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The price of a memory is the memory of the sorrow it brings — Counting Crows

Archive for the ‘Quebec sait faire’ Category

The war in Europe is over. Now, to turn our attention to the Pacific.

“We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.” — Winston Churchill.

For the past 18 months, it’s felt a bit to me like we’ve been fighting a war on two fronts: On the one hand, against Pauline Marois and the PQ at the provincial level, and on the other hand, against Stephen Harper and the Conservatives at the federal level.

One of the two fronts of this war was defeated last night, as the PQ was thrashed at the ballot box and earned its worst election result in 44 years. Now, it’s time to turn our focus to the other front.

Despite ostensibly occupying opposite sides of the sovereignty debate and of the left-right political spectrum, Harper’s Tories and Marois’s PQ have a lot in common. Both came to power on a wave of anger against Liberal corruption amidst grandiose promises to clean up government, and both took corruption to new heights. Both have been engaging in the politics of fear and division. Both have been trying to rig the electoral system to deny votes to their political opponents — Marois via her paranoid accusations about “students from Ontario” trying to steal the election, and Harper via the Orwellian-named “Fair Elections Act” that is anything but. Since coming to power, both have done pretty much nothing I agree with and plenty that makes my blood boil.

Stephen Harper once infamously said that “You won’t recognize Canada when I’m through with it”. That statement turned out to be eerily prophetic.

In the past 8 years of Conservative government, here are just a few ways in which Harper has been working to make Canada completely unrecognizable:

  • The Economy. The Tory pet issue, and the one on which it runs its campaigns. Really? Not so much. Under Harper, Canada went from having a balanced budget and an annual surplus to running the biggest deficits in Canadian history. Yes, some of that was due to the global economic recession, but a lot of that has to do with the Tories’ spending priorities.
  • The Environment. Harper withdrew Canada from the Kyoto protocol, muzzled scientists from researching or even talking about climate change, destroyed records, and stripped away environmental protections in favour of his friends in the oil industry. In fact, last year, Canada was ranked dead last out of of 27 OECD nations for environmental protection.
  • Statistics Canada. Scrapping the mandatory long form census over the objections of pretty much every public poliymaker and everyone who’s ever taken a statistics course in their life.
  • The War on Science. Tories decided that science had to either support their positions, or else science was evil. If the above points weren’t enough for you, Here is a pretty comprehensive (and frightening) chronology that was painstakingly compiled and that ought to make you shake in your booties.
  • Lots and lots more. The status of women. First Nations relations (or lack thereof). The bloated Omnibus bills. Proroguing Parliament to avoid answering questions he doesn’t like. The list goes on. And on. And on.

This two-front war has left many of us exhausted, our resources and emotional stamina drained. Many of us here in Quebec have been too preoccupied with the PQ to turn much attention to what’s going on in Ottawa. The immediate existential threats to our basic human rights that Marois proposed seemed the more urgent problem, and we had an imminent provincial election to worry about. So we focused our efforts here.

But now, it’s time to turn our focus to the other direction, and do everything in our power to make sure that the next election result ensures that Stephen Harper and his Tories can do no further damage to Canada. They’ve done far too much already.

Bye bye Pauline. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.

Watch out, Stephen, you’re next.

Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques goes Quebec Solidaire

There will almost certainly be a recount in my home riding of Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques, won by QS’s Manon Massé by a margin of only 91 votes over Liberal Anna Klisko.

Obviously, I would have preferred a Liberal victory over a Quebec Solidaire one here. The QS is staunchly pro-sovereignty, militantly anti-English, and has pie-in-sky ideas about economics and policy that only a party at no risk of ever having to govern can afford to hold. Furthermore, Manon Massé, while I’ve no doubt is a nice enough person, is a social justice activist who also happens to be an anti-Israel activist who joined in the Gaza flotilla of 2011 and is a member of a group that calls itself “Queers Against Israeli Apartheid”. (Whether or not any member of this group has any idea that Israel is the only state in the middle east where gay rights are even defended is another question… I’ve learned not to expect any logic when arguing with people like this. But I digress.)

Manon Massé (left) and Françoise David of Québec Solidaire awaiting the results of the close race in Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques

The Liberal candidate, Anna Klisko, a housing and real estate lawyer, daycare owner and mom, seems like a much better representative for this riding.

