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Les gens des Prairies; toujours sur le go (#127)

Part of the last post would be a good to write separately in French (the bit about Prairie Canadians glued to their cars and travelling huge distances all the time).  I say this because there is a very different outlook on driving, and in this sense, in lifestyle between the Prairie provinces and Québec (and Eastern Canada in general).   Although most people have cars in Québec, they don’t drive them nearly as much or as far as people in the Prairies (perhaps with the exception of going to Florida in the winter), or nearly the same distances between towns and cities (people are more used to travelling around the local area).

Dans mon billet précédent, je mentionnais aux lecteurs anglophones que les gens des Prairies (l’Alberta, le Saskatchewan et le Manitoba) s’en servent souvent de leurs voitures pour parcourir de très grandes distances — en moyen bien plus grandes que les gens du Québec (et l’est du pays en général)…  au point où plusieurs personnes de l’Ontario et le Québec m’ont dit même que c’est typiquement prairien que je conduis ma voiture autant.

Pour nous qui sommes d’origine des prairies, de conduire 100, 200 ou même 300 kms ne serait considéré pas plus d’inconvenance de ce que serait 20 kms pour quelqu’un qui habite une grande ville comme Montréal, Vancouver ou Toronto.   En raison de l’immensité des prairies et le fait que tout le monde a de la famille et des amis éparpillés sur une si vaste territoire, d’être sans voiture donnerait le même sentiment que de perdre un membre (selon toute probabilité, un sentiment semblable pour ceux qui perdent leur portable ou pour d’autres qui perdent leur accès internet).

Il n’y a rien d’étrange de trouver des gens qui se contentent de conduire deux heures entre deux villes pour un rendez-vous chez le dentiste.  Je connais même des gens, qui chaque jour, conduit plus qu’une heure dans les deux directions, en pleine campagne, pour se rendre au travail.

Pour moi personnellement, en raison de mes racines culturelles et ce sentiment qu’une voiture équivaut un style de vie de liberté, la question se posait de savoir si je devrais se procurer une voiture quand je suis parti vivre à l’étranger, et si oui, jusqu’à quel point devrais-je me retenir conduire.  En fin de compte, je me suis dit du diable, quelle différence ferait-il, et pourquoi pas?  Si j’allais conduire à l’étranger, je devrais rester fidèle en fonction du moule culturel dans lequel j’ai grandi, et pour ainsi dire je ferais aussi bien de m’en servir d’une voiture pour voir autant de places que possible, et dans la mesure du possible en profiter pour élargir mes propres horizons au max, mur à mur.

Alors, lorsque j’habitais la Chine et le Liban pendant de nombreuses années, j’ai pris la peine d’avoir ma propre voiture en tout temps (il va sans dire que je me sentirais « étrange » d’en être dépourvu).  Même quand je travaillais en Afrique et en Inde, je louais des voitures d’occasion pour explorer tous les coins et recoins du pays et ceux qui l’avoisinent.   Je suis même allé jusqu’au point de faire « importer » ma propre voiture du Canada en Chine au début des années 2000 – la faisant amener en Chine dans un conteneur transocéanique.   Mes collègues et mes amis du Québec et de l’est du Canada ont tous cru que j’avais perdu la tête, mais ceux de l’ouest du Canada ont bien saisi mon raisonnement et ma sensibilité envers mon désir d’avoir toujours à ma disposition mes quatre roues à moi.   Dans les prairies, on est né ainsi!

Mes voitures ont vu tant de places, et elles ont accumulées tellement de kilomètres, que même moi, je suis quelque peu étonné lorsque je me mets à y penser.  J’ai fait tellement de grands voyages parmi lesquels j’ai conduis :

  • d’Islamabad (Pakistan) jusqu’à Beijing (Chine
  • d’Istanbul (Turquie) jusqu’en Arabie Saoudite et d’ailleurs,
  • un peu partout en Afrique de l’ouest
  • en Inde et un peu partout dans les pays avoisinants,
  • dans les Causasses, de l’Arménie en Géorgie au Azerbaïdjan
  • hors-route à travers le désert en Mongolie en Jeep, vivant dans les tentes des nomades là où j’en pouvais trouver,
  • dans pas mal d’autres régions et lieux

Mais, au bout du compte, je crois que je n’aurais jamais ressenti le besoin de repousser les limites routières si je n’aurais pas grandi dans les Prairies – où il existe justement ce sentiment « inné » de conduire hors aggolmération…  un « faites-le » sentiment.   Comme Prairien… la conduite, c’est dans notre sang.

Souvent, mais pas toujours, d’autres gens m’accompagnaient lors de ces aventures.

J’étais chanceux que mon meilleur ami (celui dont j’ai parlé dans le billet precedent), a pris l’avion pour m’accompagner sur quelques-uns de ces voyages, tel un voyage de 3000kms à travers la Chine (à la recherche de villages, de forts, et de temples d’antiquité – parmi lesquels beaucoup n’auraient jamais été visité auparavant par des étrangers).   On a fait ensemble le Kazakhstan, Kirghizistan, Tadjikistan, et l’Ouzbékistan en voiture.  Et cela ne compte même pas les innombrables voyages routiers que nous avons entrepris ensemble au Canada.  C’est une des meilleurs indices qui peut être compté comme meilleur ami – et ces voyages faisaient pour les meilleurs mémoires au monde (littéralement).

Alors, au Québec, la prochaine fois que vous voyez une voiture de passage sur la 20 ou la 40 munie de plaques de l’ouest, il est fort probable que la personne au volant ne considérerait son voyage transcanadien de 32 à 42 heures que « petit escapade » – car ce serait un voyage qui correspondrait plutôt à “sa nature” 🙂 .

Quelques photos de mes aventures mentionnées ci-dessus sont affichées dans le billet « “Ragoût de boulettes” & other cross-cultural tid-bits (#126) »

“Ragoût de boulettes” & other cross-cultural tid-bits (#126)

It’s a Francophone holiday tradition in Québec and for Francophones elsewhere in Canada to have Ragoût de Boulettes as one of the main dishes at Christmas.

  • Ragoût = ragu or stew.
  • boulettes = meat balls

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There are different ways to make it, and each family seems to have their own recipes.  I’ve seen it made with only pork, or with only beef, or with a combination of poultry and pork, as well as with dark brown sauces, lighter dark sauces, white flour sauces, not spicy and meaty, or a even a bit spicy.   It’s even eaten as far south as Louisiana, where it can be quite spicy, ragoût cajun de boulettes.   Making it can be quite a big process – it can take hours to let it simmer.

But yesterday, I had a bit of an interesting experience with ragoût de boulettes.

These trips back to Alberta are always super busy…  If I’m not doing things with friends and family here in Vegreville, I’m usually running back-and-forth to Edmonton every day or every second day to see friends or family in and around Edmonton (even though the Vegreville-Edmonton drive is 110km each way).  And then there’s the 6.5 hour drive to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, which I usually try to sneak in for a quick two or three day visit to see my grandparents and extended family.  And then there’s the 5 hour drive down to Calgary and a couple more hours’ drive into the Rockies which I’m doing with visiting friends from Ontario!  Phew!  Need to find time to breath (and fill the tank at the very least!)

Needless to say, the holiday season always sees me doing a lot of driving.

Yesterday I made the drive into Edmonton to see my best friend.  His mother is Franco-Albertaine, and they always had the traditional Ragoût de Boulettes for Christmas.

Since I was stopping at a well-known warhouse-style supermarket chain on the edge of Edmonton on my drive in to see him, I phoned and asked if he wanted me to pick up anything for him, such as ground pork, etc.  He said “Absolutely not!  There’s absolutely no way i can use supermarket-processed meat in the recipe… it can only be fresh local meat, fed by local farmers, with nothing added”   I was kind of surprised.  I asked him what the difference was… and he simply answered “I’ll show you when you get here.”

