Tag Archives: couillard

PQ bids adieu to short-lived leader Péladeau

Pierre Karl Péladeau lasted less than a year as the leader of the pro-independence Parti Québécois. (Facebook)
Pierre Karl Péladeau lasted less than a year as the leader of the pro-independence Parti Québécois. (Facebook)

Less than a year into his tenure as the leader of the sovereigntist Parti québécois, Pierre Karl Péladeau abruptly stepped down on Monday, sending political shocks waves throughout Canada’s majority French-speaking province.Quebec Flag IconpngCanada Flag Icon

Four months after a sudden split with the wife he married in August, and now facing a custody battle over his children, Péladeau abruptly announced his resignation from the PQ leadership and from the provincial assembly, tearfully explaining that he had chosen to put his family before his ‘political project.’

Péladeau’s departure leaves the province without a full-time opposition leader, and the PQ’s troubles could cause voters to turn to an increasingly crowded field of nationalist alternatives. It’s just the latest setback for a party that’s suffered two tough decades after coming just 55,000 votes shy of winning Québec’s independence in 1995.

Jean Charest, premier for nine years as the leader of the centrist Parti libéral du Québec (PLQ, Liberal Party of Québec), sidelined the separatists for nearly a decade. For a while, the PQ fell to third place after the 2007 elections. The party’s leader at the time, André Boisclair, the first openly gay party leader in Canadian history, spent much of his leadership alienating the party’s rural, unionized base and fending off charges of drug use and financial malfeasance.

When voters finally gave the PQ a shot at governing in 2012, under Pauline Marois, the party immediately launched a needless effort to introduce the ill-named Charte de la laïcité (Québec Charter of Values), which served only to alienate recent immigrants to the province, especially Muslims, by purporting to ban religious headgear.

After Marois called early elections in a disastrous effort to win a majority government, voters instead turned back to the PLQ under its new leader, Philippe Couillard, a former provincial health minister. Marois quickly lost control over the debate when a new star recruit — Péladeau — stood on a campaign platform with Marois and, fist raised, started calling forQuébec’s independence. That forced Marois to respond to hypotheticals about a third referendum, whether an independent Québec would use the Canadian dollar and how borders would work between Canada and an independent Québec. The PQ dropped to its lowest total yet — barely over 25% of the vote.

Meanwhile, its sister party, the Bloc québécois (BQ), won less than 20% of the vote in the 2015 Canadian federal election, and its leader, Gilles Duceppe, resigned (again) after failing to win his own riding. Its 10 seats in Canada’s House of Commons is somewhat better than the four seats it won in the 2011 election, but the days when the BQ dominated the province’s representation in Ottawa now seem long gone.

After a needlessly long internal campaign, Péladeau emerged last spring as the easy winner of the PQ’s leadership election, and he defiantly vowed to make Québec a country. Almost immediately, however, Péladeau’s stumbles seem to outweigh his charms. He indulgently refused to sell the shares to Quebecor the media empire that his father once ran and that Péladeau himself ran until his decision to enter provincial politics.  His business-friendly demeanor met with skepticism from the party’s left-wing members and union activists. Many of them left the PQ for the more stridently leftist and pro-independence Québec solidaire.

Meanwhile, Péladeau was never able to steal votes from the ‘soft’ nationalist, center-right Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ), which dominates the vote in and around Québec City. Péladeau’s hardline calls to make Québec a country nearly guaranteed that the PQ would not be the beneficiary of the Couillard government’s growing unpopularity due, on doubt, to two years of spending cuts aimed to achieve a balanced budget. Though the most recent CROP poll from mid-April gave the Liberals just 33% support, the PQ drew just 26%, compared to 25% for the CAQ and 14% for Québec solidaire. 

Having already announced the province’s 2016 budget in March, and basking in a Delta Airlines decision to buy 75 aircraft from local manufacturer Bombardier, it would not be the worst time for Couillard to call an early election.

In one sense, Péladeau’s resignation gives the party a fresh start as the province starts the countdown to new elections, to be held before October 2018. Under a long interim leadership, the PQ might continue to lose right-leaning supporters to the CAQ and left-leaning supporters to Québec solidaire. The next election will be François Legault’s third as the CAQ leader, and it will be Françoise David’s fourth as co-spokesperson for Québec solidaire, and both remain incredibly popular.