But the truly amazing thing is that she’s come so close to victory at all. The Liberals were expected to come a distant third in this riding, which has been solidly PQ since its creation in 1989. Instead, Daniel Breton of the PQ is sitting in third place, some 600 votes behind Massé. And it’s Klisko who has challenged for the lead. Her strong showing caught everyone by surprise, even her political rivals.

The truth is, Liberal voters in my neighbourhood do exist, though many tend not to broadcast it. And even if some of the votes that the Liberals got this time around were more anti-PQ votes as opposed to genuine support for the Liberals, there’s also the fact that some folks may have voted Quebec Solidaire instead of Liberal because they viewed them as the best PQ foil. Whatever the case, hopefully this means that our riding will be more than an afterthought in the next PLQ campaign, and that we’ll get some actual attention for once.

Whatever the recount shows, I’m glad to no longer be living in a PQ riding. I hope that if Massé is confirmed as the winner, that she will represent the interests of all her constituents with honour. And either way, I’m happy to know that my vote really meant something for once, that it came close to making a real difference in my riding, and that I no longer have to feel like a lone red voter in a sea of blue.

Quebec Liberals win resounding majority

It’s a majority government for Philippe Couillard and the Quebec Liberal Party!

It’s been a really ugly 18 months, and an even uglier campaign. But tonight, my faith in the people of this province I call home was restored.

It’s hard to believe that scarcely five weeks ago, the PQ called this election and was projected to coast to an easy majority. How things change in the course of a campaign.

The PQ’s strategy of demonizing the “other” and running on the Charter of Values backfired. Some people finally started to realize that you don’t promote feminism by bullying women and telling them what they can or cannot wear. The big gaffes, though, could all be summed up by three little letters: PKP. His infamous fist-pump, and the subsequent referendum talk, cost the PQ a lot of votes. Their move to the right cost them a lot more on the left. And in the final days of the campaign, they were left scrambling. Tonight, they achieved their worst result in 44 years, since their maiden election in 1970.

Hopefully, this delivers a resounding message to the PQ and to anyone else who wants to play these ugly games of wedge politics: Don’t.

So now we have a Liberal majority, which is perhaps the lesser of the evils rather than a genuinely good thing. But despite my issues with them, this is the best possible result for Quebec. The Charter and Bill 14 are dead. The Liberals won’t be forced to buy support from the likes of the CAQ by promising concessions on language or identity in order to govern. We won’t be living under the constant threat of a referendum. And, best of all, we’ll have a good 4-5 years without an election, so we can actually focus on rebuilding.

More good news:

  • Pauline Marois lost her seat and stepped down as PQ leader. Odds-on favourites for her successor? Drainville, Lisée, or Péladeau?
  • Also defeated for the PQ: Diane de Courcy, Martine Desjardins, Leo Bureau-Blouin, and (thankfully) Louise Mailloux.
  • Former Liberal Fatima Houda-Pepin was defeated as an independent by the Liberal candidate in her riding, which means her obvious plans to cross the floor to the PQ will be thwarted.
  • In a beautiful piece of poetic justice, Quebecor media mogul Pierre-Karl Peladeau narrowly won his seat in Saint-Jerome, and now will have to sit in opposition in a majority Liberal government.
  • And in my home riding of Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques, not only was the incumbant PQ candidate Daniel Breton defeated, but he’s actually in *third* place right now. Manon Massé for Quebec Solidaire is in the lead, but she hasn’t been declared elected yet as she is only ahead of the Liberal candidate by 69 votes. Yes, the Liberals, who were projected to come a distant third and hardly even bothered to campaign here. This riding has been Pequiste since 1989. Everyone said I was nuts for hoping for a Liberal victory, but the Liberals actually won 600 more votes than the PQ. It just goes to show, you never know!

Tomorrow, there will be work to do. The Liberals have to rebuild the trust of Quebecers despite corruption allegations. They have to work to heal the deep rifts that this ugly campaign left, while tackling the important issues including the economy, healthcare, education, infrastructure and the environment. Some of us will agree with their policies and some of us will disagree. And there are no easy answers to the big questions.

But tonight, let us breathe a collective sigh of relief, and celebrate

Merci, Québec.

Marois then and now

What a difference 18 months makes:

Pauline Marois 2012 vs 2014

In 2012, Pauline Marois donned a red square and declared the PQ the party of the social left. In 2014, she stood by Pierre-Karl Peladeau and declared the PQ the party of business and the economy. A scant 18 months have gone by.

A student-led coup d’etat?