(Coincidentally, while I was in the supermarket, I overheard two couples inside chatting in French with a Falher accent — an accent of the Francophone region of Alberta around Peace River in the Northwest of the province.  You’ll recall I mentioned this accent in the accent series.  Since it’s rare to hear a Falher French accent in the Edmonton area (versus a central-Alberta French accent), I eavesdropped for a couple of moments while in line [bad me].  Both couples were in Edmonton to spend the holidays with family who moved from Falher, and they randomly bumped into each other at the supermarket.  Hey, I know eavesdropping is bad… but the many different accents in Canadian French have always fascinated me).

Anyway… no sooner had I got my best friend’s house, than he said “let’s go”, and we hopped in his truck to go to the butcher shop.

Bt.Shp

He said his family’s ragoût de boulette goes back generations, and the taste has to be EXACTLY how is tasted many generations before — before supermarkets even existed — or it wouldn’t be right.  That was an interesting statement, so I asked him what he meant (and even though I’ve known him for many years, I never really knew about the specifics of his ancestor’s roots, going back several generations).  Like many Franco-Albertain families, his great-great-grandparents came to Alberta from other regions of North America.  For example, here in Vegreville, the original families (who are still here), such as the Tétreau, Houle, Poulin, and Létourneau, came to Alberta from Kansas (at that time, 130 years ago, there were still many Franco-Americains in the US, and a good number were re-congregating and settling Alberta).  Others came from Eastern Canada (particularly Ontario and Québec).   My buddy’s great-great-grandparent’s family were actually Franco-Ontariens who settled the region Northeast of Edmonton – eventually forming part of Alberta’s Franco-albertain heritage.

He said the ragoût de boulettes recipe his family still makes goes back to their original Ontarian roots (Francophones have been in Ontario for 400 years, even before Anglophone culture in Ontario).  My buddy says the recipe his family uses has remained essentially unchanged for many many generations… with each generation trying to make it as true-to-the-original as they can.

He refuses to make his family’s Christmas ragoût with supermarket meat.  He says supermarkets use additives and “gas” the meat to make it last longer (just as supermarket wholesalers “gas” bananas so they keep longer).  But this treatment alters the taste, and adds a slight “ammonia” taste to it.  I had never heard of this with meat (but I had for bananas).

Anyway, he checked up on his special lean-lean ground pork order at the butcher, ensuring everything was going to be delivered to him on time.  His extended family is quite large, and they’re going to be travelling from all over Alberta tomorrow to meet in Medicine Hat.  Everyone in the family has been assigned a different dish to make, and my buddy was assigned the all-important ragoût de boullettes this year… so he can’t mess it up.   I tagged along as we drove around the city to look for containers big enough to put it in for his 6.5 hour drive down to Medicine Hat.  He has a long day of cooking ahead of him today.

The next post I’ll talk about what things are eaten in Québec (and Francophone families in general across Canada) for Christmas.   Tomorrow, the 24th, is a big day on the calendar for Francophones and food!  Will see you tomorrow.


Little side comment on all this “driving” stuff I mentioned (but if you’re from the Prairies, you’ll already know exactly what I mean):  

The following is something that might be of cross-cultural interest to Francophones readers of this blog in Québec.  It’s  an interesting quirk that people from the Prairies are always driving somewhere, all the time.  You saw me mention above how much long-distance driving many of us routinely do (with me using the example of driving all over the place during the holidays, my buddy driving almost 7 hours to Medicine Hat for the holidays, etc.)… and from what I saw yesterday on the highways and freeways… all of Alberta and Saskatchewan seems to be on the move!

Here on the Prairies, people feel driving 100, 200 or 300 kms is no more of a drive than what 20 kms would be to someone in a large city like Vancouver, Montréal or Toronto.  Because distances on the Prairies are so large, and families and friends are so spread out across all three Prairie provinces, if you were to lose your car, you would feel like part of your body has been amputated (it’s kind of how many people might feel if they lose their cell-phone or an internet connection).

People on the Prairies will happily drive two hours for a dental appointment.  I even know people who drive one hour, one way, across the countryside as part of their daily work commute.  Even when I lived in China and Lebanon for many years, I made sure I had my own vehicles at all times (I would “feel” strange without it), and I drove everywhere around China and the Middle-East (In the very early 2000’s, I even shipped my car from Canada to China in a container… people in Eastern Canada thought I was crazy… but people in Western Canada understood my “born to drive” disposition).   It can be quite the decision to have a vehicle in a far-away land where they don’t speak your language, and the culture and road conditions are very different.  But I figured that if I were to do it, I might as well go all out and push it to the limits — taking advantage of everything and every place there is to see.   To do otherwise would go against my nature (I’m from the Prairies after all 😉 ).

When I think of it, my vehicles have seen so many places, and they’ve all wracked up so many miles, that I’m even a bit taken aback when I stop to think about it.   I’ve done huge road-trips with them, driving from Islamabad, Pakistan to Beijing, China in one one trip, from Istanbul to Saudi Arabia in another, all over West Africa, and around India, in the Caucuses from Armenia to Georgia to Azerbaijan in one trip, renting a jeep for an off-road week-long adventure across the Mongolian desert, staying with nomads in their camps and night… and everywhere in between.  But bottom line, culturally, I don’t think I would have had the urge to do these things had I not grown up on the Prairies where there is such an ingrained “rural driving” culture — with a natural “urge” to get out there and “just drive it!”.   As a Westerner who grew up on the Prairies… I think driving is in our blood.

This same best friend I spoke of above, did a number of these road trips with me.   We once took a 3000km road trip together in my car across China (exploring little villages, forts, and temples likely never visited by foreigners before), and we did another road trip together across Uzbekistan, Khazakhstan, Kyrzyzstan and Tajikistan together.  And that doesn’t count our countless road trips in Canada we made together when we were a lot younger.  That’s how you know you’re best buds!   Best memories in the world!! (literally).

A.28

Driving through the “Northwest Frontier Region”, Security forces, Pakistan

A.15Me & “the tank!“ (nick name for my truck). Highest border crossing in the world (Pakistan-China, 5000m).  300 metres higher, and would need oxygen tanks (was already out of breath just walking from the truck to take this pic).

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Drive to Northern Georgia

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Passing people in moments like this on the more remote drives make make trips like this so worth it.  You see lifestyles which either don’t exist anymore, or soon will no longer exist anywhere.

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Afamia, Syria… is was one of the most fascinating countries in the world.   Was so happy I could drive all over Syria when I did, before the war broke out and everything was peaceful and safe.  It used to be one of the friendliest and safest places in the world.  I still can’t believe what’s happening.  Seems surreal watching it now on the news.

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Driving past traditional houses in remote regions of Tajikistan – a style of home which has not changed for 4000 to 5000 years.

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Nope… can’t drive any further… end of the road at the Chechnya-Georgia border.

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Made it to Dubai… looooong, straaaaight drives across the desert.

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People say Alberta’s oilsands are “dirty”, but then you pass something like this on your drive across Azerbaijan!!  Yup… those are fields as far as you can see, filled with pools of crude oil all over the place.   Alberta’s oil is lookin’ pretty clean all of a sudden!  I think the disgusted look on my face says it all.

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My buddy taking a pic of me (leaning on the bench to the right) in Samarkand (that was quite the drive… ever have to line up at a gas station for an hour due to gas shortages?)

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Driving across Southern Lebanon to Shebaa Farms

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Driving across Bhutan… You feel like you’re driving through the clouds when you’re high up in the Himalayan passes.

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One of the last “pit-stops” on the road in Armenia before crossing the Georgian border in the next few hours.

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Driving across Oman

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Made it to Varanasi, India… sitting on the boat in the Ganges at sunrise — one of the most surreal experiences 

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Pit-stop & time for a photo along the Karakorum (one of the world’s most remote “highways” — at least it was a highway for the few portions when it was paved).

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Made it to the Taj!

