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Tag Archives: 2012 Quebec Election

By: Chris Burke

The Parti Québécois will form a minority government in Quebec.  As expected the PQ, led by Pauline Marois, ousted the Liberal government run by Jean Charest.  Following the defeat of the Liberal party, Charest announced his plans to exit from his long career in politics.  To which I can only say, about time.  Faced with allegations of corruption, Charest has come to represent the worst that politics can offer.  That being said, I’m not ready to start cheering for the PQ just yet.  They rode to victory on a wave of anger at the Charest government, but whether they’ll work to meet the demands of their voters or not remains to be seen.

The media has focused heavily on Charest’s exit from politics, and the issue of Quebec separatism that does underlie the PQ’s platform.  I’ve pointed out in a previous post that support for the PQ in Quebec has more to do with anger at Charest and less to do with support for separation.  Further, a minority government will make it difficult to impossible for the PQ to pursue any attempt at separation, sentiments that were recently echoed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper (The Toronto Star).  The separation question is an important one to ask, and an important discussion to have (as long as we are honest about it and don’t resort to scare stories of Quebec separatists), but I want to focus on another big issue in Quebec.  Although it has faded from view in recent months, the student protests still played a part in this election.

The Charest government undoubtedly cost itself a lot of student votes with the passing of Bill 78, which was seen by many (and I agree) as being extreme and oppressive in its nature.  The elections have also been viewed as a method of undermining the protests.  What do I mean by that?  Calling an election and then extending gestures of support to the protestors can be enough to quell their anger and get them to agree to moderate reforms when they may have been demanding something more radical.  The idea here is that the only legitimate avenue to change is through elections, an idea I’m in disagreement with.

The PQ spoke to the demands of the of the students.  Ensuring that a) many students would vote for the PQ, and b) more radical (anti-capitalist) aspects of the student movement would be subdued.  The PQ agreed to a freeze on tuition, which will satisfy a large number of students while isolating those who aimed for a bigger change i.e. free education.  This strategy appears to have worked as the student strikes have lost much of their momentum.  Keeping the anger subdued means the PQ will have to, at the very least, keep its promise of a freeze on tuitions.  Only time will tell.

By: Clement Nocos

With the ruling parties of Quebec and Ontario awarded with minority governments in recent elections, the Canadian media has consistently reported these electoral victories as “glasses-half-empty” for the Ontario Liberal Party and the Parti Quebecois. Because the governing party cannot achieve majority status, it apparently cannot deliver all that it promises. There has been more talk about what a minority government cannot do rather than what a minority government has the potential to do and what it means for Canadian democracy.

Premiers Marois and McGuinty “won” elections, with their respective parties winning a plurality of seats in recent elections. Are they, however, “losers” because they have merely won minority government mandates?

The PQ, for example, cannot get anywhere with its sovereignty project with a weak mandate. This assessment neglects that with a minority government, though the party cannot unilaterally motion to a sovereign Quebec, it can set the agenda and generate discourse on the subject which has been neglected for the past 15 years. In the meantime, a minority PQ government can move ahead with its economic agenda of alleviating Quebec’s debt while maintaining the social programs and institutions, such as a distinct education system, that keep Quebec within the federation. In order to do this, the PQ will obviously have to work with the LPQ, CAQ, and QS across the floor of the National Assembly. A PQ minority works to the advantage of federalists while moving forward with the economic and social interests of Quebeckers.

In Ontario, the OLP apparently cannot take on its measures to balance its budget by failing to win a majority after the 2011 general election and last week’s by-elections, according to the punditry. What the media neglects, however, is the inter-party discourse and real politics that have happened as a result of minority governance. With a majority, it would have been much easier for the OLP to drastically cut social spending. Because the OLP does not have its majority, instead of unilaterally making decisions for the Ontario teachers’ union, the government has had to gather Parliament early out of its summer break in order to debate the issue. Are the OLP necessarily losers because they have found common ground to cooperate with the Ontario PCs to pass Bill-115?

Canadian pundits have continually pressed the idea that majorities are the best type of governments for our Parliamentary system. Historically, however, majorities have not proven to be the most democratic thing for Canadian politics. The recent federal Tory Omnibus Bill C-38 and the OLP’s ongoing Ornge Scandal are some examples of majority governance gone awry. Majority governments lack the oversight, transparency, and debate that are essential for an effective Canadian democracy. Politics become an exercise of agenda rather than a discussion of the best course of action for Canadians as a whole.

