Tag Archives: Quebec politics

The entirely predictable result of Quebec’s gambling-website-blocking law is coming

Only minutes after it was spotted at the very end of Quebec’s 2015 budget document, the proposal to force Internet service providers to block illegal gambling websites was criticized as being unconstitutional.

In the months that followed, the bill to implement the measure was criticized, by opposition parties, by Internet providers, by public interest groups, by Michael Geist, and by anyone with even a basic understanding of constitutional law in Canada. (Though, strangely, not by some actual independent gambling sites.)

And yet, the government kept pushing the legislation along. During parliamentary committee hearings, Finance Minister Carlos Leitão assured everyone that they had their lawyers look into it and it would pass a challenge. This isn’t a telecommunications bill, he argued, it’s about gambling, consumer protection and health, which are provincial jurisdictions.

When Bill 74 was finally adopted at the National Assembly in May 2016, it was with both opposition parties noting the potential issues (which also included worries about the impact this would have on small ISPs).

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre wasted little time, applying to the CRTC to ask it to declare the bill’s website blocking elements unconstitutional. Meanwhile, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association launched a challenge in Quebec Superior Court.

On Thursday, the CRTC responded to PIAC’s application, arguing that on the one hand the court case should settle the matter of whether the bill is constitutional, while on the other hand saying that blocking websites is against the federal Telecommunications Act and complying with a provincial law is not justification for doing so.

The CRTC has given parties 15 days to respond to its preliminary findings, and if it doesn’t change its mind, it will suspend the PIAC application until the court case is settled.

The law won’t be implemented until probably 2018 at the earliest because it will take a while for Loto-Québec to set up its end of the system. That should be enough time for the court to decide on this issue, assuming it doesn’t end up being appealed.

In the meantime, we can sit here and shake our heads at all the energy, time and money being wasted by the Quebec government, the CRTC, the court system, Internet providers, PIAC, Loto-Québec and others over provisions of a law that is obviously unconstitutional and probably wouldn’t work even if it wasn’t.

Former BT Montreal producer gets screwed by intergovernmental bureaucracy

You might remember this moment, from Breakfast Television Montreal two years ago: Genevieve Skelton, one of the segment producers on the show, was invited on air, presumably to kick off a new behind-the-scenes series, only to be shocked with a live on-air marriage proposal. (She said yes.)

Skelton got married, and is now Genevieve Yarn. Ten months after this proposal, little Eli was born. She explained that her plan was to be with the father in Saskatoon for the birth, and then come back to Montreal and continue working after her maternity leave. But things changed, and she decided to stay out west. She now lives in Calgary.

Why am I telling you about this? Because she’s getting screwed by two governments.

Recently, the Quebec government determined that, because she left the province two days before the deadline for eligibility, she is not entitled to maternity leave benefits from the provincial government, which paid her $41,000 and is now clawing it all back. Unfortunate, but those are the rules. But when she tried to get benefits from the Canadian government, which handles such benefits for everyone outside Quebec, she was denied.

The reason? Because she got benefits from Quebec. The benefits the government has retroactively denied.

She posted a plea to Facebook, and began a campaign to garner attention to her cause. The Toronto Star wrote up the case. And despite various angry tweets directed at Justin Trudeau, there hasn’t been a followup yet.

I hope this situation gets sorted out, and she gets her Canadian benefits, which are less than what she got from Quebec, but are much better than nothing.

But what really bugs me about this case is how demonstrative it is of the problems that arise when the Quebec government decides it wants to duplicate a federal government service for no reason beyond its own ego.

Whether it’s tax collection or blood collection or maternity benefits, Quebec decides it needs its own separate bureaucracy, which comes not only at a higher administrative cost (paid for by taxpayers) but also increased complexity making it harder for everyone involved.

The nature of Quebec politics means we’re not going to reverse this situation any time soon, unfortunately. Nor are other provinces likely to give up their jurisdiction on things that would just make much more sense being handled on a national level (like securities regulation). But if we’re going to have both a provincial and a federal office doing the same job, can we at least get them to talk to each other? Is that too much to ask?

Because right now it doesn’t look like they’re doing that, and mothers like Genevieve are being unduly punished because of it.

Letting Loto-Quebec force ISPs to block websites may soon be a thing

It was the very last thing in last year’s Quebec budget. Literally, on pages 616-618 of the 620-page budget document (the last two pages are blank): The government was going to create a law that will require Internet service providers to block illegal gambling websites based on a list provided by Loto-Québec:

A legislative amendment will be proposed to introduce an illegal website
filtering measure. In accordance with this measure, Internet service providers
will not be allowed to provide access to an online gaming and gambling
website whose name is on a list of websites that are to be blocked, drawn up
by Loto-Québec. This measure will be applied by the Régie des alcools, des
courses et des jeux, which should have the necessary resources to fulfil its
new responsibilities.