As I’d pointed out at the time, the PQ’s involvement in the red square movement was no accident. Whether you believe it was orchestrated in advance or sheer opportunism or a little of both, Pauline Marois and company knew exactly what they were doing when they put on those red squares and promised the world to the protesting students.

As you know, I did not support the red square protests at the time and I still don’t. I think tuition badly needs to unfreeze, and the fact that it’s become such a third rail issue is hurting our education system, our economy and our opportunities for the province’s future. But of course, it was never about that. The protests rapidly changed their tone from the original tuition freeze message to talk about corruption, social issues, anti-protest legislation, and specifically about the Liberals under Jean Charest.

To this day, I speak to friends who supported the red square movement who argue that it had nothing to do with PQ versus Liberal. Many of them don’t and won’t vote for the PQ; they’re Quebec Solidaire, Green or even Marxist-Leninist voters, or else they’re utterly disgusted by politics and don’t vote. I don’t doubt that their own personal motivations to be out there banging pots and pans were, in fact, pure. Nobody wants to believe that they’re merely puppets in a larger political game, with someone else pulling the strings. It’s an ugly and insulting accusation to level at people who, I’m sure, had the best of intentions.

But the truth is, the students and others who were out there played exactly into the PQ’s hands.

The voter turnout among 18-24 year olds is historically low. It was only 36% in 2008, and has hovered in the under 40% range for decades. In 2012, a historically unprecedented  62% of them voted. Similar upswings in participation were noted among the 25-34 age group. It was this huge vote upswing that turfed out the Liberals and put the PQ in power.

It was, in effect, a coup d’etat cleverly disguised as a protest movement.

And, intentionally or not, the folks out banging on pots and pans became tools of the PQ, who rode the anti-Liberal anger all the way to a narrow minority-government victory. A real feat for a party that had been in complete disarray only twelve months earlier. And anyone who thinks that this happened by accident or happenstance is, excuse me for saying this, but just as naive as the students who believed Pauline Marois when she pinned that red square on her coat in the first place.

Desperation tactics

Flash forward 18 months and that’s all changed. The PQ has taken a hard right turn by recruiting media mogul, businessman and notorious union-buster Pierre-Karl Peladeau to its ranks. It’s a calculated strategy by the PQ, who sees the CAQ collapsing and is going after its voters in the suburbs. However, in the process, the PQ’s traditional staunch allies — labour unions, students, activists, the social left in general, are finally feeling abandoned.

The gamble doesn’t seem to be paying off. Marois started this campaign having leveraged ugly wedge politics and minority-baiting to build lead in the polls that gave her party a virtual lock on a majority government. With two weeks to go until the election, however, that support seems to be bleeding. Peladeau’s infamous fist-bump brought up the R-word — referendum — every mention of which has cost Marois votes. Her Charter message has gotten off message. Corruption accusations are flying. A CTV poll last week gives the Liberals a 5-point lead in the polls — potentially enough to even win the election, if this trend continues. (Dare I hope…? Not yet. Please vote.)

So, not too surprisingly, Marois and her party are resorting to desperation tactics.

Students: From pawns to bogeymen

In 1995, Jacques Parizeau infamously blamed the referendum defeat on “money and the ethnic vote” after accusing immigrants and new Quebecers of having their citizenships fast-tracked to allow them to “steal” the referendum. They also illegally disallowed 86,000 “no” ballots in a desperate attempt to try to steal the referendum for themselves.

And now it’s 2014 and we’re seeing the same ugly tactics all over again. Pauline Marois is publicly “worried” that the election will be “stolen” by yet another group of “outsiders” — this time her target is students. Namely, students who moved here from out of province to study, and who are attempting to legally register themselves on the electoral list to exercise their constitutional right to vote. Marois’s concern? Too many of them have ‘funny-sounding’ English names and are thus unlikely to vote for the PQ. So their attempts to vote are ‘worrisome’. Clearly.

Only 18 months ago, students helped Marois coast to victory. This time, she’s desperately hoping that they’ll provide a convenient foil that will help her avoid defeat. After all, if Muslim women in hijabs don’t scare voters enough, maybe students from Ontario will do the trick.

The PQ believes they’ve found a way to get scared voters from the regions to turn out in high numbers. They’ve latched onto this issue. The justice minister even weighed in.

