Host Jason C. McLean and Special Guest Samantha Gold discuss Quebec Premier François Legault’s seemingly immovable and uncaring paternalistic approach to pandemic management (and a bit of Montreal politics too).
Catherine Dorion Doesn’t Work in the Corporate Sector. Why Should She Have to Dress Like She Does?
Québec solidaire MNA Catherine Dorion has been in the news quite a bit over the past couple of weeks. And it all has to do with her wardrobe choices.
Known for wearing what many call casual clothing when on the floor of the National Assembly, the elected official for Taschereau decided to flip the script for Halloween. She posted a photo of herself dressed in business attire, the common go-to look for MNAs, on her Facebook page as her Halloween costume.
It was a clever move and all in good fun. Of course it drew the ire of incredibly vulgar and mysoginistic trolls online, but it also drew official condemnation from the Quebec Liberal Party.
They took issue with the fact that she was sitting on the Speaker’s desk in the photo and wanted an official inquiry (while really wanting relevance for their failing brand). But that wasn’t the outfit choice that got Dorion in trouble.
Denied the Right to Represent Her Constituents
Fast-forward to yesterday. Dorion showed up at the National Assembly to represent her constituents as she was elected to do. She was wearing a hoodie, a fact that is only relevant because some as of yet unknown MNAs complained to the Speaker and she was kicked out of the Blue Room, the room she needs to be in to discuss and vote on laws.
Catherine Dorion critiquée pour son coton ouaté au Salon bleuhttps://t.co/vuW8BuxNxF pic.twitter.com/XNpbHMKPEy— Eve- Catherine (@EveCatherine_) November 8, 2019
According to Deputy Speaker Chantal Soucy:
“We have a decorum to respect, we reminded her of it several times, it was time to draw a line. She was not wearing clothing worthy of an MNA within the Blue Room.”Chantal Soucy in a statement to the press
Now, putting aside, for a moment, the Quebec Government’s ongoing and borderline fetishistic obsession with what women wear, which really is at the root of this, what happened on Thursday was a disgusting attack on democracy. People in the Taschereau riding had no voice in the National Assembly yesterday and it was in no way their representative’s fault.
If Soucy’s statement seems lacking of any reference to an actual rule Dorion was breaking, it’s because there isn’t one. Quebec’s National Assembly doesn’t have an official dress code, nor should it.
Why is Corporate Attire the Norm for Government?
When people commenting on the story in support of barring Dorion reference the fact that they would be sent home for coming to work dressed as she was forget one crucial fact. They work, most likely, in a corporate office, while Dorion doesn’t.
The business world has its dress code, so do farms, so do transit workers and so do police. If a banker shows up in jeans, they will be sent home. If a farm worker shows up in a suit, they’re in for a sweaty day and torn clothes. If a cop wears camo pants to work, it’s a protest.
Dorion showing up in a hoodie, Doc Martens or jeans and a t-shirt isn’t a protest, or at least it shouldn’t have to be one. Elected officials are supposed to represent the people, not corporations.
When Dorion wears a t-shirt promoting Franco-Ontarian poet Patrice Desbiens produced by Quebec writer Mathieu Arsenault on the floor of the National Assembly, she’s doing just that. When she wears a hoodie, there may not be a particular reason, she’s just wearing a hoodie, and that’s fine.
I wear hoodies sometimes, too. I don’t wear Doc Martens, but that doesn’t mean someone who does isn’t representative of me when speaking in the National Assembly.
Why is business formal or even business casual the default dress when it comes to elected officials? If the argument for is that they are conducting the “business of the state” which includes things like budgets, then it’s important to note that non-profit co-ops and other organizations without corporate dress codes also deal with budgets.
Insisting that corporate dress is the only way for a politician to appear professional is an implication that, for them, professionalism means serving corporate interests. This is sometime Catherine Dorion clearly doesn’t want to do and we should applaud her for it.
The Practical Applications of the So-Called Quebec Values Test
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
Jagmeet Singh Redefining Quebec’s Religious Symbol Ban May Be What the NDP Needs
Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh just put a new face on the opposition to Quebec’s religious symbol ban: his own.
In an interview with CBC Radio Montreal’s Daybreak, host Mike Finnerty asked him about the new CAQ government’s promise vigorously enforce a religious symbol ban and fire civil servants (police, teachers, etc.) who wear religious symbols on the job. While most of the public focus has been on Muslim women who wear the hijab, Singh, a Sikh, who wears a turban and kirpan (Ceremonial dagger), would also be affected by this ban if he was a Quebec civil servant:
Singh responded to this the best way possible, Sure, he couldn’t very well have said that wearing a turban is fine for Prime Minister but not a schoolteacher, but it’s still good that he’s taking a solid stand. It’s also quite politically savvy of him to refer to the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms when asked about the Canadian one.
This is way better than the “I don’t like it personally, but you’ve got to respect the courts” message former NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair put out during the last federal election. Sure, the Bloc Québécois was attacking the NDP over their opposition to the Harper Government’s challenge to a court ruling that allowed women to wear a niqab at citizenship ceremonies, but they were doing it viscerally and Mulcair responded with an appeal to respect judicial rulings and an attempt at partial appeasement.
Not sure what he was thinking, really. The staunch bigots were going to return to the Bloc regardless, unless the NDP changed its stance, which wasn’t going to happen. Progressives, on the other hand, were looking for stronger anti-Harper messaging.
Justin Trudeau, our current Prime Minister who won a Majority Government with more than a handful of seats in Quebec, including some former Bloc strongholds that had flipped to the NDP in the 2011 Orange Wave, had this to say on the subject at the time:
“You can dislike the niqab. You can hold it up it is a symbol of oppression. You can try to convince your fellow citizens that it is a choice they ought not to make. This is a free country. Those are your rights. But those who would use the state’s power to restrict women’s religious freedom and freedom of expression indulge the very same repressive impulse that they profess to condemn. It is a cruel joke to claim you are liberating people from oppression by dictating in law what they can and cannot wear.”
That was bold. That was principled. That’s what someone not politically timid and completely controlled by advisers who favour the safe choice says.
Too bad he turned out to also be a total shill for Big Oil, which, incidentally, was the other part of the Bloc’s attack on the NDP in 2015 (Muclair was kinda wishy washy on pipelines). The Bloc actually released an ad with an oil pipleline dripping crude that turned into a niqab.
Eco-left and hard right in the same ad. Only in Quebec, I guess.