Minority governments promote debate, compromise, and cooperation; in effect they are quite possibly more democratic. The governing party cannot push its agenda through with their tyrant majority status. They have to work across party lines in order to continue to set their agendas. In having to work with the other federal parties, the CPC received much popularity and approval as a minority government. As a majority, the CPC appears only to be in decline as they neglect to consult with the opposition and continue on with their agenda-based politics.

Lastly, what’s wrong with coalition governance? I don’t exactly mean party mergers along identical ideological lines as Canadian pundits tend to think, but a government based on the cooperation of two separate parties. Most parliamentary political systems throughout the world function on coalition governments that combine the efficiency of majority government with the oversight of minority governance. Some might argue that coalitions themselves are undemocratic; voters didn’t vote for interparty compromise, they voted for their own party’s agenda. This characteristic of Canadian political culture, however, only encourages the hyper-partisanship and cynicism that has marred Canadian politics for the past two decades. Coalition governance is never considered in Canada, leaving minority governments as effective losers in the eyes of Canadian political commentators when it is the cooperation and compromise that accompanies such a government that could reinvigorate Canadian democracy.

By: Chris Burke

In the world of political commentary nothing annoys me more than a pundit or columnist misusing a word, whether the misuse is deliberate or a result of the commentator’s own ignorance.  Misusing words in the course of political discussion smacks of laziness, an unwillingness to have an honest discussion about an issue, or to conduct basic research.  Often, the word is used to discredit a political opponent as these words are rarely used in a positive manner.

Today’s misused word comes courtesy of Margaret Wente (I know, I’m about as unsurprised as you are right now) in her latest article for the Globe and Mail. Writing on the Parti Quebecois potential victory in the upcoming election, Wente states that PQ leader Pauline Marois is, “basically a socialist”.  I’d like to think that Canada is better than this that our political discourse doesn’t include throwing around the word “socialist” as an insult while simultaneously misusing the word in the process.

Wente’s comment creates two misconceptions 1) That the PQ is a socialist party and 2) confusion as to what socialism is.  Understanding the later will help debunk the former.  Knowing what socialism is will clearly show that the PQ is not socialist.

What is socialism?  Simply put: socialism is an economic system in which the labourers control the means of production.  Goods and services are produced for direct consumption rather than a private profit.  It is an economic system entirely different from capitalism.

What socialism is not: it is not wealth redistribution.  The need for a government to redistribute wealth arises out of a system that allows for the accumulation of wealth into the hands of the few to occur, when that accumulation results in a widening wage gap, the government may step in and redistribute the wealth through taxes, for example.  A socialist economic system does not have as one of its goals the accumulation of wealth.  As stated above, goods and services are produced for direct use not a private profit.  When you hear political commentators accuse those who want to take from the rich and give to the poor of being socialist, remember that the idea of socialism is to eliminate that rich/poor class divide.  Is this what the PQ wants?  Do they want to eliminate capitalism and transfer control of the means of production to the labourers? No, they do not.

The PQ is not a socialist party.  They are a social-democratic party.  While they believe in using government to defend social rights and work to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of wealth, it does this within the framework of a capitalist system.  Unless Wente is going to make a case demonstrating that the PQ is going to do away with capitalism in Quebec, then her claim that the PQ is a socialist party is absolutely baseless.  It is nothing more than a cheap insult designed to diminish the PQ and create further misconceptions about socialism.  The 1837 Society encourages honest discussion and debate, which is the opposite of Wente has done.

By: Clement Nocos

Last Sunday’s Quebec all-leaders’ debate saw all party leaders, of both sovereigntist and federalist stripes, list their grievances against Ottawa. PQ leader Pauline Marois touted more fights with the federal government for their ignorance of attention towards Quebec. Federalist CAQ party leader Francois Legault sold himself as a strong, nationalist leader that could stand up to the Harper Government. Premier Charest, though he provoked the sovereignty issue several times during the debate to establish the LPQ as the strong federalist option, can’t be seen to be “on his knees for Ottawa” if he is to win re-election.