But there was a sense that Péladeau’s victory last May was the last shot for the péquistes to regroup, with increasingly bilingual young voters and rising numbers of immigrants, in particular, rejecting any abrupt separation with Canada. Demographics just aren’t in the PQ’s favor, and its next leader will have none of the name recognition or star power that  Péladeau, for all his faults, brought to the PQ leadership.

Former BQ leader Gilles Duceppe (left) and former PQ minister Alexandre Cluotier (right) represent the two generational wings of the separatist movement. (Facebook)
Former BQ leader Gilles Duceppe (left) and former PQ minister Alexandre Cluotier (right) represent the two generational wings of the separatist movement. (Facebook)

Alexandre Cloutier, a 38-year-old former minister and currently, shadow education secretary, ran second in last year’s PQ leadership race, and could provide a Trudeau-like appeal to younger voters.

Jean-Martin Aussant, who left the PQ in 2012 to form Option nationale, dedicated to a more impatient brand of Québécois sovereignty, and who flamed out of provincial politics, could return as a 21st century version ofJacques Parizeau, the fiery champion of the independence movement.

Bernard Drainville, who masterminded the Marois government’s push for the Charter of Values, is another possibility, as is Jean-François Lisée, who served as minister of international relations and trade under Marois.

No doubt, old-timers will hope that the 68-year-old Gilles Duceppe, the BQ leader from 1997 to 2011 (and again, briefly, in the leadup to the 2015 election) will attempt one more comeback for the separatist cause.

Even before Péladeau’s resignation, the PQ was already facing an existential problem as a party dedicated to independence in a province where the most separatist generation is literally dying out. In a country where even former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper can call Québec a ‘nation’ without any major blowback, and where its current prime minister, Justin Trudeau, comes from Montréal’s most storied political dynasty, the PQ’s raison d’être seems even more like yesterday’s cause. Neither Péladeau nor his successor is likely to pick a fight with Trudeau, massively popular in Québec just as much as the rest of Canada,  over sovereignty.

No matter who the PQ chooses as its next leader, he or she will face difficult odds to convince Québec’s youth, its growing immigrant class and anglophones to support it as the chief alternative to Couillard’s Liberals in a political marketplace that’s more crowded with ‘nationalist’ parties than ever. In trying to be all things to all nationalists, the PQ risks its very extinction.

Nine things to watch as Canada’s next Trudeau era begins


Defying expectations in August that pitted the Liberal Party in third place at the beginning of the election campaign in August, Justin Trudeau has now won a clear majority government and a mandate for change in Canada’s 42nd federal election.Canada Flag Icon

So what does that mean for Canada, for US-Canadian relations and for Canada’s role in the world in the weeks and months ahead?

Here are nine policy areas to keep an eye on as Trudeau begins the rapid transition to 24 Sussex Drive, appoints a cabinet and tackles a full agenda of issues that could dominate what will likely be a full four-year term with the kind of parliamentary mandate that should make it much more easier than Trudeau ever expected to enact his policy preferences.

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Climate change. As the Paris summit on climate change approaches in November, Canada’s government will go from being one of the most skeptical participants at the conference to one of the most enthusiastic supporters of action to reduce carbon emissions. Keep an eye on Stéphane Dion, the former Liberal leader from 2006 and 2008 and a former environmental minister, to play a vocal and supportive role. Nevertheless, global climate change policy is mostly set by the G-2 — i.e., the United States and China. So Trudeau’s role at the summit, while productive, will be more about style than any actual substance. Joyce Murray, a popular left-wing MP and British Columbia’s former environmental minister, who was the runner-up to Trudeau in the 2013 Liberal contest, is also a rising star to watch on environmental matters.

Economic policy. At the start of the campaign, the traditionally more centrist Liberals advanced a tax policy to the left of the New Democratic Party (NDP) by promising a middle-class tax cut to be paid for by slightly higher taxes on those who earn roughly more $200,000 annually. During the campaign, as Canada officially slipped into a shallow recession, Trudeau doubled-down by pledging to engage in deficit spending over the next three years to stabilize Canada’s economy, protect jobs and boost infrastructure. It was this move, again outflanking the NDP (whose leader Thomas Mulcair promised to maintain the Conservative Party’s devotion to balanced budgets), that may have convinced voters that Trudeau, and not Mulcair, represented the most striking contrast with Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper.

