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

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

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

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

The Charter on Steroids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regis Labeaume’s False Equivalence

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

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

La Meute marching in Quebec City (image: CBC)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

La plus ca change…

With Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre’s proposed ban on new pit bulls set for a vote in September, opponents of Breed-Specific Legislation (BSL) just caught a glimpse at how it may be defeated: through public outcry and protest. At least that seems to have done the trick in Quebec City for the moment.

Mayor Régis Labeaume had planned to get rid of all pit bulls in Quebec City by 2017, period. This was a much harsher move than Montreal’s plan to bar new pit bulls from the island and license and muzzle those that are already here.

Today, dozens (according to the CBC) of Quebec City dog owners and supporters protested outside of City Hall. Just a few hours later, Labeaume said that he had only been trying to start debate on the issue.

“We won’t eliminate pit bulls,” the mayor told the press, “we wanted to hit hard so things would move.”

Now, he seems content to wait for the results of a provincial workgroup on the idea of a province-wide pit bull ban. So pit bull owners in Quebec City and their beloved companions aren’t out of the proverbial woods yet, but the imminent, harsh law is off the table for now.

So is Montreal’s proposed ban also a fakeout designed to gauge public opinion? If so, then he Global Anti-BSL Peaceful Protest on July 16th is a good thing for opponents of Coderre’s ban to attend. In Montreal, it starts in Parc Pélican and makes its way to Parc Lafontaine.

Seeing as the Quebec City ban and the one in Montreal were both created in response to public fear, vocal public opposition may be the way to eliminate them and influence the Couillard Government not to pass one in the first place.

* You can also still vote in FTB’s poll on the Montreal Pit Bull Ban Poll.

* Featured image: Radio-Canada

Four months after its grand opening, Quebecor’s Centre Videotron is at least $1.4 millon in the red. According to the contract signed with QMI Spectacles (a branch of Quebecor), the Quebec City has to cover half the operating deficit up to the amount of the arena’s rent.

Mayor Régis Labeaume’s office confirmed on Monday that they sent a check to Quebecor for $729 126 – which is the exact equivalent of four month of rent and the worst-case-scenario for the city.

The news caused outrage in the opposition, but Labeaume was quick to defend the project he has championed and cherished since 2011. He told the City Council that it was unrealistic to expect a starting business to be profitable in its first four months of existence. “I’ve never seen that,” he insisted.

He further accused the opposition of being “tricky” and misleading for claiming that the city was paying the Centre’s deficit. “We didn’t give a penny to the deficit. We only gave back the rent,” he claimed.

He pointed out that Quebecor had already paid $33.5 million to put the name Videotron on the arena.

A Quebecor spokesperson also commented that it’s “normal and expected” for such a project to not generate profits for the first couple of years.

Not as Popular as Expected

Any reasonable hope for quick net profit was arguably contingent on the return of an NHL team to the old capitol. Since the NHL officially announced last week that Las Vegas was chosen over Quebec to house the next team, a deficit was to be expected.

But certainly not such a big one. According to the Mayor’s own predictions, the maximum cost of the Centre to the city – even without a NHL team – should have been $600 000… per year. If the current trend continues, the cost for 12 months of activity would amount to 2.18 Million.

Régis Labeaume
Régis Labeaume

Labeaume conceded that the ticket sales had been largely overestimated. This is a bit perplexing, as the Centre has already presented some rather large names including Metallica, Justin Bieber and Pearl Jam. When this was pointed out to him, Labeaume responded that he thinks “Céline” will fill up the arena, and “anyway, it’s their [Quebecor’s] job to manage that.”

What we Don’t Know

The exact total of Centre Videotron’s total deficit is anyone’s guess. In February, Labeaume agreed to modify the original 2011 contract to allow the Centre to keep all of its financial statements private.

The Access to Public Records Act won’t be any help either as the city doesn’t keep any copies of Quebecor’s financial documents regarding the arena. Municipal employees must go to the corporation in order to consult them, and are only allowed to bring back “personal notes.”

“We are financial partners and we can’t even have transparency,” said Anne Guérette, advisor for the leading opposition party, Démocratie Québec. Quebecor claimed that the new confidentiality clause was necessary – not because they had anything to hide, but to ensure “healthy competition.”

Here is a recap of what we do know: municipal, provincial and federal governments promised to invest a total of $400 million in the construction of the arena. Only $385 was used and $33.5 million was recovered by the City when the Centre opened.

The City was able to make around $370 000 on the ticket sales and parking fees but had to give back the totality of the rent collected from Quebecor to date.

All in all, Quebecor is left with a bit over $350 million of public money in its pockets, and the public is left wondering when they will start paying rent.