Yesterday, during the Parti Québécois debates, Pierre Karl Péladeau (PKP), the most likely contender to be the next head of the PQ, stated (and I’m quoting as accurately from French as possible, with context being provided in square brackets):
“We will not have [another] 25 years to achieve [Québec independence]. With [Québec’s] demographic [changes], with its immigration [rates], it is a sure thing that we are losing [the support of the equivalent of] one riding every year. We wish we could better control [this situation], but let us not hold any illusions [about it]”
“Who is in charge of the immigrants who come to settle in Québec? It is the Federal government. Of course, there is shared jurisdiction [in immigration between the provincial and federal governments], but [immigrants] still pledge an oath to the Queen [to become citizens, and thus are eligible to vote in any referendum]. Therefore, we don’t have another 25 years ahead of us. It is now that we must work [on this problem].”
Reactions to PKP’s statement have so far boiled down to two camps:
- One camp believes immigrants are “not” the problem. Rather this camp believes the issue is with either sovereignist ideology (which is what federalists argue), or the successful communication of this ideology to all sectors of Québec’s society (both federalists and sovereignist can share point of view, as did Alexandre Cloutier, another contender for the leadership of the PQ). What they mean by this is that rather than (a) turning off the immigration tap, or (b) choosing only immigrants who would be demographically “more apt to support sovereignty”, the PQ should instead concentrate more on getting their argument to resonate with all immigrants. Federalists will argue that in the end, if immigrants will not support their proposal, then the PQ should question the validity of their own proposal rather than the intelligence of immigrants. To do otherwise creates a “them-and-us” society (A similar analogy would almost be as if the Federal government were to restrict immigration numbers so as to garner enough votes in the off-ball chance they were running on a platform that was about… I don’t know… ceasing subsidization of education [I just chose this completely at random]). This means Québec has to determine if it wants a globalized, cosmopolitan (ie: all inclusive, multi-ethnic/racial, we’re-all-in-this-together) society, or if we want a “them-and-us” society, with a sovereignty debate axed on ethnic nationalism. This camp believes that you can’t just turn immigration on and off depending on how you think this segment of the population will vote (otherwise it becomes a question of ethnically rigging our entire system and population — very dangerous!).
- Another camp believes that immigrants are the roadblock to sovereignty because they are statistically less apt to vote for sovereignty in any referendum. This camp argues that a referendum should be held as quickly as possible to beat a demographic time bomb against sovereignty as Québec continues down the road to becoming more cosmopolitan (some veteran, high-profile sovereignists, such as Denise Bombardier, argue Québec is already past this point and will never achieve sovereignty). This camp believes part of “beating the demographic time-bomb would involve controlling immigration levels so that, in the eyes of supporters of this camp, no more “damage” could be done. This argument can be summed up in the following statement: Québec sovereignty should be decided by those of New France origins, and also by those who are allied with citizens of New France origins and culture, and to hell with the rest. (harsh, but that’s kind of where this camp stands). This argument advocates that, if at all possible, “the rest” should be prevented from coming to Québec, for fear that they may influence any referendum’s outcome. It also insinuates that those of Non-New France origins would never support sovereignty (yet, interestingly, 20% of visible minorities did support the “yes” side in 1995). It is interesting to see that there are are people who advocate this view — and based on what was said at a number of pro-Charte des valeurs rallies in 2012, perhaps there are more people who support these views than what one may think (it is a view which very much echoes the 1995 Parizeau statement).
One little factoid I wish to explain, one which is not very well understood in Québec or elsewhere in English Canada: Under the constitution, Québec and all provinces have sole jurisdiction to decide which immigrants can settle in their respective provinces. However, Québec is the only province which has opted to exercise this jurisdiction (all other provinces, with the exception of some limited immigration categories, have “voluntarily decided” to let the Federal government handle selecting their immigrants for them). What this means is that in Québec’s case, Québec has provincial immigration officers, posted abroad in Québec immigration bureaus, who receive applications from foreigners to “immigrate to Québec”. These provincial immigration officers then decide which immigration applications will be approved (it is not Ottawa who chooses the immigrants to Québec, unless they fall under certain categories of refugees. However Ottawa conducts the police and health checks on all immigrants before the permanent resident card is granted — but this has nothing to do with choosing the “person” who is about to immigrate). In this sense, all immigrants in Québec have been chosen by Québec, for Québec (including by the Parti Québécois when they were in power). That’s why I find PKP’s statement quite curious – (in many, many respects) – as well as misleading, ill-informed, and frankly ignorant.
The intention of this post is not to report the news. Believe me when I say this story has already become one of the most reported individual stories of 2015 (and it has only been news for 24 hours). We have not seen this sort of political statement since Parizeau cried foul of the “ethnic vote” on referendum night in 1995.