That was all the budget said about this measure. There were no further details given (except for the fact that it was based on a recommendation from a working group on gambling) and there was no legislation drafted yet to criticize. But various players caught on quickly to the potential slippery slope of Internet censorship, as well as the inevitable jurisdictional battle between the provincial government’s legislation of gambling and the federal government’s responsibility over telecommunications.

Fast-forward a year later, and as Quebecers get ready to receive the 2016-17 budget, several aspects of the previous one still haven’t been put into law.

Introduced in November, and currently working its way through the finance committee, Bill 74, called “An Act respecting mainly the implementation of certain provisions of the Budget Speech of 26 March 2015” has various provisions, including the one about Internet website blocking.

What the bill says

The text of the bill modifies Quebec’s Consumer Protection Act to insert the following clauses:

“TITLE III.4

“ONLINE GAMBLING

“260.33. For the purposes of this Title, “online gambling site” means
a website on which a person may make wagers and bets through an interactive
mechanism.

“260.34. An Internet service provider may not give access to an online
gambling site whose operation is not authorized under Québec law.

“260.35. The Société des loteries du Québec shall oversee the
accessibility of online gambling. It shall draw up a list of unauthorized online
gambling sites and provide the list to the Régie des alcools, des courses et des
jeux, which shall send it to Internet service providers by registered mail.
The receipt notice or, as the case may be, the delivery notice serves as proof
of notification.

“260.36. An Internet service provider that receives the list of unauthorized
online gambling sites in accordance with section 260.35 shall, within 30 days
after receiving the list, block access to those sites.

“260.37. If the Société des loteries du Québec becomes aware that an
Internet service provider is not complying with section 260.36, it shall report
the non-compliance to the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux.
In such a case, the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux shall send a
notice to the non-compliant Internet service provider and send a copy of the
notice to the Société des loteries du Québec.

“260.38. For the purposes of this Title, the Régie des alcools, des courses
et des jeux and the Société des loteries du Québec may enter into an agreement
on the frequency at which the list of unauthorized online gambling sites is to
be updated and sent and on any other terms relating to the carrying out of this
Title.”

It also changes the Act Respecting the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux, to give it authority over enforcing this law, and the Act Respecting the Société des loteries du Québec, to give Loto-Québec the responsibility to draw up the list of banned websites and investigate ISPs. The latter adds these provisions:

“17.1. The president and chief executive officer, or the person the
president and chief executive officer designates for that purpose, may investigate
any matter relating to the carrying out of Title III.4 of the Consumer Protection
Act (chapter P-40.1).

“17.2. The person who conducts an investigation under section 17.1 of
this Act cannot be prosecuted for acts performed in good faith in the exercise
of the functions of office.

An ISP failing to block a website within 30 days of getting a list from Loto-Québec (by registered mail) is added to the list of offences in the Consumer Protection Act, which makes that ISP liable for fines from $2,000 to $100,000, or twice that for a repeat conviction.

The bill also states that while the Consumer Protection Act is supervised by the Minister of Justice and the consumer protection office, the provisions regarding websites and gambling are supervised by the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux and Loto-Québec, under the Minister of Public Security. (Finance Minister Carlos Leitão explains that Loto-Québec informs the RACJ that a provider is noncompliant, and the latter does any legal action.)

The problems

As highlighted by Michael Geist and others, this legislation has serious issues, some of them legal and some practical. Among them:

  • Telecommunications are a federal responsibility, administered by the CRTC, not a provincial one. The legislation could be challenged on constitutional grounds.
  • Telecommunications regulations forbid ISPs from manipulating Internet traffic in this way.
  • The legislation forces ISPs to block people from doing something that is not illegal: viewing an online gambling website.
  • The slippery slope argument: Implementing this could lead to the government ordering the blocking of other websites it doesn’t like. (Major ISPs block sites that contain child pornography, but that’s an industry measure, and isn’t required by law.)
  • The motive for this legislation seems to be as much about protecting Loto-Québec’s revenue as it is about blocking an illegal and unwanted activity.
  • There seem to be few checks and balances to ensure that the websites listed by Loto-Québec deserve to be there. There’s no obvious appeals process.
  • Implementing a government blacklist of websites would cost a lot of money, particularly for small Internet providers. (Leitão dismissed those costs in December, saying “Je ne pense pas que ce soient des coûts énormes, là, c’est une question de mettre la «switch on and off»”. He then threw out a range of $100,000 to $500,000 for additional costs to ISPs, plus another $15-75,000 a year in maintenance costs, and said the government might be willing to subsidize the costs for smaller providers.)
  • There are technical means around such blocks. And someone interested in online gambling will probably make quick use of such measures.
  • Online gambling sites could get around the blocks by setting up new domains or new sites.
  • There could be issues when traffic crosses provincial borders. If I’m a Wind Mobile customer in Alberta and I walk into Quebec with my cellphone, is Wind suddenly obligated to abide by this Quebec law for data it sends to my phone, even though it doesn’t operate in Quebec? Or is that the responsibility of the network I’m roaming on?
  • Other measures might be just as effective without the censorship problem, such as making it illegal for credit card companies to process payments to illegal gambling sites (though there are ways around such problems as well).