How ironically symbolic was it to see Leo Bureau-Blouin — one of the student protest leaders — out front at a PQ press conference designed to deny the rights of students to vote. Because Bureau-Blouin and fellow student leader Martine Desjardins, in becoming PQ candidates, showed what most of us knew all along: They were never in it for the students. They were in it for themselves — their own political careers, their own advancement. In the process, they were fully prepared to throw the student members of their unions under the bus, denying them their right to attend classes they paid for or even in some cases, to graduate. And then they threw them under the bus a second time at the PQ’s sham of a student leadership “summit”, at which the PQ proceeded to unfreeze tuition anyway — albeit to a smaller degree than the Liberals had been planning to do, leaving a huge funding gap about which our universities are sounding the alarm. But even so.

And the thing is, it turns out that it’s all completely manufactured nonsense. Registrations aren’t unusually high; according to the DG’s office they’re even slightly down from the last election. Students, due to the fact that they move around a lot, are more likely to be trying to register at a new address before an election than older people who have lived in the same place for a long time.

The real outrage

The real outrage isn’t that students are trying to register to vote; it’s that anyone is trying to stop them.

There are three criteria that have to be met to allow someone to vote in this election. They have to be Canadian citizens, they have to be 18 years or older, and they have to have been ‘domiciled’ in Quebec for a minimum of 6 months.

Simple, right? Not so much. Because students are reporting that they’re being denied the right to register to vote by the review boards, after being asked to prove completely arbitrary things, like their intent to remain permanently in Quebec, their taxpayer status or their holding of a driver’s license. Many students don’t pay taxes, since they earn little income. Many students in Montreal don’t drive or own a car. That’s perfectly normal. But the PQ finds it concerning. Why? Because they’re too anglophone? Too ethnic? Too likely to vote for someone other than the PQ who, I might point out, royally screwed over the students last time around? All of the above?

The DG’s office released a “clarification” as to what “domiciled” means, which clarified absolutely nothing at all. It basically empowers the DG’s office to conduct an inquisition into all matters of the voter’s life, and then to arbitrarily deny them their right to vote anyway.

Anyone who thinks this sounds an awful lot like the Republican Party in the United States would not be wrong.

It’s still about identity politics

The PQ is doing everything in its power to win this election. Because in their view, this is still about identity. “Nous” — Pequistes — have the right to vote, but “vous autres” — anyone voting for someone else — is an outsider who is stealing Quebec’s right to decide for itself. “Vous autres” includes anyone the PQ deems an outsider, whether because they are immigrants, minorities, students, too anglo, too ethnic, too federalist, anything non-PQ.

We all have the right to vote. But in Pauline Marois’ view, the only people who ought to vote are the folks who agree with her. Everyone else be damned.

The whole thing is utterly disgusting. I can only hope that any student legally allowed to vote who is denied will appeal, and that other students will go out and vote en masse to turf out the PQ. I hope that they will realize that they were never allies, that the PQ never had their best interests at heart and is only interested in power at all costs.

I hope the electorate will be too smart to be played this time.

Update: Kelly McParland echoes this sentiment in the National Post: For Marois, the only thing worse than an ethnic voter is a student from Ontario.

Update #2: CJAD has more reports of students being denied their right to vote, including a student who secretly recorded his exchange with the revision officer. A direct quote by the revision officer: “You can show me all your bills for the past 10 years. It doesn’t prove to me that you’re eligible to vote.”

A plea to my fellow Quebecers

Rumours have been circulating for weeks, and now it’s official: Quebec will be heading back to the polls on April 7th.

The Parti Quebecois has been in power for a scant year and a half. In that time, it has done more damage than even I would have thought possible. From a vitrol-laced election campaign, the PQ wasted no time launching into a vitrol-laced program designed to cynically scapegoat minorities to win a majority.

This absolutely must not happen. And that is why I am issuing this unprecedented plea: Vote Liberal.

Yes, you heard me. Philippe Couillard is not my favourite guy by any means, or, I would venture a guess, yours. He has flip-flopped on nearly every important issue so far. He leads a party still reeling from corruption scandals and trying to find its footing after being brought down in a flurry of red squares and angry protesters. He lacks Jean Charest’s charisma. He hasn’t been particularly inspiring on any of the issues thus far.

But this is too important. The CAQ has never been a viable option and has been bleeding support for months. The other separatist parties that siphoned off support from the PQ last time around, such as Option Nationale, have basically ceased to exist. Quebec Solidaire is little more than a protest party that, thankfully, is no threat to form a government. The PQ has done all the math and believes that it has what it takes to pick up a few seats here, reduce a bit of vote-splitting there, and coast to a majority.

