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

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!

A building public debate concerning foreign investment in Canadian real-estate (#233)

The last three of posts and this post relate to how Canada and Québec consistently exchange issues which mutually influence their collective psyches and give rise to a symbiotic relationship.

This post will provide the last of three such examples.  This one is a bit different from the last post.  I’ll write about a “sensitive” and “controversial” issue being discussed more and more in English Canada, but which has not yet fully made it into the arena of public debate (both politically or across the country).  However, there are increasing signs which point to it soon becoming a full-blown public matter of debate.

If it does continue to build more steam in English Canada, it very much has the potential to make the leap into Québec’s arena of public debate.

The matter relates to foreign investment in Canadian real-estate, and how it may be affecting (and misaligning) the affordability of housing for “average” Canadians.

It is a debate which primarily involves Toronto and Vancouver, but which is not exclusive to these two cities.

Anecdotally speaking, from my own observations, there appears to be a growing belief among residents of Vancouver and Toronto that massive foreign investment may be flowing into the real-estate markets of these two markets, primarily from China, but also from other countries.  I consistently hear people say they believe this to be a major factor as to why the average home price in Toronto is now over $1,000,000, and over $1,500,000 in Vancouver (now rated as the second most expensive real-estate market in the world after Hong Kong).

The argument goes that foreign investors (who do not have immigration status in Canada) “park” their money in Canadian real-estate for investment purposes, and then rent the properties out at very high rents – all the while shutting out hundreds of thousands of local residents from their own real-estate market.

Up front, I want to make myself perfectly clear that I do not know if such allegations are accurate or not.  I have yet to see any major studies on the issue.

I also want to be very categorical in stating that even if this were to be a factor in rising real-estate prices, it would likely be only one of several reasons.

I have searched high and low, but I cannot find any in-depth studies regarding this matter.   However there are numerous “incidental” studies out there which perhaps lend credence to the above public beliefs.  For example, there are studies which show that power consumption rates during peak hours indicate that up to 40% of many “high sales” neighbourhoods demonstrate properties to be vacant, or that driver’s license holders tied to many single-family home neighbourhoods have low Canadian permanent residence or citizenship rates.

This clearly indicates the need for urgent and comprehensive studies to be conducted to determine if such anecdotal or observation-based evidence is indeed correct or not.

Australia conducted studies and found their cities did have a serious enough problem with foreign investment (primarily from mainland China) in their housing markets to warrant Australia imposing residency requirements in order to purchase Australian real-estate in order to correct disproportionately priced real-estate markets.

There may be reasons in Canada why we are not seeing such studies conducted.  City governments may fear the results may indeed show a problem exists.  They may then fear losing property tax revenue if housing restrictions are imposed.  In this sense, this debate may become highly political.

Some of my own anecdotal observations which lead me to advocate for objective studies to be conducted:

Here are some reasons, from my own anecdotal observations, as to why I believe there should be objective and independent studies into this issue.

As you may be aware, I lived in mainland China for over a decade.  The Chinese currency is not a freely traded currency on world markets.  Mainland China’s population does not have access to the diversity of investment opportunities as us in Canada.   They don’t have a free and developed mutual, bonds, RRSP, REP, securities or derivatives market.  Where such opportunities do exist, they come with excessive risk, little return, or they may be highly restricted.   Therefore, for most of China’s 1.3 billion people, the only options for investment are (1) housing, (2) domestic stocks, and (3) gold.   Yet housing purchases in China are restricted to one property per person, Chinese stocks have not performed for years, and gold yields little return.

For many (perhaps most) mainland Chinese, the only “safe” and “secure” investment is overseas real-estate.  Canada, the US, and Australia are the preferred markets.  When I resided in China, I met many Chinese (often middle-class Chinese, earning a middle-class income between CAD $50,000 – $80,000) who owned property in Canada or who had friends/relatives who owned property in Canada.  Yet they did not reside in Canada.

Statistically, China has five to six times Canada’s population which has just as large a personal net worth as five to six times Canada’s population.  If only one tenth (the equivalent of half of Canada’s population) were to “park” their money in Canada’s “safe-haven” real-estate, the repercussions to Canada could be enormous.  If the Canadian market were to turn sour, and the money was pulled back to China in a knee-jerk reaction, the repercussions to Canada’s real-estate market (and thus its economy) could be devastating.   This is yet another urgent reason for serious, independent studies.

