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One week after the Federal election: The aftermath in Québec’s context (#380)

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.

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Philippe Couillard’s “premptive” damage control positioning and constitutional preps (#334)

The marriage of the “adrenaline-charged Super-Duo”, PKP (Pierre Karl Péladeau, the head of the Parti Québécois) and Julie Snyder (Québec’s best known super-star celebrity), this weekend was a reminder to all that the 2018 Québec election will be squarely about Québec independence.

Premier Philippe Couillard knows that this will be the #1 topic coming from the lips of the PQ for the next few years (a major shift from the past which saw the PQ be just as pre-occupied about subjects of day-to-day governance as the Liberals and CAQ).

The turfing of the Bloc Québécois leader a couple months ago, Mario Beaulieu, by his own party (and presumably by PKP) and the resurrection of Gilles Duceppe has shown to what extent the sovereigntist movement is prepared to go to in order achieve their goal.

Under PKP’s leadership, the entire movement is beginning to resemble more and more an extremely slick, well ran, and super-competitive board-room or corporation (of the likes of Wal-Mart when it tries to run all other competitors out of town), rather than that of a political party.

This is new.  We have never seen something like this before.

Although it continues to be new to the extent th at it has not yet found “solid” traction with the electorate, there have been polls which have shown a slight increase in support for the PQ and sovereignty (hovering around 35% or 40% at its highest.  But the numbers remain quite low considering that the figures group soft sovereigntists — who are less inclined to vote “yes” during a referendum, which would probably bring a “YES” to under the numbers I just provided….  But 35% still isn’t a number to laugh at).

Update 2015-08-20 – A new CROP poll today shows that the PQ’s support has fallen to 29% (35% for Francophones) in the days following the PKP/Snyder marriage.  Pierre Karl Péladeau’s personal popularity took a nose dive to 23%.  Perhaps people are seeing after all that the PKP/Snyder’s Party will only be about one topic, and perhaps people have had enough … for now.  The Liberals are only slightly ahead.

Three years can be an eternity in politics, and 2018 could be enough time for the movement to bounce back if the “corporation’s” PQ’s business political plan is effective.

Since 1995, the most effective method Federalist parties have invoked to avoid mass sovereigntist sentiments from reigniting has been to avoid a Federal-Provincial clash between Ottawa and Québec – especially one involving constitutional matters.

Both the Chrétien/Martin Liberals and the Harper Conservatives were of the opinion that slow and stable civil-service governance, and tackling each issue as it arrives (without opening the constitution) was the best way to prevent a show-down or constitution crisis.  I also have to admit that the fact that Harper has kept a very tight reign on the flow of information has probably, and ironically, helped somewhat too (in the sense that it has likely avoided unintentional slips-of-the-tongue from backbencher MP’s… especially preventing comments which could have inflamed sovereignist politicians and debate).

The Chrétien/Martin Liberals, and the Harper Conservatives firmly took a stand that a large degree of national reform could be achieved “on-the-ground” via small adjustments over time (supported by Common Law at the courts) rather than through re-opening the constitution.   In this sense, the constitution, its interpretations, and its application has been able to keep up with the times — turning it into a “living” document, without ever having to change the document’s wording or provisions.

They were of the view that the constitution could be re-opened at a date in the distant future once enough incremental “administrative” and “legal” reforms had occurred over a number of years (or decades) on the ground.  Thus, when it would come time to re-open the constitution, it would have simply been a matter of “updating it” to reflect “already-existing” realities (rather than having it “create new realities” in and of itself).

So far, this approach from Ottawa seems to have worked (on many levels, independent of one’s political affirmations or party beliefs).  It has been good for governance, good for Canada, and good for Québec.

Just as importantly, it had completely taken the wind out of the sails of the Parti Québécois and the Bloc Québécois.  It had given them nothing to grab on to – and a few times the movement had come to the edge of collapsing.

But lo and behold, something has changed this year.  It appears that both Mulcair’s NDP has expressed its desire to try to re-open the constitution (although Trudeau’s has  not expressed a desire to open the consitution on the campaign trail, he has said in his book that he would support such a move in the right “time and place”).

