Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hugo Chavez's Crusade

Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela.
On Sunday, Venezuela's socialist president Hugo Chavez was at the centre of an international crisis. At midnight, he decided not to renew the license of TV channel Radio Caracas Television (RCTV). Before that, on Friday, the Venezuelan army received an order from the Supreme Court to seize the TV channel's broadcast equipment and to occupy its head office. Chavez's critics are not necessarily wrong when they uphold that his regime starts to look like Cuban president Fidel Castro's regime.

Actually, there's one difference with Chavez and Castro. In fact, Venezuela's current president got "democratically" elected with 62.87% of the votes during the election of December 4, 2006 despite the low participation rate. Nonetheless, Chavez is not really convincing as a democrat. Evidently, his country got ranked 115th in the press freedom index of Reporters without Borders last year.

When RCTV was closed, it was replaced by a state-run channel called TVes. This new channel will be used by Hugo Chavez to promote his "21rst century socialism". Many government officials said that RCTV does no good to the population and that it damages the government of Venezuela. Seriously, before its closure, RCTV was the most watched channel in Venezuela. Furthermore, Chavez said that RCTV showed a "subversive" content by being opposed to him. Actually, this former TV channel was openly criticizing Chavez, but it's not behind the coup d'État of 2002!

Even though RCTV presented news shows just like any other TV channels, the main shows presented by RCTV were mostly humour shows (mocking Chavez) and TV series.

Strange though it might sound, Hugo Chavez's "21rst century socialism" starts to look like a leftism from the Cold War. Indeed, this man believes a lot in governmental intervention. Unfortunately, with the closure of RCTV, mainstream media is being more and more controlled by the Venezuelan government. The main consequence of this fact is the beginning of the absence of independent -albeit controlled by private companies- media in Venezuela. In spite of its opposition to Chavez, RCTV provided a political forum to people who wanted to freely express their opinions.

Besides, this event also reveals many contradictions in Hugo Chavez's political discourse! To see it, you just have to take a look at the constitution of Venezuela. According to the article 2 of the constitution, Venezuela is a country built on the values of "freedom, justice, equality, [...] democracy, [...] human rights, ethics and political pluralism".

While remembering that Hugo Chavez wrote the current constitution, it's quite pathetic to see that he disregards the article 57 of it. In fact, according to this article, "anybody has the right to freely express his/her thoughts, ideas or opinions [...] without the intervention of censorship". Hugo Chavez and some of his supporters (some members of his party are against the closure of RCTV) can say whatever they want. However, the closure of RCTV is an attack to freedom of press.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Who Runs Quebec?


Since Tuesday, employees of Montreal's public transit network (who are part of a trade union) asked for a salary raise of 2% per year in a contract of 3 years. With a basic salary of $42,972 per year (including social benefits), these people don't have any reason to complain. Indeed, this basic salary almost corresponds to what a Quebecker teacher will earn after five years, starting with a salary of $36,196! Besides, since the maximum salary is $54,870, most people working in Montreal's public transit network earn $53,435.

When Montreal's mayor Gérald Tremblay said that there will be no salary raise, the leader of the Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ) Mario Dumont supported him. Moreover, Dumont didn't hide his thoughts about the possibility to promulgate at the National Assembly a "special law" that can break strikes from employees of public transit networks in Quebec.

"The real question is: who speaks for the average people. Who defend the average people in Quebec?" This was the ludicrous question that Jean Charest threw in the National Assembly yesterday, in the first place, in response to an annoying public transit strike that is paralyzing Montreal's bus and subway.

However, the real question is:"Who runs Quebec?" Is it Quebec's current Premier Jean Charest or rather Mario Dumont, the leader of the Official Opposition?

When he made his speech to begin the work at the National Assembly, Jean Charest promised that his government will be "different". His government is so "different" that he always seems ready to get hung up to Mario Dumont in order to take decisions! In fact, in the first hours of the strike, Jean Charest didn't even react and Quebec's Labour minister David Whissell vaguely said that some negotiations must be done.