The jurisdictional issue seems to be the most problematic, though a legal analysis of the bill points out that many issues cross jurisdictional lines, and a law that seems to involve the other government’s turf isn’t necessarily unconstitutional. Leitão told the committee he was confident the law would stand up to challenges, because of a “latitude” in enforcing provincial law against illegal gambling, but he said there was no formal legal opinion provided on it beyond the opinions of people in his department.

Opposition MNAs Nicolas Marceau (PQ), André Spénard (CAQ) and François Bonnardel (CAQ) grilled Leitão on these aspects of the bill during the committee hearings in December and February. And they’re not done yet. (Reading the transcripts of those hearings gives you a good appreciation for the value of opposition legislators, regardless of party, who give a critical eye to legislation even when they may be in agreement about the overall goal.)

Bonnardel, the MNA for Granby, was strongest in his opposition on legal and constitutional grounds:

Il y a un enjeu où on serait la première province, à ma connaissance au Canada, qui pourrait censurer la libre circulation sur Internet. Coudon, qui censure la libre circulation sur Internet? Cuba, la Corée, le Québec en 2016? M. le Président, mon collègue l’a mentionné, il y a 70 gros moyens, petits fournisseurs au Québec.

Mais au nom de quoi, aujourd’hui, on veut censurer la libre circulation? Tant qu’à faire, pourquoi ne pas bannir ou barrer les sites de pornographie juvénile, propagande islamique tant qu’à y être? On est rendus là.

There’s opposition outside the National Assembly as well. Even the Union des consommateurs, who would normally be all for increased consumer protections, has expressed reservations about this law.

In La Presse last month, columnist Stéphanie Grammond asked why the government was rushing this legislation through. Even though it’s been a year since the plan was announced, it seems clear the government hasn’t been doing a lot of reflecting about the unintended consequences of its proposal.

Maybe it would be a good time to start, once the finance department is done talking about this year’s budget.

UPDATE (April 3): The Canadian Press has a story about this proposed law. It includes a new justification from the Quebec government, that it has the authority to impose Internet censorship laws because problem gambling is a health issue and health is under provincial jurisdiction.

(Probably incomplete) list of Quebec journalists turned politician

Remember the good old days when politicians were all lawyers?

Well, actually politicians have come from all sorts of jobs for a long time now, though lawyers and doctors tend to be over-represented. And journalism is among the former jobs of those who enter the political arena. But it seems like recently it’s become more prevalent. Just this week, former Montreal Gazette journalist Sue Montgomery announced she’s seeking the NDP nomination in N.D.G.-Westmount, and former TVA journalist Réjean Léveillé announced he’s running for the Conservatives.

Since the beginning of 2014, I count 14 Quebec journalists or former journalists who sought provincial or federal office by at least entering a nomination race. And since I find no list online of these people, I created one below. I’m adding to it as more announce, and there are undoubtedly plenty of former cases (particularly candidates that didn’t win) that I’m missing. Feel free to suggest additions below.

Some ground rules for the list though:

  • This list includes only actual politicians, meaning people who have sought elected office (entering a nomination race is enough). It doesn’t include journalists who became political attachés or public relations officials. Nor does it include lieutenant-governors or governors-general.
  • I’ve only included those seeking provincial or federal office. Expanding to include municipal, school board or other positions would make this list far too long and obscure to be manageable.
  • I only include those who entered politics after 1955. Sorry, Henri Bourassa.
  • The person must have been a journalist or worked in a related function (news anchor, news radio host, etc.) Just because someone was in the media doesn’t mean they were a journalist. I’ve excluded Lise Payette, for example, even though she was a figure on Radio-Canada before becoming an MNA. I’ve also excluded Pierre Karl Péladeau and others that owned media without being a journalist.
  • The journalism career must have been non-partisan. By that I mean that people who worked for media with obvious partisan political goals are excluded. (Pierre Trudeau is sometimes listed as a former journalist, but the journal he founded was partisan.)
  • I don’t put a limit on the time between when they were a journalist and when they became a politician. But the journalism job must have been a significant part of their careers. Doing an internship 20 years ago doesn’t count.

Here are the names I have so far, the parties they ran for, and the news outlets they used to work for. Those who actually got elected are in bold.

