Thursday, March 29, 2007

Towards a New Nationalism in Quebec

With their support to the Action Démocratique du Quebec (ADQ), certain Quebeckers are gradually (albeit very slowly) embracing a new kind of nationalism to most Montrealers’ greatest displeasure: a philosophy of Canadian/Quebecker melting pot.

Speaking of the ridings that were won by any given political parties, Montreal’s election map still looks like a chessboard shared by the Liberal Party of Quebec (LPQ) and the Parti Québécois (PQ). In this memorable provincial election, the major changes occurred when Mario Dumont’s ADQ, by seizing 41 ridings out of 125, truly gave birth to the Rest of Quebec (ROQ), in opposition to Montreal.

Boy, that election showed us how much Montreal is worryingly isolated from the ROQ!

Democracy certainly spoke on March 26. Political columnist Don MacPherson shamefully missed the target with his opinion piece published today in The Gazette. According to this hard-line ADQ basher, the day of the election “was a great day for xenophobia in Quebec.” MacPherson’s all-made and badly elaborated analysis shows a complete ignorance on the ROQ.

***

Many people argued that the supporters of the ADQ are a bunch of xenophobic ethnic nationalists. Even though they’re not racist or xenophobic, most Francophones from all ideological horizons (including those who live in Montreal) are feeling quite uncomfortable with the idea of considering ethnic minorities as Quebeckers or Canadians. Yet, these same Francophones also contradict themselves by upholding that ethnic minorities must adapt themselves to Quebec’s mainstream culture and not the other way around.

Is asking the integration of ethnic minorities (just like the ADQ did it) a racist slur? That’s easily said, especially if you live in Montreal! While many Montrealers pride themselves for living in a “multicultural” and cosmopolitan city, people from the ROQ regard themselves as the thurifiers of Quebec’s mainstream culture.

There are certainly problems of ethnic nationalism in the ROQ (not all Francophones are fingered) just like in Montreal. However, most people from the ROQ are definitely not mad at ethnic minorities; they’re just frustrated – and with reason – of most immigrants’ despicable incapacity to adopt Quebec’s mainstream culture. No wonder why most supporters of the ADQ come from the ROQ.

Obviously, these calls for integration coming from what The Gazette's Anglophone political columnists pejoratively refer to as the "rural Quebec" certainly reveal the widening chasm between Montreal and the ROQ. If the trend continues, the "rural Quebec" will become even more inclusive towards immigrants than Montreal. No one can deny that the ROQ is slowly starting to embrace a philosophy of melting pot.

As a matter of fact, Quebeckers living outside Montreal (and me) don't recognize themselves in the kind of nationalism advocated by most Montrealers in the likes of André Boisclair, the current leader of the PQ, or humorist Réal Béland. In fact, many Montrealers believe in a "nationalism" constituted not by one strong dominant common culture, but rather by a string of cultures independent from each other.

In 2006, 85% of immigrants chose to live in Montreal. With the small number of immigrants that they welcome, the ROQ don't want to live the Montrealer experience, which means facing the prospect of having to deal with a society divided by ethnicity. While the West Island almost fully belongs to Anglophones, the centre of Montreal is marked by the strong presence of ethnic minorities and the East of the city is mostly Francophone.

***

Most Quebeckers from the ROQ are certainly cuddling ethnic nationalism without being racist or xenophobic. After all, without wanting to condone such a mentality, this is certainly a step before these people living outside of Montreal collectively adopt with courage a philosophy of Quebecker/Canadian melting pot.

While most Montrealers adore ethnic division in the name of "celebration of cultural diversity", people from the rest of Quebec, who are mostly Francophones, care about social unity in Quebec. Francophones living outside of Montreal are gradually (albeit slowly) starting to embrace the vision of a society with a strong common culture for everybody, regardless of people's ethnicity.

With the contribution of the rest of Quebec, this province - if not Canada - is heading towards a new conception of nationalism. This election showed us that Montreal (I'm not insulting all Montrealers), just like Toronto and Vancouver, is intellectually and ideologically exhausted when it comes to finding a way to integrate immigrants.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Quebec: Results of the 2007 Provincial Election

All right, ladies and gentlemen from Quebec and the rest of Canada, here are the results of this very exciting election campaign that took an end on March 26. Quick analysis: separatism in Quebec currently looks like a lion that roars. However, that lion has become quite easy to knock out mostly because of its lack of credibility in Quebec and in Canda (speaking about the Bloc Québécois)... In the following days, I'll write three pieces about what I think about these elections.