In a year and a half of minority government, the PQ has succeeded in turning Quebec into an international laughingstock. It has ratcheted up tensions at home. It has been preying on the politically weak — minorities, women — to leverage people’s hatred and fear. Every government does this to some extent, but the ugliness that we’ve been living through these past couple of years is really unprecedented. When people are getting beat up on the street for wearing religious symbols; when people are afraid to leave their homes; when basic human rights and liberties are under attack, then it’s time for all of us to say: Enough.

The PQ’s policies are systematically driving people out of Quebec. Those with the most options — the educated, the bilingual, the wealthy — are leaving first, and thousands are following them as they see their jobs and prospects disappear. Some people are leaving for political and ideological reasons, yes, but most will leave out of economic necessity. We’ve all lived through this before, and with every wave of people leaving, it leaves fewer and fewer of us to fight at the polls. Don’t think this isn’t part of the PQ’s plan; Marois would love to drive everyone who doesn’t vote for her out of the province, so she can coast towards a majority. This is gerrymandering on a scale that even Tammany Hall couldn’t envision.

We can’t afford to be complacent. Marois has made pre-election promises adding up to nearly $2 billion in handouts — money we don’t have. Quebec’s population is aging rapidly, and our tax base is shrinking. Our infrastructure is collapsing. Job growth has stagnated or gone backwards. We can’t even afford to maintain the services we have, and our tax rates are at a tipping point. Unemployment is on the rise and investment has ground to a halt. We’re barrelling towards a healthcare crisis, with a massive shortage of doctors and resources. When even Jacques Parizeau is sounding the alarm, you know things are bad. And yet, the PQ’s strategy of distract-and-defend seems to be working, because nobody’s even talking about these issues. Instead, we’re talking about invented non-issues like what people are wearing on their heads.

The Charter of Values may seem silly and ridiculous. It might be a blatantly transparent way for the PQ to play divide-and-conquer politics while hoping to pick a fight with Ottawa. But to allow it to pass would be a travesty. It would be sacrificing our rights and liberties as citizens to the fear and racism of others.

This comes down to what sort of society we want to live in. Is Quebec a place of xenophobia, fear, hatred and divisiveness? Or is it a place of inclusiveness and progress? I love my city and my province, and I am really, really worried about our future.

The Liberal party is uninspiring at best. We’ll have to see what Couillard can deliver in terms of campaigning skills, but I’m not optimistic. He hasn’t shown much promise so far.

Still, the PQ is far, far worse. I’d go so far as to say its policies are truly evil. And, like it or not, a strong Liberal performance is the only way to hold the PQ in check.

I’m not a fan of strategic voting. It pains me to even have to write this plea. I’ll be holding my nose in the voting booth, to be sure. But I’ll be there, and I’ll be casting my vote for the only party that has a chance to unseat — or at least limit the damage — of the PQ. I sincerely hope that you will do the same.

Resign, resign, they shall resign

Quebec Solidaire Amir Khadirco-spokesperson (and general pain) in the ass Amir Khadir has stepped down from his party’s co-leadership role, though he will remain MNA for his riding of Mercier. I’ve narrowly escaped being represented by him by about half a block — though my local Pequiste MNA on this side of the street is not much of a consolation prize. At any rate, this leaves the relatively popular Francoise David — who was out in front during much of the last campaign — as the party’s sole spokesperson for now, and presumably leaves the door open for someone new to step up as co-leader in time for the next election.

QS is probably reacting to the upswing in popular vote that they enjoyed in the last election, which didn’t translate to seats but provided them with a foundation. Khadir has been a controversial, polarizing figure for most of his political career, and QS might be banking on more success next time around with a different face on their posters. Too, they may be reacting to the news this week that the NDP is considering forming a provincial party in Quebec, which would provide a federalist alternative for voters on the left who are unimpressed with their current options. QS is unabashedly separatist, but gets a lot of support from the progressive groups regardless of their stance on national unity, and a provincial NDP could siphon off some of that support… eventually.

Meanwhile in Laval, Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt plans to announce his resignation on Tuesday, according to new reports. He’s been hunkered down ever since the testimony of the Charbonneau Commission basically followed a trail of corruption right to his doorstep.

And here on the island, speculation is rife that Mayor Gerald Tremblay will step down as well. The wolves are circling here too, and Tremblay has a negative-a-thousand percent chance of getting re-elected or holding onto his job. Though there has been no official word yet, he probably has no choice but to step aside. The only question is whether there will be anyone worthwhile to take his place.