1956: Pierre Laporte (Independent) — Le Devoir — Went back into journalism after losing and re-entered politics as a Quebec Liberal in 1961

1960: René Lévesque (PLQ, then PQ) — Radio-Canada

1965: Gérard Pelletier (LPC) — Le Devoir, La Presse

1966: Yves Michaud (PLQ, PQ) — Clairon maskoutain, La Patrie

1972: Jeanne Sauvé (LPC) — CBC/Radio-Canada — Later served as governor general

1976: Jean-Pierre Charbonneau (PQ) — CKAC, CKVL, Le Devoir, La Presse

1976: Gérald Godin (PQ) — La Presse

1978: Claude Ryan (PLQ) — Le Devoir

1994: André Arthur (Independent) — TVA, CHRC — Lost this provincial election, but was elected federally in 2006

1994: Matthias Rioux (PQ) — CKAC, CKVL

2003: Dominique Vien (PLQ) — Radio-Canada, Radio Bellechasse

2004: André Bellavance (BQ) — KYQ-FM

2007: Pierre Arcand (PLQ) — CKAC, Metromedia

2007: Christine St-Pierre (PLQ) — Radio-Canada

2007: Bernard Drainville (PQ) — Radio-Canada

2008: Gérard Deltell (ADQ) — TQS

2008: Anne Lagacé-Dowson (NDP) — CBC

2008: Éric Boucher (PQ) — L’Actuel — Ran again for Québec solidaire in 2012

2009: Jean D’Amour (PLQ) — CJFP, CIBM

2011: Raymond Archambault (PQ) — Radio-Canada — Became president of the Parti Québécois in addition to a candidate

2012: Pierre Duchesne (PQ) — Radio-Canada

2012: Jean-François Lisée (PQ) — La Presse, L’Actualité

2012: Sophie Stanké (PQ) — Canal M, La Semaine

2012: Nathalie Roy (CAQ) — TQS, Radio-Canada, TVA

2014: Alexis Deschênes (PQ) — TVA

2014: François Paradis (CAQ) — TVA

2014: Armand Dubois (PLQ) — TVA, Radio-Canada, Radio Ville-Marie

2014: Marie-Louise Séguin (PQ) — Radio-Canada — Previously had a career in municipal politics

2014: Dominique Payette (PQ) — Radio-Canada

2014: Yvon Moreau (BQ) — RNC Média

2014: Sylvain Rochon (PQ) — CJSO

2015: Pascale Déry (CPC) — TVA

2015: Jocelyne Cazin (CAQ) — TVA

2015: Sébastien Couture (PQ) — Écho du Lac

2015: Véronyque Tremblay (PLQ) — TQS, TVA, FM93

2015: Martin Leclerc (NDP) — Journal de Montréal, Radio-Canada

2015: Sue Montgomery (NDP) — Montreal Gazette

2015: Réjean Léveillé (CPC) — TVA

2015: Dominique Trottier (NDP) — TVA

Inside Quebec’s budget lockup

The lockup room at the Centre des congrès de Québec

The lockup room at the Centre des congrès de Québec last November

Thursday is Budget Day in Ottawa. It’s the day that the finance minister stands up inside the House of Commons and tells Canadians all the goodies that they can look forward to in the coming year: tax breaks, new spending, a tighter control over the deficit (or, even better, no deficit at all).

This happens just after 4pm. That’s because that’s when the markets close in Canada. Because of how dramatic an effect changes in tax policy and government spending or other government financial policies can have on business here, and how much people can profit from knowing these things before the general population, the release of budget details is strictly controlled. Anyone, even a minister, caught leaking information ahead of time is subject to serious penalties. (This doesn’t include hints that are publicly laid by the finance minister in the weeks ahead of a budget, to soften the ground a bit for the announcement.)

It’s partly for this same reason that the media are given access to the budget hours before everyone else. If they were given the hundreds of pages live at 4pm, there would be chaos as reporters and opposition politicians speed-read, potentially getting something important wrong and sending incorrect information out to the public. We saw the dangers of this last year with the Obamacare ruling at the U.S. Supreme Court, which wasn’t subject to a lockup.

That said, this isn’t just any embargo. There’s no communication outside the lockup. None. Not even the assignment editors or news directors know what’s in the budget until after the lockup ends at 4pm (the tradition is the lockup ends when the finance minister stands in the House to begin the budget speech).

I’ve always been curious what it’s like in one of these things. Thanks to my employer at The Gazette, I was given a chance to see it when the Quebec government presented its budget last November.

The week before, the city editor asked me if I wanted to go, saying she wanted a copy editor there so that stories could be edited inside the lockup and posted online immediately instead of being sent to an overwhelmed and underinformed Montreal desk at 4pm and posted one by one. I was given a laptop, a cellphone and booked a train ticket (business class! They served me booze and a meal!) and a hotel for two nights. It was the first time I’ve ever travelled on the company dime, and it was way cool.

Anyway, here’s what it was like inside that lockup.

Continue reading

Even if it’s not to blame, we should tone down our rhetoric

“Bienvenue à tous,” the sign read.

In the aftermath of an awful shooting at the Parti Québécois victory party on Tuesday night, commentary has been flying far and wide, people urging calm, people urging unity, people urging a toning down of heated rhetoric, or people not getting the point and blaming everything on some caricature they’ve constructed of people who have different political opinions or who speak a different mother tongue. There’s so many out there I won’t bother trying to link to all of them.