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This was one of my first road trips… my car which I originally shipped in a container from Canada to China in the early 2000s… exploring ancient walled cities in rural China (this trip was with my buddy mentioned in this post).

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Driving across the border into Togo Left, made it up to Burkina Faso, right

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Arrived in Almaty, Kazakhstan… checking out the city and doin’ the must-do “Almaty pose”

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Yup, this is actually the national highway across Northern Tajikistan, from the border from Uzbekistan, to Penjikent, down to the capital, Dushabe.   My brain was rattling for days after this drive.

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Very flat, long (but interesting) drive to Bukhara, Uzbekistan

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Not exactly a car, but a camel still is a vehicle for many people around the world — so I’ll take it!

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I love the irony in these two photos… these two photos were actually taken the same day — taken in the morning on right in Lebanon as we were driving over the high snowy mountain passes, and then later in the afternoon in the middle of the desert on the Homs-Baghdad highway in central Syria (sometime in 2007 or 2008).

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The Chitral Valley in Pakistan.  Was lucky I could drive it when I did… wouldn’t be able to get anywhere close to it today.

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This is another one of those moments that make it all worth the effort.  I would never see something like this again.

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My gear in the back of the jeep we rented and drove off-road across the Mongolian desert… living with nomads along the way.   Right:  a nomadic herder.

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Catching wild camels with nomads in Mongolia.  Filling up the jeep when and where you could.

Bottom line:  You’d never ever be able to see and do most of these things if you’re the least bit apprehensive about driving… so just get out there and drive !  (Good to be from the Prairies… gives ya the driving guts to do’er!)

Végreville — et les petites villes du Canada (#125)

This is a quick post on my hometown in North-Central Alberta… I made the annual trip back yesterday for the holidays.  Just a few simple thoughts on how much things have changed in small towns all across Canada the last couple of decades (for the better).  Doing this one in French since there are Francophones in Eastern Canada who follow this blog, and who have never been to Western Canada before to see the major changes occuring in small towns here and how small values in the West are on par with same-sized town in the East.

Hier, j’ai fait la “migration annuelle” de retour à Végreville (110 kms à l’est d’Edmonton).

Depuis plus de 15 ans, je fais le point d’y rentrer au moins une fois par année – et ce peu importe ou je vivais au Canada ou à l’étranger.   C’est ici où j’ai passé mes années d’ado, et mes parents y demeurent toujours.

Veg1C’est une ville d’à peu près 5800 habitants, et comme beaucoup de villes de cette taille à travers le Canada, Végreville est une ville en pleine transformation.

À son origine, à la fin des années 1800 et au début des années 1900, c’était une ville francophone (les premières écoles, églises et l’hôpital étaient toutes des institutions francophones).

Ensuite est venue une grande vague d’immigration ukrainienne au début des années 1900s, accompagnée en même temps d’autres immigrants d’origines britanniques, allemandes, et américaines.   Veg2

Comme partout au Canada, la population de Végreville est bien plus diverse et mélangée qu’elle l’était il y a même 20 ans.

Dans la rue on entend souvent un accent anglais unique à la région de Végreville (un accent hautement influencé par les pionniers ukrainiens), mais on y entend également du français (hier, je n’étais de retour en ville que 15 minutes quand j’entendais déjà le français dans un resto local).

Mais il y a maintenant toute une nouvelle vague d’arrivants – des gens qui y déménagent d’un peu partout au Canada, et de tous les coins du monde.  Il y a des francophones venus d’ailleurs au Canada (on y entends non seulement l’accent français des prairies, mais également ceux du Québec et de l’acadie), et on voit de plus en plus de chinois, indiens, philippins et des africains (dont beaucoup parlent français) qui s’y installent.

Même les épiceries en ville sont stockées de fruits et légumes, dits “ethniques”, venant de partout au monde (du plantain, des plaquemines, de la citronnelle fraîche, du pitaya, des rambutans, la momordique, et des taros crus, parmi d’autres – ce qui aurait été inconcevable de voir il y 20 ans dans une ville de cette taille).

Moi, j’avais toujours un petit faible pour les petits villes du pays, que ce soit des communautés comme Végreville en Alberta, Yarmouth (Nouvelle Écosse), Vernon (C-B), Hearst (Ontario), ou La Malbaie (en Charlevoix, QC).

Bien que leurs taux d’immigration et leur diversité ethnique soient différentes, l’esprit de leurs populations et leurs façons de se comporter les uns envers les autres sont toujours presque la même.

Ce matin même, quand je prenais une marche sur la rue principale, des étrangers me saluaient au hasard, je voyais des amis se croiser dans la rue, le monde gardait toujours le sourire, et l’esprit de communauté etait bien vivante et visible. veg.mp1 Une chose qui me frappe toujours est la façon dont les petites villes partout au Canada sont devenues très accueillantes envers les nouveaux arrivants, peu importe leur origine.  À l’époque où je vivais à Végreville, mon école secondaire ne comptait que 150 étudiants.

Bien que ma classe de graduation (au milieu des années 1990) ne comptait que 18 étudiants, il y avait deux élèves d’origine d’Amérique du sud, un du Vietnam, deux autochtones, un de l’Inde, et une de l’Afrique (aujourd’hui même ce genre de mélange serait encore plus grand – et ce pour une petite ville très rurale de 5800 habitants!).

C’est un changement majeur depuis 20 ans – une soit disante révolution récente dans le sens de ce qui est la composition et l’essence même d’une petite ville au Canada (jusqu’au début des années 1990, les nouveaux immigrants au Canada ne se sont installés que très rarement dans les villes rurales).

Tout comme Végreville, d’autres villes comme La Malbaie, Yarmouth ou Plessisville ne font pas exception à cette tendance. Parmi tous les pays qui accueillent des immigrants, les petites villes du Canada, dans leur ensemble (qu’il s’agisse des régions francophones ou anglophones) se distinguent par leur esprit d’ouverture.

C’est une valeur pancanadienne, partagée par nous tous qui nous définit comme peuple, peu importe où on se retrouve au Canada – et ce sont des valeurs à célébrer .  Il démontre comment on s’est évolué comme société, et j’ai hâte de voir son évolution continue.

Ci-dessous, une murale en ville qui rende hommage aux communautés fondateurs de Végreville.

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This dude’s the man, Mr. “Veg” himself 🙂

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Gérald Fillion – Watch this guy if you want to know about Québec’s economy (#124)

I haven’t yet done an economic post – which, if I think about it, is quite strange since I love looking at economic numbers, metrics and indicators.

In general, very few reporters or columnists in Québec seem to be preoccupied with economy stories.  This certainly isn’t unique of Québec (reporters & columnists everywhere would rather throw their opinions around regarding political or social issues – the “sensational” stuff on which they feel they can place their own stamp, and thus say they have the right opinion.  I suppose that’s just human nature 😉 ).

But Québec does have a few good economic reporters – and it takes a special breed to truly understand and decipher hard-core, objective numbers (numbers don’t lie, after all).

Québec has a 24-hour economic, business & money-talk television station, Argent (owned by Québecor).  The station’s website is http://argent.canoe.ca/, and playback videos of various programs can be viewed here: http://argent.canoe.ca/grille-horaire.  Unfortunately it does not stream live video, but it does stream live audio (click in the upper right of its home page).   Argent is sort of the Québec French equivalent of BNN, Bloomberg or CNBC.  Argent supplements TVA’s economic commentaries and reports.

But apart from Argent and a few faceless reporters in newspapers or magazines like Les Affaires, generally speaking, high profile economic reporters and columnists are far and few between in Québec.

One notable exception is Gérald FillionI’m in business, and I can say he knows his stuff and he has my attention.  Fillion is Radio-Canada’s (and their 24-hours news station RDI’s) star economic reporter.