Ralph Goodale, a former finance minister under Paul Martin; Bill Morneau, a 52-year-old newcomer first elected last night from the Toronto’s business world and Scott Brison, a former Progressive Conservative MP who defected to the Liberals over a decade ago, could all be leading contenders for finance minister. Continue reading Nine things to watch as Canada’s next Trudeau era begins

Bloc Quebecois faces existential crisis in October election


For nearly two decades, the most dominant force in Québec politics was the Bloc québécois, a sidecar vehicle to the province-level Parti québéecois that has fought, more or less, for the French-speaking province’s independence for the better part of a half-century.Canada Flag IconQuebec Flag Iconpng

From 1993 until 2011, the BQ controlled nearly two-thirds of all of Québec’s ridings to the House of Commons. In the mid-1990s, with western and eastern conservatives split, and the Jean Chretién-era Liberal Party dominating national politics, the BQ held the second-highest number of seats in the House of Commons, making the sovereigntist caucus, technically speaking, the official opposition.

That all changed in the 2011 election, when the New Democratic Party (NDP) breakthrough made it the second-largest party in the House of Commons. It did so nationally by stealing votes from the Liberals, but it did so in Québec in particular by poaching votes from the Bloc, whose caucus shrank from 47 members to just four.

Moreover, as the BQ heads into October’s general election, its caucus has dwindled to just two seats, due to defections, and there’s a good chance that the party will be wiped out completely in 2015.

If it is, and the BQ époque firmly ends next month, it could send a chilling lesson to separatist movements throughout the developed world. Most especially, it’s a warning for the Scottish National Party (SNP), which is riding so high today — the SNP controls a majority government in Scotland’s regional assembly and it won 56 out of the region’s 59 seats to the House of Commons in the United Kingdom’s May 2015 general election. But the lesson for the SNP (and other autonomist and separatist parties) may well be that there’s a limit to protest votes, especially if electorates believe that nationalist movements like the SNP or the Bloc can neither extract more concessions from national governments or take part in meaningful power-sharing at the national level.

The Bloc‘s collapse in the early 2010s might easily foretell the SNP’s collapse in the 2020s for exactly the same reasons.


The return three months ago of the Bloc‘s long-time former leader, Gilles Duceppe (pictured above), was supposed to restore the party’s fortunes. Instead, the 68-year-old Duceppe risks ending his political career with two humiliating defeats as the old and weary face of an independence movement that has little resonance with neither young and increasingly bilingual Quebeckers nor the deluge of immigrants to the province for whom neither French nor English is a first language. Some polls even show that Duceppe will lose a challenge to regain his own seat in the Montréal-based riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie, where voters preferred the NDP’s Hélène Laverdière in 2011.

Outliving its usefulness? 

The BQ’s collapse at the national level holds important consequences for Canada’s federal politics. Without the Bloc‘s lock on one-sixth of the House of Commons, it becomes much easier to win a majority government. Even in the event of a hung parliament, though, assembling a majority coalition will still be easier for the three major parties, because none of the Conservatives, the Liberals or the NDP would risk forming a coalition with Québec MPs who want to leave Canada. More importantly, with the Bloc no longer holding so many ridings in Québec, Canada’s second-most populous province, it opened the way for the NDP’s rise in 2011. In retrospect, the NDP’s social democratic roots were always a natural fit for Québec’s chiefly left-of-center electorate. The NDP’s continued strength in Québec in the present campaign means that it is a serious contender to form the next government.

The most recent CBC poll tracker average, from September 14, shows the NDP leading with 42.8%, far ahead of the Liberals, with 25.7%, the Conservatives, with 14.9%, and the anemic Bloc, with just 13.2%.  Continue reading Bloc Quebecois faces existential crisis in October election

In Depth: Canada’s general election


With prime minister Stephen Harper’s decision to call an election last week, Canada has now launched into a 13-week campaign that ends on October 19, when voters will elect all 338 members of the House of Commons, the lower house of the Canadian parliament.Canada Flag Icon

By American standards, where Republican presidential candidates will gather for their first debate nearly six months before a single vote is cast (for the nomination contest, let alone the general election) a 13-week campaign is mercifully short. In Canada, however, it’s twice as long as the most recent campaigns and, indeed, longer than any official election campaign since the late 1800s. But the major party leaders have already engaged in one debate — on August 6.

