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Tag Archives: Quebec Sovereignty

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.

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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.

By: Clement Nocos

Finally, I would like to add one last casual observation: I would have to say the party to watch out for this election has to be Québec Solidaire. Biking through Montreal last weekend, I couldn’t help but notice a high number of QS posters around the city. The number on some streets sometimes surpassed the number of PQ, LPQ, and CAQ ads. The QS currently hold one seat in the National Assembly, in a Montreal riding. However, many of these “Debout” posters could be seen way outside this electoral district.

The QS hold one seat from the last election in the Montreal riding of Mercier by party (co)-leader, Amir Khadir.

The last time I saw such a new, small party put up this many posters for a regional election was the 2011 Berlin Lander election. In Berlin last summer, posters for the Lander’s Pirate Party were just as ubiquitous as posters for the SPD, CDU, FDP, and die Linke. Berlin was also a city where youth were very politically involved. At the time, “Atomkraft Nein Danke” buttons could be seen on shirts and satchels in response to last year’s Fukushima nuclear disaster that led the German government’s announced shut down of all the country’s reactors by 2022. These “Atomkraft Nein Danke” buttons were as common in Berlin as the carré rouge in Montreal last weekend. The Pirate Party would capitalize on such a politically affected youth. It was often I would see young PP volunteers handing out stickers and information at Mauer Park’s Sunday flea markets, frequented by hip young people.

With the PP’s youth base, the new party managed to win 15 seats in Berlin’s last Lander election.

With youth political networks and activity, the Pirate Party (whose policies concentrate on Internet democracy) won 15 seats in the Berlin Abgeordnetenhaus. In also appealing to the more radical youth of the student movement and with such a strong presence, I would not be surprised to see the QS enlarge its standing in the National Assembly. Despite its sovereigntist tendencies and being essentially written off by the Anglo media, QS ties to the federal NDP that dominates the province and its strong alignment with the carrés rouges may also boost its political profile this election. This election could be the start of some formidable growth for the young party, unless the CAQ manages to appeal to a broader Anglophone base. A small but vocal party, the QS could become kingmaker in future legislative standoffs between the PQ and LPQ.

Osheaga last Sunday closed with M83’s (of France) frontman speaking in a language thought to be similar to the Quebecois language but left some Francophones asking each other whether they actually understood him. It is sometimes difficult to understand La Belle province which has led to (what I feel to be) confused and sometimes hysterical political analysis of this election by the ROC. The ROC and Anglophone media don’t really get it when they try to steer the province towards a sovereignty dispute when all the Quebecois want right now is a debate on youth and the economy.

For a look at where you might stand in the Quebec election, the CBC has released another Vote Compass; a useful tool to better know where the parties stand and to help those undecided voters find a party that aligns the most with their values and interests. Find out where you fit in Quebec’s political landscape: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/quebecvotes2012/features/votecompass.html

By: Clement Nocos

Amongst mostly Anglophone youth throughout Osheaga weekend, I also noticed that most had no idea of the province’s current political situation. I was asked on a number of occasions what the red squares meant by my less politically-inclined friends. I had to point out to another friend that the boards tied to nearly every second street lamp were election posters. It was very easy to pick out Anglophones and Francophones in between Feist’s and Snoop Dogg’s (Lion?) sets at Osheaga without even speaking to them; the Francophones wore the red squares. Before I ended up losing my own red square in a mosh pit, some had even assumed I was a Quebecker.

un carré rouge

To me, sometimes there is little wonder why there is talk of Quebec sovereignty when Anglo-Canadians make little effort to understand Quebec politics or French-Canada itself, especially amongst ROC youth. On the Metro, twice I overheard Anglophones yell “Speak English!” aloud when announcements in French came on over the PA on the way to Osheaga. It isn’t often you hear French Canadians yell “Parlez en Francais!” on the TTC. For whatever understanding there is among people of this federation, it definitely is not mutual.

Quebec youth, whether through the heightened political atmosphere due to the election, the strength of the student movement in the province, or the sheer social capital and political culture of Quebec, are much less politically apathetic than their ROC counterparts. Though this recent article in the Ottawa Citizen tackles as to why English Canada’s students aren’t particularly politically mobile, it also fails to mention that ROC youth aren’t particularly politically active either. At Osheaga, there were red squares in abundance amongst Quebecois youth.

i need to figure out the settings on this polaroid

Osheaga Crowds

It is this greater interest in politics amongst Quebecois youth that probably saw the NDP sweep the province in last year’s federal election. It is also this province’s much more active youth that is changing the discourse of this province’s general election. Though the Anglo news media tends to push these fears of the sovereignty elephant-in-the-room into the national discourse, Quebeckers have been paying much less attention to the issue this time around. In an election where the youth vote could actually make a difference due to the demographic groups’ political virility, opposition parties other than the demonized LPQ have tried to cater to youth concerns rather than sovereignty issues.

Sovereignty has almost turned into a non-issue. The PQ has basically pushed the debate into the back of its own agenda, instead opting to recruit CLASSE leaders to run as the centre-pieces of their election campaigns. Interviews with Péquiste candidates, when asked about the sovereignty thing, get forced back into their talking points. The PQ has a clear idea of what it will do for students but no idea of what it will do for Quebec sovereignty. Since the Péquistes were last in power back in 2003, international customary law has made the sovereignty more difficult, a generational shift has pushed the centre of political influence away from the “Quiet Revolution” generation, and failures in past referendums have added federalist tones to the province. This is especially evident with the demise of the BQ from federal politics. The Péquistes don’t (and shouldn’t) scare Canada now; if only it weren’t for the English news media’s fear-mongering over a near dead debate. The youth vote, for once, seems to be affecting the tone of politics somewhere in Canada.