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Québec’s 20 most trusted individuals: 10th and 11th positions [post 6 of 11] (#261)

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Let’s kick off the second half of the list of the 20 most trusted people in Québec.

# 10  Philippe Couillard –

The last post contained the first appearance of a politician in the list.   The second highest ranked politician on the list enters this list – and it is none other than Québec’s own sitting Premier, Philippe Couillard (Liberal), who takes the #10 spot.

I’m not going to go into all of his biographical information.  Rather, I’ll try to sum up why I believe he is the highest ranked “provincial” politician in this list.

Couillard been Québec’s Premier for just a little over one year (having taken the premiership in April 2014).  In politics, one year can be a lifetime.  Yet Couillard still maintains the top spot as the most trusted provincial politician in Québec.  Poll after poll of the last few months also indicate he is the most “popular” politician of the most “popular” party (the provincial Liberals).

It is a honeymoon which has not yet quite faded (but which is being met with some challenges).

Why is this?  I have my own pet theories, and I can share some of them with you.

  1. Couillard is viewed as someone who is trying to get the average Québécois out of a financial squeeze. Québec is one of the highest taxed, most indebted, and most bureaucratic jurisdictions in North America.   Despite generous social programs which provide a well-supported “lift” for certain sectors of society (particularly families), the middle-class has been financially squeezed.   It is a financial pressure which average people could feel.

With a rapidly aging population, low birth rates and low levels of immigration (when compared to a few other provinces), a growing debt, and low rates of new business growth/investment, people could see that the squeeze would get even worse.

Apart from a growing debt, just prior to Couillard taking the reins of power, there was talk in the wind of a debt rating downgrade which would have increased the costs of servicing the debt.  The result would have meant that the average person would have been squeezed even further.

A brain surgeon by training, Philippe Couillard took a surgical view to remedying the problem.  He sought to make cuts and some structural changes to the government, civil service and bureaucracy to balance the budget.   Many critics have called the measures of austerity.  Yet, I’m not sure his measures met the popular definition of austerity.  Rather, I think in most people’s minds, his measures were viewed as “short-term-pain for long-term-gain”.  They were budget cuts (with accompany restructurings to be able to achieve the cuts); but just enough to get rid of the deficit and to be able to post modest surpluses.

To put it into perpective:  On the budget control scale, you have

  • splurging on one end,
  • budget cuts / balancing / restructuring in the middle, and
  • austerity’s slash-and-burn / government dismantlement on the other end).

In Greece and Cyprus, we saw austerity.  In Italy, we saw “near austerity”, in Alberta in 1993 we saw “near austerity” (with a 22% decrease in the size of government following the Klein cuts).   What we have seen in Québec over the past year has been nothing close to the “popular” definition of austerity (I think less than a 5% reduction in government expenditures if I am not wrong, but accompanied with an actual growth in government size by about 1 or 2%).

I think that ordinary people recognize this does not constitute the “popular” definition of “austerity”.

I also think they recognized that the “rebalancing” measures Couillard has taken are likely to bear fruit in some form or another (it only took him one year to balance the budget – another clear sign that it was not structural, year-after-year long-term austerity).

 I believe this is one of the reasons why people trust Couillard.

2.     I believe there is one other big reason why people trust him.

Yes, Couillard is a politician.  Let there be no doubt about it.  He strategizes and plays the game like all politicians.   But he does not seem to get caught up in trying to force trending-ideologies down people’s throats, or social-engineering in order to gain power.

After everything people in Québec went through with the student strikes of 2012 (and the short-lived student “fart” of 2015), after the social divisiveness people felt from the PQ’s proposed Charte des Valeurs, and after what people perceive as an “tired” ideological battle involving the sovereignty movement, I think people have been “ok” with Couillard’s refusal to engage in such politics (people might not be overjoyed with Couillard, but he’s acceptable in people’s minds).

This does not mean that everyone agrees with Couillard’s style of politics or decisions, but it does mean that there is a large enough portion of the population who would prefer Couillard’s style over others.  Enough at least that Couillard is considered Québec’s most trusted provincial politician.

#11  Chantal Hébert –

This is one of the people who I would personally have placed in the top three.   But the #11 spot is not so bad either.

Regardless if you are Anglophone or Francophone, if you watch the news anywhere in Canada in either language, you already know Chantal Hébert.   Thus, there is not much of an explanation needed on my part.   She is likely high up there in the trust level of most people across Canada (and not just in Québec).

But I will offer you some fillers.

She is one of Canada’s best known political commentators.   She is a regular on the CBC, as well as both the television and radio divisions of Radio-Canada.  Hébert has a column in the Toronto Star, and another in Le Devoir.   More recently, she has been a best-selling author.  (And then there are those memorable light-hearted parodies of the last couple decades which we’ve all laughed at across Canada).