Plenty of Harper’s critics suggest the long campaign is due to the fundraising advantage of his center-right Conservative Party. Harper, who came to power with minority governments after the 2006 and 2008 elections and who finally won a majority government in 2011, is vying for a fourth consecutive term. He’ll do so as the global decline in oil prices and slowing Chinese demand take their toll on the Canadian economy, which contracted (narrowly) for each of the last five months.

Energy policy and the future of various pipeline projects (such as Energy East, Kinder Morgan, Northern Gateway and the more well-known Keystone XL) will be top issues in British Columbia and Alberta. Economic growth and a new provincial pension program will be more important in Ontario. Sovereignty and independence will, as usual, play a role in Québec — though not, perhaps, as much as in recent years.

In reality, the battle lines of the current election have been being drawn since April 2013, when the struggling center-left Liberal Party, thrust into third place in the 2011 elections, chose Justin Trudeau — the son of former Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau of the 1970s and 1980s — as its fifth leader in a decade. Trudeau’s selection immediately pulled the Liberals back into first place in polls, as Liberals believed his pedigree, energy and sometimes bold positions (Trudeau backs the full legalization of marijuana use, for example) would restore their electoral fortunes.

Nevertheless, polls suggest* that two years of sniping from Harper about Trudeau’s youth and inexperience have taken their toll. The race today is a three-way tie and, since the late spring, it’s the progressive New Democratic Party (NDP) that now claims the highest support, boosted from the NDP’s landslide upset in Alberta’s May provincial election. (*Éric Grenier, the self-styled Nate Silver of Canadian numbers-crunching, is running the CBC poll tracker in the 2015 election, but his ThreeHundredEight is an indispensable resource).

With the addition of 30 new ridings (raising the number of MPs in Ottawa from 308 to 338) and with the three parties so close in national polls, it’s hard to predict whether Canada will wake up on October 20 with another Tory government or a Liberal or NDP government. If no party wins a clear majority, Canada has far more experience with minority governments than with European-style coalition politics, and the Liberals and NDP have long resisted the temptation to unite.

Canadian government feels more British than American, in large part because its break with Great Britain was due more to evolution than revolution. Nevertheless, political campaigns have become more presidential-style in recent years, and the latest iteration of the Conservative Party (merged into existence in 2003) is imbued with a much more social conservative ethos than the older Progressive Conservative Party. The fact that polls are currently led by a left-of-center third party, the New Democratic Party (NDP), also demonstrates that the Canadian electorate, which benefits from a single-payer health care system, is willing to shift more leftward than typical American electorates.

Provincial politics do not often portend changes in federal politics, but the 2015 election is proving to be influenced by political developments in Alberta, Ontario, Québec, Manitoba and elsewhere, and many provincial leaders have not been shy about voicing their opinions about federal developments — most notably Ontario’s Liberal premier Kathleen Wynne.
Continue reading In Depth: Canada’s general election

Péladeau could be last shot for Québec independence movement


It wasn’t a surprise that Pierre-Karl Péladeau won the leadership of the Parti québécois (PQ) last weekend.Quebec Flag IconpngCanada Flag Icon

Péladeau, the former CEO of Quebecor, the province’s leading media corporation, took the leadership easily on the first ballot with 57.6% of the vote. He easily defeated Alexandre Cloutier, a young moderate who nevertheless placed second with 29.21% of the vote, and Martine Ouellet, a more traditional PQ leftist. But Péladeau’s victory was sealed earlier this year when the momentum of his campaign forced heavyweights like Jean-François Lisée and Bernard Drainville out of the running.

Péladeau, accepting the party’s leadership with a vow to ‘make Québec a country,’ has a huge task ahead.

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RELATEDPéladeau continues march to PQ leadership

RELATED: Québec election results — four reasons why the PQ blew it

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After just 18 months in office, the province’s voters rejected the minority PQ-led government in April 2014, restoring to power the Parti libéral du Québec (PLQ) under the leadership of former health minister Philippe Couillard. It was a disastrous defeat for the PQ and for premier Pauline Marois, who lost her own riding in the provincial election. Péladeau, who thundered into the election campaign as a first-time candidate, quickly overshadowed Marois with talk of a fresh independence vote for the province, forcing Marois to spend weeks talking about hypothetical referenda, currency and border questions. Arguably, the PQ never subsequently regained a credible shot at winning the election.