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The closest equivalent to Fillion in Anglophone Canada would likely be Amanda Lang (and just as most people across English Canada would recognize Amanda Lang, most people across Québec would recognize Gérald Fillion).  Fillion, like Lang, has his own business & economics analysis television show, RDI économie, but his television appearances on Radio-Canada news programming are even more frequent than what Lang’s are on CBC.

Fillion is Radio-Canada/CBC’s lead Francophone reporter for all of Canada, but his reports and posts are very much focused on Québec, which again, brings home the concept that Québec media is very Québec-centric (I’ve mentioned this in “Quebec-centric” media tendency quite a number of times in past posts – it’s important to understand it upfront so you don’t get too frustrated as you rely on it while incorporating more and more Francophone culture into your own lives).   I suppose a comparison I can make on this front would be if Amanda Lang or Don Pittis (also at CBC) made their reports 90% Ontario-specific (that wouldn’t go over so well with people in other provinces).   But I’m also very much a realist, and Radio-Canada needs to attract large Québec viewership numbers to woo advertising dollars their way (Patrice Roy, of Radio-Canada has said so much himself) — so it probably wouldn’t pay for Fillion to do economic reports on matters in Nova Scotia or BC.

I do NOT blame Fillion at all on this front.  He does a very good job in the context that he has been given to work within — and it is a very difficult context he has to work with, with very tight budgets and limited resources.  He’s one of Canada’s best and brightest journalists, but many of these broader funding issues are out of his hands.  He has a system he has to work within.

Something I find interesting, when I watch Fillion’s competition, Argent, I feel a good number of Argent’s reporting is right-right economic reporting, and you sometimes need a strong economic background to understand certain issues being discussed.   But not so when watching Fillion.  Sometimes I think his economic views are centre-centre, sometimes I get vibes he’s centre-right… and sometimes I get a sense he’s centre-left, and then other times he’ll approach issues from the extremes at both ends… in that sense I haven’t quite figured out his own true standpoints yet.  But that’s perhaps a good thing because it means he’s trying to report economic issues to as wide an audience as possible (his target audience is the average person on the street in Québec, so he needs to simplify issues to garner broad appeal).

Fillion has an official blog on Radio-Canada’s website which speaks to issues of interest.  He writes a new post every few days pertaining to an important topic being hotly discussed in the news.   When he explains the issues, he does so from the standpoint that the viewer is encountering the matter for the very first time.   Thus he takes special care to make very complex matters quite easy to understand, all in just a few short paragraphs.

When he interviews politicians, I’ve seen him take them to task.  I’ve smiled a number of times when watching Fillion’s interviews, because certain politicians, who are managing the economy and who are supposed to have the answers, are sometimes at a severe loss for how to answer very basic economic questions posed by Fillion.   In that sense, his interviews have given me much insight into who is and who is not a good politician.   My guess is that Fillion probably scares the wits out of a good number of politicians (unless certain politicians actually know what they’re talking about – and some do… And that’s when they shine and get my respect!).

I can point you to a very recent interview which demonstrates this point.  Fillion recently conducted an interview with Pierre Karl Péladeau (PKP).  Throughout the interview, it was Fillion’s economic prowess which carried the discussion.  PKP, regarded as the Québec business tycoon, was at a loss for coherent, straight answers when questioned hard by Fillion, and he simply wordsmithed (la langue de bois as we say in French), floundered, then sank.  I couldn’t believe it – “surprise” would probably be the best word to describe the expression I must have had on my face.  I was expecting an amazing performance from Péladeau, and in the end, an average Joe Blow from the street could have probably answered better.   I’d say that out of all of 2014’s television interviews, I’d put this very interview as one of the years’ most face-losing interviews for any of Qubéc’s politicians – the link for the interview is HERE.   My guess is that PKP will never want to be interviewed by Fillion again… but that lets you know who does and doesn’t know how to marry the world of economics and politics (if you want my opinion, if you can’t marry those two worlds, then you shouldn’t be in politics).   As a side note… of course, Argent did not mention so much as two words about Péladeau’s less-than-stellar performance when put on the economic question hot-seat by Fillion… but then again, Péladeau owns Argent, so who in their right mind at Argent would criticize him (PKP will return one day, after all).

Below are links for Fillion’s economic posts over the past three months on Radio-Canada’s website.  Take a look at the titles – they give you an idea of what economic issues are of interest to Québec’s public.  Because he will cover issues specific to Québec’s social programs, some issues would be less of an interest to an Albertan or Ontarian (Anglophone or Francophone).  However, there are still similarities with matters of importance to all Canadians (lots of coverage of resource issues and government finances for example), but with a slightly different twist in Québec.

If your French is not sufficient to read them with ease, may I suggest you use Google Translate (Google’s French-to-English translations are instant and generally pretty good)  https://translate.google.com/

Regardless of where you are in Canada, see if you can catch Gérald Fillion on RDI every Monday to Friday at 6:30pm and 10:00pm.   You can also stream RDI Economie online at the following link:  http://ici.radio-canada.ca/economie/ (far left, scroll down half way, and click “RDI Économie”).


A bit of issue-related commentary on my part: 

In the above post, I mentioned that there tends to be very little economic reporting on matters outside of Québec (let alone within Québec.   Because RDI and Radio-Canada could be considered one of the very few sources to which Francophones outside Québec can turn to for their economic news, it makes it so I really feel for Francophones in as diverse as places as Nova Scotia and BC 😦 .

To Francophones around Canada, I say this; I know the last thing you want to watch is a “headline story” about the economic impact a budget will have on the Conservatoire de musique in Trois-Rivières (the bit about the “system” I just spoke about above).  Honestly, if you are Francophone or Francophile in a place like Kelowna, B.C., depending heavily on our public broadcaster Radio-Canada, and you want to catch up with the economic news in French, but you see this latter Trois-Rivières Conservatoire de musique headline as the day’s main economic news article, I can fully understand why you’d want to jump into Lake Okanagan!  (believe me, the thought has crossed my mind many times in the past myself – it’s a case where Québec poorly understands the rest of Canada, just as unilingual aspects of the rest of Canada often poorly understand Québec – it goes in both directions)…

So I’ll say it once again… This is one of the reasons why I have not been so hot-hot on budgetary cuts to Radio-Canada (RC’s headquarters in Montréal calls the shots for RC’s French-language reporting everywhere else in Canada).  RC’s regional French news outside Québec has almost NO reporters who are adequately informed on local or regional economic issues.  With the exception of the odd francophone hors Québec (local Francophone), most regional French language reporters are imported into our regions from Québec rather than hired locally, they haven’t been trained locally, and they haven’t grown up in the local economic climate — and that makes a huge difference between good and bad local reporting.  THAT, my friends, in part is what you call “The Two Solitudes”.  It’s sometimes as frustrating as hell – and needlessly so – but that’s part of the reason why I’m writing this blog.  (See, the blog is slowly starting to come together, bit-by-tiny-bit).

What type of news falls victim of this apparent “News wall” across the linguistic lines?:

I’ll give you an example of what I mean… British Columbia’s brand new “Site C Clean Energy Project” (a MASSIVE planned hydro-electric dam project on the Peace River in Northeast British Columbia) was approved earlier this week by the B.C. provincial government in Victoria.  It will be breaking numerous world records and will cost almost $10 billion dollars (making it one of the most expensive infrastructure projects in the the world).  Work will start soon.  By any North American standards, this is a major economic news story.  Québec also is a major hydro-electric powerhouse on the world stage, but I’m not sure any single dam in Québec has ever cost as much as what this massive dam in British Columbia will cost.  This is big news for Canada as a whole, and it should be huge news for Québec because BC hydro, with all of its projects, is set to become the new “Hydro Québec”.  Because both companies are located physically far apart from each other, they are not going to be in competition with each other – and the opportunities for them to work together to do amazing things on the world stage is tremendous,   How much coverage was it given to this story in Québec?  ZERO.  How much coverage was it given by francophone reporters based in the local French studios in Vancouver?  “5 minutes and 20 seconds”, and then after that… zero… nothing since.  If you want to see the only French language news that came out on this project, you can view it online at “Le Téléjournal Colombie-Britannique” website by clicking here:  http://www.radio-canada.ca/widgets/mediaconsole/medianet/7217064.  The report starts at 0:50 seconds mark, and runs until the 6:10 minutes mark.