I’m hesitant to join the fray, because to call for a calming of tensions would imply that they are at least in part to blame for what happened. Despite the mad ramblings of a madman being arrested, I find it hard to believe that a disagreement over language policy or sovereignty was the issue here. Quebec has been too peaceful for too long for that to make any sense.

One of the things I love about Quebec is that people can disagree passionately about something so fundamental, so personal and so irrational as national identity but do it peacefully (even if, sometimes, it falls short of respect). Since the October Crisis, we haven’t had political violence here of this nature (well, not much, anyway). We’ve gone through two very stressful referendums and a bunch of close elections, and though we’ve worried about losing our sanity, few have had any reason to worry about losing their lives.

It would be simplistic and, I believe, incorrect to blame this shooting on a language issue. Rather, as evidence continues to come to light about the shooter, it seems more clear that this was a man with mental problems who failed to get help.

We should do it anyway

But we should tone down the rhetoric, not because it might lead to another shooting, but because being more civil in our communication is the right thing to do.

Well before the shooting I was growing concerned with some of the statements being made in newspaper columns and in social media. Not only was there ridiculous generalizing about Quebec anglophones, sovereignists and the rest of Canada, but I got the impression that people were taking things far too seriously.

It’s probably because this is the first election since 1998 won by a sovereignist party, or the first since 2007 where a Liberal victory was not a given. Social media is far more prevalent than it was back then. Plus, newspaper columnists on both sides of the political fence seem to have gone more toward outrageous commentary for its own sake.

What’s worse is that rather than challenge people on their ridiculous exaggerations, Facebook friends and Twitter followers and website commenters have become part of the echo chamber. The cheerleaders are winning over the devil’s advocates.

Make it stop

This, I believe, is how we should step in. It’s nice to call on everyone to tone down our own rhetoric, but I think it would be more constructive to tone down each other’s.

So please, when you hear a friend of yours say that the PQ’s policies on language are akin to “ethnic cleansing,” explain to them that even if by their biased interpretation those policies might fit a loose definition of that term, that they have obviously chosen it as a way of linking the party to some third-world dictator prepared to kill millions in the name of genocide. Explain to them that while you may disagree strongly with Quebec’s language laws or the PQ’s proposals to strengthen them, that is no reason to use such loaded terms.

Et s’il vous plaît, quand vos amis chantent « POLICE POLITIQUE! SSPVM! » expliquer comment cette comparaison est offensive et inutile. Expliquer que même si vous êtes en désaccord avec le projet de loi 78, même si vous pensez que la police de Montréal va trop loin dans leur utilisation de force, qu’ils sont là pour nous protèger, qu’ils ont comme but de respecter la loi, qu’ils veulent rien de moins qu’on participe au démocratie en toute sécurité, et que même si ils font des fautes, c’est très, très loin de ce qui ce passait en Allemagne dans les années 1930.

And please, when you hear one of your friends explain how Pauline Marois wants to “destroy Canada,” explain to them that Quebec has as much of a right to self-determination as any other government. Explain to them that though we may disagree with Quebec leaving Canada, the province cannot be forced to stay inside the federation against its clear will. Explain to them that even if Quebec somehow becomes an independent state, that it plans to have a strong relationship with the rest of Canada, and that even the most hard-core separatists have no wish to see harm come to the rest of the country. And explain to them how Quebec leaving Canada will no more destroy the latter than Canada’s independence in 1867 destroyed Great Britain.

Et s’il vous plaît, quand vous entendez vos amis dire que les anglais au Québec veulent conquérir les québécois, expliquez que nous sommes deux peuples, fils et filles de deux empires européens de siècles passées, qui ont, pour la plupart, les mêmes espoirs pour nos vies et ceux de nos enfants. Expliquez que 95% de la population québécoise parle le français, et que même si la loi 101 peut être le sujet de beaucoup de débats, et même si les conclusions sont que le français au Québec est menacé et il faut agir pour la protèger, que personne ici veut éliminer ce qui nous définissent comme québécois. Expliquez que les anglo-québécois ont leur propre culture, qui n’est pas la même que celui de Toronto, de Vancouver ou de New York. Expliquez que les anglophones qui veulent vivre entièrement en anglais ont déjà déménagé ailleurs, et que ceux qui restent sont encore ici à cause de notre histoire et notre culture dont ils sont aussi fiers.

And please, when you hear one of your friends say Stephen Harper is a dictator or that he hates Canada, explain to them that his party received 40% of the votes cast in the last federal election, that despite all the rhetoric he is still the leader of a centre-right party that has no plans to outlaw abortion, take away universal health care or do anything else that would cause them to lose those suburban Toronto ridings that are key to their parliamentary majority. Explain that while you may worry about where he is taking our country, that we are still governed by a representative democracy with a fully functional judicial system. Explain that if you disagree with Conservative Party policies, then you need to convince their voters not to support them in the next election, and that emotionally-charged hyperbole is going to win over far fewer voters than a reasoned rebuttal of the issues.

S’il vous plaît.