Another anecdotal story pertains to farmland.   A few weeks ago I was in Saskatchewan.  While waiting for my luggage at Regina’s airport, I noticed the following sign above the luggage carrousel.

rg.apt.1

The company is a company which facilitates Saskatchewan farm purchases (it is written in simplified Chinese, and thus quite possibly targets Chinese with a mainland education).   Such a company must operate within Canadian laws, so in no way am I insinuating it is doing anything illegal.

Incidentally, while waiting for my luggage, there was a group of approximately 15 Chinese nationals also waiting for their luggage.   I speak fluent Chinese.  Out of curiosity, I asked one of the gentleman what brought them from China to Saskatchewan.  When mainland Chinese find out I speak Mandarin, they generally open up much more to me than what they would to other people.   He responded that they all came from China to purchase farmland.

I told him I was a bit “confused” because I was under the belief that Saskatchewan had a Canadian citizenship requirement for those who purchase farmland.  The man told me that there are always ways around this.  A second man in the same delegation overheard our conversation and he said he sent his daughter to the University of Regina, instead of a US university, specifically to be able to get around these rules (perhaps she forged Canadian connections through which to fraudulently funnel such investments?).

My uncle and cousin own large tracts of farmland in Southern Saskatchewan.  I mentioned to my family what I was told at Regina’s airport, and I also mentioned the sign I saw at the airport.   I was told that within the previous four months, my uncle had three mainland Chinese delegations knock on his door, unsolicited, asking to purchase his farmland.

Throughout the same week I spent in Southern Saskatchewan, I also heard numerous times that many people are becoming quite frustrated with the situation because foreign farmland investment has pushed Prairie farmland to unaffordable limits for most local residents.  Because land is so expensive, and because it would take new farmers so long to pay off their land purchase, banks will no longer grant loans to start-up farmers for fear that it would take too long for famers to see profitable return on their land purchases.

Several times I was told by different individuals in Saskatchewan that the best new farmers could hope for would be to become tenants on Chinese-owned farmland in the Prairies.

I do not know if these anecdotal stories are founded or not.  Regardless, I can find no studies to either prove or debunk the possibility.  That in itself is of great concern.

An example of how public perception appears to be turning into public anger:

On 27 March, 2014, CBC news reported that a Vancouver bungalow sold for $567,000 above the asking price of $1.6 million, for a final sale price of $2.2 million.

You can read the CBC article BY CLICKING HERE

This quickly resulted in 830 comments (which is an unusually high comment count for any CBC article).  Most comments appear to be from Vancouver residents, and the vast majority are scathing remarks towards Chinese investment.  I have rarely ever seen such public anger expressed in the comments section of any CBC article.

There appears to be serious public resentment lying just below the surface.  It leaves me wondering if there will soon be a breaking point (and thus a turning point) with respect to how people channel their frustration, and the direction this debate will take in Canada.

I will say this:  It will NOT be good if public frustration begins to be vented on our local Chinese Canadians (local Chinese Canadians are not the “foreign” investors who park cash in Canada without residing in Canada).  This is yet another reason why very urgent studies are required to paint an accurate portrait of the situation.

Because I do speak Chinese, I have had numerous discussions with local Chinese Canadians in Toronto.   The people I have spoken with are also becoming very frustrated with what they also perceive to be unsustainable levels of mostly “foreign” Chinese investment in the Canadian real-estate market.  Chinese Canadians I have spoken with also believe such investment is tipping Canadian housing to unaffordable levels.

Of equal concern, they are concerned that Canada’s general public will confuse Chinese Canadians and Chinese “foreign” investors.   Some feel that the general public is already beginning to take frustrations out on Chinese Canadians (who are not the cause of this issue).   This is very serious, and it should be of great concern to all politicians.

We must avoid a “witch-hunt” and “run-away” anecdotal public conclusions at all costs.

Yet, you may say I am talking from both sides of the mouth.  You may say to yourself that I am contributing to such anecdotal conclusions by what I have just written.

Understand that my point in writing this post is not to say this is “definately what is happening”.  Rather it is in part to demonstrate that if I, as a member of te public, believe there may be possible problematic issues, even in the absence of proof, then many others also may be thinking in then same vein.

The difference is that I am more than willing to accept that my own percsptions may indeed be wrong in the absence of objective studies.

The problem lies in the fact that other people may not accept the possibility that their own conclusions may be wrong.  Their own frustrations may turn into a public witch-hunt, and innocent Chinese Canadians or permanent residents may bear thee brunt of frustrated public sentiment.

