Quebec - The Trawler.org
This week, one of Canada’s most decorated journalists, a man who has won all three of Canada’s leading literary prizes, The Globe and Mail’s national affairs columnist Jeffrey Simpson, discusses separatist aspirations in Quebec within the context of other separatist movements in Great Britain, Spain, and Belgium.
Simpson begins with Great Britain, Scotland to be exact, whose First Minister Alex Salmoud, has just signed an agreement with British Prime Minister David Cameron permitting Scotland to hold a “yes or no” referendum on independence in two years. The latest poll shows the independence option with only 28 per cent support, although the polls on this issue seem to swing rather drastically.
Spanish Parliament, according to Simpson, just voted to block Catalonia from holding the referendum on independence proposed by Catalan secessionist leader Artur Mas. Secession is illegal under the Spanish constitution, and Catalina relies heavily on economic support from Madrid, but in the words of Mas, “the constitution won’t stop his region from leaving, if it comes to that.”
This lowland country is riddled with tensions between a majority in Dutch-speaking Flanders, and a minority in French-speaking Wallonia, with Brussels torn between the two. Yet so far nothing more than speculation has materialized, and the proposals drafted for splitting up the country range from: “Flanders and Brussels, Wallonia and Brussels and even all three as separate entities.”
With the secessionist Parti Québécois (PQ) elected last month by a very slim plurality in the popular vote, it has formed a rather fragile minority government, a government that has already started to backtrack many of its separatist-based campaign promises. A reasonable move, considering “polls have consistently shown that a majority of Quebeckers do not want to secede from Canada.”
“Each of these breakup threats is, of course, rooted in different histories, causes, personalities and current realities,” notes Simpson. However, each case is a hard one to make because each country threatened with secession provides a high standard of living to its people, and full protection of all reasonable human rights.
For Simpson, the secessionist case is basically “a cultural one,” in that the minority is culturally different from the majority in some observably defined way. Furthermore, “to justify cultural nationalism, secessionists paint a brighter economic future for their smaller state – an assertion usually based on either flimsy or distorted evidence.”
Just as Catalonia, Flanders, or Scotland would have trouble justifying the value of their individual presences to the European Union, Quebec would have to yield much of its sovereignty in order to join NAFTA and have the Bank of Canada administer its monetary policy should it choose to stick with the Canadian dollar.
“In short, buy a dream rather than a reality.”
MCPARLAND: “Quebec students want free education and Marois has no excuse to say no” (National Post, CA)266 days ago by Emily.Thompson
In an amusing post from Kelly McParland, the journalist updates his readers on the Quebec tuition strikes now that the Parti Quebecois cancelled the small tuition hike that the Liberal party had sought to introduce. In an interesting turn of events, students are still in the streets protesting, now demanding that tuition should be completely free.
As evident by his sarcastic tone, McParland clearly is not onside with CLASSE, the most militant of the three major student groups who are leading the fight demanding free education. McParland acknowledges how the group has decided that “the means of achieving ends in a democracy is to create as much public chaos as possible” even if it means disrupting general public and applying unsupported political pressure on elected officials. McParland also raises concerns about CLASSES’ clear lack of concern for the financial climate of the province. In order to ensure free education, it would mean increasing in borrowing or cutting other services.
While McParland’s article is a clever read, and one that will hit home with those who are not in support of the student strikes or demands for free tuition, McParland is ignoring the fact that it is the student’s democratic right to strike, however frustrating for many this right may be. McParland’s bias against the students is glaringly evident and the piece loses credibility as it blatantly attacks the students without providing a balanced argument.
Now that some of the dust has settled on Election Day Quebec 2012, perhaps it is time to dig into the identity politics of the newly elected Parti Québécois (PQ) and their leader, Pauline Marois. For such a task, we turn to The National Post’s Quebec correspondent Graeme Hamilton, who has covered the ‘la belle province’ for over a decade, and began his career writing for the Montreal Gazette.
The PQ has come along way since Quebec Immigration Minister Gérald Godin insisted (under the 1980s premiership of René Lévesque), “we have to form with cultural communities a new world, a model society, better, free, open and welcoming…for cultural diversity is the guarantee of a nation’s enrichment and open-mindedness”. Indeed, Marois’ PQ sees things a little differently.