Trudeau’s book “Common Ground” talks in length about his disappointment in that Québec has not signed the constitution.  He did not necessarily believe in Meech or Charlottetown, but he did say that the constitution will have to be re-opened and signed by Québec eventually (something I also say).  But you get the feeling that his “right time and place” may be sooner than later.  I say this because the book gives you the impression that wants this whole issue to go away as fast as possible, and that he believes his terms will be the right ones.  Thus, if elected PM?  (Oh, Oh – there just might be a new constitutional round, and that could mean trouble).

Mulcair has even gone so far as to campaign on the issue of re-opening the constitution in order to abolish the senate (Oh crap – big trouble!).

Their intentions (Trudeau’s and Mulcair’s) might be good, but the timing could not be worse.

They would be putting Premier Couillard in a very difficult position, and they would be picking a fight with PKP-Snyder, as well as with PKP-Snyder’s grasp on Québec’s media, pop-culture elite, and their board-room games to capture the hearts and minds of Québec.

P.Coui1

Above;  Premier Philippe Couillard… If you’re not familiar with him, take a good look now, because if Mulcair or Trudeau (or both of them together) try to re-open the constitution, it will be this man’s face which you will see plastered all over English Canada’s news for the next several years as he tries to keep Canada together.

Although Premier Couillard is the most Federalist premier Québec has possibly ever had, such actions on the part of Trudeau or Mulcair would thrust Couillard into the political battle of not only his life, but possibly for the survival of Canada.

A new round of constitutional discussions would be messy – very very messy.

It would not be as clear-cut as what Mulcair says (and Trudeau isn’t letting us know what he would throw on the table – but if his book is any indicator, it could quite possibly be everything, since he seems to want to change everything [remember that Mansbridge interview a few years ago when Trudeau said he want to, quote “change the world”?] ).

  • This would result in the PQ crying for everything to be put on the table at a new round of constitutional negotiations (which is impossible to do), otherwise they would shift into war mode to raise emotional tensions to the maximum with which to convince Québécois to vote to leave Canada,
  • BC, AB, and SK would have their own demands (Christie Clark, Rachel Notley, and Brad Wall have all hinted they want bigger roles and controls (code for constitutional changes) for their provinces).
  • Ontario (under Kathleen Wynn) says Ontario want new mechanisms to prevent Ottawa’s “lack of cooperation” on matters of importance to her government (with the new Ontario Retirement Pension Plan being a prime example).
  • And then there are the Atlantic Provinces which would likely want their own constitutional provisions to counter the effects of what they believe is the “fight of their lives” to retain political relevance at the national level (as their populations continue to shrink as people move West).

This could not be better news for the PQ and the PKP-Snyder duo.  They must be salivating at the prospect of a possible Mulcair led government (and it would be even better for them if it is a minority government with Mulcair as PM and Trudeau as head of the official opposition – thus paving the way for re-opening the constitution, a demonizing of Canada, and emotions getting the better of everyone – including the public).

Last weekend was the Québec Provincial Young Liberals convention.  Premier Couillard is well aware of the unfolding situation which I just described.

True to his brain-surgeon style, Philippe Couillard is a strategist hors-pair.  At the Liberal convention, he announced that he will “not concede an inch to the sovereignists”.  

For the very first time, we have just seen Couillard shift into high gear anti-sovereigntist mode – that of pre-emptive damage control.

He knows that should the Federal NDP or Liberals come to power in October (as a minority or majority government), they may try to re-open the constitution.

Couillard wants to be ready and have his ducks all in place.

This weekend, he asked Liberal delegates to “quickly” (within hours) give him a short-list of what they would want to see added to the constitution should it be re-opened.  Precisely, he asked them “What is Québec’s role in Canada?”

Do not forget that Couillard is 100% pro-Canada.

His convictions make it so he would do anything to avoid hurting the federation.  He would want any propositions to work for his own electorate and all people in Québec, as well as for everyone else across the country.  In fact, at the Liberal congress, he delivered a fiery speech against sovereignty – one which carried an overtone which would have anyone believe we were already in full referendum mode.  