This is a strange place politically. We embrace leftist ideals and inclusiveness on many issues, but then go and elect a reactionary provincial government that promises a form of exclusion that even Trump hasn’t tried.
I think Singh gets this. That’s why he made a point of mentioning his support of LGBTQ and women’s rights and that Conservative leader Andrew Scheer wants to head in the other direction along with his opposition to the religious symbol ban.
Singh, and everyone else, knows that the Bloc is imploding, this time with no outside help. He wants to make it clear to Bloc supporters jumping ship that voting Conservative means supporting a bunch of things that they may not be ready to get behind. They can’t greenwash or pinkwash their bigotry this time.
What’s most interesting, though, is how Singh is attempting to redefine the ban on religious symbols as anti-secular. During the interview (not during the clip above), he said:
There’s no way to say that you’re not supporting one identity or other, because there are certain identities that don’t require a kippa. But there are other identities that have headgear. I think it’s a hard argument to make, that one is more neutral than the other, because there’s always a certain tradition that may not have headgear and one that may or may not have a certain way of dress. I think that the point should be that we we have a society that is secular through the values that we promote — that sets freedom and access to justice for all. That there’s no barriers based on who you are. Those are the ways that we ensure that it is a secular society.
He’s right. Secularism means no state religion, not the state banning individuals, including those working for the state, from wearing the garments of their religion on the job while at the same time keeping a symbol of one religion on display in the National Assembly.
Singh is also reminding Quebecers that Muslim women who wear hijabs aren’t the only ones targeted by this ban. Sikhs who wear turbans like him and Jews who wear kippahs are also in the crosshairs, if not in the spotlight.
Will this bold strategy work? Honestly, who knows. Quebec politics are always a gamble.
Sure, a recent poll showed that nearly two thirds of Quebecers are in favour of a religious symbol ban, but that poll doesn’t show how many of them consider it an important enough issue to base their vote on. Maybe the CAQ won in spite of their bigotry, not because of it.
One thing is clear, though: trying to play it safe by appeasing the hard right while running as a left alternative is a recipe for disaster, especially in Quebec. When Mulcair tried it, he effectively turned Trudeau into the principled, inclusive opposition to the Bloc and, in the eyes of the rest of Canada, Harper. At least Singh won’t make that mistake.
Whether this stance translates into a better Quebec performance for the NDP has yet to be seen. Regardless, Jagmeet Singh speaking out against the religious symbol ban and redefining what it means is what the federal NDP needs.
* Featured image Creative Commons via OFL Communications Department
The Bright Side: A Look at Some of the Positives of the 2018 Quebec Election
It’s been over a week since the Quebec election and many people are still upset. There has already been one protest in Montreal with scores of people chanting “Legault has to go!”
Anglophones, Allophones, and many Francophones are saddened by the election of a government they consider to be racist and xenophobic, a reflection of the most abominable forces within Quebec society.
This article is not going to dispute or affirm that. I saved that for my previous article. In this bleak season plagued by lousy, unpredictable weather, and the ever-looming threat of catching a cold or flu at work or on public transit, I want to focus on the positives for a change. We need reasons to hope, so I’m going to try and give you some by pointing out all the positives that came out of this election.
A Good Election for Women
On October 1, 2018 a record number of female candidates were elected, taking up fifty-two seats, making up 41.6% of Quebec’s National Assembly. This is not to say that they will always act in women’s best interests.
Most of the women elected were white and secular and members of the Coalition Avenir du Québec (CAQ), so whether they will address the needs of women of colour and religious minority women in a way doesn’t scream of condescending white feminism remains to be seen. That said, representation matters and seeing more women in office will encourage others to run and tell more girls that they can pursue a political career in Quebec.
Possibly Killing the Sovereignty Debate
Quebec is a distinct society. We are distinct because the majority speak French and were oppressed by English speakers for a century. We are distinct because for a shameful period our in history, religious leaders actively cooperated with the government to keep the people meek.
Fear of assimilation into English speaking Canada is as Quebecois as the cuss word tabarnac. For the longest time, it was thought that the only way to avoid assimilation was for Quebec to secede from Canada. We’ve had two failed referenda and a Supreme Court decision about this (Google the “Secession Reference”). This election seems to prove what most Montrealers have known all along: that sovereignty is dead.
The Parti Québécois (PQ), Quebec’s main sovereigntist party, was decimated in this election. They were defeated mostly by the CAQ, which ran on a platform of more autonomy for Quebec, but within Canada. Though Québec Solidaire (QS) took the most seats from the PQ on the Island of Montreal, the two parties with the most seats – the CAQ and the Liberals (PLQ), respectively, ran on platforms that Quebec should remain in confederation.
The Rise of QS
For the longest time the PQ seemed to be the only left-leaning voice in Quebec that had a shot at becoming our government. They campaigned on platforms of gradually introducing free post-secondary education and updating the Labour Code in favor of striking workers.
At they same time, they campaigned on right wing platforms like aggressive secularism, but shied away from a stance on immigration by saying they’d go with whatever the Auditor General recommended. Many PQ voters, feeling that the PQ didn’t go far enough in their hostility to immigration and religious minorities, took their votes elsewhere. left-leaning voters opted instead for Québec Solidaire.
QS is a leftist sovereigntist feminist party. They are the only main party to campaign on a platform that included fighting systemic racism and addressing discrimination in healthcare. Their environmental platform was the most complete of any of the four major parties.
During the debates, QS spokesperson Manon Massé rolled her eyes while the male candidates argued and when she spoke, she did so clearly but without pretension; many feel that her calm won the day. QS also made some of the greatest efforts to campaign on university campuses, getting disillusioned young people out to vote.
The PQ only recognized Québec Solidaire as a threat towards the end of their campaign and it cost them. On election night, QS got one seat more than the Parti Québécois in the National Assembly (they are now tied after recounts), and came in second in ridings like Notre-Dame-de Grace. While the Parti Québécois has lost official party status, Québec Solidaire has nowhere to go but up.
Some Parts of the CAQ Platform
Though there is well-deserved open hostility to the CAQ, especially in Montreal, I feel it is necessary to point out some of the better aspects of their platform.
First, with regards to healthcare, it is utterly ridiculous that in 2018 when we can order anything from donuts to computers online, we still have to navigate obnoxious phone systems just to get a doctor’s appointment. The CAQ’s healthcare platform includes making it so that we can make doctors’ appointments online. They also call for better access to first line healthcare to alleviate the burdens on emergency rooms, which currently have wait times of up to 30 hours.
