at the hands of an orange carnival barker? (JCM)
At least Montreal didn’t spend 2016 electing a frequently cartoonish populist who doesn’t listen to experts. We had already done that back in 2013.
This was the year, though, that our Mayor, Denis Coderre, really started to shine. And by shine I mean make Montreal nationally and even globally famous for some really bad decisions and ideas.
2015 ended with the Mayor dumping untreated sewage right into the river. With that out of the way, 2016 was going to be the year where we planned for our big 375th Anniversary in 2017.
Coderre’s focus was squarely somewhere else in the last half of the year, though. After a 55-year-old woman was killed by a dog in June, Coderre tabled rather extreme Breed-Specific Legislation aimed at pit bulls, despite no initial proof that a pit bull was the culprit (and the later revelation that it absolutely wasn’t).
There were protests and even international condemnation, including that of celebrities like Cyndi Lauper. Coderre would hear none of it, though, even ordering the mic cut on an citizen during a City Council meeting.
When the so-called Pit Bull Ban, officially the Montreal Animal Control Bylaw, became law in September, the proverbial other shoe dropped. People started picking up on some of the other aspects of it, in particular the fines and fees and the fact that it covered other breeds of dog and cats, too.
The SPCA got a temporary injunction on the “dangerous breeds” aspects of the law in early October which was overturned on appeal in December. The bylaw comes into full effect March 31, 2017, at which point the SPCA will no longer deal with stray dogs or accept owner surrenders.
In September, another project met with a legal obstacle. Turns out fines Société de transport de Montréal (STM) security officers were handing out constituted a human rights violation.
While the STM will be appealing the Montreal Municipal Court decision, for now at least, they’re not supposed to be sending out squads of transit cops acting as glorified revenue generators. In practice, though, we’ve heard reports they’re still doing it.
What was really surprising was that the SPVM got warrants for this surveillance. What was not surprising at all is how high this probably went. Police Chief Philippe Pichet must have known, and he was handpicked by Mayor Coderre a few years prior.
2016 continued the sad tradition of police murdering innocent people of colour for no good reason and getting away with it (for the most part). The Black Lives Matter movement also continued to speak out against these killings.
There were two such murders in early July very close together, to the point where it was possible to confuse notification of one with the other. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile died at the hands of police in different cities in different states within 24 hours of each other.
In Dallas, Texas, a lone sniper, not part of the peaceful protest, decided to murder nine police officers, which, of course, became a national tragedy and an excuse for the right wing to incorrectly attack BLM.
In September, following the police murder of Keith Lamont Scott, the city of Charlotte, North Carolina erupted. There were days of protest and the governor declared a state of emergency on the second night.
There is sadly no sign that any of this will change in 2017, especially given the positions of the incoming administration on race and police. (JCM)
Sadly, this year was marked by the continuing conflict in Syria. Dictator Bashar al-Assad has again been accused of deliberately targeting civilians. The carnage in Aleppo reached new heights as the regime’s forces renewed their assault, driving residents to send their goodbyes over social media.
Local groups have been fighting the rising terrorist factions in Syria, namely the now famous Kurd “women’s protection unit”, also known as YPJ. However, despite their important role, their status with the international community is on shaky ground. One YPJ fighter is currently detained in Denmark under terrorism charges. (MD)
So that’s our look back at 2016 in the news. Here’s hoping for overall more uplifting stories in 2017!
“The government’s response to the recommendations of the commission is, thus far, unsatisfactory,” concluded the first report of the public monitoring committee on the Charbonneau Commission.
One year after the commission ended, only 15 of its 60 recommendations have been implemented “in a satisfying manner.” Nine have been partially followed and 36 have yet to be responded to. “The government must do better,” urged committee member Martine Valois in a press release.
The committee looks harshly upon Quebec’s approach to two of Charbonneau’s leading recommendations.
The first is the creation of an independent authority to regulate the management of public contracts. The Autorité des marches publics (AMP), as defined by bill 108, “will have neither the independence nor the powers and functions necessary to act effectively,” states the report.
The committee still supports the creation of the AMP. However, it denounced the limited scope of its functions and its lack of coercive powers. It further asserted that the method for selecting the director endangers the AMP’s independence.
The committee also criticised bill 87, sold to the public as significant protection for whistle-blowers. The bill already caused controversy by not covering municipal nor private sector employees and encouraging internal denunciation instead of transparency. This bill and other measures intended to regulate the professional workplace “clearly do not go far enough,” the committee estimated.