That’s the danger, and that’s why we need stufies to figure out precisely what is (or what is not) happening in our real-estate maket (be it government sponsored or government endorsed independent studies).

Do you see the difference?

How this debate may eventually find its way into Québec’s arena of public debate:

This debate has not yet become a major political debate in English Canada, but I believe it is moving in that direction.   However, Québec’s population does not yet seem to be aware of this debate in English Canada.

With this being said, I still believe this “English Canada debate” does have the potential to jump from English Canada to Québec.

In January, I was in Montréal accompanying a friend as she was condo shopping.  We looked at five separate condo complexes.  In two of the complexes there were delegations of mainland Chinese investors looking at condos at the same time as us.   They all averaged 3 to 4 couples (6 to 8 individuals).  Again, I spoke to them in Chinese.  I asked what happen to “bring them to Canada”.  All lived in China, and all made the trip to Montréal on a condo-investing mission.   They told me Canadian real-estate investments are more lucrative and safer than Chinese domestic investments – particularly for retirement capital.

After my friend and I finished looking at condos, I asked the condo sales representatives if “mainland Chinese sales” constitute a common type of sale for them.   They responded about 40% of their sales inquiries are from Chinese buyers, and about half of those are for to purchase a condo for their children temporarily study in Montréal (with the intention to renting out the condo after their children graduate).  Yet, the remaining half are simply for an investment property which may, or may not be rented out.   (Note: they did not tell me what percent of their “sales” were to foreign Chinese nationals, but their responses regarding “inquiries” are quite telling).

This appears to demonstrate that real-estate investment concerns which exist in English Canada may also exist in Québec.   The major difference is that Québec’s population has not yet began to debate the issue, whereas we’re starting to see potential signs of a very heated (and intolerant) debate in English Canada.

If the debate in English Canada becomes emotionally adversarial, I would not be surprised if it triggers a similar debate in Québec.

In the meantime, I just hope that people don’t confuse the issues and incorrectly take their frustrations out on Chinese Canadians who are struggling with high home prices just as much as other Canadians.

I strongly urge our politicians in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montréal to conduct impartial, in depth studies into this matter as quickly as possible, so as to either prove or disprove what many Canadians perceive to be a major problem.

———————————————–

This concludes the four-part mini-blog series on how public policy and public debate can cross back and forth between English Canada and Québec.  I hope I provided some concrete examples which show how both side’s issues can mutually affect how all sides view the world, how they evolve and how they develop together… to the extent that both sides often think more along the same lines than not.

The “reasonable accommodations” debate makes the leap from Québec to the rest of Canada (#232)

The last couple of posts, and this and the next post relate to how Canada and Québec’s issues, politics, societal concerns, and social spheres mutually effect each other.  This is why we very much share a collective psyche in so many spheres (more which is shared than not).  It is a symbiotic relationship.

The following is the second example of three where Québec and Canada are mutually, and currently (right now) influencing and shaping each other’s societal views and collective psyche (an “averaging out” and “melding” of the two, if you will).

This example examines a debate going on right now which involves reasonable accommodations.  I have already sufficiently blogged on the question of reasonable accommodations, so there is little need for me to delve into the details of it again.  If you wish to read up on the details, you can refer to a few past posts:

SERIES:  MULTICULTURALISM AND INTERCULTURALISM (8 POSTS)

The latest public debate regarding reasonable accommodations pertains to the wearing of Niqabs in public, or during the participation in / exercise of official government bureaucracy.

H.dr.s1

The debate started in Québec before it took off in the rest of Canada.  The debate took flight in Québec in 2012 with issues surrounding the Chartes des valeurs..

Now that we’re in “unofficial” election mode for the 2015 Federal election, the debate has recently made the leap from Québec into the overall Canadian arena in the last few months (since the end of 2014).   However, I do not believe the debate would have become mediatized or political elsewhere in Canada had the matters not already been issues in Québec.   Federal pan-Canadian politicians, desirous of votes in Québec and elsewhere in Canada, have brought the debate into the full public Canadian arena (which perhaps would not have happened had certain high-profile federal politicians not got their fingers in it).

A mix of Middle-Eastern politics, current events and religious fundamentalism (which in my view should never have been mixed into the Niqab debate) has been capitalized upon by opportunistic politicians – and these completely unrelated matters have now somehow ended up being tied to a discussion regarding the wearing of the Niqab by the narrowest of minorities in Canada (perhaps involving only a few hundred individuals across the entire country).