Results of the 2007 provincial election in Quebec

Political parties

Number of seats

Number of votes

% of the votes

Liberal Party of Quebec (LPQ)

48

1 313 821

33,09%

Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ)

41

1 223 507

30,81%

Parti Québécois (PQ)

36

1 125 052

28,34%

Green Party of Quebec (GPQ)

0

154 367

3,9%

Québec Solidaire (QS)

0

145 052

3,65%

Independent candidates

0

4 755

0,11%

Marxist-Leninist Party of Quebec

0

2095

0,04%

Bloc Pot

0

1756

0,06%


Total

125

3 970 405

100%

Notes:
1.Required number of seats to form a majority government: 63

2. Requirements for a party to be recognized at the National Assembly: 12 elected candidates or 20% of the votes.

3. Registered voters: 5 630 567 voters

4. Participation rate: 71.28%

5. Valid ballots: 3 970 405 ballots

6. Rejected ballots: 41 269

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Jean Charest Tries to Look Good!

Jean Charest, the leader of the Liberal Party of Quebec (LPQ), calls himself as the new Canadian federalism’s builder. If it weren’t for his efforts, Quebec would apparently not receive the money from the equalization formula, according to him. Needless to say that he tries to write History just to look good during this exciting election campaign that is taking place in la Belle Province.

Now, take this for an axiom: back in 2004, thanks to Jean Charest, Quebec wasn’t subjugated to the federal spending power after receiving transfer payments from Ottawa for the management of the provincial health-care system. Unlike the other nine provinces, Quebec could handle that money on its own without being told by the federal government how to spill and waste it.

Obviously, the role of the LPQ’s leader must be replaced in its context. When former journalist Christine St-Pierre officially announced her involvement in the LPQ, she expressed her positive sentiments about the current application of Canadian federalism. By talking about the new flexible federalism, St-Pierre wasn’t singing an eulogy to Jean Charest. She was hopefully not listening to André Pratte’s inexact drumbeat.

After the election of Conservative leader Stephen Harper in 2006, Charest was definitely looking as interesting as the poker cards in Casino Royale. Therefore, if we modify a Roman proverb, render unto Stephen Harper the things which are Stephen Harper’s. Now that you understood my point of view, let’s rewind the tape, dear folks.

Back in the days when Paul Martin was supposedly trying to build a “country where the streets are ruled by guns, gangs and drugs” (Stephen Harper), the relation between Ottawa and Quebec was extremely cold. Environment minister Stéphane Dion didn’t want to grant to Quebec its environmental budget that was at least $300 million. All in all, most Quebeckers weren’t satisfied about the merchandise delivered by Martin.

During the 2006 federal election, Stephen Harper was the only candidate who proposed to practice a flexible federalism as opposed to the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC). Anyone who followed this federal election closely knows that Jean Charest and Mario Dumont went on to publicly give their "personal" support the the Conservative Party of Canada. Furthermore, Quebec's Intergovernmental Affairs minister Benoît Pelletier clearly said that the recognition of the fiscal imbalance was an idea from Rona Ambrose.

Once elected, Stephen Harper will show a lot of open-mindedness towards Quebec. For instance, when the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer was created with a federal investment of $260 million, its goal was to provide Canada with a new federal cancer strategy to save 423,000 people. However, at the demand of Quebec's Health minister Philippe Couillard, Harper hopefully didn't include Quebec in that plan, because Quebec already had a cancer strategy of its own since 2003.

Another example of Stephen Harper's creativity (not Jean Charest's!) lies in the announcement made in February on environmental issues. This plan accompanied by the creation worth $1.5 billion of EcoTrust Canada consisted into "provid[ing] money to [...] provinces and territories [in order] to reduce greenhouse gases and pollution." Even though the Tories don't believe in the Kyoto Protocol, they still decided to transfer $350 million to Quebec.

With that money, Quebec (just like the other provinces and territories) could apply its own environmental plan without being told by the federal government what to do with that money. Needless to say that the environmental request from Quebec previously described "had been rebuffed by Paul Martin's former Liberal government."