Ottawa hate session

Quebec party leaders at last Sunday’s televised debate. None wanted to appear too friendly with Ottawa, even the federalists.

Pundits from the Rest of Canada are quick to jump and accuse Quebec’s unanimous disenchantment with the federal government as clamouring to further unbalance an asymmetrical federal arrangement in La Belle province’s favour. But it’s not just the Quebec leadership in the midst of an election frenzy that have been caught up crying for attention or condemning foul from the federal government.

Last month’s Council of the Federation meeting between Canada’s premiers saw the provinces unanimously lament the Prime Minister’s absence from the intergovernmental summit. Premiers from BC’s Christy Clark to Nova Scotia’s Darrell Dexter have all called for more interaction with the federal government.

Alberta Premier Allison Redford would benefit from federal support in her ongoing dispute with Christy Clark over Northern Gateway Pipeline royalties, yet the federal government has appeared somewhat distant from the interprovincial spat, citing constitutional boundaries that haven’t stopped the federal government from overstepping in the past.

I can’t say that Ontario Premier McGuinty was too thrilled when he was snubbed by the PM in last month’s meeting with Rob Ford over Toronto’s recent spate of gun violence. For what was supposed to be a summit to coordinate crime and public safety policy between the three levels of government that preside over the city of Toronto, there was little in the way of cooperation or talk for that matter.

It’s not just the Government of Quebec that is howling about Ottawa’s inattention, it’s every provincial government. With the federal government’s current offloading of responsibilities to the provinces, without consultation with provincial counterparts, the premiers (and anyone vying for the premiership job) are using their distance from Ottawa not as a weakness but as a strength. ‘Standing up to Ottawa’ has displaced any promise to work with the feds. I would not be surprised to see the same anti-Harper Government language and rhetoric played out in next year’s provincial election in British Columbia. Threatening sovereignty in Quebec has become a rather blunt solution to addressing current problems in intergovernmental relations.

Thomas Mulcair’s announcement last week that the NDP would seek to run a provincial wing of the party in Quebec’s next election is not just a federalist solution for the province’s left-wing, but also a means to address intergovernmental inadequacies. The NDP at both provincial and federal levels is the only Canadian political party to coordinate communications and policy between the two upper tiers of government. Were the NDP to become the next federal government, there would be more channels for intergovernmental discourse wherever the party was in power or in opposition at the provincial level. Though this may lead to an accelerated centralization of Canadian federalism, provinces would be able to bring their grievances directly to the federal government rather than the current shouting at Ottawa from a distance.

If the federal government wanted to get on the provinces’ good side, it would need to allow intergovernmental conversations, even if it didn’t agree with much of what they had to say. For now, bashing the federal government (and the state of the federation) has become a regular past time for provincial governments, as long as they are ignored by Ottawa. In the case of Quebec, the sheer lack of intergovernmental discourse endangers the federation by only sharpening sovereigntist sentiments.

By: Chris Burke

The long-awaited provincial election is finally underway in Quebec.  Taking place against a backdrop of student protests and government/mafia corruption, if there’s one election you follow this year: Make it this one.  My co-editor, Alex Ripley, has taken to opining on the election in his recent piece for the 1837 Society.  His opinions are evidence of his, I say this with good-spirits, terminal foot-in-mouth disease that do not give fair consideration to where the people of Quebec are coming from.

Bill 101, a controversial bill designed to preserve the French language, has been the centre of attention in Quebec for decades.  The Parti Quebecois promises to take the spirit of the bill further by barring students in Quebec from attending English language junior colleges.  While I am onside with Ripley in agreeing that the constitutionality of the bill may be questionable, I do not lament over its effects to the same degree.  Ripley gives the example of Anglo families having their “Merry Christmas” signs torn down and being told to put up “Joyeux Noel”.  That this example reminds me of those who cry out about a War on Christmas whenever someone says “Happy Holidays” only adds to my annoyance towards this petty argument.

Bill 101 is an attempt, however flawed, to preserve a language and culture that appears to be threatened.  Ripley’s response to this is that it does a disservice to the youth of Quebec.  English is the dominate language it is needed to conduct business in the global market place.  While true, this is a very neoliberal attitude to take towards the Quebec identity.  For some, like Quebec Solidaire, protecting that language and culture is more important than engaging in international business and we should note the “ought vs. is” dilemma.