Nor is the intention of this post to analyze the validity or invalidity of PKP’s statement (the above is more of a backgrounder, than anything else). Again, reporters, columnists, other bloggers, and political circles are covering this topic like oil takes to the sands in Fort McMurray.
The intention of this post is to question “why” PKP made such a statement “now” – at this point of time. This is a question I have heard absolutely nobody talk about. I have some initial thoughts, and it’s worth pondering aloud.
In English Canada, the whole debate of reasonable accommodations (mostly orbiting around headscarf & facial-veil issues), and the political capitalization of religious tolerance issues (in light of recent jihadist-related events) has only become acute in the last few weeks (with the introduction of Bill C-51, recent court decisions, questions of extensions of military action in the Middle-East, homegrown terrorism issues, etc.).
Whereas this debate is relatively new news in English Canada, in Québec this debate has already been going on for the better part of three years — starting with the PQ’s initial proposal of the Charter of Values, and subsequent arguments for codifications and limitations of reasonable accommodations (within the framework of a debate surrounding multiculturalism and interculturalism).
This has allowed more than enough time for segments of Québec’s population to become quite galvanized along certain views in this debate – much more galvanized that in English Canada, which is still doing a lot of soul-searching. In many respects, such soul-searching is already “finished” in Québec, and we see clear lines of public opinion already being drawn in the sand; “for” and “against” various degrees of accommodation, “for” and “against” measures such as bill C-51, “for” and “against” increased or decreased levels of immigration, etc, etc.
Over the past year, many in our media in Québec have been stating that PKP’s manner of frank speech and political naïveté are a mix which makes him prone to severe verbal gaffs. More than a handful of veteran reporters have been predicting for months that it would only be a matter of time before PKP says something which would land him in very hot water – to the point that it could jeopardize any public support he has garnered (be it for his run at the PQ leadership, or his status as the leader of the PQ after the leadership race). Today, the vast majority of the media establishment have been citing yesterday’s statement as one such gaff.
However, I’m not so sure they are right. PKP is an extremely intelligent individual, surrounded and counseled by skilled, veteran political warriors. I actually have the funny feeling PKP knew exactly what he was saying when he made the above statements. I would venture to bet that he was fully aware of the type of public attention such statements would garner. It could very well have been part of his strategy.
Over the past months, even over the past couple of years, we’ve seen a stark galvanization of Québec’s population around issues of immigration, and how immigration touches upon matters involving integration and accommodation. In part, this galvanization has garnered unprecedented, historic support for “post-Alliance party” Conservatives in Québec — to the extent that they are for the first time leading in some polls of some regions in Québec, such as in Québec City.
The PQ has had a very difficult time attracting support over the past three years. I have a hunch that PKP saw how the Conservatives were able to capitalize on immigration & integration issues (as well as related security issues) to gain support in Québec – and I’m almost lead to believe that PKP is trying his hand at the same antics.
If this truly is part of his strategy, of course it is not without risk to PKP (and I’m sure he would be aware of that). Having one’s remarks labelled in the same breath as those of Parizeau’s 1995 remarks comes with the risk of a heavy political price. But unlike Parizeau’s remarks which we pronounced on a stage at the “end” of a highly emotional political process, PKP’s remarks came during a time when “other coincidental public debate” on related issues could provide him with a wider, more receptive audience towards yesterday’s remarks. In addition, unlike Parizeau’s remarks which went down in the history books as “closing” remarks at the “end” of the referendum process, PKP’s remarks yesterday are coming at the “beginning” of several political processes which will be debated for quite some time (such as the PQ’s leadership race, the 2015 Federal election, the 2018 provincial election, and a possible future referendum).
For a couple of reasons, it is important to be cognizant of the fact that his remarks are coming at the “beginning” of a whole set of political events (rather than at the end). In Canadian & Québec politics, the longer the time-frame that issues are debated, and the more certain issues are debated, the more our population has a tendency to become “numb” towards what is being debated. Parizeau’s remarks did not come at a time when sovereignty was still being debated (the debate was finished) — and thus the population did not have the opportunity to become “numb” towards them, or to “rally” around them as part of a campaign. Perhaps PKP is hoping the population, over time, will become “numb” towards the controversial aspects of his words, and that he may eventually succeed in rallying a segment of the population which perhaps would have otherwise lent its support to other parties (or did in fact lend its support to other parties in the last provincial election).
Perhaps PKP is willing to risk a few weeks of “uproar”, believing that criticism of his statements may eventually die down at some point — and in the meantime he may be hoping to pick up some of the same support that the Conservatives have managed to garner.
I’m sure there are people who agree with PKP, but to what extent they may be close to (or far from) a majority (even within the Parti Québécois) is a whole other question.
I suppose only time will tell.