If we consider Stephen Harper's willingness to redefine the federal spending power only if a federalist party is elected in Quebec on the 26th of March, we can say that Jean Charest performs in this political play with his indolence and his presence on Quebec's highest seat.

After all, if the PQ was elected (which is impossible), would Harper negociate with Quebec to redefine the federal spending power? If he does, Canada's Prime Minister should know that even though he shows a lot of open-mindedness towards Quebec, most separatists will uphold that nothing is enough for the Quebec that they envision.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Separatist Shepherd and his Sheeps


André Boisclair, the leader of the Parti Québécois (PQ)

Usually perceived as a coward and bland politician, the leader of the Parti Québécois (PQ) André Boisclair, on the night of the leaders’ debate, surprisingly crushed a plethora of prejudices that still sullies his reputation. Strange though it might sound, we saw for once in André Boisclair a man who can express clear messages devoid of pitiable embellishments of style.

He really brought few changes in his personal image despite the fact that he talks like a robot. Even though we might not agree with his ideas (what ideas?), Boisclair still succeeded into criticizing the stances of his two opponents by pointing out good remarks and asking good questions. However, the sky is the limit.

Anyone who saw the debate could tell that Boisclair wasn’t dreaming at all about sitting on Quebec’s highest seat. That’s why he didn’t propose any solutions to improve the quality of life in Quebec. In fact, Bernard Landry’s successor was on duty: saving the PQ’s sheeps. All in all, looking like an empty shell was probably a necessity for André Boisclair, because he knows that he can’t become Quebec’s next Premier.

This provincial election campaign will not be about who André Boisclair is as someone who wants to be Premier. It will only be about what status André Boisclair can give to his party once it will evidently be torpedoed in what I call the “general opposition” after the night of the provincial election on the 26th of March.

The post-election period will be important for André Boisclair’s political future. Obviously, the leader of the PQ will struggle to make sure that his party will obtain the status of the “Official Opposition”, which means the party facing the Premier and also the one that can ask questions as much as it wants. Many supporters of the PQ will be mad at André Boisclair if the PQ becomes a “non-recognized party” at the National Assembly.

In fact, to be “recognized” at the National Assembly, a political party must have 1) 12 elected deputies or 2) 20% of the popular votes. If any given party of the “general opposition” falls below these standards, it can only ask two questions per week during the parliamentary session. Obviously, if the PQ becomes a “non-recognized” party, you can be sure that its hot-tempered supporters will quickly ask for a leadership campaign in order to have a leader who can score better than André Boisclair.

The rise of the ADQ’s popularity is obviously disadvantaging the PQ. Frustrated and moderate PQ supporters are convinced that Mario Dumont’s party represent a good choice for them. In fact, they see in him a man who can decentralize the Canadian federalism. Besides, despite staying with their personal conviction, these frustrated separatists are probably not in a hurry to see Quebec separate from Canada.

As for the federalists (that includes the “soft nationalists”), some of them might like the idea of asking for a few acts of decentralization from the federal government in favour of Quebec. Other frustrated federalists (just like me) almost have the same views with Mario Dumont on the management of the healthcare system, religious accommodations and also about the place of Quebec’s bureaucracy in the economy.At this time, André Boisclair certainly understood that the ADQ’s attraction index mostly lies in 1) its refusal to separate from Canada (for federalists like me) and 2) its desire to claim for a better respect of Quebec’s cultural specificity within Canada (for separatists and soft nationalists). The ADQ is neither federalist nor separatist.

For frustrated federalists and separatists, the ADQ is the ideal place where you can park (or maybe cast with your heart) your vote even though you don’t embrace that ridiculous and unrealistic idea of autonomy within Canada. Just to let you know, “autonomists” in Quebec only represent an ideological minority as far as we know. Besides, let's also not forget the left-wing separatists who will vote for Québec Solidaire...

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Le combat des coqs à Québec

Incroyable mais vrai, l'un des plus grands détracteurs montréalais de Mario Dumont, en l'occurence du chroniqueur politique Michel C. Auger a dû admettre dans un billet que le chef de l'Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ) a gagné le débat des chefs qui s'est tenu hier à Québec. Qu'on se le tienne pour dit: il n'y a pas eu de K.-O. dans ce débat d'une qualité relevant de l'olympisme.