Three posts ago, you saw how this debate is now entering the realm of federal political attack advertisements – in a very high-profile manner to say the least (click HERE to see one such ad against the Niqab, but be aware that there are others out there as well).

Generally speaking, for many Canadians, this is the first time they have come face-to-face with this specific debate.   Thus, for many in the country, they are still in the learning stage regarding the issue at hand (many, perhaps most, did not even know what a Niqab was until certain politicians decided this would be an election issue).  This has therefore left a huge public understanding gapwhich a number of politicians are capitalizing on.  These politicians have insinuated to the public that current (violent) Middle-Eastern events and / or “anti-Canadian values” can be tied to wearing the Niqab in a Canadian context, and thus they have filled the public misunderstanding gap with an emotional “plug” (regarding citizenship ceremonies, appropriate dress at court, what is “comfortable” clothing in a public space, what symbols are to be associated with radicalization, and even terrorism [Yikes! Seriously??], etc.).

A few provincial Québec politicians and parties (four parties in Québec to be precise;  1 federal party (the BQ), 3 provincial parties in Québec (the PQ, QS &ON) have been flogging the Niqab issue for three years.   It was only because some Federal politicians only recently saw that this was a debate upon which could be capitalized on (following Québec’s example), that this was brought into the Canadian arena as a whole — primarily by the Conservative party

(Note:  I am not making a political statement as to whether or not I support the Conservative party overall… I am merely stating that it is a fact that the Conservative Party has brought this issue into the public arena).

The Conservatives have tried their hand at this debate with the rest of Canada, they have crafted their own messaging, and it is now dividing aspects of the Canadian population, and perhaps is paying political dividends (big sigh).

I also know that this issue is dividing certain Conservatives and even Liberals within their own respective parties — right across the country (I have friends in both parties, and people in both parties seem to be torn over the issue, and how it has been politicized).  This division within each respective party was perhaps an unintended and unexpected by-product of the debate.   But it is also a division which is very present in Québec as well.   It is being talked about across the country, and it has now become a Canadian debate in this respect, rather than just a Québec debate (regardless if one is Francophone or Anglophone).

However… my personal feeling is that most Canadians feel that this should not be a public debate, and are rather indifferent to the issue (even if they vote Conservative), despite the attention it is garnering.   A perfect indication of this:  An election was called in Alberta today for later in May (Canada’s most big “C” Conservative province, and the province where I grew up, and in which much of my family still lives)… and this appears to NOT to be a matter which any Alberta provincial politician wishes to capitalize upon as an election issue (be it Progressive Conservative, Liberal, NDP or Wildrose).  I think that says a lot (and I also know many people in Québec who had wished this issue never surfaced in Québec either).

Nonetheless, on the Federal scene, I’m guessing this one debate alone has occupied 15%-20% of the Federal election-issue debate for the first third of 2015 (perhaps even 25% or higher).  I personally feel that this is quite sad if these numbers are anywhere close to being accurate; what a waste of precious electoral debate time, especially when there are way more important issues to debate.   On the other hand, perhaps it is a good thing that this is being debated… if for nothing else, than to get this debate over with as quickly as possible, and to bury this issue once and for all as a question of public debate; both provincially in Québec, and Federally across Canada.  Time will tell what the outcome will be.

If you have never “met” someone who wears a Niqab, I strongly urge you to have a look at the following 25 minute video interview in the CBC article below.

It is an interview with a very well educated businesswoman / entrepreneur who wears the Niqab (does that in itself peak your curiosity??).   This interview might help you to understand this Niqab issue better (I wish we saw many more video interviews like this, especially in French and in Québec… where I have so far seen no interviews of this nature to date).

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/niqab-a-choice-that-doesn-t-limit-us-ottawa-s-mahwash-fatima-says-1.3019347

Within the first 24 hours, the above CBC article and interview garnered 2500 comments.  I personally cannot remember the last time that I have ever seen a CBC website article accumulate 2500 comments in such a short period of time (I have been reading the CBC news online on an almost daily basis for over a decade, and I have actually never ever seen any of their articles garner 2500 comments).  I think that shows just how strongly people across the country feel about the issue — either in support of the person in the video, or against the wearing of the Niqab under certain conditions.

That is precisely why certain political parties are so quick to capitalize on the question, and turn this into an election issue; a perfect example of how Québec’s political and societal debates and sphere also affects the rest of Canada – coast-to-coast.