Quebec’s new minority government has promised to prohibit public-sector workers from wearing any religious symbols (unless of course they are Catholic ones), force immigrants to pass a French test before they can run for public office, submit a petition to legislators, or make political donations, and block new arrivals and their children from attending English post-secondary colleges. In short, when Marois declares her openness to immigrants, there is always a significant “but” that follows. Her justification? “We insist on conserving out identity, our language, our institutions and our values,” values which she says “are non-negotiable. We do not have to apologize for who we are.”
Many of Marois’ hardline points reveal an interesting trend says Hamilton, “what has traditionally been a party of the left, attracting voters as much for its social-democratic program as its independence project, has veered sharply to the right on the question of Quebec identity”. Pierre Bosset, lifetime PQ supporter and Law Professor at Université du Québec à Montréal said that the party radicalized after finishing third in the 2007 election, embracing an “ugly strain of Quebec nationalism” that he and others in his circle of “liberal intellectuals of the left” do not share. Furthermore, Bosset fears that the PQ platform will strain inter-cultural relations with “the message it sends that it is acceptable to discriminate against new arrivals in Quebec”.
“For example if the [secularism] charter is passed and public servants do not have the right to wear religious symbols, it will be seen as acceptable in broader society to discriminate against people wearing a hijab or a turban.”
Daniel Weinstock, a law professor at McGill University adds that while the PQ proposals are not in the same league as the discourse of far-right parties in Europe, who simply tell immigrants they do not belong, they still send a troubling message. He continues to say, “The other way of being bad to immigrants is to say you have no place here unless you play by a very tightly scripted playbook, and here it is…. The [PQ] policies are intolerant, but they’re not racist.”
It is important to note however, that while Hamilton’s survey of Marois’ identity politics does highlight some very important potential policy stances bordering on racism and xenophobia, neither the PQ, or Hamilton himself bother to address the issue of native rights, which play a huge part in the full picture of identity politics in Quebec. For more information on the view of the First Nations’ in Quebec, take a look at the official policies of the Native Alliance of Quebec.
Final Note: Notice the lack of visible minorities in this picture taken on September 3, the day before Election Day. This was the case for every single campaigning and celebratory picture of Marois and the other PQ candidates I came across.
IBBITSON: “Do we care if another tussle for Quebec sovereignty happens now?” (The Globe and Mail, CA)285 days ago by Emily.Thompson
With the Quebec election imminent and the polls showing the Parti Quebecois with a very strong likelihood of winning, rumblings are getting louder about the potential for the province to separate from Canada. However, John Ibbitson argues that the likelihood of separation becoming a reality is very low, in large part due to the changing face of Quebec and probable minority government for the PQ.
Due to the large increase in immigration to the province of Quebec, the population does not have the same nationalistic passion that was once a defining feature of the province. According to a recent CROP poll published on Friday, only 28% of Quebeckers would vote yes if a referendum were held today. Ibbitson argues that the need for government would has changed dramatically and grievances in large part have melted away.
Despite the strong chance that the PQ will win in the next election, there is little likelihood that they will hold a majority, giving the party little power to go forward with any efforts to push a sovereign agenda. However, it is likely that Marois will demand new powers for Quebec over EI, language, culture and immigration, knowing that Prime Minister Harper has a weak hand with regard to Quebec, forcing him to succumb to at least some of the demands of the province.
Ibbitson does not provide an original argument in this article. The debate over separation has been widely covered in this election period and the article thus seems to provide context for the election upcoming on September 4th. That being said, Ibbitson remains quite neutral, providing arguments on both sides of the debate.
In an August 27 editorial, Tom Flanagan, University of Calgary professor and former advisor to Prime Minister Harper, tackled the current Employment Insurance (EI) debate in Quebec. Recently, PQ leader Pauline Marois stated that if she becomes Premier on September 4th, she will begin the process of transferring jurisdictions from Ottawa to Quebec, starting with EI. With such a transfer, Quebec will become more powerful and ready for independence. While this may weaken Quebec’s place in Canada, Flanagan argues that perhaps, at least with regard to EI, every province should follow suit.
