An interesting read. Some of the points were lightly touched upon in the previous post, and in other posts I had written.
It will be interesting to see how a new government juggles these same sorts of issues.
I would be lying if I said it wasn’t important or a concern.
In a nutshell, in the realm of Federal-provincial relations with Québec on the constitutional (and symbolic) front, Harper used an approach which had never before been tried by a Federal government. Perhaps he did much of the leg work and laying of foundations which may serve as a road-map for the incoming government.
I’m sure a new government will want to do some tweaking of their own, but at least there are some time-tried lessons already left by the Harper government on which they can build (ie: the wheel doesn’t need to be reinvented, and time does not need to be wasted by trying different approaches with an uncertain outcome).
When I said that it will be interesting to see how a new government juggles these same sorts of issues, perhaps “interesting” is an understatement.
The 2018 provincial election may not seem that far away, but in terms of politics, a lot can always change in a very short period of time (five weeks ago, who would have ever thought we would be where we are today).
POST EDIT, so as to clarify where I share views with the article:
The focus which I honed in on was the fact that the Federal government staying out of provincial jurisdiction — unless invited by a provincial government to share in asymetric collaboration in domains of provincial jurisdiction — (in addition to gestures towards Canada’s French fact, albeit modest in nature) helped to temper the sovereignty debate.
There are lessons to be had here.
The following is a commentary I wrote, in conjunction with consultations and discussions with Andrew Griffith of the widely read blog Multicultural Meanderings.
It is a blog worth following (it’s very unique and insightful).
It has been a week since the Federal election (although it feels like more). Stephen Harper is Prime Minster for a few more days.
It is not unreasonable to ask what has changed, in particular in Québec. Although Prime Minister-Elect Justin Trudeau will not assume office until November 4th, the answer is that actually quite a lot has changed.
In fact, everything.
This week we are seeing the convergence of two very important events in Canadian history. Their importance is not to be underestimated. How these two events are being viewed in Québec constitutes an earthquake of change.
First, the obvious event which everyone is talking about in Québec is how a Liberal government, headed by a new leader who appears to embrace a new spirit of openness (relative to the outgoing Prime Minister), embodies a focal point for cohesiveness in both a pan-Canadian and Québec societal sense, rather than regional or partisan divisiveness.
Second, and perhaps more profound, is that this week marks the 20th anniversary of the 1995 referendum for Québec independence. Yet, the manner in which this week is already unfolding, being talked about, and “felt” with the backdrop of a newly elected Trudeau-led government is something I would not have fathomed only a year ago.
Political commentators in Canada’s English media often report on events in Québec from the perspective of being “outside the fish-bowl looking in”. Sure, they can tell you which direction the fish are swimming, as well as the colour of the fish and the pebbles.
However, how the water tastes, the suitability of its temperature, and how the fish feel about each other (and how they feel about those peering in at them from outside the bowl) can only be told from the perspective of the fish themselves.
I’m going to take a crack at describing the tone in Québec from the perspective of the fish (ignoring the colours of the pebbles and the likes).
Let’s back up to a year ago.
Trudeau had already been head of the Liberal party for more than a year. Not only was his party in third place in terms of physical seat counts, but in the minds of Québécois, he might have well been in fifth place. The Liberals were stagnant from a legacy going back to the 1990s, years of leadership gaffes, and a lack of innovative policy.
For the longest time, Trudeau was not making decisions which demarcated himself as a credible replacement to Stephen Harper, and was viewed in Québec as the greater of the two evils.
A large part of the reason was that in the minds of Québécois, he was viewed as “the son of…”. To many Francophones in Québec, Pierre Trudeau (Justin’s father) is still viewed as the man who forced a constitution down the throats of Québec rather than finding common ground which could have seen Québec otherwise sign it. To this day, the constitution is regarded by Québec’s baby-boomer generation as being an illegitimate document, and by some as a reason to withdraw from Canada.
This all played against Trudeau (Jr.) for the longest time in Québec. He was viewed as leader who was set to go nowhere (another in a long line of Liberal Martins, Dions and Ignatiefs).
Let’s move forward by a few months to the winter of 2015 and what happened on the provincial political scene.