Moreover, Péladeau has sometimes stumbled throughout the months-long campaign often designed as an exercise in rebuilding. He never fully repudiated the party’s disastrous (and many would say illiberal and racist) attempt to enact the charte de la laïcité (Charter of Rights and Values) that, among other things, would have banned government employees from wearing any religious symbols. In March,  Péladeau said that ‘immigration and demography’ were to blame for the independence movement’s waning support. As a media tycoon who has pledged only now upon his election as PQ leader, to place his Quebecor stock in a blind trust, leftists throughout Québec remain wary of his leadership. His battles to defeat unions as a businessman are as legendary as his temper.

The latest Léger Marketing poll from April 11 shows the PLQ with a stead lead of 37% to just 28% for the PQ. François Legault’s center-right, sovereigntist Coalition avenir Québec (CAQ) would win 21%, and the pro-independence, leftist Québec  solidaire would win 10%.

All of which makes it baffling that Péladeau’s rise to the leadership has been so effortless. With the future of the struggling independence on the line, the party faithful never really forced Péladeau to fight for the leadership. It’s a lot of faith to place in such a political novice — and no one really knows whether he’ll turn out more like Lucien Bouchard or Michael Ignatieff.  Continue reading Péladeau could be last shot for Québec independence movement

Wynne lifts Ontario Liberals to majority government, 4th term


Heading into Thursday’s provincial elections, polls showed that both the center-left Liberal Party of Ontario and the center-right Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario (PC) both had a chance of winning at least a minority government.Canada Flag Iconontario

Late-breaking polls on Tuesday and Wednesday, however, showed the Liberal vote creeping up, matched by a decline in support for the progressive alternative, the New Democratic Party of Ontario (NDP).

As it turns out, those late polls were spot on, and Ontario’s new premier Kathleen Wynne, who inherited a minority government from her predecessor Dalton McGuinty just 16 months ago, reinvigorated Ontario’s Liberals and won a majority government in her first campaign leading the party.

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RELATED: Meet Kathleen Wynne, Ontario’s premier and the 180-degree opposite of Rob Ford

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The Ontario Liberals won 59 seats in the 107-member Legislative Assembly with nearly 39% of the vote, while the Ontario PC won just 27 seats with just over 31% of the vote, a nearly disastrous result that found the Tories losing ground in what was shaping up as a PC landslide a year ago:

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It’s an unexpected trajectory for a party to go from two terms of majority government to one term of minority government and, then, back to a majority government. Part of the reason is that Ontario’s voters simply never warmed to PC leader Tim Hudak.   Continue reading Wynne lifts Ontario Liberals to majority government, 4th term

Spring 2014 voting blitz: five days, six elections


We’re beginning to hit the peak of what’s perhaps the busiest world election season of the past few years.

What began as a slow year with boycotted votes in Bangladesh and Thailand in the first two months of 2014 snowballed into a busier March, with important parliamentary elections in Colombia, the final presidential vote in El Salvador, parliamentary elections in Serbia, a key presidential election in Slovakia, and municipal elections that upended national politics in France, The Netherlands and Turkey.

But the pace only gets more frenetic from here.

Between today and Wednesday, five countries (and one very important province) on three continents will go to to the polls: Continue reading Spring 2014 voting blitz: five days, six elections

Will bilingualism doom the Liberals in Québec?

Bill 14 Protest,

One month ago, on the popularity of premier Pauline Marois’s push to enact a ‘secular charter of values’ (la charte de la laïcité) that would ban the wearing of religious symbols, including the Muslim hijab, it seemed like the sovereigntist Parti québécois (PQ) was headed for a huge victory on the basis of ‘cultural’ values that, for once, had little to do with Québec independence or with the status of the French language in the province. Quebec Flag IconpngCanada Flag Icon

Two weeks ago, that conventional wisdom was upended, as the PQ’s star candidate Pierre Karl Péladeau and Marois spent days speculating about a potential independence referendum and how Québec might separate from Canada and still retain the Canadian dollar and open borders with the rest of Canada. The sudden return of the independence debate to the campaign agenda seemed to scare many votes into the arms of Philippe Couillard, the new leader of the Parti libéral du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ), which has been out of power for barely 18 months after nearly a decade in power.

Now, after the final debate among the four main party leaders last week, Couillard’s comments in defense of bilingualism have shifted the debate once again to yet another controversial issue — the proper role of the provincial government in promoting French and/or English within Québec.   