Connu pour sa couardise et son vocabulaire de technocrate, le chef du Parti Québécois (PQ) André Boisclair a su renverser une panoplie de préjugés à son sujet. Il nous a finalement donné l'image d'un homme sachant communiquer dans un style clair et dépourvu de fioritures. Toutefois, malgré sa volonté de chauffer la plus haute chaise du Québec, le chef du PQ s'apparentait plus à quelqu'un qui tentait de sauver les meubles si on pense aux multiples gaffes qui souillent son image.

D'ailleurs, Boisclair n'avait ultimement rien à gagner dans ce combat de coqs. Il devait s'évertuer à ramener les séparatistes déçus au bercail. Néanmoins, ce "pied tendre" (Mario Dumont) est beaucoup trop centré sur lui-même et il affiche une très grande fragilité. Ne me demander surtout pas pourquoi ce dandy montréalais a tenté de bâillonner ses adversaires lorsque ce n'était pas son tour pour parler... Quand ça va mal, assurez-vous que vos adversaires ne puissent pas gratter allègrement sur vos plaies si avenantes!

De plus, André Boisclair a aussi gardé une très vieille bonne habitude: rester à l'ombre! Eh oui, même si votre opinion à son sujet change, je doute que vous ayez été impressionner par ses laïus.

Bref, Boisclair est certes capable de critiquer les prises de positions des autres chefs, mais pour pour ce qui est des idées, il demeure un coffre vide incapable de proposer des solutions. Un petit conseil: laisse les gens parler quand ce n'est pas ton tour, André. As-tu un problème, comme le disait Jean Charest?

Flottant sur un nuage, le chef de l'ADQ Mario Dumont a réussi à impressionner l'électorat québécois. De tous les deux chefs, cet économiste donnait réellement l'impression qu'il regardait les gens "dans les yeux" (Boisclair). Par contre, ce qui minait légèrement la crédibilité de Mario Dumont, ce fut les moments durant lesquels il en a arraché pour répondre tant que bien que mal aux attaques léchées de Charest et de Boisclair sur quelques sujets particulièrement chauds: l'assurance-médicament, l'abolition des commissions scolaires et l'autonomie.

Ces trois idées semblaient carrément toutes faites à la hâte. Malgré cela, Mario Dumont a su rester solide et combattif en répliquant tantôt avec une argumentation d'une précision chirurgique et tantôt avec des répliques assassines. En ce qui concerne ces dernières, vous n'avez qu'à penser à la "cassette [de] Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Jean Chrétien et Stéphane Dion" débitée par André Boisclair au sujet de la santé. Bref, Dumont a certainement des idées, mais pour être réaliste, il devrait viser des votes de contestation.

Jean Charest a su rester fidèle à ses habitudes en gardant son calme lors du débat. Par contre, visiblement fatigué, le chef du Parti Libéral du Québec (PLQ) a passé beaucoup de temps sur la défensive. Comment peut-on défendre un bilan de quatre ans si mauvais? Demandez à Jean Charest. Comment peut-on dire que tout va bien en santé alors qu'en réalité, ça fait dur? Pour connaître le secret, allez voir ce député de Sherbrooke.

Jean Charest n'a pas eu la soirée facile, mais il a su éviter le K.-O. en gardant la tête haute face à un André Boisclair déstabilisé à certains moments. Contrairement à ce qu'il voulait, même s'il sait poser de bonnes questions offensives, le chef du PLQ n'a jamais réussi à mettre à terre un Mario Dumont qui a la peau aussi dure qu'un coffre fort. Les échanges les plus intéressants étaient plutôt entre Jean Charest et Mario Dumont.

Pour reprendre l'image de Mario Dumont, Jean Charest a beaucoup trop joué au petit jeu du Premier ministre suffisant. Jean Charest a tenté de banaliser les problèmes de santé en maintenant que l'ultime problème est incarné par le manque d'infirmières et de médecins. Pas fort! Cela ne constitue qu'un des problèmes aux même titre que les temps d'attente et l'engorgement des salles d'urgence. Charest est-il devenu vide? Ce n'est pas moi qui vous le dira, mais je peux vous dire qu'il a un bon instinct de survie.