After he occupied the back stage in the media for one day, Quebec's Labour minister David Whissell finally said yesterday that the employees of the Société des Transports de Montréal (STM) and their employers will have "48 hours" to negotiate. This response was done right after the meeting between Mario Dumont and Montreal's mayor Gérald Tremblay. As for the Parti Québécois (PQ), its members certainly didn't want to offend unionists (their traditional allies).

This crisis, once again, shows that Jean Charest didn't understand Quebeckers' message. In fact, the lack of response from Quebec's government for one day showed that Jean Charest is unable to occupy the front stage in the media. Furthermore, it's the second time that Charest takes a decision in response to a declaration of Mario Dumont! This makes us wonder if Charest is Dumont's puppet.

Unlike Jean Charest, Mario Dumont certainly knew what was the reaction from most Montrealers because of the strike. You can also consider the fact that during the election, Mario Dumont didn't get any ridings from Montreal. Obviously, with what they saw yesterday, Montrealers can't say that the leader of the ADQ can't "feel" their pulse, because he was the first politician who tried to propose a solution to end this public transit strike, in the first place, and therefore to defend their interests.

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Little Bit of History

No please, don't click the "X" icon in the right top corner of your screen! I'm not going to bore you with another column dealing with History. In fact, I clearly have nothing to write today, so I'll leave you with some interesting things related to History. Trust me, you're going to enjoy reading these articles in question. Good reading.

  • The Chinese in Montreal, The Gazette (May 21, 2007). A very interesting article about the presence of people of Chinese heritage in Montreal. Obviously, the racism that these people faced from the 1900s to the 1960s is being talked about in this article written by John Kalbfleisch

  • ISRAËL - Pardonnez notre racisme, Courrier International (May 18, 2007). An article from the Israeli newspaper Ha'Aretz translated in French. It talks about the strained relation between the Jews and Muslims (and by extension people of Arabic heritage) living in France.

  • Les 60 ans du Festival de Cannes : la mémoire du siècle, Historia (May 2007, issue 725). Since the creation of the Cannes Film Festival in 1946, History (according to the political context) was always reflected throughout the years. What kind of historical movies were shown in 1946? There were movies on the Second World War, duh!

  • La Révolution invente la démocratie participative, Historia (May 2007, issue 725). Is participation democracy a new idea that appeared in France with Ségolène Royal? I don't think so...

  • Accouchement sous X : la spécificité française, Historia (May 2007, Issue 725). Are the Japanese trying to copy the French when it comes to deal with newly born babies? This is an article that tells you how some French women were secretly abandoning their baby or even secretly giving life to a child by having the law on their side.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Gérard Bouchard and Separation

Yesterday, one of The Gazette's political columnists, Don MacPherson said that Gérard Bouchard, one of the president of the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, should resign. Apparently, in an interview given to the weekly newspaper Voir, Bouchard admitted that French Quebeckers are having quite a hard time with the "debate" on "reasonnable accommodations", because they "react like [ethnic minorities], display the same feelings of fear, threat, fragility [and] roughness."

Here's the pièce de résistance of the news created by The Gazette that wasn't a news as such: Gérard Bouchard said that achieving the independence of Quebec will solve all our problems concerning reasonnable accommodations. Moreover, this sociologist added that the separation would act as a glue to unite all people living in Quebec.

Now, that's a hell of a good joke if you consider Quebec's History since 1840! Ok, let's get back to the point. Sociologist Gérard Bouchard spilled his opinion opinion out while he wasn't on duty as one of the heads of the study commission on "reasonnable accommodations".

Ok, Gérard Bouchard's adherence to separatism wasn't a secret. So what? Everybody knew beforehand that his colleague in the commission, philosopher Charles Taylor, is well-known for his federalist stance and his blind advocacy of multiculturalism. Aren't we supposed to ask Taylor to resign? Here's a good idea for Don MacPherson: he should write a sequel to his column. Indeed, why doesn't MacPherson ask Charles Taylor to resign?