This new “Site C clean energy” hydroelectric project is going to help propulse Canada much further onto the world energy stage in a new way, and it will benefit everyone and every province in Canada through equalization rebalancing, research, company contracts, cheaper manufacturing costs, less dependence on oil, etc. But yet it has zero coverage in the Francophone media. And frankly, even here in Ontario, there’s hardly any talk of it in Toronto-centric Anglophone media.  (Arrrr… Frustration!).

You read my last post on Québec’s views towards oil pipelines and a desire for things to progress towards clean or carbon-neutral energy, not only in Québec, but elsewhere in Canada also.  This dam serves just that purpose, right on Alberta’s border, not far from the oil sands.  But again, there’s no coverage in francophone media.  Need I say anything more?

Likewise, ask an anglophone what Manic-5 in Québec is (I visited it once – it’s a huge dam of massive importance to Québec and Canada, inland from Québec’s North Shore, North of Baie-Comeau), and their eyes will also completely glaze over too (but at least most people know The James Bay projects and they’re incorporated into out high school history curriculums across Canada).   Now, If I were to ask someone in the Brazilian state of Paríba if they had ever heard of the Itaipu Dam on the other side of Brazil, (also one of the largest dams in the world just like these two Canadian dam projects I just cited), it would be absolutely inconceivable to hear a Brazilian say “no”.

I know it’s a complex situation with many different factors.  But I do see more and more signs that things are getting better – there is more East-West communication and exchange of ideas than ever before (the internet can be credited with much of this change)… but there still is lots of work to do.

Possible solution:  It’s actually quite simple.  My message to all reporters, Anglophone and Francophone, don’t be afraid to report on news events beyond a 500, 1000 or 3000km radius.  If you give people the news, they will want to know more – and ratings will follow. 

People are curious, and they generally want to know more… it’s human nature – and fortunately the information and internet age can help facilitate this.  I can give you some very recent examples of how people can be curious about things beyond their immediate vicinity – if they are given the opportunity to be curious.   I recently encountered this human-nature sense of curiosity earlier this very week:

A few days ago, when I was in Québec city, I took the opportunity to do some runs to various shopping malls for last minute Christmas shopping;  from Les Galleries de la capitale in the North to Place Laurier and Place Ste-Foy West of downtown.  I like to chat with people, and a number of people heard me speak with a bit of a different French accent than the local Québec City accent.  That lead to questions about where I was from.  When I said Alberta, questions and conversations on all sorts of subjects came up.   One thing I’ve always thought was interesting is that when a stranger finds out you’re from a very far away place, they tend to open up and take the initiative to talk to you about things they would NEVER talk about to their neighbours.  I liken it to a Brit visiting Canada — there are Canadians who would invariably bring up the Royal Family when conversing with a Brit, but those same Canadians would never ever talk about the royal family with their neighbours or even family members.  It’s quite an interesting experience to see what people want to talk about, on their own initiative, when I’m in “non-Montréal or non-Outaouais/Gatineau” regions of Québec, and they find out I’m from Alberta (especially when they find that not only am I from Alberta, but that I grew up in large part in French, which kind of makes me part Francophone — at least it often feels that way).   Faced with this, people’s guards and walls towards me automatically come down, and people open up about economics, politics (even telling me out of the blue how they vote – it floors me every time this happens, because some people say they have never even told their children how they vote), they ask me stuff about Alberta, they say they’d like to visit the West, they tell me about stuff going on in their lives, about their spouses jobs, etc, etc, … it’s a very very interesting psychological phenomenon that occurs.  And usually I just listen… People in general, regardless of where they’re from, feel they want to be heard, and listening is the biggest compliment and sign of respect you can pay someone (it’s also the best way to learn what matters to others).  The more you listen, the more people tell you.

A couple of examples:  I was in a clothing store in Place Laurier, and the middle-aged lady who was helping me find clothes just wanted to stand there and chat… Apparently, being a “Franco-Albertan” was quite a “novelty” in her eyes, and she told me about everything going on in her life.  She asked a gazillion questions, wanting to know if people in Alberta were going through the same things (prices of groceries, gas prices, struggles paying the kids tuition fees, difficulties in affording housing, the job market, even food and the types of cars which sell the most – you name it, she wanted to know about it).

In Les Galleries mall, across town, it was a similar thing.  I was standing in line at Target, the cashier asked how I was, I answered “I’m pretty good, but trying to make a mad dash to get all my Christmas shopping done”.  She heard my different accent and said “You’re not from here, are you?”   I said no.  She asked where I was from and I told her to guess… “Gaspésie? Outaouiais? J’chu pas sur, c’est pas clair…”  I told her I’m from Alberta, and it just about bowled her over.  I was the only one in the cashiers line… and again, out came the questions, and she wanted to talk about everything from A to Z.  After after a few minutes, she asked me how people in Alberta vote (boy, how do go down that road when you’re standing at a check-out counter??)… but it’s just to say that people are curious, and they do want to know about things that matter to them… and judging from the questions I get, I guess Alberta matters.

Same thing happened at a Tims on Industrial Road in Val Belaire, on the North edge of Québec City.  Here’s what happened:

It’s an area with lots of new suburb home construction.  I sat at one end of a bar-like table in a Tims restaurant, and 3 construction workers were at the other end, hard-hats n’all.  I forget what started the conversation, but we were chatting, and again (accent thing) I was asked where I was from.  One guy in the group had some pretty hard views about Alberta (he was a pretty rough guy), but it was the first time in his life he ever met someone from Alberta (and quite possibly the first time he ever met an Anglophone or someone from outside Québec), let alone having the opportunity to talk with an Albertan in French.  And boy, he wanted to let me know everything he thought.  He actually thought the Reform Party sent Harper to Ottawa to take Alberta out of Canada and that Harper’s strategy was to intentionally p***-off Québec so he could achieve Alberta independence.  This guy unfortunately saw a terribly inaccurate, (unrepresentative), and dare I say politically motivated anti-Alberta documentary entitled Les États-déunis du Canada by Guylaine Maroist.  (I’ve seen it myself and it’s awful in how it twists reality in an unrepresentative way.  It’s a documentary that purports that Anglophones all over Canada hate Canada and each province has an activist separatist movement to dissolve the country).  As soon as this guy mentioned Harper being “sent” to Ottawa to separate Alberta from Canada and sock it to Québec, I knew exactly where he was going with this and it was more than obvious to me that he saw this documentary, even before he told me he saw it.   (This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this same story… I feel Maroist has done damage with this inaccurate documentary, and she continues to garner media attention through more recent documentaries – but that’s a whole other subject).   He also heard some of the anti-equalization rhetoric Daniel Smith (formerly of the Wild Rose Party) was spewing during the last Alberta election (Smith’s political-scoring remarks were picked up by a good number of sovereignist columnists, amplified and sensationalized in Québec with the goal of scoring political points at home).  This guy had developed a number of views I believed were inaccurate or incomplete, amongst which was his focus on “what’s it it for me in Québec” rather than a “what’s in it for us in Canada” from an economic and social standpoint.  He was quite sovereignist directly because of all of the above.  He had a few rationals:  one was that if Alberta wanted to sock it to Québec, pick up and leave, then so should Québec sock it to Alberta and do the same thing.  Another was that anytime another province economically benefitted more than Québec from an economic program, then that was bad for Québec (instead of viewing it as being good for all of us, because each province garners its own benefits, which are then redistributed on many government and non-government levels so we all can live an equaled out lifestyle.  My argument is that this is of benefit to all of us as we or our friends and relatives move around the country to seek new opportunities, or as we expand our business and breadth of our lives… just as, in a scaled down comparison, certain regions of Québec may benefit more than others from certain programs or expertise.  Québec has numerous “scaled-down” versions of exactly what I’m talking about – such as Gaspésie getting a cement factory subsidized by Sherbrooke tax payers, or a subsidized pharmaceutical R&D company in Terrebonne being funded in part by Alma taxpayers so it can attract world-class researchers.  Canada simply works of a much larger scale, with much larger opportunities in that sense).