Ripley suggests that cutting ties with the province would make life a fair bit easier for the rest of us.  As I was reading Ripley’s statement, I could not help but think of Canada’s most useless contribution to political discourse: Ezra Levant.  Who has supported Quebec separation on the basis that it would decrease the level of multi-culturalism in this nation.  Both Ripley and Levant take on a, “it would make the rest of us happy” attitude towards separation that is aimed more towards pleasing Anglo interests than it is Franco ones.  We must distinguish between outright separation and a push for more sovereignty.  More power in the hands of the province is not the same as Quebec going off to form its own nation, a difference that I think is lost in this discussion.  Further, Ripley conveniently ignores public opinion in Quebec.  A 2009 Angus Reid poll showed that a majority of Quebecers (79%) desired more autonomy, but only 28% supported separation.  Additionally, 54% of those polled answered “No”, to the question “Do you believe Quebec should become a separate country from Canada”, and only 20% believed a separation would ever happen. (Separation From Canada Unlikely for a Majority of Quebecers).  May I then suggest, to Ripley and like-minded thinkers, that rather than dreaming about how life would be easier if Quebec separated and creating this false image of a people that cannot stand their English counterparts, we actually listen to what the people of Quebec are saying and work towards a reasonable compromise.  It may reduce the number of reported foot-in-mouth cases.

By: Alex Ripley

I don’t talk about Quebec very often. Maybe I’m just all too aware of my terminal case of foot-in-mouth disease. Whatever the excuse, the fact remains: I can’t remember the last time I wrote about or discussed, however casually, the politics of Quebec and of the French language in Canada.

I’m going to make up for that prolonged radio silence. For starters, the facts: Quebec is having a provincial election this fall, and the governing Liberals (in power since 2003 under the leadership of lapsed federal Tory Jean Charest) are, according to Leger Marketing, trailing in the polls.[i] Enter Pauline Marois, the sixty-three year old leader of the Parti Quebecois. Madame Marois doesn’t just want to be Premier. She wants to be the Premier who spearheads a successful campaign for secession.

The PQ has long relished tough talk; seldom have their deeds lived up to their words and rhetorical plays. Their stints in office have left a mark on Quebec though. Take, for example, the “Charter of the French Language”, or Bill 101. Introduced by the first Parti Quebecois administration in the mid-1970s, this now-infamous piece of legislation put severe limits on where and when one could employ the English language in Quebec’s public spaces. Signage in the language spoken by the rest of Canada was torn down; Anglo families who simply tried to put “Merry Christmas” signs in their windows were instructed to play by the rules and bid their neighbors “Joyeux Noel.”

The constitutionality of Bill 101 is been debated over the years, but its supporters have argued that the legislation is but a necessary tool for the preservation of the French language amid a continent of English speakers. Pauline Marois wants to revisit Bill 101.[ii] Marois’ plan would block most francophone and allophone students from attending English language CEGEPs (junior colleges.)

Quebec may not be an officially bilingual province, but it is – for now, at least – a component of an officially bilingual federation. In English Canada, students are free to study in French, if French immersion education is available. The government isn’t blocking access. I understand and respect those who desire to protect and preserve the French language and Quebecois culture. By limiting access to English-speaking CEGEPs, however, the PQ would ultimately be doing a disservice to the youth of Quebec. English is the language of the rest of Canada, and of business and science internationally. There most be other ways to protect Quebecois culture than to deny young Francophones the opportunity to complete their schooling in the lingua franca of the modern age.

The Parti Quebecois would likely disagree with what I’ve said here. However, I am a strong believer in what in the United States would be called “states rights”, and I’m not about to suggest that Ottawa or the rest of Canada should limit the ability of Quebec to legislate on education or cultural policy. So let me leave you with this question: is it time to let Quebec go? If preserving the French language must be done in such a way that the priorities and sensibilities of the rest of Canada are offended, then perhaps it’s time cut the ties and let the province go its own way. It would make life a fair bit easier for the rest of us. I don’t want it to come to that, and as such I hope Madame Marois and the PQ are defeated on September 4th. But if the separatists do eke out a victory, I might, deep down, let out a little cheer.