Pierre Karl Péladeau (PKP) was campaigning hard for the leadership of the Parti Québécois (PQ). With Harper at the helm of Canada, those in the sovereigntist camp saw PKP as the man to take on the Federal government and achieve sovereignty. He was a successful billionaire, he was business-friendy (able to connect with a new demographic) and he was viewed a potential “saviour” (to quote an often-used word in sovereignist circles last winter). The optimism towards PKP from both soft and hard sovereigntists alike had not been seen since the days of Lucien Bouchard.
Add to this mix that PKP’s wife, Julie Snyder, is Québec’s #2 pop-culture superstar, only eclipsed by Céline Dion. Thus, the PKP/Snyder power-couple was viewed as a potentially unstoppable force to woo the masses and lead Québec to sovereignty.
But starting last April, PKP proved to be awkward in his speeches. His stances on critically important issues were incoherent. For example, one day he would say the Bloc Québecois was utterly useless in Ottawa, and the next day he would say it was as important as oxygen is to life. He would attack immigrants as being detrimental to the sovereignty movement on one day, and then the next day he would say that he loves them and that they’re family.
It was clear that PKP was testing the waters in every direction to see what issues might find traction with the public rather than speak from consensus-reached convictions. It showed a side of him the public did not like. In the end he began to develop an aura of “playing” the public. It diminished his credibly, and prevented support from ever coalescing on a massive scale (he ended up winning the PQ leadership with only 58% of the membership vote, and he and his party have only ever hovered in the 32%-35% percentile range of public approval since his accession as party leader).
In addition, Julie Snyder’s injection of “showmanship” into sovereignist politics (using her TV programs to drum up nationalism, and even going so far as to give autographs in exchange for PQ membership cards at the subway entrances) has been viewed with more and more cynicism on the part of the public. The Julie card appears to have backfired, and her Princess Diana styled wedding in August seemed to be the straw that broke the back of a camel named “credibility”.
This past summer, the PKP/Snyder duo flopped faster than an ice-cream cone melts in the August sun. In Québec, you often hear the phrase “There was no PKP effect” (let alone any political honeymoon) when political commentators talk of the new PKP era of sovereigntist politics. The provincial Liberal government in Québec City has managed to remain at the top of the polls (although their overall polling numbers are not sky-high either).
Fast forward to the present and back to federal politics.
Three weeks before the Federal election the Trudeau Liberals attracted the public’s attention in both Québec and English Canada.
The Liberals developed a wide-range of policy proposals, and famously broke the mould needing to avoid deficits. They were able to position themselves as the ‘change’ option. This shift saw their “no-harm, broad-range middle-ground” brand positioned to the left of the Conservatives.
The NDP — hemmed in by fears they would constitute being irresponsible spenders — adhered to deficit-avoiding orthodoxy (in itself less distinct from the Conservatives). Given the NDP orthodoxy on avoiding deficits allowed the Liberals to carve a platform niche.
In Québec, a lack of enthusiasm for the PQ translated into a lack of enthusiasm for the Bloc Québécois. The Bloc was already dealing with a troubled recent past. It was not viewed as being organized (several months ago it voted in a highly unpopular leader, Mario Beaulieu, who was to be booted out a short while later and succeeded by a recycled Gilles Duceppe).
The Bloc was simply not viewed as a viable contender (the PQ and the Bloc were both riding on the same sinking ship – leaving the public to ask “Why bother?”). On election night, the Bloc had the lowest percent of the popular vote in the history of any sovereignist party in Québec (and only gained new seats through a division of the popular vote, which saw the majority of the popular vote in those same ridings go to the Liberals and NDP – and not to the Bloc).
Yes, the Conservatives played up the Niqab issue in Québec, and kept it front-and-centre. In past elections, the Conservatives’ success hinged on being able to play to their base. They believed the PQ’s 2013/2014 hijab/secular debate in Québec ignited the same base they were looking for. Many of the niqab announcements were made in Quebec..
Even if the public shared the view that the niqab should not be worn during citizenship ceremonies or in the public civil service, Québec’s and Canada’s public showed that they have a greater distaste for “wedge politics”.
Ultimately, the public proved they would rather vote against wedge politics than for policies invoked by such politics. In nutshell, the Conservatives overplayed their card. The tipping point perhaps came with the ‘snitch-line’ announcement (a new government hotline to denounce barbaric cultural practices) by Ministers Leitch and Alexander.