Seriously, both Bouchard and Taylor certainly know that they're supposed to give advices to the Quebecker government by taking in consideration the current political context, right? Picture this: Quebec is a Canadian province. Both Bouchard and Taylor are not supposed to try to tout their political views (i.e. separation vs federalism).

That's the kind of objectivity that is needed. In other words, Bouchard and Taylor are supposed to put aside the political option (separation or federalism) that they favour the most. Whether you like to hear it or not, people who are asked to be part of a commission are supposed to be impartial. That's the way it works.

Even though the creation of this commission wasn't necessary at all, let's not be surprised that such an opinion-piece was published in The Gazette. Don MacPherson should really stop taking things out of their context if he knows what I mean...

PS: I'm still against the creation commission, by the way. Secondly, why the hell does the inquiry of Gérard Bouchard and Charles Taylor start in September while the commission was created on February 8, 2007?

Lise Thibault Finally Gets Out!

Thanks to a short and amusing blog post written by Élodie Gagnon-Martin, I just learned this morning that Quebec's current Lieutenant Governor will finally be kicked out. The point is that it would have been better if monarchy was abolished in Canada. Again, it's pretty obvious that most Canadians don't want to live in a republic.

Who will replace Lise Thibault? Apparently, according to the newspaper Le Soleil, Stephen Harper will designate Pierre Duchesne (not the political journalist from Radio-Canada, mind you) as Quebec's Lieutenant Governor today. Well, it truly was about time that Lise Thibeult leaves. Given her filthy habits at the time when Quebeckers had to endure her, she must now learn how to live with what she has around.

In fact, at the time when we had to endure her, she was quite known for using her magic credit card. In other words, she excessively used taxpayers' money to bankroll her lavish activities. Let's also remember that she used her magic credit card to have a breakfast at Quebec City, Montreal and Gatineau on the same day and at the same time. Does it look like science-fiction to you?

Strange though it might sound, this is not something taken from a novel from Patrick Senécal or Dennis Lehane (two novelists that I appreciate)! In addition to that, Thibault also asked the Quebecker government to refund her for the three simultaneous break breakfasts that she "had". How pathetic...

Moreover, it was also about time that Stephen Harper gets rid of her: Thibault never had the reputation of respecting her mandate. In fact, she was often absent when Quebec's National Assembly needed her to sign a bill, so that it can be approved. That would be in our interests if Canada's political institutions were reformed, but let's hope, for the moment, that Pierre Duchesne will work with a better sense of judgement than Lise Thibault.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

John Edwards and Iraq

When the Democratic Party's former leader John Kerry designated John Edwards as his running mate in 2004, he said to a crowd during a rally at Market Square in North Carolina:"I have chosen a man who understands and defends the values of America." Three years later, John Edwards is now a candidate who seeks the Democratic nomination for president for the election of 2008 in the USA.

In 2002, Senator John B. Breaux, a Democrat from Louisiana, said that Edwards "has all the ingredients you're looking for." Breaux also said:"But what is missing is a great deal of seasoning or experience in the business of government. I don't think it's just 9/11. You're talking about North Korea. You're talking about Afghanistan. You're talking about Iraq."

To straighten things out, John Edwards certainly has a clear idea about how social policies would look like if he was elected. For example, Edwards was the first candidate in the presidential primary who presented a clear strategy about how to provide universal health care. However, just like most of his political buddies, John Kerry's former running mate faces a difficulty to show realism on the war in Iraq.

According to him, "the first step" will consist into withdrawing 40,000 to 50,000 soldiers from Iraq. Edwards averred that the "complete withdrawal of all combat troops from Iraq" should be done in about 12 to 18 months. This plan, according to him, will "[allow] Iraqis to assume greater responsibility for rebuilding their own country."