She is known for her straight talk and unbiased opinions.  What I love about her is that she has no qualms about holding back the way she sees things, and will support her views with anecdotal observations and facts.

Here is an example of what I mean:

She will sometimes make an appearance on television programs to give an unbiased opinion.  But the audience and host are known to have a bias.  In such circumstances, the host will set up a question so that he / she expects the answer to play into their own bias.  But yet Hébert will come out with the most unexpected, objective answer – leaving everyone to eat humble pie.  You can’t imagine how many times I have laughed out loud at such situations.

Here is a case in point:  Last Sunday, Hébert was an invitee on the Radio-Canada talk show Tout le monde en parle (TLEMP).  This show has the second highest television ratings in all of Québec and Canada (behind TVA’s La Voix).    It’s a program which has a reputation for being “biased” towards the left, the Québec nationalist movement, and sovereignist guests (although I have to admit that I have seen quite noticeable effort on the part of the hosts to appear less biased over the past two to three years… credit where credit is due).  Regardess, the show attracts a certain studio audience.

On last Sunday’s show, the host’s (anti-Conservative) panel took a shot at Prime Minister Harper for having started the trend in Canadian politics of locking out the media with an information blackout.   From the expression on the faces of the audience, you could see that the audience loved such a comment (as did the other panelists).

But then Hébert quickly pointed out that it was actually Lucien Bouchard and the Bloc Québécois which started the trend of controlling the media message in Canadian politics, and Harper simply learned from the Bloc Québécois.   You should have seen the sour looks on everyone’s faces when they heard the facts which Hébert presented to them.  I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.  She took the wind out of everyone’s sails in her usual calm, composed style.

On the same show, but back in 2013, the host and panelists again took shots at the Conservatives for being information control freaks, and for being information manipulators.  They took temendous joy in criticizing the Conservatives of twisting facts to portray an inaccurate reality to the electorate (I don’t necessarily disagree with them — but they were having more fun with their Harper-bashing then a kid on Halloween, owing to a tad bit too much of an ultra-nationalist discourse).   But what happened next left everyone speechless, before a television audience of 2.3 million people.

Hébert began to cite example after example of the types of tricks certain politicians undertake to control information so as to manipulate public perception and views.  She talked about how scientific evidence is suppressed, about how statistics are manipulated, about how messages are distorted and then force fed to the public using government funds.  She went on and on, listing this this, that, and all the rest.

As she went down a lists of the sneaky, dirty tactics which she feels Québec is falling victim to, everyone in the room (mostly pro-PQ supporters) were nodding their head in complete agreement.  The grins on their faces said it all.  They all agreed the tactics Hébert listed were the lowest of the low, and the sneakiest of political moves.

But then Hébert put a name to who she was talked about… and it was not the name anyone expected (they all thought she was talking about Stephen Harper).  Hébert said all of these things were exactly what Pauline Marois had been doing as the head of the Parti Québécois. 

You should have seen the shock and horror on everyone’s faces when they realized that Hébert was talking about the Parti Québécois and not the Conservatives.  To make matters worse for this traumatized group, Hébert supported her arguments with examples and facts!   You could see that the pro-Parti Québécois audience and panelists were mortified by the fact that they had all just agreed, inadvertently (and in front of 2.3 million people), that their own party was up to a bunch of dirty tricks.

It was hilarious !!!

And that, my friends, is precisely why people in Québec trust Chantal Hébert.  She calls it as she sees it.

Chantal Hébert is only one of two people on this list of 20 who is not from Québec.

Most people in Québéc are not aware that she is not originally Québécoise, but is actually Franco-Ontarian (although she lives in Québec now).  She was born in Ontario, was educated in Ontario (at Glendon College in Toronto), started her career in Ontario, and worked for much of her life in Ontario (she used to work as a reporter covering Queens Park in Toronto).   This little tid-bit of info is something which usually takes a number of Québécois by surprise when they hear it

Coincidentally, just yesterday, a friend from Laval (Québec) and I were talking about the Alberta election results.  We both gave a nod to the fact that Chantal Hébert’s predictions were dead on.  My friend said to me “See… there’s one Québécoise who knows lots about Alberta.”  I answered “She certainly knows her stuff, but she’s actually from Ontario.”  My buddy from Québec was shocked.   (I guess he must have thought “I was the only one” from outside Québec… hahaha).

Regardless, people can’t get enough of her – which is why everyone always whats to hear from her.   Regardless if she is originally from Québec or not, in most people’s hearts in Québec, she’s part of the family – and they trust her.

In the next post, we’ll look at a very “interesting” investigative reporter, and the host of one of the biggest talk shows in the country (both of these people are tied into others figures already discussed in this list).   See you soon!

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