En gros, voici mon classement:

  1. Jean Charest (PLQ): 8.5/10
  2. Mario Dumont (ADQ): 8.5/10
  3. André Boisclair (PQ): 7/10

Finalement, ce débat des chefs (qui est le deuxième que je vois depuis que je suis sérieusement la politique en 2004) laisse la place à une campagne aussi imprévisible qu'une saison de la LNH (pensez au plafond salarial). Ce 26 mars, exprimez-vous, car voter, ce n'est pas rien qu'un droit: c'est d'abord et avant tout un devoir civil.


Autres textes sur le débat des chefs:

1. Un bon débat sans K.-O., par Alain Dubuc

2. Les Québécois ont gagné, par André Pratte

3. Surtout pas la culture, par Nathalie Petrowski

4. Mario en feu, Charest éteint, Vincent Marrissal


6. C'est qui le moins mauvais, par Louise Cousineau

7. Avantage au PQ (mauvais texte)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

White Lies on Fiscal Imbalance


On the 2th of March, Quebec’s outgoing Premier Jean Charest did a speech in Montreal before 850 people invited by the Italian Chamber of Commerce of Canada, including Montreal’s mayor Gérald Tremblay. The leader of the Liberal Party of Quebec (LPQ) averred that his party is the only federalist party in Quebec that can solve that ridiculous national problem of fiscal imbalance.

Many people will easily accuse me of being someone who is not interested to see Quebec get federal transfer payments. Come on, do think again! Since the concept of federalism is based on a partnership between two levels of governments, some fiscal transfers must be made in order to make sure that provincial governments can give services that they ought to give.

Obviously, the equalization program is not a viable option for Quebec’s economic development. What I’m trying to say is that Quebec’s government 1) don’t take any measures to create wealth; 2) can’t actually find a way to recuperate money that is uselessly spent and 3) that Quebec has become quite addicted to this fiscal program.

A few months ago, with a very well calculated leak from Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, it was said with a concealed sense of jubilation in Quebec’s media that this province’s government might receive more than $2 billion from the equalization program. Does it really sound like good news? Well, it depends of your own understanding of Canadian economy… Here’s my subjective analysis of this situation: completely P-A-T-H-E-T-I-C.

Even though I don’t agree with all of Mario Dumont’s stances (particularly on the practice of federalism), I admit that Dumont was right to say that Jean Charest and André Boisclair are ludicrously hooking the federal government. Furthermore, these two leaders of what most of us refer to in common parlance as “Quebec’s major political parties” try to entice voters by artistically mirroring that transfer of $2 billion on their canvas as a fiscally drinkable multi-colour rain from Ottawa.

In the first place, it is true that part of that transfer come from the federal government. However, there’s one inconvenient truth that must be said: provinces that can’t receive any sum of money from the equalization program (ex: Alberta, British-Columbia, Ontario) must transfer their economic surpluses to ensure 1) the development of Quebec and 2) the equality between all provinces as Pierre Elliott Trudeau wanted it in his pitiable dream that confines to utopia.

All in all, the shocking aspect of the “fiscal imbalance” lies in the concept of horizontal imbalance. According to that concept, there’s an inequality between the provinces, in terms of financial power. Simply put, the riches provinces (those who are over the Canadian average of financial standards) must send payments to poor provinces in the likes of Quebec.

No wonder why Jean Charest and André Boisclair enjoy talking about the fiscal imbalance! Do they know that the more a province receives from the equalization program, the more it is poor? Apparently not. Are Charest and Boisclair preparing a plan to sink Quebec a little bit more into poverty? Let’s hope not.

No matter what Jean Charest said during his press conference, the equalization program is more part of Quebec’s current self-fish interests. In fact, through the Canadian equalization program, which appeared during the traumatizing era of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Quebec is imposing to other provinces its quite “distinct” social-democrat irresponsible way of life.

Let’s be very clear: social-democracy is not an ideological scourge that can be found in a book of political science. Simply put, the Canadian government is punishing fiscally responsible provinces to award a province (Quebec) that can’t 1) produce its own wealth adequately and 2) make responsible spendings. It's quite easy to understand why Danny Williams and Ed Stelmach, respectively Premiers of Newfoundland and Alberta, were infuriated to learn that revenues related to natural resources might be included in the calculation for the equalization program.

Honestly, this column is not about verbally bashing Quebec. I was just arguing that before it can claim money from the federal government (and also from other provinces), Quebec should think about eliminating the fiscal calories, that means useless expenses. All in all, the problem of fiscal imbalance looks more like a rhetoric used to lure Quebeckers rather than to please them.

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