Combined with a lack of enthusiasm for Harper-style politics in many other areas of governance, it is noteworthy that the Conservative gains in Québec were with moderate Clark/Mulroney PC-styled MP’s, and not Harper-style MP’s (the Conservatives increased their seat count to 12 from 5 in Québec, however their share of the popular vote in Quebec only increased to 16.7 compared to 16.5 percent in the previous election).
The Bloc and the Conservatives both played politics on the “extreme ends” of the political spectrum. It left a bad taste in the mouths of both English and French Canada.
On the other end of the political spectrum was the NDP. Traditionally another “extreme end” party, Mulcair tried to moderate the NDP’s tone, pulling it towards the centre on many issues.
However, the feeling in Québec (and seemingly elsewhere in Canada) was that Muclair was trying to bring the party towards the centre on one hand, yet trying not to alienate his own far-left base on the other. It left room for vast amounts of doubt and uncertainty in the minds of the electorate. Not wanting to risk another bout of “extreme end politics”, the public quickly jumped off the NDP ship.
The niqab issue also played a role. Mulcair’s defence of the niqab was framed in legal terms in the context of the Charter and Constitution, a sore point with many in Quebec. In contrast, while having the same substantive position, Trudeau spoke in terms of values, a softer way of making the same point.
Who did this leave as the first choice for Québec and English Canada? The Trudeau Liberals.
Talk radio and TV interview programs tend to reflect a wide spectrum of the public’s thoughts towards issues of the day. What I find fascinating in all of this is that during the past week, Québec’s talk radio (even those commentators and radio hosts who have been cozy with the Conservatives / NDP / Bloc, or vehement anti-Liberals in the past) all seem optimistic — or at the minimum, comfortable — about Trudeau’s victory.
You get the sense that many are even relieved that there is finally middle ground which is finding broad-range consensus. It is a new middle-ground which has the allures of being acceptable to both the left and right elements in Québec’s society, in addition to Atlantic Canada, Ontario, the Prairies, and BC.
The newly elected Conservatives MP’s in Québec and elsewhere in Canada appear to be more moderate than Conservatives of the past. The NDP members who won their seats are more centrist than those who were voted out. All of this is resonating in Québec.
Many sovereignists for the first time are not sad to see the end of the BQ (that’s new). Yet this week in sovereignist camps, there has been quite a bit of talk about how they can learn from the federal Conservatives’ mistakes (as well as the mistakes of the Marois era).
There is now talk that the PQ may want to consider abandoning nationalist identity policies, and embrace all-inclusive (ie: a “multicultural’ish” but labelled as interculturalism, of course) style of sovereigntist policies in order to try to woo the youth and the electorate in the 2018 provincial election. The PQ may be looking for ways to capitalize the public’s sentiment enough is enough with divisive politics based on ethno-religious grounds (ie: the niqab and state secularism).
In this same vein, the BQ looks as if it may be trying to quickly create their own “Trudeau” by having 24 year-old (and defeated BQ candidate) Catherine Fournier slipped into presidency of the BQ. Fournier has been front-and-centre in Québec’s talk-show and panel circuit for about 6 months now.
She has taken many by surprise with her maturity and insight, and people are saying she’s a real change from the old guard. I don’t have any idea if she would be able to woo the youth to the sovereignist cause. However, she’s getting noticed, and she may be just the type to introduce a style of “multicultural’ish” sovereignty.
Yet, if open-style politics led to Trudeau’s election win, he may have already taken the sail out of the sovereigntist movement’s countermeasures (it is difficult for an opposition party to re-invent itself on a new platform when their number one challenger already owns that platform).
The question will be if he can avoid a Federal-Provincial clash of ideologies and values with Québec leading up to the 2018 provincial election (Harper managed to take the wind out of the sails of Québec’s sovereignist politics by staying out of matters of provincial jurisdiction and keeping a tight rein on what issues his MP’s were allowed to comment on… It remains to be seen how Trudeau will manage to juggle similar issues).
For the first time after a federal election, people on the street and in the media in Québec are no longer referring to the Canadian West as the “Conservative base” or the “Conservative West”. Yes, the majority of the Prairie ridings have gone Conservative, yet Québec’s political commentators are emphasizing the fact that that a large chunk of the Prairie’s Conservative ridings only saw Conservatives elected through vote splitting, with the majority of the popular vote in many ridings going to the Liberals/NDP – especially in cities which make up the bulk of the Prairie’s population and decision-making base: Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg.