Last Thursday night’s debate was vastly different from the previous debate. Whereas Marois took much of the heat in the first debate, Couillard received more criticism in the much feistier final debate — likely because polls increasingly show that the Liberals have not only recaptured the lead from the PQ, but that it could win a majority government.

Amid all the sniping, however, Couillard’s comments about bilingualism stand out:

“Bilingualism isn’t a threat,” he said. “Knowledge of English is indispensable.”

To American ears — or, possibly, to Ontarian or British Columbian or Albertan ears — that shouldn’t be controversial. But in many regards, the French language debate is even more fraught than the referendum debate, because it’s not as hypothetical as an independent Québec.

The province’s 8 million citizens comprise a tiny island of French speakers within a sea of 341 million (mostly) English speakers in the United States and Canada. Without the Québec government’s interest in protecting the French language, English might easily overrun French as the language of Québec commerce and industry, putting the province’s native French speakers at a disadvantage in North America’s French-speaking heartland.

Continue reading Will bilingualism doom the Liberals in Québec?

LIVE-BLOG: Québec leaders debate tonight


Check in at Suffragio tonight at 8 pm ET for a live-blog of tonight’s leaders debate, the first such debate in Québec’s election campaign. Québec’s voters go to the polls on April 7.Canada Flag IconQuebec Flag Iconpng

(You can read previous coverage of the current Québec election, the Marois government and the 2012 election here).

Update, 8:00 pm: Here we go! The live-blog continues below the jump.

Update, 10:00 pm:  So who won? Who lost?

Liberal leader Philippe Couillard more than held his own in this debate — it’s hard to believe it was his first leadership debate.  He was calm, he was cool, he looked like a premier.  He didn’t refrain from engaging premier Pauline Marois, and he certainly scrapped over several issues, including the PQ’s proposed Charter of Values, Marois’s record on job creation and on Marois’s leadership.

Marois played defense all night long, and not only because she’s defending her existing government.  Her attempts to blame the previous Liberal government of Jean Charest, I think, fell flat — those attacks could have been more effective.  But just about everyone ganged up on Marois tonight, and she was alternatively aggressive and defensively brittle — and that’s even before the debate turned to the sovereignty issue.  It wasn’t her best night.

François Legault obviously believes he has more votes to win from the PQ than from the Liberals — and it showed in the way he went after Marois.  Legault took plenty of shots at Couillard too, especially in trying to defend his image as the clear champion of the private sector in the election.

Françoise David of Québec solidaire was perhaps even more calm and collected than Couillard, and a thoughtful presence on the stage tonight — it’s the same tactic she used in 2012 during the debates, and it largely worked tonight, too.  But she has the luxury of being able to float above the fray because her party’s in fourth place.  Like Legault, she targeted Marois much more than Couillard.  She was particularly effective with her deliberate answers on religious freedom and the Charter, and her attempt to reclaim the sovereignty issue from the PQ.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night is how little revolved around the question of sovereignty and Québec independence.  About half of the sovereignty section, which itself ran about 30 to 40 minutes, was devoted to the issue of the Charter.  Also missing from the debate was any mention of Marois’s early attempts to rewrite Bill 101 on the use of French language, which have now fallen by the wayside with the debate over the Charter.

Nothing in tonight’s debate will reverse the growing trend toward the Liberals and away from the PQ.  That doesn’t mean Couillard will certainly be Québec’s premier, but he did nothing tonight to disqualify himself.  Marois’s aggressive defensiveness played poorly to me, and she did nothing to help her cause along undecided voters. David, especially, may have pulled a few voters away from the PQ tonight.  It will be interesting to see if she and Legault, in particular, will focus their aim on Couillard if the Liberals’ polling lead grows even further over the next week or two.

Continue reading LIVE-BLOG: Québec leaders debate tonight

Marois calls snap election with eye on Québécois separatist majority


Despite polls that generally show a slim but steady lead for Québec premier Pauline Marois’s government, her decision to call snap elections after just 17 months in office leaves her party, the sovereignist Parti québécois (PQ) is hardly a lock to return to power, let alone to win a majority government.Canada Flag IconQuebec Flag Iconpng

That makes the April 7 race to elect all 125 members of the Assemblée nationale (National Assembly) an incredibly high-stakes moment in Québécois politics — and, by extension, Canadian politics.