According to Flanagan, EI is a program that should be a provincial jurisdiction due to the fact that labour markets vary greatly across Canada. After the transferal of powers to Ottawa in 1940, many reforms have been made to the EI system, such as extended coverage to fishermen and other seasonal workers, to accommodate the changing labour force. Now Flanagan argues, the program is a “crazy-quilt of cross-subsidies” which has led to an increase in unemployment, in particular in poorer parts of the country.
Regardless of many attempts by the federal government, it is becoming increasingly clear that the federal government will never be able to make major reforms to EI without provincial support. In order to transfer powers to the provinces, the ideal path in Flanagan’s opinion, constitutional amendments will have to made, a difficult but not insuperable task.
Flanagan provides an excellent and concise narrative of the EI program in Canada while also demonstrating the tensions that the EI program has caused between federal and provincial levels of government. While Flanagan’s political ideology is clear in this article, he is upfront and provides a well supported argument for a devolution of this program.
An August 18th Globe and Mail column by John Ibbitson argues that NDP leader Thomas Mulcair is likely Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s choice of instrument in preventing Quebec from reopening a referendum on their place in the Canadian constitution. Despite referendum skeptics, Ibbitson perceives a strong possibility that Pauline Marois and her Parti Quebecois (PQ) will win the next Quebec provincial election, and thereafter, demand Ottawa relinquish control of Quebec’s share of “employment insurance, communications policy (so Quebec would have its own version of the CRTC) and cultural programs.” While Harper is poised to strike down any such requests, as Prime Minister he must interact strategically with the possibility of Quebec reacting negatively to his dismissal of their wants.
Ibbitson argues that if Harper were to dismiss Marois’ requests, Quebec could develop a growing sympathy for sovereignty even despite the now recognized risks of achieving such an end. However, the problem lies not only with the potential for growing sympathies for a separate Quebec, but the lack of counter-operatives Harper has poised in the province. Here enters Thomas Mulcair: a perfect candidate because the NDP has 58 MPs in the province, “Mulcair has deep roots in the province, served in Jean Charest’s cabinet, and loves a good fight.” In addition, Mulcair is neither Justin Trudeau nor a Liberal Party member, an institution the Conservatives remain interested in annihilating to create a two party system.
Ibbitson concludes Mulcair is not an ideal instrument for preventing a referendum, but with the ulterior goal of preventing “the revival of the Liberal Party in Quebec” Harper and his Conservatives have no other operationally viable options.
Although I find this article convincing as far as Thomas Mulcair being the best available option for helping prevent Quebec from separating, it is news to me that the Conservative Party seeks the destruction of Canada’s multi-party system. I find this comment by Ibbitson a digression from his main discussion, one which appeared politically neutral prior to. (article)
In his August 17, 2012 article for the National Post, Graeme Hamilton assesses the effects of the dissipating student strikes in Quebec on Premier Jean Charest and the Liberal Party’s election campaign. On Friday afternoon, the last two CEGEPs voted to return to class, allowing students to complete studies that were interrupted by the strike that began in February. As Hamilton states, the emergency law put in place by the Liberal party to end the strikes finally worked; however, may put the party at a disadvantage due to the strike being an integral part of their campaign platform.
As students go back to classes, Hamilton purports that the success of the law aimed to discourage striking will actually rob Charest of one of his key attacks against Parti Quebecois leader, Pauline Marois, a fervent supporter of the student protests. When Charest called the election on August 1, it appeared that the strikes would continue indefinitely; however, the storm has passed and Charest is left with 70% of Quebec residents who are dissatisfied with his governance.
Without assistance from the “silent majority” of the population who supported Charest’s efforts to end the protests; Hamilton argues that corruption allegations against the Liberal party may prove to be a difficult obstacle to overcome.
This defeat, is a gain in the eyes of the student organizations, particularly the most militant group, CLASSE, who although have been encouraging members to not cast a ballot, hope that the Liberals will be defeated.
While this article doesn’t provide any particularly new information, it does present a very realistic analysis of the current campaign in Quebec. Hamilton provides analysis of statements by both the student organization as well as the Liberal Party. This article articulates a possible turning point in the campaign.