That’s a big change in the conversation in Québec, and an even larger change in how Québec views the rest of Canada.
To see almost no federalism-bashing or Canada-bashing in Québec following a very long and hotly (even venomously) contested election — even from those in the sovereignist camp who traditionally love to Canada bash — is quite a game-changer.
To think that we’re seeing this change in tone during the week of the 20th anniversary of the 1995 referendum makes it even more significant.
Qu’est ce qui est arrivé durant les quelques années suivant l’arrivée des Britanniques au Québec? (#379)
Il y a plusieurs billets, je vous ai offert une vidéo d’un discours qu’a tenu Jason Kenny lorsqu’il était ministre fédéral Conservateur de Citoyenneté et Immigration Canada : Funny what gets dragged from the attic when politics get involved.
C’est une vidéo qui a fait jaser au Québec. Dans cette vidéo, il parlait de sa manière de voir le rôle qu’a joué les Britanniques et le multiculturalisme dans le contexte du transfert de la Nouvelle-France.
La vidéo a tant fait jaser que Rad-Can sentait le besoin de mettre les choses au clair il y a un couple de jours.
Comme j’ai souligné dans le billet ci-dessus, je ne suis pas d’accord avec la caractérisation que nous a présenté Kenny sur les origines des politiques du multiculturalisme moderne du Canada.
Toutefois, ceci étant dit, j’ai mentionné que l’approche Britannique quand-même se basait sur une idéologie assez laissez-faire (même malléable et ductile) quant à leur système de gouvernance au cours du siècle suivant le transfert du pouvoir (du moins dans le contexte de l’époque, et surtout comparé aux autres systèmes ailleurs au monde).
J’ai mentionné que cette approche elle-même a pu poser les fondements sur lesquels on a pu bâtir un bon nombre de projets de société… des legs dont on ressent toujours, et dont on ne devrait pas considérer sous un angle négatif.
C’est une époque dont on ne parle très peu, et qui est très mal comprise.
Nous sommes tous le produit de notre passé. Et l’ère des britanniques fait autant partie de notre passé (et de notre identité collective) que l’époque coloniale française, ainsi que tout le kit qui nous est arrivé au vingtième siècle jusqu’au présent – tant au niveau de la société que personnel.
Le voici le récit de Rad-Canada. Je le trouve assez intéressant.
(Voici le lien pour l’émission complète: http://ici.radio-canada.ca/emissions/les_samedis_du_monde/2015-2016/chronique.asp?idChronique=386638)
With so many languages out there, how can one chose which one(s) to learn?
This is one of those never-ending questions that you hear others endlessly ask themselves.
I personally do not think there is a right or wrong answer, but perhaps there are better answers than others.
I was lucky that I had both English and French from almost the beginning. Yet I realize that others in Canada do not necessarily have the opportunity to receive a footing in both languages so early on and at the same time.
However, I too had language-learning experiences with other languages as an adult. In addition to the above two, I dabbled in four others, exploring whether or not I would like them, and if I would find them useful.
I studied and used Chinese for many years (in fact the majority of my adult life), I studied Arabic for a couple of years, I gave Spanish a shot for a couple of years (a few lessons, but mostly concentrated on reading the news for a year), and I gave Portuguese at shot at the same time as I tried Spanish.
Yet, I dropped Arabic owing to the fact that it would require a huge continued effort (a part-time job in and of itself) – time which I simply did not have owing to the fact that I was already concentrating on Chinese and my career.
I also dropped Spanish and Portuguese because of a lack of time. Yet I was happy with the progress I made within a year of studying them. My French gave me a huge jump-start on Spanish and Portuguese. It allowed me to rapidly make progress in reading them (to the point that I do not have many difficulties when reading a newspaper in Spanish or Portuguese). I’m cool with that, and I don’t have any burning desire to take them further.
What langauge(s) would I recommend to Canadian Anglophones who wish to learn a second or third language?
As I said above, I do not think there are right or wrong answers, but there perhaps are better answers than others.