The opposition at city hall pretty much consists of bigots and crackpots — which is why so many of us knowingly voted for the crooks in the first place. But with anger over the impunity of the corruption — and the ill-timed tax hikes — at an all-time high, there may be no choice but to let those chips fall where they may. Personally, I don’t believe that the next mayor will be any better, since the corruption at city hall is so institutionalized as to be practically part of the walls. As Henry Aubin points out, simply booting the mayor without getting someone better in as a replacement won’t help much. It’s like covering up mould and mildew with a coat of paint; it does nothing to solve the underlying issue.

The Charbonneau Commission is bringing to light all sorts of allegations that most Quebecers assumed to be true for a long time. However, it risks being used — by the PQ, by the opposition — as a sort of witch-hunt tool. If all it does is to bring in regime change, the corruption will simply change hands to the new politicians. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Update 11/05: Tremblay has made it official.

Bell’s purchase of Astral: CRTC says Non

The CRTC has actually momentarily remembered that its job isn’t to rubber-stamp requests from the big telecoms: It has squashed Bell’s plan to buy Astral and thus control a massive share of the telecom market:

“BCE failed to persuade us the deal would benefit Canadians,” said chairman Jean-Pierre Blais, who took over the post earlier this year and has quickly put a populist stamp on the regulator. “It would have placed significant market power in the hands of one of the country’s largest media companies. We could not have ensured a robust Canadian broadcasting system without imposing extensive and intrusive safeguards, which would have been to the detriment of the entire industry.”

Anglos are breathing a sign of relief because this will save TSN 690, Montreal’s English-language sports radio station (and official home of the Habs, when the NHL isn’t on lockout). Rival media conglomerate Quebecor is breathing a sigh of relief, because its dominance in the francophone market won’t be challenged by a Bell/Astral giant.

But there’s a bigger issue here, and one that should be of interest to all Canadians who are concerned about the extreme amount of media consolidation that we’ve witnessed in our country over the past couple of decades. When two or three companies are allowed to control both the media and the messaging via television, radio, newspapers, digital and mobile channels, we all suffer. Just about every Canadian has a nightmare story about one of the telecom giants (and Bell figures at the top of most of those nightmare story lists). Canadians already pay the highest cell phone rates in the world, and that’s only getting worse due to the lack of competition in the marketplace. The telecoms are all working hard to produce exclusive content, and are licensing it to their rivals for high costs. The limited choice in television service offerings is leading many Canadians to simply pull the plug rather than put up with poor service and content offerings for high prices.

Canadians are fed up. And plenty of them spoke up at the CRTC hearings. There were 9,700 interventions filed, and while many of them were from rival media conglomerates such as Rogers, plenty of others were from the general public. They were standing up to say that having one company in charge of nearly half of what we see, hear, read and watch isn’t in anyone’s best interest.

I’ve been really hard on the CRTC in the past for being in the pockets of the telecom companies and shirking its mandate to protect the consumer. Thanks to this decision, I have to issue this blog’s first-ever kudos to the CRTC. It’s a step in the right direction.  Keep it up.

On being a minority

pauline-marois-pq_sn635Just once, I would like to know what it feels like to be in a majority.

Normally, I embrace my outsider status. I’m the liberal in a room full of conservatives, the conservative in a room of Liberals. I’m a Jewish person among non-Jews and an atheist among Jews, a bilingual Quebecer in the RoC and a federalist anglo Canadian in Quebec.

I’m accustomed to being the dissenting opinion, the devil’s advocate. I love to debate and I admit I sometimes emphasize the differences just to challenge preconceived notions. In a single day, I can go from seamlessly defending the federalist position to my sovereigntist friends, then meet up with my parents for dinner and try to explain where sovereigntists are coming from and that they have some legitimate points. Even in cases where I am part of the majority, I do my best to pull myself out of the context and take up the dissenting argument, sometimes for the mental exercise and sometimes because I think it’s important. I don’t always succeed in seeing things from the other point of view, but I sure as hell try.

See, the thing is, I abhor echo chambers and mob mentality. I think we humans have a natural tendency to gravitate towards those who think and believe like we do, and in doing so, we fail to truly understand one another or to see things from one another’s point of view. And that’s dangerous. Very, very dangerous. Green Day said it best: “Down with the moral majority; I wanna be a minority.”