In contrast to the September 2012 election, essentially a referendum on a decade of rule by the Parti libéral du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ) and premier Jean Charest, the upcoming spring election will instead be a referendum on Marois (pictured above) and whether the province is willing to entrust a majority government to Marois’s separatist, leftist party.  If Marois loses, it will take the wind out of the sails of the sovereignist movement in Québec, especially just a year before federal elections in Canada in which the Bloc Québécois, a PQ-affiliated party meant to represent the province’s interest in Ottawa.  If Marois wins, it might be the last opportunity for the Meech Lake/Charlottetown generation of Québécois politicians to push forward with a third (and possibly final) referendum on Québec’s independence.

If Québec held its provincial election tomorrow, Marois would win a majority government, according to polls.  But that’s hardly much comfort — there are at least five reasons to doubt whether Marois can truly pull it off: Continue reading Marois calls snap election with eye on Québécois separatist majority

The problem with Pauline Marois’s sovereignist minority government in Québec


One year into the minority government of Québec premier Pauline Marois, the province is again at the center of controversy with a new attempt to legislate a ‘charter of Québec values’ that’s drawing ire from the rest of Canada. Quebec Flag IconpngCanada Flag Icon

That chart above isn’t a joke — it was released yesterday by Québec’s government, and it purports to demonstrate examples of ‘non-ostentatious’ signs that state employees are permitted to wear.

You’ll note that two-thirds of ‘approved’ examples are Judeo-Christian religions and three-fifths of the ‘banned’ examples are not.  The ‘secular charter’ (la charte de la laïcité) would ban public sector workers from wearing kippas, turbans, burkas, hijabs or ‘large’ crucifixes.  Remember that in Québec, the public sector is quite expansive, so the charter would capture not only folks like teachers, police and civil servants, but employees in Québec’s universities and health care sector as well.

For good measure, the proposed charter would also tweak Québec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to limit religious exemptions, though it wouldn’t eliminate subsidies to religious private schools in Québec that are largely Catholic and largely funded by the state and it wouldn’t eliminate property tax exemptions for churches and other religious buildings.

In short, the charter looks less like a secular bill of rights than a sop to French Canadians to perpetuate preferred legal and cultural benefits at the expense of other ethnic and religious groups — tellingly, the crucifix hanging in Québec’s provincial assembly would be exempt from the law.  A charter that, at face value, purports to secularize Québec’s society, would actually enshrine the dominant Catholic French Canadian culture and exclude Canada’s growing global immigrant population from many of the religious freedoms typically associated with a liberal democracy.  If passed into law, it would conflict with the religious freedom guaranteed in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms (essentially, Canada’s bill of rights) — Québec did not sign the federal Charter, nor did it approve of the 1982 constitutional settlement, but remains subject to the federal Charter.  That means the ‘secular charter’ could once again put Québec on a collision course with the rest of Canada.

It’s also the latest salvo in a series of only-in-Québec culture-war misfires that have plagued the Marois government since it took power last year, and it goes a long way to explaining why Marois and the sovereignist Parti québécois (PQ) are in danger of losing the next election.

Over the past year, it would have been enough for Marois to declare victory on the issue of student fees and largely pacifying student protests, to declare that her government would largely continue Charest’s Plan Nord, a push to develop Québec’s far north in pursuit of resources over the coming decades, and to focus on bringing investment and jobs to Québec.  Marois’s government has also pushed to end support for Québec’s notorious asbestos industry, winning plaudits from environmentalists.

But if you want to know why Marois’s minority government isn’t in a more commanding position, it’s because it has pursued language and culture legislation as a time when Québec, which wasn’t exactly Canada’s most growth-oriented province to begin with (its per-capita GDP of around CAD$43,400 is CAD$5,500 less than neighboring Ontario’s and a staggering CAD$35,000 less than resource-rich Alberta), is falling behind the rest of Canada.

Between August 2012 and August 2013, Canada’s unemployment rate has dropped from 7.8% to 7.6%, but in Québec, the unemployment rate rose from 7.8% to 8.1%.

Instead, her government has plunged Québec back into the language wars, drawing ridiculous global headlines — a great example is the crackdown of the Office québécois de la langue française against a Montréal Italian restaurant’s use of the word ‘pasta’ and other Italian words on its menu and demanding the restaurant print their French equivalents more prominently. (Though we all know that apéritif or hors-d’œuvre is not the same thing as antipasto are not the same thing).