The government’s best effort was in the area of cleaning up political financing. They fulfilled 8 out the 12 recommendations in that regard.
This is mainly a result of bills 83 and 101, adopted in June. Thanks to those, party chiefs and MNAs are increasingly forced to take responsibility for their team’s financing practices. Also, loans to politicians must now be under $5000 at the municipal level and under $25 000 at the provincial level.
The public monitoring committee for the Charbonneau Commission is a popular initiative. It has seven official members from various backgrounds, including Westmount Mayor Peter Trent and ex Liberal MNA Gilles Ouimet. Three professors, one ex-researcher of the Charbonneau Commission and the president of Transparency International Canada also sit with them. It will produce a second follow-up report on November 23rd 2017.
When ex-Minister Natalie Normandeau was arrested last March, the Couillard administration had declared its strong commitment to implementing Charbonneau’s recommendations. Members of the cabinet have not yet reacted to the follow-up report.
Premier Philippe Couillard appeared in a live interactive interview on Radio-Canada (French CBC) Wednesday night. It was the first time a Premier tried such an exercise and he didn’t have an easy time of it. Throughout the 60 minute interview, Couillard was confronted with the consequences of what he still refuses to call austerity.
“I don’t like (that term) because it’s inexact,” Couillard maintained. “when we talk about austerity, we think about other examples in Europe, where the ministries’ budgets were massively cut. I am repeating that we never diminished the budget of any ministry. We augmented them more slowly, that’s true, but we’re light-years away from what happened in Greece, England or Spain.”
It is true that every ministry’s spending in absolute numbers went up. When inflation and the normal growth of population are factored in, however, it still means that affected sectors have less money to do more.
It is quite fortunate for Couillard that he refrained from claiming, as he often did in the past, that those measures wouldn’t affect services to the population. It would have put him in quite an awkward position when the questions from the public came in. People from every part of Quebec called and shared stories about jobs lost to budget cuts and children with learning disabilities without access to proper educators.
“I am living with the rigour” said a woman who lost her job after government cut subsidies for rural employment programs, “I have exhausted my unemployment benefit and I see the specter of welfare on the horizon.”
Monique Loubry, who spent 30 years as a nurse in CHSLDs, observed “chronic deficits in staff and material.” When she asked what concrete measures would be taken to improve the situation, the Premier had two answers: optimize the management and make sure that government finances were being handled carefully. Investing in care for senior citizens will be a priority “as soon as the ‘compressions’ (meant to be less harsh than ‘coupures’ though both translate as ‘cuts’ in English) give enough financial room to the government, he assured.
Mrs Loubry was not convinced: “I have nothing against virtue, Sir, but until there are concrete numbers on the table and quality standards set, I will be waiting.”
In fact, the Premier’s responses to concerns about healthcare, state-funded kindergartens and education were all roughly the same: the lack of funding was a lesser problem than the inadequate management of it and reinvestment will come when Quebec will have made sufficient room for it in the budget.
Even if he delivered his responses as confidently as ever, he is facing growing skepticism. According to the Léger-Le Devoir survey published last week, an all-time high of 68% of Quebeckers are unsatisfied with the Couillard administration.
Half-way through his mandate, the PM’s appearance on national television was an admittedly courageous attempt to connect with the population, but not a successful one. While Couillard’s persistence in talking about “compressions” and “rigour” instead of budget cuts and austerity might have been reassuring once, it now only seems to emphasize his disconnect with the people’s reality.
For over a year, opponents of austerity measures in Quebec have been searching for a way to prove, once and for all, that there was no actual need for all the public sector cuts Philippe Couillard was imposing on all of us. That proof just came in the form of an announcement by…wait for it…Philippe Couillard.
They’re doing this while cutting spending pretty much everywhere else: teachers, firefighter pensions, even the police. Why? Because they have to. Times are tough economically after all, and we all need to tighten our belts.
Well, not all of us, it seems. Members of Quebec’s National Assembly (MNAs), including those in Couillard’s ruling Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ), were already set to receive a “generous” salary increase and now a billion-dollar corporation, represented by one time PLQ MNA and Finance Minister, now lobbyist Raymond Bachand, is set to receive a huge chunk of cash from the Quebec Government.
I have nothing against Bombardier. It’s a company that employs roughly 15 000 people in Quebec. The aerospace industry, as Couillard said in defense of the bailout, is something we should be proud of and try to keep here.