First and foremost, I recommend you learn what interests you. If you do not have an interest, you will not feel stimulated in your studies, and it simply won’t fly.
The unique situation with learning French in English Canada:
Yet, if you’re Anglophone in Canada, I would recommend you explore French before looking at other languages. You have more French language-learning materials and cultural references available to you in Canada than for any other languages – making French an easy(er) moving target to tackle than other languages.
At the very minimum, you at least would be able to rapidly come to the conclusion whether or not French interests you for continued studies.
Building on this, it is sometimes easier to take an interest in French than other languages because, contrary to other languages, you can consider yourself to be learning “your own” language if you take the plunge with French.
Because French is one of our country’s two languages, as an Anglophone Canadian, you would not be learning a “foreign” language. You are able to immediately embrace the fact that you are learning your country’s own language. You can claim ownership over it, and be proud of learning and speaking it.
At the end of the day, you can say “This too is my, and my country’s language”. Other languages do not afford you that “feeling” (learning languages and emotions are closely linked… You have to feel good and proud about what you learn).
French also opens the doors wide-open to Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Catalan, and Romanian right from the beginning. If you can attain an upper-intermediate level of French, you should be able to quickly learn to read the above other languages within a year or so.
Beyond French, I would also consider the following options in deciding what language to tackle:
- Do I still have an interest in other languages, and which one?
Even if you are interested in a little-spoken language, such as Latvian or Faroese, you still may be fascinated by the learning it. Thus why hold back if that’s what you get off on?
- Do I think I would use it often?
Most Arab-speaking people I know who (or those who I am likely to run into) already speak English or French. Therefore I felt it kind of negated the “need” for me to learn it, and my interest sort of dropped off.
Yet in the case of Chinese, most people who I would be interacting with (and do interact with) in Chinese would / do not speak English or French. The need for me to speak Chinese has always been there (for personal interactions, career, and relationships).
From my travels in Mexico and South America I quickly came to the realization that most people there also do not speak English or French – hence making it obvious to me that Spanish and Portuguese would be useful languages to learn.
- What resources are available to learn the language?
If I were to suddenly find myself in a love-affair with Dzongkha (the national language of the country of Bhutan), that may be fine and dandy. But if it were impossible to find find comprehensive learning and practice materials in Canada, then it would make the task all that more difficult.
In the end, owing to a lack of available materials, I could end up wasting precious time (perhaps years and years) learning the language, whereas I could have possibly mastered another “material-ready” language in half the time.
These are just my few thoughts on the issue.
Again, for those in English Canada, I would certainly encourage you to at least explore French as a list-topper. It will open a billion doors for you in Canada (employment, full participation and a feeling of cultural ownership over your own country, travel and relocation opportunities, etc, etc.). In addition, it will make learning many other languages much easier.
I firmly believe that knowing other languages has afforded me more opportunities than any single university degree could have ever afforded me. I would have never done what I have done (or what I am doing) without having both English and French.
Adding a third language on top of that (Chinese) pushed the global-envelope open even further.
Hopefully this helps to serve as a bit of encouragement in your own language-learning adventure. Sometimes it takes hearing about others’ stories to help find that little bit of extra “footing”, “context” and “incentive” in the realm of language learning.
This is the second in a two-part post.
If you want to skip the blah-blah-blah… scroll down straight to the video.
Yesterday, in post 1, I informed you that Prime Minister Harper was playing political “catch-up” in Québec against the other party leaders.
He could see how other leaders’ consistent appearances on Québec’s talk TV and TV variety circuit were serving them well.
It was helping to tear down the walls between the political beast and the the human face behind the political role, and obviously Harper’s political team said “We want some of that too!!”
With the Liberals rising in the poles in Québec (rather quickly, within just a matter of a week or two), and with only a fraction of the campaign left in which the Conservatives could try to stop the Liberal rise, Harper did what he has never done before (and what he has always resolved to never do)…
Last night he appeared on Salvail en mode, Québec’s equivalent of Jimmy Fallon.
Eric Salvail said the entire thing was organized within 24 hours at the request of the Prime Minister’s office (translation: they felt they might actually lose the election, and desperate times call for desperate measures).
I got home last night just in time to watch it at 10pm.