But sometimes, you know, it gets lonely.

Now we have Pauline Marois, who has just been elected — by the slimmest of margins — to lead a minority government. She will have to get her agenda past at least one of the opposition parties in order to prop up her government and avoid triggering an election. She spent the entire campaign trail vilifying minorities, spewing racist and xenophobic hatred against anyone with a different skin colour, ethnic background, national origin or — most of all — mother tongue. How ironic (and poetic) that after preaching so much hatred of minorities, she now gets to lead one.

In her victory speech, she appeared to have grasped the implications of this minority government situation rather quickly. Sounding amazingly conciliatory in contrast to the tone she had taken during the campaign, she congratulated the other leaders (which was met with a chorus of boos in the crowd, I might add), tempered her agenda by speaking of cooperation, and even did the unthinkable and spoke a couple of sentences in English. I don’t trust her further than I can throw a truck, but I’m sure I’m not the only anglophone who was watching last night and was actually kind of impressed.

(What happened afterwards was a horrific tragedy, appears to have been the act of a lone crazed gunman, and should be roundly and unequivocally condemned by all decent human beings no matter their political leanings. Violence has no place in politics. We settle our differences at the ballot box, not at gunpoint. Not that this post has anything to do with that. But it needs to be said, with emphasis.)

Anyway, as it turns out, my minority wasn’t as lonely as it seemed during the campaign, where all I would have to say to anyone was that I was voting for the Charest Liberals, only to be greeted with dirty looks and “you WHAT???” I joked to a few people that I would be the only person in my (solidly Péquiste) riding voting Liberal this time around. Turns out, I was one of over 5,000 in my riding… and one of 31% in the whole province. That’s right, the PQ only won 0.7% more of the popular vote than the Liberals did, and their victory hangs on a measly 4 seats. The “silent majority” that Charest had heralded months ago did not materialize, true, but the “silent minority” was much bigger than any of the pundits or pollsters predicted. Sure, many of those people held their noses and cast their vote — myself included. I’m not thrilled with the Liberals. But I think they were a damn sight better than any of the alternatives. And it might’ve been nice to feel during the campaign period that this level of support existed.

I’ve voted for the Charest Liberals when they won a majority government before. So yes, I was technically part of a majority then. But even then, I was a minority — an anglophone, a take-for-granted vote, someone who, I’m told, doesn’t “get” Quebec despite living here my whole life.

So if I’m not a majority in Quebec, surely I am in Canada, right? English-speaking, federalist, born here, not part of any visible minority group… I’m basically the definition of majority when it comes to Canada, right? Not so much. In May of last year, I watched with dismay while the rest of Canada, province after province, went Tory Blue. On that night, I felt a wave of sympathy for Quebec sovereigntists because Quebec clearly chose another path and I could understand how they felt. How we felt. Disconnected. Disillusioned. Not a part of this. A minority within our own country. I’m a heck of a lot more connected to my Canadian identity than to my Quebecois one, but I don’t understand the direction that our country has chosen to turn, and I feel increasingly out of step with it as well. A member of a centre-left minority whose political party of choice was essentially wiped off the political map last May.

It’s a curious facet of the human experience, this instinct we all have to define “us” and “them”, to create artificial divisions and to seek out those among whom we feel comfortable, secure and like family. It’s a defensive reaction, but it’s an understandable one. At heart, most of us revert to our five-year-old selves when we’re afraid. All we really want is someone to say “I understand you. It’s okay.” So we form political parties and social alliances and groups, and we band together and we find common causes to band against, and sometimes it gets really ugly, but sometimes it feels really great, too. I was disgusted by those who threw smoke bombs on the metro, but I could understand those who were out with the pots and pans this spring. I didn’t agree with them, but I understood their desire to feel like they were participating in something bigger than themselves, to feel like they belonged.

Quebec is my home. I was born here, my parents and grandparents were born here. But it often feels like there’s no group for me here. There isn’t a single political party in Quebec that truly represents my views, or even comes close. The Liberals are sort of the best-of-the-worst alternative. But it’s hard to deny that I’m very often out of step with the discourse around me.

Normally, that’s okay. Vive la différence, and we are normally (again, with the exception of the terrible events of last night) very good at having not-always-polite-but-usually-respectful political discourse. I’m happy to debate, to educate or be educated, and to agree to disagree when it’s all said and done.  I’ll even happily go out for a beer afterwards.