There is nothing wrong with giving a little help to a local company in need when they operate in an industry that is important and pays workers well. While the concept of public funds going to a for-profit corporation, or corporate welfare, irks me and many others, it isn’t the real problem here.
What is absolutely appalling is the blatant dishonesty the Couillard administration still continues to perpetuate. If they just came out and said that they were trying to re-engineer Quebec into a society that was very friendly to corporations with an extremely limited public service and wanted to transfer funds out of the public sector to do it, no matter the human cost, well, fine.
No, not fine. People would revolt. I would revolt. But at least it would be an honest stance, and one that could be fought against on the level of what is best for Quebec.
Instead, the Couillard Government still continues to insist that austerity in the public sector is a necessity. Something they have to do. Bullshit. It’s what they want to do. The Bombardier bailout proves that.
They can find $1.32 billion and give it away to a corporation if they really want to, overnight it seems. Maintaining a strong public sector just isn’t something they’re interested in doing.
Maybe they actually thought people wouldn’t put things together. Maybe they actually see a Bombardier bailout as something completely unrelated to the protests happening in the streets because of their cuts.
It could be because, in PLQ circles, they are different. Corporate welfare is needed because corporations, and the friends of PLQ MNAs who run them, need to thrive. Civil servants need to tighten their belts, because after all, they’re not donating to the party’s fundraising campaigns.
If Couillard and his crew believe their own hype that much, they are in for a wake-up call. If they know what’s really going on and are spinning it their own way, hoping people won’t realize, well, they just miscalculated.
Austerity is not a necessity, it’s a strategy. Philippe Couillard just proved that.
Earlier this week, American actor Thomas Lennon (Reno 911, Night at the Museum), amused by the bathroom television in his Vancouver hotel room tweeted a nude selfie along with the following message:
“Nude selfies with the TV screen built into the hotel mirror make things complicated, like this man who now bears the face of my junk for now.”
The man in question is none other than Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard. The original tweet seems to have been removed (not sure if Couillard had anything to do that), but Lennon had also posted it on Instagram and Clique du Plateau had screen-grabbed it.
So enjoy that you can now say the premier of Quebec is literally a dickhead, at least according to one American actor’s social media.
Over the past year all three major provinces have casted their ballots in provincial elections. Now, with the Ontario provincial campaign in full swing, the messages and surely the rhetoric used in these three campaigns is a clear indicator of what to expect of the next federal campaign. One frantic urge was at the core of the political discourse that vibrated throughout these distant and divergent political settings, setting the tone for the general political discourse to come: the urge to reduce the deficit and balance the budget.
The discourse of the main proponents —Liberals in BC and QC, the Conservatives in Ontario— hardly changed in any substantial manner. A mash-up of Couillards, Clarks and Hudaks economical bullet points would be a very suave playlist for the austerity ravers out there. Going from one to another, you can hardly tell who’s who.
On the other hand, the Canadian public under the auspices of the mainstream media, has apparently been engulfed in an era of wasteful usage of “taxpayers” money. Whether it be the Senate Scandal and its various repercussions on the federal level, the mismanagement of the Ontario Liberals and the Commission Charbonneau in Quebec, waste is portrayed as a sordid affair of political corruption, an accident that occurs when dishonest people attain the high statures of public office. The discourse of the proponents of balanced budgets and zero deficits is quite simple because of such past waste on behalf of a few greedy individuals. We’ll all just have to tighten our belts and bear with the horrendous cuts to public services while we put things back on the right track.
The problem with such a fable is that corruption is seen through a lens that overemphasizes the individuality, while completely occulting the systemic aspect of corruption. With this in perspective, to truly grasp the meaning of the balanced budgets and deficits rhetoric, one must first build from the assumption that Canadian public governance has a severe addiction to debt and it must go through detox.
When accepting the premises of austerity measures, the first question that arises is how and for whom? For the champions of austerity such as Hudak & Co, welfare fraud, welfare “handouts”, a bloated public bureaucracy, and unnecessary public programs aren’t just strains to growth and prosperity, but are also the main vector of debt, and austerity is the act of cutting those chains. Unfortunately for them, statistics beg to differ.
In many ways the liberalization of the Canadian financial markets are the main sponsors of the Canadian debt clock, which among other things has allowed Canadian banks to stash billions of dollars in their savings accounts, as well as subsidizing multinational oil, gas, and mining companies, and the reduced pressure on tax evasion that has had the direct consequence the fruition of the highest amount of Canadian dollars in tax havens in history.