The CAQ also wants to make conditions better for nurses, hiring more of them full-time, eliminating mandatory overtimes, and revising nurse-to-patient ratios. Since everything from blood taking to bandages to administering medication often falls to nurses, supporting them is key to improving the health care system.
The CAQ plan to invest more in our infrastructure. Anyone who drives knows our roads and highways are a disaster, so the ten billion they proposed over eleven years would give them a much-needed overhaul. They also want to invest in electrical transportation and innovation to create jobs and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
Things may look bleak right now, but it’s not all that bad. Keep hoping and keep fighting and we can build a better Quebec together.
* Featured image of Québec Solidaire co-spokespeople Manon Massé and Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois on election night via socialist.ca
Quebec Election 2018: A Crash Course on Some Smaller Parties
If one could describe the Quebec Elections with one word, it would likely be disillusionment. Many voters agree that Premier Couillard has been doing a lousy job, but many within that camp will vote for him anyway due to fear of separatism and/or the exacerbation of ethnic and language tensions that would likely come from a Parti Québécois or Coalition Avenir du Québec government. Québec Solidaire is an appealing option for others, but their sovereigntist stance is a big turnoff for those of us tired of hearing it.
One could always vote for a smaller political party. It’s a risky move, not only because these parties are less likely to get seats in the National Assembly, but also because it takes votes and influence away from a major party which you might actually agree with on a few things. One could even argue that it’s throwing your vote away.
That said, it’s a free country, and knowledge is power so I’m going to give you a crash course on some of the smaller parties running in this election. There are lots of them, so for the purposes of this article, I will be talking about the three that are campaigning just as hard as the larger parties: the Quebec Conservatives, the Quebec NDP, the provincial Green Party. Plus I’ve included the Bloc Pot, as we are on the eve of marijuana legalization.
As per the previous article, I plan to focus on their positions on health care, the economy/education/employment, culture, and the environment.
The Green Party of Quebec is distinct from the Federal party of the same name and identifies itself as Leftist Federalist. Their healthcare platform focuses on prevention. Here are some highlights of their plan:
- Institute a province-wide campaign to reduce meat consumption given its effects on health
- Encourage doctors and pharmacists to suggest physical activity and healthy eating instead of medication – a plan that has its merits but runs the risk of alienating and harming people with conditions that require regular medication
- Reduce ER overcrowding by boosting walk-in clinics and hiring more staff for them
- Faster access to psychiatric services and follow-ups and increased access to mental health services for First Nations
The Conservative Party of Quebec is also distinct from the federal party of a similar name and claims as its core value “the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual against the encroachments of the all-powerful State”. Here are some of their proposals for our struggling health care system:
- Pay hospitals per treatment as per an activity-based funding model – with revenue depending on how many patients they attract
- Allow doctors to work in the private sector provided they work a minimum of thirty five hours a week in the public healthcare system
- Encourage new forms of hospital management and ownership including hospitals belonging to non-profit cooperatives or for-profit businesses
- Establish a public ranking of hospitals to be published annually with performance indicators including clinical outcomes, quality of care and hospital services
- Allow hospitals to sign contracts with their physicians to establish doctors fees and working conditions
The Bloc Pot is the political party calling for a sensible and comprehensive province wide drug policy. Here’s their stance on health:
- Encourage research on the positive effects of medical marijuana and it’s legitimate medical uses
- Recognize patients’ right to obtain cannabis to treat their illnesses even illegally
The NDPQ is another party separate from its federal counterpart, but like the Federal NDP, they are a social democratic party. Their healthcare platform is one of the most comprehensive, and includes:
- Giving the CLSCs the means to be primary healthcare providers with their own programs developed to address the particular needs of their communities
- Establish maximum wait times for receiving treatments for medical problems according to available scientific research
- Make sure that medical services are available 24/7 in urban areas
- Create multi-disciplinary teams to address chronic illnesses
- Create a new hospital to serve the Nunavut and James Bay areas
Education, Employment, and the Economy
- Free public education from preschool to university including school supplies for elementary and secondary school students
- Guaranteed minimum income of $1200/month with a six-hundred-dollar exemption for people who want to work part time
- Create a new CEGEP focused on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math with a requirement that fifty percent of its students be women
- Increase the minimum wage to fifteen dollars an hour with laws forbidding employers from cutting benefits to finance the increase in wages
Quebec Conservative Party:
- Gradually reduce payroll taxes to make the rates competitive with the rest of Canada
- Create a public education funding method based on school vouchers worth the same amount of money per child that would allow parents to choose a public or private school in their district or a neighboring one
- De-regulate tuition fees for all universities except the University of Quebec and any universities belonging to the reseau of the University of Quebec
- Restrict welfare accessibility to a maximum period of five years
- Eliminate “closed shop” provisions of the Labour Code that force employers to only hire unionized employees
- Invest four-hundred million dollars over five years to collective organizations and co-ops
Create public companies charged with the planning and development of large infrastructure projects
- Rewrite and merge the Quebec Labour Code, the Act Respecting Labour Standards, and the Act
- Respecting Retraite in Quebec following consultations between the government, unions, and employees
- End public subsidies and tax credits to private schools in Quebec
- Free tuition for all levels of education
- Promote industrial production of hemp and hemp-based products
- Judicial non-intervention for responsible marijuana users to eliminate employment and travel barriers
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by fifty percent in the transport sector by 2030
- Prioritize areas of intervention that reduce the production of greenhouse gases such as industrial livestock production, electrification of transportation methods, and better waste management
- Investing government funds in research projects such as developing clean energies, cleaner industrial practices, and agricultural methods with less environmental impact
- Ban the building or expansion of any natural gas pipelines on Quebec territory
- Work with municipalities to develop cleaner waste management strategies
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by fifty percent by 2030
- Construct a network of high speed electric trains to connect Gatineau, Laval, Montreal, Trois-Riveres, Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Saguenay, Matane, and Drummondville with low cost fares, thus reducing the need for cars to travel throughout Quebec
- Discouraging the purchase and use of large vehicles such as vans and SUVs by making them more expensive and more difficult to register
- Require car-free zones in the downtown core of Quebec’s 30 largest cities
- Nationalize the logging industry and create Forests Quebec to run it
The Bloc Pot:
N/A – their platform revolves around better drug policies and therefore does not address environmental issues
Quebec Conservative Party:
- Lift existing moratoriums on the exploration of minerals, gas, and oil resources in Quebec while using methods that minimize their effect on the environment
- Make it easier for Quebec farmers to find new uses for their agricultural waste
- Science-based environmental policies
- End the QST on the sale of used consumer goods including automobiles to encourage their re-use
- Abolish the refunds on bottles and cans to encourage Quebeckers to put them in the recycling bin – a move that would hurt many urban poor who collect and return cans to supplement their incomes
Language, Culture, and Environment
I have once again saved this topic for last because it is here that we hear terms like racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia get thrown around. What makes the smaller parties unique is that they all call for cultural changes, but not the changes one would expect to hear about during Quebec election season.