I’m tired, though. I’m tired of always focusing on how we differ instead of on all the ways in which we’re alike. And there are so many ways, but they always seem to get ignored in politics in favour of emphasizing those differences for political gain. I’m tired of always being an outsider, never part of the group. Never part of the “nous” that Pauline Marois referred to in her campaign, no matter how long my family has been here or how much French I learn. I’m tired of scanning Twitter and reading the many thousands of posts that overwhelmingly reflect the exact opposite of how I think and feel, and I’m tired of the sense of alienation that comes from the feeling that I will never, ever get to experience what it feels like to be part of a majority in this province.

And then the sun rises the next day, and I pick myself up and I remind myself of all the reasons why it’s good to be a minority. Why it’s a strength, not a weakness.

Welcome to being a minority, Mme Marois. I don’t think you’ll necessarily enjoy it. But I hope you learn something.

Why strategic voting is a bad idea

With the latest polls indicating that the PQ is within a hair’s breath of a majority, many of us – at least, those of us who disagree with Marois’s “pure laine or go home” vision of Quebec, are probably thinking about the best way to stop that from happening. And I’ve heard a lot of talk lately from anglos or other anti-PQ voters about voting “strategically”.

Here’s why I think that’s a dumb idea.

Polls can be wrong. They often are. Witness the last federal election, or, more recently, the provincial election in Alberta. Countless other examples. Polls have a margin of error; they rely on small sample sizes; people lie or change their minds. Just because you heard things would go one way in the polls doesn’t mean they can’t go entirely another way.

You don’t know what everyone else will do. The Quebec electorate is notoriously unpredictable and can turn on a dime. So-called “strategic” voting assumes that you do. But if you’re wrong? Your strategic move could end up delivering exactly the opposite result. For instance, voting for the CAQ in a riding where the Liberals are assumed to be out of contention (or vice-versa)? That could put the PQ in power, if there’s enough vote-splitting between the Liberals and the CAQ.

You could end up voting for someone even worse… and what if they win? In my riding, a longtime Pequiste stronghold, the only party running even close to the PQ in the polls is Quebec Solidaire. Now, I know a lot of people like QS, but they pretty much stand for everything I disagree with the most — anti-democracy, hard-line socialism, nationalism, anti-Israel, pro-anarchy, you name it. A “strategic” vote for the QS might make logical sense in terms of preventing a PQ majority, but I’d never do it. After all, they could lose, and then I’ll have voted for a party I don’t believe in and actually hate intently for nothing. Or, worse yet, they could win… and then I’ll have helped elect a local MP from a party that I pretty much loathe with every fibre of my being. Not to mention, the QS holding the balance of power would very likely help, not stymie, the PQ’s drive towards sovereignty. Nope, better to be one of a few people voting Liberal in a riding where they have no hope. At least I’ll be able to look myself in the mirror the next morning.

It hurts democracy by providing all the wrong incentives to politicians. Jean Charest lost a lot of respect at the outset of the campaign when, right out of the gate, he warned anglophones and federalists not to vote for the CAQ or anyone else because it would play right into the PQ’s hands. Now, I’m a Liberal supporter, but I wasn’t the only one who was pissed. Meanwhile, Marois has been using similar tactics, warning hard-core separatists not to vote for Quebec Solidaire or Option Nationale lest they cost her a majority. The fact is, people don’t like to be told to vote “against” something; they’d sooner vote “for” something. And in an election where most people are holding their noses and voting for the least-worst option anyway, outright calls for strategic voting merely encourage this type of behaviour among politicians. If we ourselves admit to voting tactically instead of for what we believe in, how can we then turn around and accuse the politicians of failing to give us something to believe in? It’s up to us to demand it from our representatives.

There will be a September 5th. One way or the other (or the other… or the other…), we’ll wake up Wednesday morning to election results. And, regardless of how things turn out, you’ll have to live with how you cast your vote. The only vote you’ll never regret is the one for the party that best represents the vision of the Quebec that you wish to live in on September 5th. Any other vote will only leave you with a sour taste in your mouth, no matter how things turn out.

Remember to vote on Tuesday. And when you do, vote your conscience.

Quebec political donations: By the numbers

Polls are one thing; money is another. What can we gauge from the fundraising of the major Quebec political parties, and what can it tell us about the possible election outcome?

According to the Directuer général des élections du Québec, there have been 33,547 donations in 2012 to date to Quebec’s political parties, totalling just over $5.3 million dollars.

Read the rest of this entry »

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