His two fellow construction workers weren’t sure what to make of the whole thing.  None of these three guys were very old (in their 30’s, around my age), but they had just never been outside their own Québec City region (two had visited Montréal a couple of times when they were younger, and they had been to some nearby local regions in Québec, but that’s it).   So their views of the real deal is completely dependent on what others tell them and what they hear in the media and from opinion-makers (such as the political documentary mentioned above).   I’m not one to look for confrontations, or to say that My views are the only correct views, but I’m not one to let inaccuracies slide by if I think the person I’m speaking with would be receptive to hearing me out.  So we chatted… a lot.  The four of us basically ended up sitting there and having lunch together (one of the guys even trotted off unexpectedly to buy me another coffee half way though our lunch – so I guess they wanted to keep me around to talk more).  We talked about a host of things… but I can tell you that the views those three guys walked away with were quite different than the views they had when they walked into that Tims.   The one guy who initially was pretty harsh, in the end, actually said he’d really like to check things out elsewhere in the country because there seemed to be a lot of things and perspectives he was unaware of.  I don’t thik it was a world-changing conversation, but It was a good chat, and it’s more than likely that guy’s views are not the same as they used to be.

It’s almost like there’s no risk for people to talk to a stranger from Alberta who they’ll never see again.  Their guard comes down even further when they know that there’s zero language barrier.  People let it all out, and they feel they’re in a comfort zone as if talking with “one of their own” (in that sense, I am kind of one of their own – at least I feel I am).

On this last trip, I was actually quite surprised how much people actually did know about things happening in Alberta and elsewhere in the country, even if it was in a very macro and general sense.  I remember, during my university years when I took courses at Université Laval some 20 years ago, people were not so well informed.  So progress is being made — slowly.  We’re heading in the right direction.

And all of this goes in reverse too.  I’ve traveled around different parts of Anglophone Canada with Francophone friends from Québec, and my francophone friends have often been bombarded with lots of questions from unilingual Anglophones (particularly in Western Canada).  Sometimes (actually many times) the questions are along the lines as those I described above.  It’s quite natural, and it kind of makes me smile.  In this sense, people are not very different at heart.  I usually just stay quiet, and let my Francophone friends take the questions, answer as best they can, and give their own perspective on things.   It’s good to see how curious people can be — it’s healthy, and I wish we had a lot more of this type of interaction.  It’s truly very unfortunate the country is just so big, which physically prevents a lot of East-West communication and mixing.   But I see it as a positive rather than a negative.  The way I view it is we pretty much own a huge continent, and it’s all ours to enjoy and explore any way and any time we want.  It’s so big that it offers endless possibilities – so why not look at it as a good thing?   And with the internet, we can really begin to explore it in detail (something we couldn’t do before).  I really think this is why I see Anglophones taking much more personal interest now in Francophone Canada (certainly more now than at any time in the past 15 or 20 years).  The internet has made Canada much smaller for Anglophone Canadians, and hundreds of thousands of parents across Canada want their kids to become bilingual (hence, why there are huge waiting lists, in every single province, to enroll their children in French Immersion schools).   I think it’s great that people are curious about each other and are taking a genuine interest across linguistic lines.  It’s bound to make the country a much smaller place (and my guess is you’re one of those people — otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this blog 🙂 ).

In the end, Canada’s Anglophones are amazingly cool people, and Canada’s Francophones are amazingly cool people.  We’re doing incredible things together as a country – things many other countries around the world could only dream of doing.  It’s the most disconcerting thing to think that a lack of East-West communication, a language barrier, poor education on certain issues, petty politics, and now media politics (with the arrival of the PKP/Snyder team on the scene) can actually damage things.  But debate is healthy I suppose, if everyone engages in it with an open mind.  We owe it to ourselves to keep our participation, communication and interest in our country moving forward.  In part, that’s what this blog is for.


Anyways, I’m at the airport… I have a rather long 4.5 hour flight to Edmonton in a few minutes.  Am on my way to Alberta and Saskatchewan for Christmas and New Years.   I’ll still try to keep up with my posts over the holidays, but there might be a bit of a delay (I have lots of holiday cheer to take in).   But I’ll see you again soon !

yyz

Oil Pipelines in Québec – A Hot-Button issue (#123)

This post will be on the very hot-button issue of oil pipelines in Québec.  The pipeline company, TransCanada, is planning to upgrade existing cross-Canada pipelines, and build extensions.  It will pipe Canadian domestic “oil-sands” oil to Eastern Canadian refineries for the very first time in history (currently, Eastern Canadian refineries refine imported foreign oil or oil brought in from Western Canada by train).

Here’s a map I made which gives a general overview of the plans (click to enlarge)

Ppln1

Unless you watch or listen to the media in French, people in predominantly Anglophone provinces seldom hear the actual conversations going on between Québécois themselves (it’s kind of an unfortunate reality, but then again, provincially-specific topics in Canada are rarely discussed anywhere but in their own respective provinces, regardless if they are in English or French).

I was driving from Québec City to Montréal earlier this week and listening to a Québec City radio station when I overheard an interesting discussion between two rather influential public figures.  It was a discussion of opposing views on the whole issue of oil pipelines being laid across Québec.  I thought I’d translate a portion of the conversation and share it with you to give a little bit of insight of how people in Québec are viewing the issues.    The next Federal election is slated for end October 2015 (unless for some reason it’s called soon after the March budget – which looks less and less likely), and this conversation embodies how the issue is being discussed in the run-up to the election.

Carl Monette is a radio program host on Radio-X, Québec City – Eastern Québec’s most listened to radio station.

Bernard Drainville is a contender for the leadership of the Parti Québécois.  He is a former PQ cabinet minister, and used to be a well-known reporter for Radio-Canada.

The following is a translation (from French) of a small part of their much larger conversation on Radio-X.  This particular segment relates directly to oil piplelines.

—————————- ————————–

DRAINVILLE:  [In a conversation about sovereignty, Drainville says…]  If we cannot hold a referendum in the first mandate [if we can win the next election], then we need to take the time during that mandate to show to the electorate that we’re able to [achieve sovereignty].  We need to give the economic numbers, we need to present economic and financial forecasts.   We need to demonstrate that it will be a good thing. Look what’s happening with the [TransCanada] pipeline [which they want to build across Québec].   [Liberal Québec Premier] Couillard tells us we have to accept a pipeline which moves 1.1 million barrels of oil a day, on our soil, solely in exchange for a [$9 billion federal] equalization cheque.   For me, forget the equalization cheque – because just look at the price tag which will come with it for us:  It’s going to be a 100 year pipeline, it can actually last 100 years if it’s well maintained.   So then [within that period], who’s going to pay if it bursts?   Who?  Who’s going to pay if it bursts [sometime in the next 100 years]?  (note:  I’m assuming he means that TransCanada, the company, may not exist in say 40 or 80 years, just as companies which existed 50 years ago don’t exist today).

MONETTE:  So then, are we better to then just continue importing our gas from Texas, already refined, on our St. Lawrence River?   You want it to be done this way rather than bringing it in from here at home, refine it here at home, and using it here at home?  That’s what I understand you to be saying.

(note:  Eastern Canada imports oil primarily from North Africa, Venezuela, and somewhat from the US.  This is because there are no pipelines from Western Canada.  Whereas Western Canada’s gasoline is mostly from domestic sources, Eastern Canadian gasoline is primarily imported from other countries).