The Bloc Pot’s focus is on responsible drug strategies and proposes judicial non-intervention for cannabis users. Their goal is to be able to open discussion on cannabis without fear of repression. Their strategy has nothing to do with language or ethnicity but rather is about eliminating the cultural stigma associated with marijuana that can limit employment, travel, and research.
The Green Party’s cultural stance appears to be about righting past wrongs. Their platform includes the implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to integrate the topics of colonialism and residential schools into Quebec’s high school history curriculum. They also seek to include historical information on genocide and the contributions of women and ethnic minorities in Quebec history classes. As for language, the Green Party supports existing language laws.
The Quebec Conservatives are the most right-wing of any of the parties discussed in this article. Their platform includes “welcoming policy” for immigrants to Quebec in which learning French, as well as Quebec history and traditions will be considered essential, though the primary factor in deciding eligibility will be their economic integration according to the needs of Quebec’s workforce. Their stance is strongly in favor of a secular state, but rather than a distinct charter of values, the Conservatives want the Canadian and Quebec Charters of Rights to be their guide. Though they call for reasonable accommodation conducted with “patience, education, and empathy” their platform also says that “there is no reason for us to encourage radical fundamentalism”, language that is generally associated with Islamophobia.
The NDPQ does not address the issue of culture directly among their platforms, limiting said platforms to the topics of agriculture, First Nations, the economy, education, the environment, health, and the LGBTQ++ community. Their policy with regards to LGBTQ++ community does call for a cultural change, but not with regards to ethnicity, religion, or language. Their platform involves fighting homophobia and transphobia and the stigma associated with HIV. They want to ban conversion therapy in Quebec, encourage the establishment of gay-straight alliances in schools, and publicly recognize sexual diversity. They also want to eliminate barriers to assisted procreation methods such as artificial insemination and In-Vitro Fertilization as well as surrogacy to allow LGBTQ++ to have children if they want them.
Election day is October 1. You have a say. Go vote.
Quebec Elections 2018: A Crash Course on the Four Major Parties
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
Michelle Blanc May Be Running in Mercier, But Keeping Her A Candidate Is All About the PQ Base Outside of Montreal
Michelle Blanc won’t win in Mercier and Parti Québécois (PQ) Leader Jean-François Lisée knows it. Keeping her on the ballot is all about how removing her would play outside of Montreal.
Mercier, which includes a large chunk of the Plateau and Mile End, is Amir Khadir’s riding, or at least it will be until he is replaced in this year’s Quebec Election (he’s not running again). It’s the first riding Québec Solidaire (QS) won (they took it from the PQ) and it remains a stronghold for them.
The prospect of the PQ reclaiming Mercier from QS was a longshot to begin with, even with Khadir gone. Running Blanc, a trans woman, as the candidate, might have seemed to the PQ brass like a shot in the dark that might just get some progressive voters to flip back to them.
The problem is Blanc turned out to be quite the racist and overall problematic candidate.
In late August, a since deleted tweet from earlier this year surfaced in which Blanc used a racial slur to complain about a Bell customer service agent:
“An employee insists on calling me ‘Sir’ because my voice is masculine. My response, your voice is African and I don’t call you my little (n-word).”
Lisée defended Blanc by arguing that she was a private citizen, not a candidate, when she wrote the tweet and we shouldn’t be judged by our past mistakes. The past, in this case, being six months earlier.
Around the same time, Blanc called philosophy professor and blogger Xavier Camus a pedophile in another tweet after Camus blogged about ties between the PQ and the far right. This time Blanc apologized herself and deleted the tweet after Camus filed a cease and desist order.
Then, a 2007 blog post surfaced in which Blanc complained about members of the Hasidic Jewish community not saying hello to her and wished that they would just “diappear” from her sight. This time there would be no apology from either Blanc or Lisée, instead she offered “no comment” and her party leader started talking about free speech.
So why doesn’t Lisée just drop Blanc as a candidate? Or, at the very least, why doesn’t he urge her to re-think alienating the Hasidic community, which makes up part of the riding she is running to represent?
That would be an easy calculation to make if the PQ’s goal was, in fact, to take back Mercier. While it may have been that originally, now the party’s biggest concern is not alienating voters who agree with Blanc’s bigoted statements in ridings where the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) is poised to win.
The PQ, over the past ten years at least, has really had two bases: progressive sovereignists in Montreal and Quebec City and right-leaning nationalists everywhere else. For the most part, they have managed to play to both of them, with a few notable exceptions like André Boisclair losing the right and Pauline Marois losing the left with her Charter debacle.
Now, a chief architect of the Charter is heading the party, looking at poll numbers and calculating that the only way the PQ can remain relevant is to give up on winning in Montreal and hope the right-leaning part of its base doesn’t think the party has turned its back on them. Keeping Blanc on the ticket in Mercier is a sure way to show them that they haven’t abandoned the bigots.
Blanc won’t re-take Mercier and Lisée may even lose his seat in Rosemont, but that doesn’t really matter to the PQ now
The 2018 Quebec Election FTB Readers’ Poll
The late August heat may have you sweating like summer, but there is one sign that fall is just around the corner: election posters are everywhere. With the 2018 Quebec Election campaign in full swing, it’s time for another FTB Election Poll!
Just like the real election, it’s one vote per person, unlike the real election, you can change your vote as many times as you like right up until Thursday, September 27th at 11:59pm.
While the winner of the real election gets to form government, the winner of our poll gets an official endorsement article written on behalf of Forget the Box readers.
We’ve included all the major parties and a few of the more interesting options among the 21 officially registered provincial parties. If there’s one you would like to add, please feel free to do so.