Thus his question to provincial Liberal delegates should not be viewed as something negative by the rest of Canada.

When he posed the question to delegates, he asked them to bear in mind issues such as:

  • Equalization program,
  • Health payment transfers,
  • Economic development file, such as infrastructure, Northern development, and Maritime strategies.

These are all soft (and safe) issues.  They are issues people across Canada can agree on.

Couillard also asked federal party leaders to make clear their stance on how they view Québec in Canada.  (After all, if he’s going to stick his neck out to confront the PKP-Snyder offensive, and if Mulcair & Trudeau are going to back him into a corner by forcing him to confront PKP-Snyder, he naturally wants Trudeau and Mulcair to also step up to the plate, to put their money where their mouths are, and to take some responsibility for their own words and actions).

The delegates gave Couillard their thoughts, and he sent off a letter to all Federal party leaders with his views on what he believes needs to be reviewed in the constitution:

  • Senate reform
  • Supreme Court judge nominations
  • Limitations on Federal spending in the areas of provincial jurisdiction,
  • A veto vote for any other constitution changes.

When elected in September 2014, Couillard told Harper that he would like to see Québec eventually sign the Canadian Constitution.  Ever since 1982, the fact that Québec has never signed the constitution has been the “raison d’être” and free wind in the sails for the sovereignty movement – precisely the ammo the PQ was always used to argue their point.

Couillard wants to put this to rest once and for all.

But as you can see, re-opening the constitution is a double-edged sword.

So while the rest of the country is talking about things such as whether Toronto should or should not host the 2024 Olympics, whether it should be illegal for regular citizens to transport wine from Halifax to Fredericton in their cars, or whether Alberta should or should not regulate the flavour of chocolate, Philippe Couillard is already beginning to fight the political fight of his life, and that of the future of Canada.

Owing to the fact that others in Canada do not seem to know what is happening, I just hope the rest of Canada does not (innocently and naïvely) act too surprised, offended, or dare I say “angry” when all of this suddenly comes to the fore should a new government in Ottawa try to do something risky such as “prematurely” (or foolishly) reopen the constitution at this point in time — or at the very minimum, before Couillard specifically tells Ottawa, and all the provinces (after back-door discussions) that he’s ready to go forward and safely deal with all of this.

After all, the rest of Canada will have had had someone in Québec who has long since been trying to do his damndest to avert what could have easy been a catastrophe had anyone else been at the helm.

What can I say… The two solitudes (Sigh).


Edit:  An earlier version say that Trudeau was disappointed with the failure of Meech and Charlottetown.  What I meant to say that he was disappointed with the “wording” of Meech and Charlottetown which lead to its failure (meaning his own deal, if he were dealing with the issues, would have proposed quite different matters to entice Québec to sign the constitution… or he would have waited for another time to open the constitution).  I corrected my post.

Conditioning: From the 1980 referendum until present (#282)

This posts continues where the last one left of.  I’m the previous posts, I spoke at length about the failure of the Estates General, and the beginning of the political fallout which could possibly have been avoided had the Estates General not been sabotaged in the name of politcal agendas.

The fallout has since affected our collective psyche, and our political expectations and preconceptions.  In other words, it has affected our societal conditioning.  But that conditioning too may vary depending on our vantage point.

For the rest of this post to make sense, the previous posts might be worth a read.   I say this because I am presenting events from the point of view of how Canada’s Francophones outside Québec tend to often view Canada’s recent history.  It is a version which is not taught in Québec, and which Anglophones rarely learn about.  It places extra weight on the failure of the the “Estates-General of French Canada” (Les États généraux du Canada français” as being one of the root causes for other constitutional events snowballing over the past 40 years.  It’s a very poignant and powerful version of our recent history, and thus I believe it is beneficial to also view things from this vantage point.