DRAINVILLE:  Come on, we don’t refine anything here at home.  The TransCanada pipeline…

MONETTE: So then we don’t do anything?  We do absolutely nothing?   The money that Canada will make from the pipeline, it’s going to come back to us.  It’s also our money too you know.

DRAINVILLE:  The TransCanada pipeline, it’s used to transport oil across our territory [Québec], which is not refined here.  [The pipline’s] only function is [to move the oil from West to East], to export the oil.

MONETTE:  Yes, but that money, who do you think it goes to?   Canadians get it.

DRAINVILLE:  (Pause, & puffing noise)

MONETTE:  We get it back in taxes!  Would you rather pay for oil from Texas, and bring it in by boat on our St. Lawrence, than bring it in by pipeline?   I don’t understand you.

DRAINVILLE:  My objective is to reduce our dependence on oil.  You know, our oil comes in from elsewhere, regardless if it comes from Alberta, Newfoundland, or Saudi Arabia – it all comes from elsewhere.  It’s about time that we replace…

MONETTE:  Why not bring it in from here at home?  It’s always better to bring it in from our own country than from another, or a Mid-East country, or the United States?

DRAINVILLE:  What’s the interest in allowing a pipeline which brings us hardly any major advantages?

MONETTE:  It’s the most secure form of oil transportation that exists.  It’s coming across our territory [Québec] regardless.  So we’re better to take it in this manner for the time being [by pipeline], and once we develop other resources, then we’ll take those other sources.  But for the time being, I know it sucks, but my car doesn’t run on water.

DRAINVILLE:  Well, once we get to that point, the pipeline, we’re going to be stuck with it for 100 years.  I’m not one for that.  I think there are ways we can develop… Yes, I think you’re right, we have to make a transition.  Of course we’re going to continue to use oil for a certain period of time…

MONETTE:  We don’t have a choice.  Look around you.  About 95% of anything you see if made from oil.  We don’t have a choice.   I don’t want to buy my oil from the United States, or from the Middle-East.  We have it here, so why don’t we use it in our own country?

DRAINVILLE:  No, not with the [environmental] price that’s to be paid for it.  Not with the risks that come with it.   It’s not right what you’re proposing.   The oil sands, the dirtiest form that exists.

MONETTE:  When it comes to oil, there is no such thing as dirtier or less dirty, or half-dirty… Can we just agree on this?  I don’t want boats coming here from Texas with oil that has already be refined.

DRAINVILLE:  I’m going to tell you something… If you run a pipe under my property, but I’m the one who assumes all the risks, if an accident does ever occur, then I’m the one who’s on the hook for cleaning it up.   Can you think of a reason why I should say that’s ok?

MONETTE:  Ok… we have the (Québec) Ministry of Natural Resources who have already announced that the risks are going to be assumed by the pipeline companies. It was all covered in the media last week.

DRAINVILLE:  Oh, come on… look at how you believe that sort of thing!

MONETTE:  Yes. Well, it’s better than listening to the Parti Québécois when they say we’ll be living a rainbow dream with separation and that will make us rich.

DRAINVILLE:  We saw how much the “beautiful assurances” did for us when we saw what happened in Lac-Mégantique.  (Note:  A train, moving oil from North Dakota to Maine, transited Québec two years ago, derailed, exploded, killed about 40 people, and basically blew an entire town off the face of the map – it was an awful tragedy, and emotions have been running sky-high ever since). Frankly, in Lac-Mégantique, Transport Canada didn’t do its job – Specifically Transport Canada.  We saw the risks involved when you transit oil through our territory.   Don’t you think it’s possible to draw some lessons from that experience?  Don’t you think we can create a goal of reducing our dependence on oil?  Are we not able to resist jumping on board in such projects, such as those of TransCanada which do nothing but make us run enormous risks for marginal benefits?

MONETTE:  Oh, come on. No way, No way.  It will be billions of dollars in taxes which will go into Federal coffers from this.

DRAINVILLE:  Yah, there you go (sarcastic tone), right, the Federal government is going to put the money in “their” pockets.

MONETTE:  Well, they’re giving us right now $9 billion dollars [in equalization payments], so I’m not jumping on the line you’re feeding me, you know. We’re never going to agree on this.

DRAINVILLE:  No, on this we’re not going to agree on, but there will be other things we can agree on.

MONETTE:  Yes.

The two concluded their conversation on other topics.   After hanging up, Monette had the following to say…

MONETTE:  Bernard Drainville is someone for whom I still have respect, even if I agree with almost none of his stances, except for the Charter of Values.   He’s come to the studio for past live interviews.  We always have good discussions, but then we always finish in a pile of crap (tout le temps dans la marde).   It’s not complicated – it usually goes like this… we start out never agreeing, our conversations go slowly up-hill, it turns an a not-so-great direction, but at least we finished on a good note.

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As you can see, pipelines are very hot-button issues in Québec, with many people at odds on how to view them.  I’m doing my best to write this post in as an objective manner as possible (I do have long-standing views on oil pipelines myself, but I don’t consider my views to be extreme, one way or the other.  I consider them to be balanced, but in this post, I won’t discuss my own specific views in order to maintain a more neutral tone).

I can tell you, from my own personal experience in discussing this issue with friends in different regions of Québec, the whole issue of pipelines can become very emotional.  There can be a strong principle & ideological based divide between people who believe pipelines are mostly an environmental matter versus those who believe they are mostly an economic matter.  Adding to this complex mix, some people believe the issues should be managed strictly on a principle and ideological-based platform, and others believe the issues should be managed strictly on a practical, quick results, and a day-to-day reality basis.  Regardless of your views on oil pipelines, more than in any other province in Canada, it would be in Québec where you would be likely to get into a very heated and emotional discussion on this issue (of course there are exceptions in every province, but I’m presenting this post in very general terms).

Probably only a few major issues will play into how Québécois will vote in the next Federal election (perhaps 4 or 5 major issues).  One of the main issues will be the issue of laying oil pipelines within Québec.

In order to understand the issues, it’s important to mention that environmental and natural resource issues are usually “provincial” jurisdiction – but they constitutionally become federal jurisdiction when it enters the realm of cross-border domestic pipelines or cross-border international pollution – and thus because the pipelines will be crossing various provincial borders, the matter has become federal jurisdiction.  It thus becomes an issue for the federal vote.   That being said, Federal parties are more than aware that it would be political suicide to not include their provincial counterparts in the discussion, and at the very minimum, give weight to what provincial governments have to say (even if it’s not provincial jurisdiction).  Much like BC and Ontario, Québec’s provincial government has said it will not give their (symbolic) consent to the TransCanada pipeline project unless certain environmental and safety conditions are met (Québec and Ontario drafted a list).  Despite the province not having jurisdiction to impose such conditions, it would be political suicide for the Federal government to ignore such conditions – and thus the Feds are agreeing to accept provincially outlined conditions.

People in Western Canada are generally used to dealing with pipeline issues.  Generally speaking (and yes, I’m overgeneralizing here):

  • we see strong support for pipelines in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba,
  • little support for them in BC (particularly in urban regions where the majority of the population resides, and especially when discussing pipelines in environmentally sensitive areas),
  • very mixed signals towards them in Ontario (Ontario is a funny case – some regions are ok with them, yet other regions and people are quite skeptical or anti-pipeline)
  • Pro-pipeline and luke-warm support in Atlantic Canada (yet NB is quite anti-fracking, which is interesting because other pro-pipeline regions across North America are often OK with fracking),
  • A very mixed bag in Québec, but overall, a negative view towards pipelines being laid in the province. But there seems to be a lot of soul-searching on the issue in Québec at the moment.

I say there’s a mixed bag in Québec because of the Montréal / Québec City political and economic divide.  Québec is often a Tale of Two Provinces (a concept very poorly understood in the rest of Canada).  It’s a split between two major population zones; the East (Greater Québec City, and to some extent Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean / Beauce), and the West (Greater Montréal and to some extent other adjacent regions).