Obviously, John Edwards "understands and defends the values of America" so much. If he was president, expect the American army to be used for good reasons, apparently. For him, restoring the USA's international "legitimacy" means "leading [a fight] on [...] great challenges [...] like the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the genocide in Darfur, extreme poverty, and living up to [the USA's] ideals in the fight against terrorism."

As an old Chinese proverb said it:"Gold and jade on the outside. Rot and decay on the inside." This proverb doesn't describe the Democrats' willingness to withdraw American combat troops from Iraq. It rather describes the promise itself. Indeed, it certainly looks beautiful and noble, but it's hardly feasible given what is happening in Iraq.

The Iraqi government is a disappointment, because it can’t achieve national unity. Indeed, just look at the tensions between the Shiites and the Sunnis. These tensions are rooted into Iraq’s History. Nowadays, Iraqi Shiites are taking revenge for the long time of domination from the Sunnis throughout Iraq’s History.

There’s also the visible difficulty for American troops to handle Iraq’s national security. That difficulty is also related to the paucity of Iraqi soldiers and cops. Besides, among the few Iraqi soldiers and cops newly hired, most of them are not professional yet. In short, the American combat troops are left with 1) the bulk of the job in terms of security and 2) a lack of anti-guerilla strategies.

It’s good to see that John Edwards, just like his fellow Democrats, is against the war in Iraq. Democrats exploit it to show the Bush Administration’s clumsiness. We all know that the war in Iraq is illegitimate. Nonetheless, let’s recognize one harmful truth: the USA threw itself into this military adventure and now, it must find a way to get out of this quagmire.

Unfortunately, the withdrawal can’t gradually be done in one year. The situation in Iraq is not likely to change for the next year. The Democrats should know that if American combat troops were withdrawn too quickly, all hell would really break loose in Iraq. Sad though it might sound, the Democrats should know that, if elected, the way they decide to withdraw American combat troops from Iraq can either show their clumsiness or their brightness.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

André Boisclair Steps Down

André Boisclair, the former leader of the Parti Québécois (PQ).
Today, André Boisclair, the leader of the Parti Québécois (PQ), was supposed to meet his party's caucus led by Agnès Maltais. However, according to my classmates from college, an article of The Globe and Mail and another one from La Presse, Boisclair resigned from his post as leader of the Parti Québécois (PQ). Who will be the next leader of this party that seeks the separation of Quebec from Canada?

Obviously, this young politician is not fully responsible of his downfall; we must also consider what his predecessors did. For example, you can think about the SPQ Libre - definitely the best ingredient for internal division! - created by Bernard Landry to please the PQ's leftist wing. That being said, André Boisclair certainly inherited his predecessors' problems. Still, one of the main reasons of his downfall remains his lack of political judgement.

After all, many people wasn't convinced that he could be Quebec's Premier. In fact, on the night of the leaders' debate, he spent most of his time criticizing and insulting the other candidates without exposing his ideas. Most of us didn't anticipate his surprising resignation. Nevertheless, he really has been displaying many signs of weakness since last weeks.

The PQ’s supporters were asking for a provincial convention as soon as possible to make a confidence vote on Boisclair’s leadership. The convention in question was initially supposed to be held in 2009, but the leader of Quebec’s major separatist party decided that it would finally be held on September 2008.

Simply put, he wanted to give himself a decent window of time to be a new type of leader. That really was a despicable display of arrogance. Does he really think that members of the PQ will give him a second chance? Many people don’t expect his leadership style to change.

If Boisclair was trying to courageously talk the talk like Mario Dumont, the leader of the Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ), that wouldn’t look convincing at all. In fact, in 18 months at the helm of the PQ, Boisclair was never able to clearly express his thoughts on various issues.

Thus, if he miraculously became as good as Nicolas Sarkozy in oral communication, people would just start wondering who the hell does Boisclair think he is. In short, people are just so used to see Boisclair stumble into political correctness whenever journalists press him to give his opinions.

On Sunday, why did he verbally attack the leader of the Bloc Québécois (BQ) Gilles Duceppe in an interview? At the first look, such an intervention was not a good idea at all.