Please.

For the sake of my sanity. Pour notre avenir commun. So that we can be proud not only of what we have built together politically, but of the way we have built it.

S’il vous plaît, je nous demande de communiquer entre nous comme des adultes.

Merci.

UPDATE (Sept. 7): Seems this post is generating some buzz. I spoke with Radio-Canada’s Michel C. Auger about this issue (starts at 31:15), and this post has been republished in Saturday’s Gazette. I was also interviewed on CTV News on Sunday.

And it appears Sophie Durocher at the Journal de Montréal thought the Gazette publishing the piece was hypocritical because of all the other stuff they’ve published. Some on Twitter have pointed out that the Journal de Montréal is a Sun Media publication, and there are plenty of anti-Quebec comments in those papers.

Anglophones: Vote PQ (ha ha, just kidding)

It happens, it seems, during every election. Reporters stuck on campaign buses to Saint-Félix-de-who-kn0ws-where look for some unusual story to report on inevitably throw out the idea that anglophones might somehow be interested in voting for a sovereignist party.

The sovereignist party – the Parti Québécois during a provincial election or the Bloc Québécois in a federal election – are never ones to say no to any votes (they are, after all, politicians), so they indulge, pretending Quebec anglos might have a reason to vote for them.

The party leader explains that this is an election, not a referendum, and federalists can still vote for a sovereignist party that will (in the case of the Bloc) be a voice for all Quebecers in Ottawa, or (in the case of the PQ) be an alternative to the Liberals. They remind the anglos that an independent Quebec would continue to respect their rights and that they, too, are Québécois.

Then comes election night, and the big victory speech, in which the leader proclaims a huge win for sovereignty, as if every vote for that party is a vote to make Quebec into an independent country.

Jean Charest alluded to this phenomenon just before the last provincial election in 2008.

But then, maybe we think it’s more commonplace than it is. The night of the 2008 federal election, Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe said the vote for the Bloc was not a vote for sovereignty, according to an article in The Gazette from way back then. Though he did say the vote showed that Quebecers wanted Ottawa to recognize the supremacy of the French language in this province, and insist that Quebec’s French-language charter apply to federally-regulated institutions.

I’d compare this with other recent sovereignist party victories, but unfortunately for them there haven’t been many. The PQ hasn’t won a provincial election since 1998. The Bloc was doing well until last year, when it collapsed into near-oblivion.

Few options for anglos

All this anglos-voting-PQ silliness highlights the problem that there really isn’t an alternative to the Liberals for federalist anglophones in Quebec. Of the five parties with a chance of winning seats, three of them are openly and proudly sovereignist, and four of them want to strengthen the French-language charter in some way to counteract a perceived threat to the French language in Quebec. Even the Coalition Avenir Québec, which is being seen as an alternative hope for anglos, makes it clear in its platform (PDF) that it would strengthen the role of he Office Québécois de la langue française and put in place measures to ensure more immigrants to Quebec speak French.

The Liberals, meanwhile, aren’t exactly the Equality Party. The best that anglos can hope for with them is the status quo.

It’s no wonder, then, that there won’t be an English-language leaders’ debate, even with the offer to have Pauline Marois do her part in French. The PQ really has little to gain from such an event, and the Liberals and CAQ don’t want to be seen as too friendly to federalists or anglophones, which might scare off soft nationalists.

It’s to the point where francophones are asking about how anglophones are being treated here.

I won’t use some of the ridiculous hyperbole being used by some, comparing Quebec to some totalitarian government or its leaders to some iron-fist dictators who think nothing of murdering millions of their citizens.

But let’s just say that you can understand why there are some people here, maybe some whose families have been in Quebec for generations, or who might be perfectly bilingual but have the misfortune of having the incorrect mother tongue, who feel that on the ballot will simply be yet another list of parties for whom this umpteenth-generation Quebecer isn’t really Québécois enough.

Anglo rights in a sovereign Quebec?

It’s not hard to imagine why anglophones in Quebec are so against the idea of separation. For them, there isn’t this big conflict between being Canadian and living in Quebec. For them, Canada’s bilingual nature – imperfect as it may be in practice – includes them more than Quebec’s attitude of French-but-some-English-too-if-we-have-to.

But it’s more than just a feeling of belonging. Canada’s laws give anglophones the right to live in their own language, to educate their children in English, to deal with the government in English, to have laws written in English. Quebec is obliged to offer services to anglophones, including English school boards, whether it wants to or not. And judging by the amount it restricts access to English public schools (and how much some want to restrict it even further), anglophones could be forgiven for thinking they really don’t want to offer these services, lest they threaten the francophone majority.

I don’t remember every detail about the 1995 referendum campaign – I was 13 at the time and had more important things to worry about that fall. Besides, it’s not like I was going to vote.