To give you an idea just how differently these two regions think, view issues and vote, you need to look no further than today’s Crop-La Presse poll on Québec City’s voting intentions :

  • In Québec City region, with 37% of intended votes, the Federal Conservatives would win the majority of the vote if an election were held today.  They would also likely pick up additional seats. The 2nd place goes to the NPD (31%), the Federal Liberals are 3rd place (they get 21%), and the Bloc Québécois is 4th place with 11%
  • The poll didn’t give Montréal (West Québec) voting intentions, but it did give Québec’s overall voting intentions as a whole. The Liberals and in 1st place (37%), the NDP 2nd place (30%), the Bloc Québécois has 3rd place (17%) and the Conservative are 4th place (13%).   That 13% presumably is entirely concentrated in the Québec City and adjacent regions.
  • These latter numbers are for Québec as a whole, but Montréal votes much heavier for the NDP than other reasons. In Montréal, I would not be surprised if the NDP has 1st place, the Liberals 2nd, if the Bloc is 3rd, and the Conservatives have almost zero (the exact opposite from Québec City and Eastern Québec).  These are what recent past polls have shown at any rate.

Montréal, and surrounding regions (which has the bulk of Québec’s population) are generally against pipelines – and you see this reflected with almost zero Conservative support in the Montréal region.  There is a strong anti-pipeline activist movement in the region and in Montréwood media.  People in the region often take a harder environmental line based on principle.  Yes, I know there are nuances, but this is a general overview.

Québec City and surrounding regions (the 2nd most populous region of Québec) are not as hostile towards to the idea of pipelines, and you’ll note that the Conservatives are leading in this region.  There is a major refinery in the Québec City metro region (Lévis), and people in the region are used to seeing (with their own eyes) petroleum ocean tankers going down the St. Lawrence, past downtown Québec, and docking at the oil terminal port in Lévis (when I was in Québec City this week, I stood on the banks of the St. Lawrence and watched as a couple foreign oil tanker steamed passed me – it was interesting to watch them dock at the refineries – and even more interesting to know that this very oil, be it from Africa or Venezuela, could very likely end up in my car’s tank in Toronto in a few weeks time).    Also, overall political tendencies in the Greater Québec City region can be very different from those in Montréal.

If we look back to the radio conversation, both sides said things which are valid, and there are many other things both sides could have used in their respective arguments.  As you could see, the conversation was generally discussed on an environmental vs. economic scale.  Some of the facts which both Drainville and Monette gave were not correct, and some of the facts both gave were correct but incomplete.  But the points which were incorrect were not major inaccuracies.

Drainville could have mentioned additional argument points, such as:

  • the high CO2 emissions and waste water created from the oil-sand extraction process (in Alberta)
  • issues regarding water and solid waste resulting from the oil-sand extraction process (in Alberta)
  • the need to inject polluting and diluting chemicals directly into the heavy oil within the pipelines in order to make the oil viscous enough to be transported – and the problems of what to do with all these chemicals after the oil reaches its destination
  • the emissions which will come from the Suncor, Lévis and Irving refineries in Québec and New Brunswick once a heavier oil is refined in these three refineries (imported oil, currently being refined in here is much lighter and doesn’t require as much upgrading).
  • Even after refining and consuming the pipelines’ oil, there will be an excess of oil (about 1/3 of all the oil piped in the pipeline) which can be exported from Québec ports to other countries of the world. To date, proposed locations for new export terminal ports have been in environmentally sensitive areas, such as Cacouna, Québec – a place where noise-sensitive Beluga whales (an endangered species) mate and rear their young. (Note, two weeks ago, both TransCanada pipelines, the Québec government and the Federal government all agreed Cacouna is not an acceptable place to locate an export port – and they’re now searching for a new location)
  • With more pipelines come more oil extraction, and there is a question as to whether “per-ton of oil” reductions in pollution can outpace “per-ton increases” in oil extraction.
  • The potential damage to the environment (in Alberta and Québec, through potential pipe leaks, oil tanker accidents, and general emissions), while waiting for better environmental results to come about, could be severe.

Monnette could have mentioned things such as:

  • Alberta’s provincial government carbon market imposes financial penalties on oil companies which pollute above a certain bar. The penalties are paid on a per-ton of pollution basis, and monies garnered are automatically placed in an environmental technology development fund.   Companies have therefore been actively developing ways to reduce their pollution per ton of oil extracted, and every year there are better results per barrel of oil.   If results continue in this same direction for another 30 years, there could be very promising results which will satisfy a much larger part of Québec’s concerns.
  • Alberta’s government has been investing massively in developing new environmental pollution control technologies, and has been making substantial progress.
  • The Québec Provincial government and BAPE (A Québec Ministry of Environment public consultation mechanism) have imposed newly developed, strict environmental and safety conditions on the Federal government. They minimize risks of accidents on any portion of the pipeline and oil transport process.
  • Both the Suncor oil refinery in Montréal’s East End, and the Jean-Gaulin refinery in Lévis (Québec City) will, for the first time ever, be refining domestic oil. In order to refine the heavier oil-sands oil, they will require major upgrades with the latest and most modern environmental technology available (more modern than almost any other refinery in the world).   Thus, their pollution controls will be among the strictest available anywhere in the world (better than they currently are), and they will directly create hundreds of direct jobs in Québec, and thousands of indirect jobs.
  • Oil tanker ships are already doing daily runs on the St-Lawrence (Québec City residents see them every day, but Montréal residents don’t see them owing to the location of docking locations). The situation wouldn’t change from today’s current situation, except for the direction the tankers will take.   In addition, all levels of government and private industry are looking for a much safer and environmentally friendly location for an additional export port (after Cacouna’s rejection).
  • There will no longer be any need to transport oil by train across Québec (which is much more dangerous than through pipelines).
  • Pipelines already cross under the St. Lawrence River and all across Québec (even underneath various parts of Montréal City itself), so in this respect, there would be nothing different from what is already being proposed, and nobody has complained before.  The new pipeline would be even more modern and safer than existing pipelines.
  • Current oil tankers bringing in foreign oil on the St. Lawrence are often from developing countries, and their safety designs are not as good as those proposed for the new tankers which will take Canadian oil from Québec ports to foreign markers (thicker hulls, newer technology, etc.).

There are many other arguments both Drainville and Monette could have made, apart from the ones I mentioned above.  But some arguments become quite complex and technical (while still remaining quite significant).  They’re not generally arguments made on a fast-paced radio program or around a kitchen table.

Regardless, Premier Couillard’s nix (a complete ban) earlier this week on any shale gas extraction within Québec was directly related to the public’s lack of appetite for running various environmental risks.  That in itself shows just how touchy a matter energy and the environment can be in many parts of Québec – regardless of what arguments and counter-arguments are presented.

But what really makes things complex is that there is a large part of Québec (the Québec City and surrounding regions) which would be for the pipelines, whereas another large part of Québec (Montréal and surrounding regions) is very much anti-pipelines.    There’s a lot of internal debate in Québec, and heavy-weight public personalities, on both sides of the issues, are making very vocal arguments in the media – television, radio, and newspapers (often anti-pipeline voices are heard much louder simply by nature the Québec’s media base being physically located in Montréal).

It will be very interesting to see how things pan out over the next year.  I personally predict that the pipeline will be built, a much less sensitive location will be found for the new export port, but that the Federal Conservatives and Liberals will both continue to pay a political price in the Montréal region (whereas they’ll continue to fare quite well in the Québec City region) — status quo if you will.  The provincial Liberal government’s own public opinion ratings (and the CAQ which is allied with the government on this issue), as well as those of the opposition PQ may also see similar political consequences shift in théier favour or against them based on a Montréal / Québec City split.

That’s my prediction, but time will tell.  As usual, things will remain quite interesting.

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