Indeed, last week, we could learn in the newspaper Le Devoir that Louise Harel, a deputy of the PQ, was trying to make Gilles Duceppe become the leader of the PQ. Rumours will always be rumours, right? Although both Harel and Duceppe are old friends, she declared that she was still following André Boisclair.

Let’s grant to Harel the benefit of doubts. Given her support to Pauline Marois during the leadership race of the PQ in 2005, one might say that she probably made another discourse to hide her real feelings… Anyway, by accusing Duceppe of perverting Quebecker separatists’ interests, Boisclair really turned many separatists against him.

In his resignation speech, he said that the “ordeals [that he went through as the head of the PQ] were […] occasions to learn and grow up”. Moreover, he added that “the current conditions no longer allow [him to be the leader of the PQ]”.

Had it not been because of his arrogance, André Boisclair would have fixed his mistakes in order “to learn and grow up”. After all, before Boisclair became the leader of the PQ, this pathetic political party just never learned and grew up.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Hefty Taxes in Quebec

When the federal budget was revealed on March 19, which means one week before the day of the provincial election in Quebec (March 26), Premier Jean Charest made a promise. He announced that, once elected, he'll use the $700 million coming from federal transfers to lower Quebec's provincial taxes. Obviously, that sum of $700 million will accompany the $250 million that already contributes to assuage Quebeckers' fiscal duties.

However, Mario Dumont, the leader of the Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ), indicated that his party won't support such an "unbalanced" budget even if he doesn't know what are Jean Charest's budgetary plans. While he promised to act like a sort of Big Brother at the National Assembly, is Dumont really giving a blow to his discourse's coherence?

Not necessarily. Nonetheless, going back into election is not part of Quebeckers' interests. Given Mario Dumont's intentions (which are not subtle), Jean Charest should think twice before lowering our provincial taxes before the beginning of the parliamentary session on May 8.

An imbalance

Despite the necessity, a tax relief of $950 million could look unrealistic in the current political context. Don't forget that Quebec's fiscal and economic policies haven't changed a lot since the last 40 years. Besides, Quebecker taxpayers' wallet is being heavily emptied to keep the so-called "Quebecker Model" alive.

Whether Quebec's hard-core socialists like to hear it or not, a significant tax relief can only be made if our economic and fiscal policies are smartly reformed. Obviously, the Quebecker government must keep social policies that are deemed to be the most useful.

In fact, promising a good hit on the tax burden without making any changes in the way the government sleeps with money is a complete scam. Because of the huge cost of Quebec's heavy social-democracy, many Quebeckers should stop regarding life as a paradise full of free services.

In a scenario with no reforms, the Premier of Quebec (with the possible support of the Parti Québécois) will widen the economic imbalance between this province's revenues and expenses. Indeed, if you spend more than you earn, you'll face a deficit. Expect Quebec's debts to become bigger because of the mismanagement of public funds!

Do Quebeckers want a province that is getting closer to poverty? Let's hope not...

Reforms

By reducing a direct source of revenues (the provincial taxes), where will the provincial government get the money to finance our huge social-democracy? In order to fight the hefty taxes that are inherently related in the concept of welfare-state, Quebec's government must get rid of some of the leftists' sacred cows.

For example, it's about time to have a two-tiers healthcare system. Moreover, we can also add to such a possible reform the increase of Quebec's tuition fees and the end of subsidies to private schools (including ethnic or religious private schools). Unless I'm wrong, low taxes can only make our days when the state has been sized down.

All in all, there's nothing wrong with social-democracy; there's only something wrong when taxes are too big because of the abundance of social policies. Needless to say that in Quebec, some governmental services are either so useless or facing an appointment with a parliamentary make-over.

In short, Mario Dumont is not necessarily wrong when he questions the feasibility of a $950 million tax relief. Still, details really matter. Would Dumont leave aside the parliamentary tradition according to which the Official Opposition votes against the budget? He certainly can't say no to a tax relief that is accompanied by smart economic reforms.

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