One more thing to consider: we’re not asking who you think will win the election or even who you will actually be voting for, but rather who you want to win. So while you may plan on voting strategically on the first of October, in this poll we encourage you to vote with your heart.
You can vote below or in the sidebar of any site page:
- Conservative Party of Québec 20%, 9 votes9 votes 20%9 votes - 20% of all votes
- Quebec Liberal Party (PLQ) 18%, 8 votes8 votes 18%8 votes - 18% of all votes
- Québec Solidaire (QS) 16%, 7 votes7 votes 16%7 votes - 16% of all votes
- Nouveau Parti Démocratique du Québec (NPDQ) 13%, 6 votes6 votes 13%6 votes - 13% of all votes
- I Don't Live in Quebec 11%, 5 votes5 votes 11%5 votes - 11% of all votes
- Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) 7%, 3 votes3 votes 7%3 votes - 7% of all votes
- Green Party of Québec (PVQ) 4%, 2 votes2 votes 4%2 votes - 4% of all votes
- None of the Above 2%, 1 vote1 vote 2%1 vote - 2% of all votes
- Parti Québécois (PQ) 2%, 1 vote1 vote 2%1 vote - 2% of all votes
- Parti Nul 2%, 1 vote1 vote 2%1 vote - 2% of all votes
- Parti Marxiste-Léniniste du Québec 2%, 1 vote1 vote 2%1 vote - 2% of all votes
- Parti Culinaire du Québec 2%, 1 vote1 vote 2%1 vote - 2% of all votes
- Bloc Pot 0%, 0 votes0 votes0 votes - 0% of all votes
* Featured image by Tony Webster via WikiMedia Commons
Quebec Election 2018: This One Might Be Interesting
Are you excited for the 2018 Quebec Election? With the voting just under seven months away, my answer is maybe, and that’s huge for me.
I’m a political junkie. I closely follow all political races with gusto: federal, municipal, American, European, fictional (Bartlet 2020). Well, almost all races.
Quebec provincial politics have always failed to deliver for me. Sure, I’ll vote, watch the results pour in and even write an op-ed or five, but something is lacking.
It’s not that nothing changes, it’s that change doesn’t even seem like a far-fetched possibility.
Two Parties, Same Pander
It’s not just that we’re in a two party system that has been around since the 70s, it’s not even that the Quebec Liberals (PLQ) and the Parti Québécois (PQ) only differ on a handful of issues. It’s that they’re not even trying to appear different anymore and people keep voting them in.
Sure, the PQ did sink below Official Opposition status when Andre Boisclair was leader, but that was only due to homophobia in their base. They haven’t forgot to pander to bigots since.
When the 2012 student protests forced “Charest Dehors!” (and into a law firm, guess the protesters weren’t able to find him a “job dans le nord” after all), Pauline Marois wasted no time turning her back on the reasons she got the Premier job in the first place and went all-in on Islamophobia. The Charter of Quebec Values didn’t get her a majority and cost her re-election, but that hasn’t stopped the PQ from banging the hard-right war drum.
They have dropped all pretense of being interested in progressive votes and their pander to bigots isn’t even limited to attacking Muslims anymore. They even went so far as to mock the practice of declaring that an event is taking place on unceded native land.
Now, though, the PLQ are trying desperately to pander to the same xenophobic base. Bill C-62, the law that forces bus drivers and librarians to refuse service to anyone covering their face, wasn’t a PQ invention, but rather that of the party that won government by campaigning against the PQ’s Charter.
Both main parties in our two-party system already had a similar right-leaning approach to the economy, the environment and other important issues. Now they seem in lockstep on xenophobia, too and pretty much only differ on the federalism/sovereignty divide.
So why do I think this election may actually result in some change? There are a few reasons.
The PQ is Ready to Implode
Things aren’t looking good for the PQ:
- They have only been in power for a brief time with a minority government in the past 15 years.
- Their leader, Jean-François Lisée, is the guy who got the job only after the guy people actually knew quit after holding the position for less than a year.
- Their attempt to form an alliance with smaller pro-sovereignty parties failed
- Their federal ally the Bloc Québécois is in complete disarray
- They are banking everything on getting the xenophobic vote. Not only did that fail them last election, but now the PLQ are targeting the same voters, as is the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ).
Put that all together and there is very real potential that the PQ will sink to third or maybe even fourth party status and never recover. Even if this means another Liberal government, ugh, with the CAQ in opposition, double ugh, it also means that the two party system we have had for over fourty years is done. One down, one to go.
QS Wants to Win
Québec Solidaire (QS) is entering a new phase in more ways than one. They have two new spokespeople: Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques MNA Manon Massé, who will run for Premier, and former student leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, who would be Vice-Premier in a QS administration.
The prospect of a QS administration, or rather the fact that they are talking about what that would look like, signals a new approach for the party that is far beyond a simple changing of the guard. They don’t just want to keep the three seats they have and maybe add a couple more, they want to win. Like really win. Form government win.
It’s a longshot and an extremely improbable one at that, but political shifts in Quebec happen en masse (think the NDP’s Orange Wave), so it’s not impossible. If the PQ was reduced to a handful of ridings with the CAQ picking up most of their far-right holdings, QS would still need almost all progressive sovereignists and enough progressive federalists to flip a few Liberal ridings to break for them to make it happen, but, again, this is Quebec.
Even if the perfect storm doesn’t happen for QS this election, their change in approach will at least win them more influence, especially in a minority government. It may land them opposition or third party status, which would be huge for them and even bigger for the future of Quebec politics.
While QS is the only left-leaning party currently represented in the National Assembly (with three seats), they’re not the only one hoping to make a dent in the Quebec political landscape by promoting progressive policies and values.
A Greener Political Left
The Quebec Green Party (PVQ) is the Quebec political outfit whose policies align closest with my own. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to vote for them last time as they weren’t fielding a candidate where I lived as well as in several other ridings.
Now, it looks like that is changing. Leader Alex Tyrrell hasn’t just been spending his time running personally in every by-election that popped up in order to ensure PVQ ideas are heard, he has been building a slate of candidates to give voters a Green option in as many parts of Quebec as possible.
So far, I’ve seen two people I know and respect throw their hats in the ring as PVQ candidates in what are undeniably Liberal strongholds. While these races will inevitably be uphill battles for the Green candidates, they could be where the PVQ breaks ground.