Update 2015-03-20, 18:00pm: This is quickly becoming a very fluid topic. As of this evening (26 hours after first making his statements), it is being reported that PKP has apologized. I’m going to try to catch 24/60 in a few minutes to find out what is happening.
Public condemnation of PKP has been swift, hard, and virulent from the full range of the political spectrum, from friend and foe alike (even from some of his closest allies). It is rare to see such across-the-board condemnation of a Canadian political figure (at least without them resigning – which he likely will not). If you wish to read the full-range of condemnations he has attracted, you can view them here in the Radio-Canada article, PKP présente ses excuses. (sorry, no time to translate the article — but “google translate” works great!).
Regardless, I’m not sure what is going to hurt him more; having made the above statements in the first place, or having retracted them and now coming across as completely incoherent and incompetent, especially as the aspiring head of a major political party.
Update 20:00pm: Evening news & talk shows, their guests (from all political streams) and the windows they’re giving into the public’s perception is unanimous condemnation of PKP’s statements. People are still questioning whether his apology is sincere or not, or if it is a mere reflex after he realized it did not have the desired effect (he was sure sticking by his remarks earlier in the day). But frankly, at this point, I don’t care. What matters the most is that Québec, as one society, has dropped all political labels to says with one voice that this is not acceptable. That’s worth more than anything else – and really sums up what we’re all about as a society, in Québec and coast-to-coast across Canada!
Update 20:30pm: Oh, and in case anyone is wondering how PKP’s own television network, TVA, covered this story today (considering it was the top news event on every other network, on the radio, and in the newspapers), well, TVA’s main evening newscast in Québec City, the capital city of Québec (Le TVA Nouvelles 18h de Québec) buried it behind 7 other stories in their major evening news broadcast, behind
- A funding story about a skating rink in Québec City,
- A union dispute at Olymel,
- A loud city counsel session in a small city near Québec City,
- A court case regarding students who want to attend university when other students are striking,
- A story about an ex-juge convicted of murder three years ago and who is now appealing,
- A story about Québec City’s airport terminal expansion
And PKP and the PQ want to have us believe there is no conflict of interest between his position as a politician and that of a media mogul. I just shake my head. As we say… “mon oeil!”
And on top of it, TVA was the only network which did NOT broadcast video of his apology. They only broadcast a short, face-paced clip of him saying “It was only my intention to say that we need to act faster than taking 25 years”. I can tell you one thing, if this is the tone they’re setting for themselves in front of the public, things ain’t gonna go very far for ’em. Unbelievable… absolutely unreal.
ADDENDUM 2014-03-15: Radio-Canada knocks down PKP’s argument (bluntly saying PKP was wrong) that the Federal government is responsible for what PKP perceives to be Québec’s immigration woes (I’m still shaking my head with it buried in my hands after what he said yesterday).
Here’s Radio-Canada’s article: http://ici.radio-canada.ca/nouvelles/politique/2015/03/19/005-parti-quebecois-pkp-peladeau-immigrants-vote.shtml
It basically says the same thing that I said above with respect to how immigrants are chosen (by Québec, for Québec). They go a bit further by stating that
- Ottawa takes Québec’s advice into consideration when deciding immigration numbers
- Québec looks after integrating and allowing immigrants to learn French
- That Ottawa gives Québec $320 million annual for the above integration and “Frenchisization” process.
It has been over two months since PKP has made the above statements. Four days ago he became the head of the PQ. There has been no more talk of the subject since the statements were made last March.
I’m left wondering:
- if this means the PQ believed the initial virulent reaction to the statements were so strong that it remains too dangerous to evoke the immigration card any further?
- if this means that the PQ continues to let Québec’s population quietly ponder the who question of immigration? (after all, the seed was planted, but will it sprout into something in favour of PKP’s initial arguments at a later time?). Like I said earlier, Canada’s and Québec’s population often changes their minds on issues of a social and societal nature if slowly eased into the idea (we’ve seen this many times over the past 50 years… think of how many subjects used to be taboo in the past, but are no longer taboo now). Far-right wing parties in Europe have played their immigration cards in this way.
- if PKP may try to reinvoke this same argument in the run-up to the 2018 election, but in a re-packaged format – perhaps in a different format? He perhaps may try to invoke an “immigration crisis” on another issue. Perhaps he will try to make an argument that temporary foreign workers are taking jobs (the Couillard government has been bucking Ottawa’s bid to quell temporary foreign worker numbers). Perhaps he will try to invoke an argument that massive immigrant investment in the real-estate sector is driving up prices. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps… Regardless, such arguments (even if incorrect) have the potential to diminish public appetite towards immigration. I would hedge my bets that we’ll see something of the making of this 3rd point in the run-up to the 2018 election. But as always, who knows. Only time will tell.