The next post will provide an example of a public debate which is just starting to gain momentum in English Canada, which has the potential to become a significant issue, and which has the potential to make a jump from English Canada to Québec.

Current budgetary debates – a page taken from everyone’s books (#231)

The last post was an introduction for this and the next two posts. In the past post and the next two posts, let us explore how Québec’s (and Canada’s) relationship is one of symbiotic evolution.

All provinces have a role to play in our country’s symbiotic relation.  However the nature of Québec gives it a unique role in this evolution – to the extent that I am certain Canada and its people would not have been the same in the absence of this relationship.  Likewise, Québec and its people would not have been the same in the absence of this relationship.

The following example is one in which the overall Canadian context is currently (right now) influencing Québec’s own internal public policy & collective or public psyche.

Québec, like a number of other provinces is currently undergoing a period of hard fiscal restraint (some call it “austerity”, but I am not sure austerity would be the correct word — at least not in the sense of what we have seen in certain European countries over the past seven years).

Nonetheless, this is currently a hot-button issue (as it usually is).

In Alberta, the “Progressive Conservative” government recently implemented what could stereotypically be viewed as a “Liberal” budget (oil prices tanked, but despite a severe drop in oil revenue, Alberta wants to take a cautious, slow approach to eliminating their deficit until it becomes clear what direction the economy will take over the next two or three years).

Yet, in Québec the “Liberal” government has recently implemented what could stereotypically be called a “Progressive Conservative” budget (the current government is making fast and deep cuts, eliminating a massive deficit in a little over one year.  They’re doing so because they already know where the province would financially sit in the absence of such cuts).

I am certain that both provinces (Alberta and Québec) would have drawn from to past Federal, Alberta, and Ontario experiences from the 1990s and 2000s when trying to decide how best to navigate their current difficult cash-flow realities.   They also would have compared each other’s situations with those of other provinces when trying to guess where they would be in a few years.

Our provinces have a habit of sharing best practices. 

Considering our provinces basically share the same systems, I would not be at all surprised if Québec consulted other provinces to learn from their own budgetary experiences to seek out best practices.  This would take out a great deal of the guess work, and would allow Québec to implement fiscal and structural changes which worked for other provinces, and which worked without “harming” the system.  Areas where there could have been consultations likely would have been regarding the consolidation of health administration structures, the fusion of education districts, the balancing of tax changes etc. – all which have (successfully) occurred in other provinces, and some of which appear to have been copied in Québec.

In my view, learning from the lessons of other provincial budgetary exercises is a broad type of Canadianization.   It simply makes sense that our current provincial governments would look at how other parts of Canada have handled similar issues when deciding how best to deal with present regional / provincial issues.  This is all-the-more important considering that our political and economic systems are generally the same at their core, regardless of what province we reside in.

But frankly speaking, I don’t think we should apply a party label to any budget.  A government just needs to be practical and needs to look to past Canadian experiences in order to determine the best route of the present (that’s why we have seen Liberal budgets which have both splurged and slashed, PC budgets which have both splurged and slashed, and a very mixed bag from NDP governments).

The fact that one jurisdiction tends to learn from another is where I believe Canada, as a Federal State, has a HUGE advantage over “unitary” countries (like Italy, the UK, France, Portugal, Japan, etc.).   We have 10 provinces, 3 territories, and one federal government which, in our highly decentralized environment, operate quite autonomously on many fronts.  Within the span of 5 years, each of these 14 relatively autonomous jurisdictions will have at least one election cycle.  Thus, within only 5 short years, as a country we have 14 times the amount of government budgetary experiences from which to draw from – from which to find “best practices” — and from which to implement the best-of-the-best as we continue to move forward.

Compare this with unitary” countries.  “Unitary” countries only have one election cycle and only one government within a 5 year span.  Thus, they have no other “best-practice” examples from which to draw from within the confines of their own economic, governmental and social systems.

One short side-note in closing:  Unfortunately our “local” media generally does not report on the budgetary successes of other provinces when reporting on local budgetary exercises.   Local media will often be more apt to criticize local budgetary exercises without pointing out how the same measures have worked elsewhere.  It’s unfortunate – especially when there is a language barrier.  Take from that what you will.   But then again, I am an advocate for bilingualism, which allows for light to be shed on these issues — and for a better informed, well-rounded perspective.

The next couple of posts will provide additional examples of our current symbiotic evolution in action.