While ambiguous on the so-called national question in the past, under Tyrrell, the PVQ have declared themselves federalist. Voters who like almost all of QS’s policies and want to vote progressive but just can’t live with voting for a party that is sovereigntist may park their votes with the Greens and those voters can be found largely in Liberal ridings.
Well, It Worked for Jack
The Quebec Greens won’t be the only ones hoping to pick up some federalist lefty votes this October. There’s a new Quebec version of the NDP (NPDQ) running. And by new, I mean there was already a provincial NDP in Quebec up until a few decades ago and, long story short, the remnants of that party are currently part of QS.
Talk of a potential new Quebec party surfaced following the Orange Wave of 2011 when Jack Layton led the federal NDP to Official Opposition status for the first time in the party’s history thanks largely to a massive shift in Quebec votes. Initially, the Quebec wing of the federal party rejected the notion of a new NPDQ, but in 2014, they registered the name.
The NPDQ went public in 2016 and this past January elected Raphaël Fortin as leader. If they are thinking that the Orange Wave can be duplicated at the provincial level, they might be right, but if it happens this election, it likely won’t be with them.
Jack Layton having the perfect response to Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe’s bragging during a debate is what set the NDP Quebec landslide in motion in 2011. Fortin probably won’t get anywhere close to the debate stage.
A good chunk of people who vote NDP federally here vote QS provincially. So if there is any kind of leftist wave, it’s most likely to break for them.
If the NPDQ’s plans are more long term and involve becoming the progressive federalist alternative to the Liberals, then they better hope they get funding and support from the federal party. The Greens are going for the same voter base and have a significant headstart.
Might Be Exciting This Time
So when you consider the potential or, as I like to think of it, imminent implosion of the PQ and then factor in the strong push for leftist votes from three different parties, it looks like things may be changing in the Quebec political sphere. Throw in the recent election of Valérie Plante and Projet Montréal at the municipal level here in Montreal and it starts looking like we may be ready to scrap the status quo in Quebec City as well.
At least the 2018 Quebec Election may be exciting for a change.
The Other Shoe Just Dropped: Gilles Duceppe Endorsed Denis Coderre
Wow, they’re actually admitting it. On-again/off-again Bloc Leader and die-hard soverignist Gilles Duceppe endorsed Denis Coderre, a staunch Liberal and federalist, in his bid for re-election as Mayor of Montreal.
During the last Montreal Municipal Election campaign in 2013, there were rumors that supporters of the Liberals (both provincial and federal), the Bloc Québécois (BQ) and the Parti Québécois (PQ) were secretly pushing Melanie Joly’s candidacy for Mayor, not in hopes that she would win, but that she would split the anti-establishment vote and prevent a Projet Montréal victory. Whether there was involvement from those forces or not, that’s exactly what happened: Coderre won and Joly was off to greener pastures in Ottawa.
But why would these seemingly divergent groups have a common goal? The argument goes that establishment parties would do anything to stop anyone loosely aligned, even in terms of who supports them, with parties like the Federal NDP or Québec Solidaire (QS) provincially.
While that may seem like pie in the sky conspiracy stuff, Gilles Duceppe just endorsed Denis Coderre and he said why. Mixed in with reasons/excuses like how he feels the Pink line is unrealistic and there are a couple of soverignist candidates on Equipe Coderre, Duceppe said that Plante and Projet were “too close to QS and the NDP.”
For decades, both the federalist provincial and federal Libs and the sovereignist PQ and BQ thrived on everyone being focused on the National Question and the division it brings instead of more pressing issues like the corporate dominance, austerity and, more locally, transit. Now that their dominance is threatened at the municipal level by an arguably leftist party with a dynamic leader who is concerned with making life in Montreal better above all, they are scared.
Moreover, they are getting desperate. Desperate enough, apparently, to get in bed together publicly.
Earlier this week, establishment press tried to make a big deal out of Projet Leader Valérie Plante not answering a question about how she voted in the 1995 referendum, a smart move considering this election is about Montreal, not the specter of sovereignty and both sovereignists and federalists can be found in both main parties running. I wonder if they will give equal play to Coderre getting an endorsement from a prominent sovereignist like Duceppe.
Probably not, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Gilles Duceppe endorsed Denis Coderre. The other shoe has dropped.
This election is about the staus quo versus a new way of doing things and it only took the Liberals and the Bloc to make that crystal clear.
Québec Solidaire Answers THAT Question
With Québec Solidaire (QS) talking like they aren’t just hoping for a better result than last time and really want to form government come the next Quebec election, there has been one burning question on the minds of their supporters, casual observers and people at all familiar with how the party functions: just who would be in charge if they are successful. After all, they do have two spokespeople/defacto leaders.
This had been the case long before Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois and Manon Massé were elected to fill the posts. But up until now, QS was never really a contender. Now, with the implosion of the Parti Québécois (PQ) on the horizon (I really think they’re almost done) and people looking for a new alternative to the Liberals, the question of just who would hold power in a potential QS government becomes incredibly relevant.
Yesterday, we got an answer and it’s one that could significantly change the Quebec political landscape if enacted:
Inspired by models employed in various republics around the world, the QS plan would strip the Premier of some powers and give them to the elected MNAs and a newly important role of Vice-Premier (or Vice Premier Ministre in French). The Vice-Premier would serve as parliamentary leader whereas the Premier would be a chief executive, a head of state.
And just who would serve in which role? Well, QS members will vote on that in spring 2018.
While Nadeau-Dubois assured viewers in his Facebook video that the plan would work within the current system, it would certainly signal a change from business as usual in the National Assembly.
Leave it to QS to answer a simple question about how their party works with a challenge to the powers of the premier and a proposal that would fundamentally change the Quebec democratic process for generations if it comes to pass.
Mainstream Political Xenophobia is Alive and Well in Quebec
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.
La plus ca change…
Deflecting Scandal with Identity Politics: Why Couillard is Reopening the Constitutional Debate in Canada
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
- Shared institutions
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.
Ministry Food Aid Programs Decimated in Some Quebec Regions
The Ministry of Education has revised its criteria for what constitutes an underprivileged school and how much food aid they should get. The Ministry’s food aid program aims to help high schools from underprivileged communities provide subsidized meals and snacks. Although the total budget of $7.7 million remains unchanged, many schools, particularly in outer regions, have seen their allowance plummet or disappear.