It comes after the Marois government has largely given up its year-long fight to pass Bill 14, which would amend Québec’s La charte de la langue française (Charter of the French Language, also known as ‘Bill 101’) by allowing the government to revoke a provincial municipality’s bilingual status if the anglophone population falls below 50%, requiring small businesses (of between 26 and 49 people) to use French as their everyday workplace language, and mandating that all businesses that serve the public use French with customers.

Marois switched gears from the language charter to a new religious charter when it became clear that her minority government would have a hard time pushing Bill 14 through, but also because a ban on religious symbols is relatively popular among the Québécois electorate.  Continue reading The problem with Pauline Marois’s sovereignist minority government in Québec

Who is Philippe Couillard?


As unbelievable as it seems, the Jean Charest era is firmly over in Québécois politics.Quebec Flag IconpngCanada Flag Icon

Philippe Couillard, his former minister of health and social services, is now the leader of Québec’s Parti libéral du Québec (Liberal Party, or PLQ), which narrowly lost its reelection campaign in September 2012 for what would have been a fourth consecutive term in government under Charest.

As expected, Couillard won on the first ballot with 58.5% of the vote — the convention lacked the drama of January’s Ontario Liberal Party convention that saw Kathleen Wynne win the leadership in Canada’s largest province, thereby paving the way for Wynne to succeed Dalton McGuinty as Ontario’s premier.

So who is Couillard and what does his elevation as Québec’s chief opposition leader mean for the province and for Canada?

A neurosurgeon by training, Couillard came to provincial government in 2003 as a member of the provincial legislature from Mont-Royal, a constituency in Montréal, though he stepped down in 2008 after a relatively successful stint as health minister, where he oversaw a ban on public smoking in the province.

During the leadership race, Couillard received criticism for his partnership with Arthur Porter, the former head of McGill University’s health center, who is living in the Bahamas and wanted on fraud charges in respect of a 2010 contract to build McGill’s new hospital — Couillard had partnered with Porter for a consulting venture in 2008 upon returning to the private sector.

Couillard must now win a seat in the Assemblée nationale du Québec, although he may well wait until the next election, and he’s said that winning a new seat is not a top priority for him — Jean-Marc Fournier, who served as the interim party leader, will continue for now as the PLQ floor leader in the provincial assembly.  Because the current sovereigntist Parti québécois (PQ) holds only a minority government under premier Pauline Marois, Québec could return to the polls, perhaps even within the year.  So it’s fair that rebuilding and rebranding Québec’s Liberal Party is a more pressing task for Couillard in the months ahead.

Unlike Charest, who worked to keep a lid on the fraught constitutional politics that afflicted Québec in the 1970s and the 1990s, Couillard has wasted no time in calling on the province to become a signatory to Canada’s 1982 constitution by the year 2017 — a move that’s already generating controversy both inside Québec and outside:

“We need to be methodical in the way we are going to approach this,” said [Couillard]… “The first thing to do is within our party, to discuss this question of identity or the specific nature of Quebec and then have conversations with the other governments of Canada on how this could be approached.”

He proposed that a new round of constitutional talks could include other issues, such as prime minister Stephen Harper’s proposal to reform the Senate. “This could be one window of opportunity,” he said adding that another more “symbolic window” would be the 150th anniversary of Confederation.

That’s slightly perilous talk for any Canadian politician in light of the constitutional battles of the early 1990s — the 1990 Meech Lake accord failed and Canadians voted down the Charlottetown accord in a 1992 referendum, one of the reasons for the implosion of Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney’s government.  Three years later, Québec voted by only the narrowest of margins to remain within Canada in a referendum on its future status.

Charest, a federalist who led the Progressive Conservatives in the 1997 Canadian federal elections, left national politics for provincial politics in 1998, and his Québec premiership sought to downplay constitutional and sovereignty issues.

Couillard has also criticized Marois’s government for its proposed Bill 14, which would make Québec’s French language laws even stricter by revoking the ‘bilingual’ status of municipalities with less than 50% anglophone population, introduce a mandatory French proficiency test for Québécois students, and prevent small businesses (less than 25 employees) from using English in the workplace. Continue reading Who is Philippe Couillard?