Compared to this welfare fraud, the expenses that public healthcare or education and social programs might incur are meaningless. The premises of austerity – the cuts to public services, the privatization of public goods – is irrelevant because it identifies a problem and offers an inadequate solution.
Would this be out of malice or out of ignorance? The austerity fable is a means towards an end; the end of privatizing the last socialized remains of the Canadian state or the (insert name of province here) state. Balanced budgets and zero deficits are myths; they belong to the realm of tall-tales and thus, they have become god like creatures of which we mere mortals can barely comprehend unless having an MBA or a Master in Economics from the Chicago School.
The only way to create vital space for any alternative discourse to the current oppressive austerity fable is to demystify the storyline. This would allow everyone to see balanced budgets and deficits for what they truly are: a set of choices – not fatality – to put profits over people.
Unfortunately many left-wing parties mistakenly have thought that they could fight fire with fire – that they could somehow change the game by using the same rules. The fable of austerity is nothing more than a creation myth that abstracts the human element from economics. It’s the justification for a system of corruption that transforms socialized goods into private capital, and economical and social rights into privileges for those that can afford it. The only way to build a just society is to strip balanced budgets and deficits of their god-like attire and make them human again.
So how do I feel about the Quebec 2014 election results? Hmm, well, that’s a tough one. Really, it is.
I’ll break it down for you:
The Good: Xenophobia lost hardcore
This election may be remembered as a historic loss for the PQ and an end to Pauline Marois’ long political career, but that’s not the real story. This was primarily a rejection of the Charter, state-sanctioned xenophobia and the politics of ethnic and cultural division. And that is a very good thing.
Marois wasn’t elected to ban hijabs and turbans and when she staked her re-election on it, she lost resoundingly. I doubt the PQ, or any other Quebec political party for that matter, will try using extreme identity politics again.
I’m proud that the place I call home won’t be known internationally as the racist part of Canada for much longer. That was sooo 2007.
I’d also like to congratulate Manon Massé for winning in Sainte Marie-St-Jacques. Quebec Solidaire now has three MNAs and a strong, committed activist now has a voice in the National Assembly.
The Duh: Liberal Victory
It makes sense. After PKP’s fist bump and Marois desperately trotting out Charter supporters who apparently had no clue what the proposed law was supposed to do (seriously, Janette Bertrand needs a better rental agreement and maybe a psychiatrist, not a government edict) it became apparent that the PQ was going to lose power.
I know that barring a political wave (they do happen here from time to time), Quebec wasn’t ready for a QS or Green government and the CAQ was fast becoming redundant. That leaves the Liberals.
I was fully expecting a Liberal victory and thought the prospect of Couillard as premier for a bit was a necessary evil that I could endure. Except…
The Bad: It’s a Liberal Majority
I like a minority government situation. It forces the party in power to either work with the other parties and by extension the voters who put them there or pull a Marois and try to re-work the social fabric and go out in a blaze of wealthy Islamic fundamentalist McGill students stealing your pool time.
It also sends a strong message about voter intentions. Giving an opposition party minority government status is more a rejection of the outgoing party than approval of the incoming one.
In 2012, people voted against Jean Charest, Bill 78 and his austerity agenda more than they voted for the PQ. It was clear to almost everyone except Marois, but then again, she also thought the Charter was a good idea and believed that PKP wouldn’t stab her in the back, not the sharpest tack in the drawer.
If this time around the result had been a Liberal minority, it would have been clear that people voted against Marois and the Charter and the Liberals happened to benefit. Instead we have a majority and the Couillard can claim to have a mandate from voters, because, well, he does.
A few months from now, very few will remember how we ended up with the PLQ in power. When Couillard passes austerity measure after austerity measure, tries to privatize healthcare and raise tuition again, there won’t be anyone standing up saying “dude, you’re only here because the last premier was a racist nutjob and an international embarrassment.”
Couillard isn’t Jean Charest. He’s more of a placeholder PLQ leader who found himself with a majority government because of a strategically inept PQ. I can only hope he recognizes that and doesn’t try to foist an agenda on people who were, for the most part, listening to what the PQ was saying when they voted Liberal.
If instead he tries to be Charest, we’re in for four years of social unrest that may make the Maple Spring look like a day in the park.