I remember about that time and in the years afterward (before it became clear that the whole separation thing wouldn’t be achievable in the short term) how the leaders of the Parti Québécois and the Bloc Québécois – the de facto leaders of the sovereignty movement – would reassure the anglophone community that we’re Quebecers too. During some provincial and federal election campaigns, some even had the gall to suggest that anglos vote for them because their common ground on social or economic issues was more important than their division over sovereignty. And I remember after every election, both those parties would proudly proclaim that every vote for them was a strong mandate for sovereignty.

Politicians being two-faced and pandering is hardly new, but it doesn’t exactly instill confidence when, for something as important as national independence, a lot really has to be based on trust in political leadership.

So it’s not surprising that, even though there were assurances that an independent Quebec would continue to respect the rights of the anglophone minority (under the unspoken assumption that all would be done to ensure they remain a minority), anglophone Quebecers didn’t really trust that a PQ government would do everything in its power to protect their interests.

I mention all this because an article came out in La Presse on Saturday that describes a draft Quebec constitution created in the summer of 1995 that would be enacted in the event of a Yes victory, one that hadn’t been made public until now. A PDF copy of that draft is linked at the bottom of the story. The constitution, which establishes Quebec as a state completely disassociated with the British monarchy, where a president appointed by the legislature would be the head of state but power would rest in the hands of the prime minister, was designed as a transition constitution that would keep everything as it is and eventually be replaced with a permanent one drawn up by an independent Quebec.

Nevertheless, a lot of thought clearly went into it, and those thoughts are described in notes that accompany each article of the constitution. In most cases, it’s the status quo, with a unicameral National Assembly making laws and the same rights and freedoms guaranteed in the existing charters of Canada and Quebec.

As far as anglophones are concerned, the constitution affords certain rights to the anglophone community in Quebec, there’s even an entire section devoted to the topic, starting at article 124 (PDF). Among them:

  • The right to speak in the National Assembly in English
  • The right to communicate in English during court or tribunal proceedings, and have decisions translated into either language
  • The right to educate children in English, from kindergarten until university
  • The right to administer their own educational institutions, presumably meaning the maintaining of linguistic school boards
  • The right to receive medical and social services in English
  • The right to maintain its “identity” and “institutions” (neither of these is defined very well)

That’s not to say everything would be the same. The constitution purposefully doesn’t include, for example, the right to have all laws and transcripts in English as well as French, preferring to leave that up to laws passed by the legislature. And a lot of these rights are very vague, leaving the details to legislation.

Nevertheless, it’s a pretty surprising list of rights from the perspective of a paranoid anglo. What’s more, Article 151 provides that amendments cannot be made to the articles guaranteeing these anglo rights without the consent of the anglo community (although what form that consent takes is left up to the legislature to define).

A logic major such as myself might point out that Article 151 itself could be repealed without the consent of the anglo community, clearing the way for stripping of other anglo rights, but I’m willing to give good faith the benefit of the doubt here. Like the Notwithstanding Clause, just because something is possible in theory doesn’t mean it can easily be abused in practice.

I’m not going to say I’m a convert to the cause of sovereignty. There are questions much more important than the finer points of the French language charter. And it’s hard to take seriously a draft document drawn up in secret that may or may not have been accepted by the population and may or may not have been heavily modified or completely replaced once the public had its say.

But this is perhaps a nudge toward the idea that an independent Quebec might not do everything in its power to strip anglophones of their rights, and maybe there are some deep within the sovereignty movement that believed the anglophone community (or at least the “historic” anglo community in Quebec) is as much deserving of protection as a minority within their new country as the francophone minority did in North America.

Or, you know, I could just look at the French-only-laws thing and scream racism. But I’m not paid to pick fights with Richard Martineau and Jean-François Lisée. ;)

A proposal for the tuition debate

Gasoline prices

  • Colombia: $1.91
  • Tokyo: $1.83
  • Sydney: $1.50
  • Yellowknife: $1.49
  • Johannesburg: $1.40
  • London: $2.14
  • Stockholm: $2.18
  • Amsterdam: $2.37
  • Montreal: $1.39

Source: Globe and Mail, 2011

I don’t take a strong position for or against the tuition battle in Quebec. I think the issue is far more complex than either side is willing to admit. But the argument that Quebec students should shut up because their tuition is the lowest in Canada just bugs me, because it implies that accessibility to education should be just good enough, relative to other places. (And, of course, there are plenty of places in the world where tuition is a lot less than Quebec.)

So I propose a deal: Left-wing commie students will stop complaining about the cost of their tuition when right-wing redneck drivers stop complaining about gas prices.

It won’t happen, of course. People love to complain about the cost they have to pay for things.

Rolling the dice on Quebec’s infrastructure

Have you seen so many Transport Quebec trucks in one place in your life?

Infrastructure is one of those things – nobody pays it any attention to it until it fails. People have better things to worry about, so they don’t think about their water pipes, their electricity lines, their building foundations or their roads or bridges, so long as they’re working properly. But when something goes wrong, any of these can suddenly become a top priority.