The Samares School Board in Lanaudière, for example, went from receiving $190 226 to $7081 in two school years. In the Eastern Quebec, the Chic-Chocs School Board went from $33 090 this year to $5 269 for next year. Chic-Chocs representative Marie-Noëlle Dion called the situation deplorable, particularly for three of their schools that will have to do without food aid all together.
The both the entire Outaouais and Laurentides region are now devoid of high schools providing subsidized meals.
The matter was the subject of a heated debate on Wednesday in the National Assembly where Education Minister Sébastien Proulx tried to defend the government’s policies.
“The money for the food aid program was maintained and indexed,” hammered Proulx, “it is meant for our most underprivileged schools, and that has not changed. If the rules have changed in the last few years, it was to correct inequalities in the sense that in some communities there were privileged schools receiving food aid.”
To which the official spokesperson for education of the opposition Alexandre Cloutier replied: “For the entire region of Outaouais, as of next September, there is zero funding! Are you saying there is not one kid who goes to school on an empty stomach in Outaouais?”
André Villeneuve, MNA of Berthier, piled on: “In Lanaudière, it’s four high schools, it’s hundreds of kids who will go to school on en empty stomach!”
Where is the money going?
The Ministry determines the amount of food aid it will give to each school depending on where it ranks on the government’s indexes of deprivation. Those indexes reflect the proportion of students from families who are below the low-income threshold as well as their socio-economic background, which takes into account the level of education of the mother and whether or not the parents are employed.
Minister Proulx said that the calculations have been adjusted to focus on the schools that score 9 or 10 out of 10 on these indexes. At the time of publication, FTB is waiting for specifications from the Ministry about the nature of these adjustments and the number of schools that supposedly benefited from them.
Most of the schools scoring 9s and 10s are presumably in Montreal, where child poverty is particularly glaring. A recent study by Tonino Esposito of Université de Montréal and Catherine Roy of McGill found that sixteen of the 30 neighborhoods with the most underprivileged children in the province are in Montreal. Montréal-Nord is at the very top of the chart.
In any case, many children who were only a year ago considered underprivileged enough to get access to food aid are now considered as fortunate enough to do without it. Professionals and politicians are accusing the government of robbing Peter to pay Paul in education, while they break the bank for lobbies and corporations. Or, As Cloutier put it : “How can a Minister who is swimming in budgetary surplus justify this sort of measure?”
* Featured image: École secondaire de L’Île, Outaouais. From HockeyAcademy
Meet the Gouin By-Election Candidates: Who Said What?
Four months after Françoise David resigned from all of her political functions, it is time for the people of Gouin to choose her successor. The by-election in this riding which contains parts of Rosemont and La Petite-Patrie has been followed with extraordinary attention by Quebeckers of all political stripes, as it served up one wild card after another.
There are now no less than 13 names on the ballot and none of them are from the Parti Québécois. Although all candidates seek to make their mark, the stakes are incomparably high for Québec Solidaire, who risks losing one of their three seats at the National Assembly.
Forget the Box spoke with the main contenders. Can you guess which candidate said what? Here are some quotes. Make your guess and then click to find out if you were correct and read more about that candidate:
“When Thomas Mulcair won, that’s when I switched to provincial politics, because the NDP had clearly taken a turn towards the center of Canadian politics and I’m not someone who is interested in being in a centrist party.”
Alex Tyrrell, Green Party of Quebec
The Green Party of Quebec (PVQ)’s signs say “The Federalist Left” in bold letters. They officially positioned themselves on the question of independence during their last congress only a few weeks ago while their allegiance to the left has been clear from the start.
“The Green party is presenting an eco-socialist platform, so it’s a question of taking care of the environment, but also the population at the same time” insisted Alex Tyrrell, PVQ leader and Gouin candidate.
Before he became leader of the party in 2013, Tyrrell shared the popular opinion that the Greens were too often single-issue parties.
“That’s what we’re doing different with the PVQ,” he claimed, “we’re presenting an openly left-wing platform. The Green party of Quebec is leading the way in terms of bringing the Canadian Green movement to the left and having policies that go beyond environment.”
Tyrrell says that improving quality public healthcare and guaranteeing access to good education for everyone are priorities for the PVQ. Still, the environmental policies are the forefront of their vision, since “environmental problems are linked to social justice and to our current capitalist model.”
Which is why they want to focus on reducing the number of cars on the road, namely by making public transport free and encouraging active transport. “Here, we see a lot of cars in circulation but they are mostly transiting between downtown and Highway 40. It’s a huge source of pollution, dust and noise and it really diminishes the quality of life for people in Gouin.”
While a number of Green priorities are similar to those of Québec Solidaire, Tyrrell argues that “the difference between us and QS is that we’re willing to work now for all the policies we’ve put forward. If they’re elected, they will immediately launch into a third referendum campaign, which will be very divisive and will make it impossible for them to deliver the rest of their platform.”
Tyrrell was first involved in the federal NDP, where he supported Jack Layton and then Nathan Cullen. He also participated in the 2012 student movement.
Priorities for Gouin:
- Encourage active transport
- How: Implant “vélo-routes” which means closing certain streets to cars on different weekdays in order to make it more pleasant and safer to cycle or walk to work.
- Free public transportation
- How: The GPQ would take the money from the green fund and invest it in public transit instead of oil and gas exploitation.
“I identify a lot with Mme David, and also Mr Gerard – a veteran from the student movement- and Mr Boisclair, who never hesitated to bring new ideas to his party, a bit like me.”
Jonathan Marleau, Liberal Party of Quebec
Jonathan Marleau says that a lot of the people he met told him that they voted for Françoise David, not because they thought she was going to be Premier but because she was able to discuss, compromise and represent their interests. Like her, he aims to bring politics “closer to the people” namely by holding democratic assemblies once a month and taking his orders directly from the population.
Marleau, also known as the candidate with the very very small PLQ logo, is convinced that “the people of Petite-Patrie vote for their candidate, the person they want to see in the National Assembly” and not the party. Indeed, if not many Gouin residents are inclined to vote for him because he is a Liberal, his strategy seems to hang on the expectation that many might vote for him in spite of it.
“One woman said to me,” he recalled, “‘I’m not really a Liberal, but you’re the type of Liberal I’d like to see in the National Assembly.’”
He is thus not deterred by the fact that Liberals have not won an election in Gouin since 1973. Still, the numerous instances of “UPAC??” scribbled over his campaign signs are proof that some people still begrudge him his Liberal banner.