Considering his level of French, I asked myself how the heck this interview was going to fly (Harper’s French level is similar to former Prime Minister Chrétien’s level of English, but perhaps a bit worse than Chrétien),
- The crowd cheered his entry.
- During the first few minutes, I thought he actually was doing quite well, and that he seemed relaxed while both the Éric Salvail and Harper joked with each other.
- Salvail put him on the spot with some questions many of us wanted to know. Salvail asked him what was going on in head as he made certain decisions regarding strategy and other topics reporters never have the opportunity to ask him (other reporters have to get straight to the point when they ask him questions because Harper never allows time for the “flowery and secondary” stuff). But… thanks to this interview, we now we know that his hair is real and not a toupee, but that there is someone usually standing by to give him a fresh cut.
- Then came the “sideline” questions.
- At one point Salvail noted the announcement of one of Laureen Harper’s pregnancies was made in Québec. Salvail asked Harper if that meant that Harper and Laureen had sex in Québec, and if his child was “Made in Québec”. That’s when the awkwardness seemed to begin (at least for Harper). I had the feeling it set the tone for the rest of the interview.
- At another point in the interview, Harper said he was always at home in Québec. Therefore Salvail pulled out a “Two Solitudes question” (HA!!!) and asked him if he knew who Marie-Mai is (she is Québec’s equivalent of Justin Bieber, and one of the best known people in Québec, especially for under 40s). Harper didn’t seem to know who she was – and out came the editing job (the joys of pre-recording). It was quite obvious they cut out follow-up questions (and continued awkwardness).
- They threw in a few awkward photos of Harper and the Bonnehomme de carnival in strange positions.
- They dragged out a photo of Harper from his first campaign when he was known as “Steve Harper”, and when he looked like he was a kid from the Adams family.
- He was asked why he’s so frigid and won’t appear on camera, and they give him “loooong silence” which forced him to a longer answer.
- He was told that he always says “erection” in French when he means to say “election”. He was given the opportunity to show the world he can actually say the word “election” – and the crowd cheered and applauded when he said the word correctly.
- He was asked if he would work better with Conservative-supporter Rob Ford, the former mayor of Toronto (who very publicly just gave Harper a very big dose of support), or Liberal support Denis Coderre (the very popular mayor of Montréal and former cabinet minister in the Chrétien government). Well, can you say awkward? But Harper’s answer was very good… He would only work with Denis Coderre because he only works with “current” mayors, but he said he currently has disagreements with Coderre.
Then came the
monkey-show highlight of the evening: Harper played the piano and sang for the audience, Québec, and all of French Canada, in both English and French. I don’t know why it looked and felt strange, but it sure was different. Yet Harper seemed in his element.
The final dig from the host was left to the very end.
Salvail said how great it was for Harper to finally appear on variety TV and to give Québec a live performance. Salvail told Harper that it was because of such beautiful moments that Harper should not cut the culture budgets in Québec. Harper, caught of guard, let out a laugh and shrugged it off with a brush of the hand. (HA!!!)
All-in-all, I wish we saw more of these types of things from our politicians, and it is unfortunate that Harper never let his guard down like this in the past.
Yes Harper’s appearance felt awkward on more than one occasion in this interview, but… yes he held his own and he navigated through it. I thought the Prime Minister actually did OK.
Nothing incriminating came out of it, and I’m sure he would get better at these sorts of interviews and appearances if he were to have done them more frequently (all politicians do get better at these… unless you’re Sarah Palin of Jean Chrétien).
This interview will be front-page news and talk of the town all day today in Québec, and likely through the weekend, right up to Monday evening. It is a thunder-stealer (that’s what people in political circles call “s-t-r-a-t-e-g-y”).
It will remain to be seen if having Harper’s “performance” front-and-centre in everyone’s mind’s (eclipsing last week’s platform talk on the part of the other leaders) will make a difference at voting time.
Who knows – it might. The Liberal climb and the NDP drop-off in the polls were quite sudden, so there is no way to know what other sudden changes may occur.
But we will only know at
erection… er… election time.
Here is the
circus interview (click the image below):
Oh, and one more thing…
If you were hoping that Harper would also dance, no fat chance.
He leaves that to his wife and Canada’s “first lady”, Laureen (filmed yesterday in Brampton, ON — It’s worth watching — I think it’s great)…
Isn’t campaign season
awkward fun !?