For this same reason, those who are in charge of infrastructure tend not to prioritize it. If the people don’t care, why should the government? Making a working thing still work is not going to win you as many votes as making a brand new thing. And that’s a logic that’s not reserved for inept governments. Given the choice between paying a professional engineer to do an inspection on that seemingly innocuous crack in a home’s foundation and spending that money on a new big-screen TV, which do you think is going to be the more common choice?

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Some reading on Quebec’s anti-scab law

Hearings began today (finally a reason to watch the National Assembly channel!) into Quebec’s labour laws, specifically the provisions against strikebreakers (scabs). They are prompted by the enduring two-year-old lockout at the Journal de Montréal, and the union’s argument that laws forbidding the use of replacement workers during a labour conflict need to be updated because they only apply to workers who physically enter the employer’s workspace.

An example to illustrate this is a company called Côté Tonic in Quebec City, which has been doing copy editing and page layout work for the Journal de Montréal during its lockout. Stories in Rue Frontenac and La Presse show that the small company did production work during the Journal de Québec lockout and had to fire people after that was resolved, but learned about an impending lockout at the Journal de Montréal before it was launched and even before the end of the labour contract for Journal de Montréal workers.

This information comes out now for a somewhat ironic reason: an employee who was laid off when she took maternity leave complained she was fired illegally. Her complaint was rejected because it was determined that the layoff happened after the Journal asked the company to reduce its workforce. But because labour relations board decisions are public, the dirty laundry comes out into the open.

The union representing locked-out workers claims there are all sorts of fly-by-night operations doing their work in secret, from customer service to page layout to accounting. But they’ve had difficulty gaining evidence about how they work, and under the current law there’s nothing they can do about it anyway.

Also worth reading:

There’s also the Twitter feed of Rue Frontenac’s David Patry, or the hashtag #commissionJdeM. The hearings can also be viewed online, in case you have a few hours to waste.

Passerelle

The resistance has begun...

So last week, the Liberal-controlled provincial government rammed through Bill 115, née Bill 103, which sets rules whereby students in English-language private schools not otherwise eligible for public English education can acquire such a privilege.

And if you believe Pauline Marois, Pierre Curzi and others with similar mindsets, the French language and Quebec society are one step closer to extinction thanks to the evil anglophone invader.

Yeah.

And yet, the public outrage about this law isn’t what they expected. In fact, many politicians and pundits are downright shocked that there hasn’t been some sort of mass uprising about Bill 115.

As an anglophone, I’ll admit that I’m hard-wired to be against whatever the leader of the Parti Québécois is for when it comes to language policy. It’s instinctual more than it is reflective.

But I agree with them that this is a bad law and creates a system where the rich have more rights than the poor.

Where we disagree is our alternatives. The PQ would rather deny rights to more people than have the rich be able to buy it. I think we need to look at whether denying English education does more harm than good to the future of Quebec.

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The metro car contract: a depressing timeline

Just to recap:

(Projected):

  • January 2012: A judge rules that the “urgency” argument doesn’t hold up, and orders a call for bids on the new metro car contract. Bombardier-Alstom sues.
  • March 2012: The STM puts out a new call for bids, and 12 more companies come out of the blue to express interest.
  • May 2012: The STM picks Bombardier-Alstom as the winner of the bid. ZhuZhou, CAF and a bunch of other companies promptly sue.
  • September 2012: A judge rules something, but nobody reads the judgment and everyone just announces they’re going to sue each other.
  • October 2012: The Quebec people sue the government for incompetent mismanagement of their funds.
  • December 2012: The world comes to an end. All evil dies in the apocalypse. Civil courts stop functioning, and all lawsuits are dismissed.
  • April 2025: The first new metro cars are delivered. Quebec Premier Patrick Huard participates in a photo op and pretends it was all his doing.

Is Gilles Villeneuve still taking sponsors?

A mini museum (and souvenir shop) to Gilles Villeneuve on Crescent St. during Grand Prix weekend

During the Grand Prix weekend, I noticed that this bar on Crescent St. had been converted into a museum honouring Gilles Villeneuve, the guy from whom the circuit the race takes place on gets its name.

There were photos of Gilles, videos of Gilles, and some original items in a section roped off lest anyone consider actually touching them. They were brought in from the Gilles Villeneuve Museum in Berthierville for the occasion.

Oh, and there was the souvenir stand. In fact, it seemed the entire point of it was to sell memorabilia related to Gilles Villeneuve. But I’ll give them some slack. It’s not like I paid anything to get in.

Anyway, fast-forward a month, and the government is considering levying a fine against the museum because those photos contained advertisements for tobacco products, which were caught by inspectors from the health department (apparently they have people who go around looking for tobacco ads).

The story makes it clear that the government hasn’t decided whether to fine the museum, which obviously doesn’t think it should be fined for showing historic photos to the public. But they haven’t ruled a fine out either.

Let’s hope some common sense prevails soon. After all, it’s not like Marlboro is paying the museum (or Villeneuve) for the ads anymore.