His program promises to help all children from the riding gain access to new, modern and local schools. This has been a problem in the borough because of a little “demographic boom,” he explained. Parents and professionals across the province point to the Liberal government’s policies of reduced funding for public education as the culprits behind the deteriorating state of affairs.
On the matter of investing in education, Marleau remarked that the people of Gouin are very invested, “they see the need.”
Like his party leader, Marleau refuses to use the words budget cuts and austerity to describe those policies and points out that, in absolute numbers, the budget for education has increased : “maybe not as much as some expected, but still.”
Marleau was involved in the 2012 student movement with the FECQ and is now the president of the Liberal Youth Commission. He is also administrator of CALEB, a project for a familial orphanage in Benin.
Priorities for Gouin:
- Help children of Gouin access a local school that is modern and renovated.
- How: The government announced a $7M reinvestment in healthcare and education. As an MNA, Marleau pledges to make sure that this investment goes where it’s most needed.
- Encourage artists
- How: Expose local artists in the riding office and support local cultural events and festivals.
- Bring politics closer to people
- How: Organize a monthly political assembly for the citizens.
“It’s harder and harder to get affordable housing in the neighbourhood and, of course, it’s people with lower incomes who are suffering for it.”
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, Québec Solidaire
Although close to 20% of the rentable housing in Petite-Patrie has been bought out since 1991*, the Quebec Solidaire candidate and newly elected co-spokesperson of the party was the only one to mention access to affordable housing as a top priority for the riding. He is, in this regard, continuing Françoise David’s legacy, who most notably fought to prohibit the eviction of low-income elderly people with Law 492 (and just yesterday took part in a press conference with the Comité de logement de la Petite-Patrie).
His two other top priorities are primary and high school education and democratic renewal. Interestingly, it’s the exact same two put forward by Liberal candidate Jonathan Marleau. But whereas Marleau says the need to prioritize schools stems from a local baby boom, Nadeau-Dubois sees it as a direct consequence of the Liberal budget cuts during the last few years.
“There are overpopulated classes and deteriorating classrooms,” he described, “as well as entire courses and services that have been cut. Now, they are investing a few dollars back because it is an electoral year, but fundamentally, the Liberals have lost all credibility on the matter of education.”
Although he insisted that Québec Solidaire is taking nothing for granted in Gouin, he recognized that the party’s reputation in the riding is a big help: “We’ve been representing (the people of Gouin) for six years. They know us, they’ve seen us by their side every time they mobilized. There is no need to reinvent the wheel to convince them that education is important to us.”
In response to Tyrrell, Nadeau-Dubois argues that the road to sovereignty is not an impediment to the realisation of a truly progressive Quebec, it is a pre-requisite:
“I’m sorry to say it but what the entire history of Quebec demonstrates is the exact opposite. Every time there was an effort to really transform Quebec, it was twarted by the limits of monarchy and of Canadian federalism. I do not for an instant doubt that Mr Tyrrell sincerely wants to change things, but unfortunately, what the entire history of Quebec shows, is that it’s not possible without taking back all the powers.”
Priorities for Gouin:
- Primary and High School education
- How: “First, by supporting people who are fighting against the current government.”
- Affordable housing
- How: By working in collaboration with local organizations and municipal officials.
- Hold regular democratic assemblies
*Study by the Comité de logement de la Petite-Patrie and the Urban Laboratory of Concordia University
“The Energy East pipeline: we have no jurisdiction on that. It’s gonna go through 800 of our rivers and the question is not is it going to leak, but when is it going to leak.”
Vanessa Dion, Option Nationale
Be it environmental issues or funding the arts, the Option Nationale (ON) candidate Vanessa Dion is convinced that the solution begins with independance. “All these issues are interrelated,” she claimed. She hopes to inspire more people “to take a stand on the National question” through her campaign.
ON leader Sol Zanetti maintains that this doesn’t mean Option Nationale is a single-issue party: “That impression is less due to who we are than to our small share of media attention,” he argued, “which means that we never get covered except when we talk about independence.”
In fact, he hopes to use the by-election to talk about the entire ON program, which includes free tuition and strong commitments to quality universal healthcare. Dion’s campaign is largely focused on ON’s plan to help out artists, since Gouin is home to an unusually high number of them.
Although they readily admit that there is very little they can do without first taking power and making Quebec a country, ON members believe that every Quebecker has a lot to gain by electing even a single MNA from their party. According to Zanetti, Dion would be a breath of fresh at the National Assembly, where even sovereignist members have “provincialized” their analysis of politics.
“Putting Vanessa Dion in that seat means getting a representative who will pull us out of this game of deciding between this party or that(…), and who will say ‘the problem is more profound than that, the problem is the political regime we’re in,’” he argued.
It would also have the added benefit of getting another woman in the National Assembly, which is still 73% male.
Priorities for Gouin
- Fund and promote local artists
- How: ON would fund local artists via a tax on internet platforms like Netflix and Spotify (which are currently in a grey area of CRTC regulations).
- Promote the thinking of all political issues in the perspective of a National Quebec rather than a provincial one.
“Most people want to overthrow the liberal government. People are sick of the current corruption, so I think their priority is to have an alternative.”
Benjamin Bélair, Coalition Avenir Québec
“Among all the parties in the race, the only one that can hope to overthrow them in the short or medium term is the Coalition Avenir Québec,” Benjamin Bélair, Gouin CAQ candidate continued.
He is the third candidate to run for the CAQ in Gouin since the party was created five years ago. His two predecessors both scored around 8% of the vote. Province-wide, CAQ is currently polling higher than the PQ, at 26% (while the PLQ is still leading with 32%).
The CAQ’s campaign is largely focused on families, with their most frequent slogan promising “$1000 more in your pockets, for the families of Gouin.”
Whether or not the CAQ win the next general elections, Bélair believes that he can do a lot for families, namely improve children’s academic success and provide decent care for elders “first by denouncing the current situation and raising awareness regarding the need for change, and also by working with the organizations in the field.”
Bélair is a philosophy teacher at Collège Montmorency. He is rated 4.75 on RateMyTeacher.
Priorities for Gouin:
- Lessen the tax burden
- How: A CAQ government promises $1000 in tax refunds for young families, although critics say that it remains unclear where that money would come from.
- Help academic success and provide better care for the elderly
- How: Raise awareness and work with community-based organisations.
The Gouin by-election is Monday, May 29, 2017 and advance voting is already underway. Voting info is available at monvote.qc.ca
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