The “Second Night of Long Knives” and the fall-out from it:

Québec voted “no” in the 1980 referendum.  Soon after, Trudeau sought to repatriate the constitution and to enshrine language rights within the constitution.   It was Trudeau’s attempt (after prior attempts, including the 1971 Victoria Charter) to bring about further changes in the wake of (1) the failed Estates-General, (2) of the 1970s nationalist movement in Québec, and (3) the failed 1980 referendum.

Trudeau was faced with an arduous task involving a good deal of sour politics and going back-and-forth between the various premiers and the courts.

In 1981, and after much wrangling, most Premiers were still not on board with Trudeau’s version of the repatriated constitution.  They formed a blockade against it in an alliance which included René Levesque (the then Parti Québécois Premier of Québec).  But on the night of November 4th, 1981, a number of premiers agreed to push through and sign the accord as a majority, while René Levesque was sleeping.

History provides us with different views of what happened.  One version says that the Premiers believed their signatures were not final and the constitution would still be open for discussion (that it was a pro forma signature, rather than a prima facie finalized signature).   Yet another version of history says that Levesque was under the understanding that all the premiers believed a signature would be final.

I am not in a position to make a judgement – because I, and all the rest of us, will never know what was truly going on in everyone’s head.

But regardless, in the eyes of all the premiers, they believed Canada’s public was tired of constant constitutional and linguistic-cultural stalemates.  It had been 14 years following what would have been a watershed moment of progress had the Estates-General succeeded in bringing concrete proposals to the constitutional table with a strong, united Francophone population backing it.

Had the Estates-General succeeded, and considering the population and geographic weight it would have brought to the table (from Francophones from B.C. to Québec to Newfoundland), it could very well have been difficult for Anglophone Canada to refuse constitutional proposals stemming from the Estates-General.  What is more, those constitutional proposals would have likely been much wider, more meaningful, and more profound than anything Trudeau was proposing.

Owing to how the Estates-General collapsed, I cannot help but wonder if some of the Premiers who signed the Constitution without Levesque at the table did so with a sentiment of “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander”.  After all, Québec’s majority delegates at the Estates-General 14 years earlier sabotaged any hope that the Estates General could have led to a constitutional proposition acceptable to all Francophones, and endorsable by all provinces and the Federal government.

Likewise, on November 4, 1981, a majority of Canada’s premiers signed the constitution without René Levesque’s government’s consent.   I suppose it could be considered tit-for-tat.   But again, we will ever know for sure if that is how the premiers viewed it when deciding if it was ethical or not to sign the constitution without René Levesque.

This is why I call the signing of the constitution the Second Night of the Long Knives (and not the First which I reserve for the 1967 failure of the Estates-General).

Regardless, I firmly believe that two wrongs do not make a right.   I am also a strong advocate for the principle of letting bygones be bygones and of having a “reset button” sitting on the desk at all times.

What I find fascinating is that since constitutional repatriation in the early 1980s, the sovereignist movement has touted it as one of the primary reasons for separation from Canada.    The logic is that Québec’s government, under Levesque, never agreed to live in a country with Trudeau’s version of the constitution, and thus Québec should opt out of the country.

As an example, Québec’s Option National party leader, Sol Zanetti continuously and trumps this card to the world…  you can see one of his English-version “broadcasts to the world” here (I, like many others in Quebec and elsewhere around Canada, just shake my head)…

Oh, I think he forgot to mention that someone in Halifax wore a colour he didn’t like… so there’s yet another reason for sovereignty.

Regardless… he’s simply spewing crap (it’s my blog, so I can say that).  His take on things obviously aren’t reflective of reality — and proof is in the polls:  The last time I looked I think the Option Nationale had 0.9% or 1.2% of overall popular support… at any rate, something like that.  Not enough to warrant me wasting my time to look up the exact number.

And one more thing – especially to everyone in Canada who resides outside of Québec, or is Federalist (regardless if you are Anglophone or Francophone):  When he’s talking about “they“, “they” and “they”… He is talking about “you“, “you“, and “you” — which also includes “me” too.   That just shows you the absurdity of what he is preaching.

Are you or your friends, or peers, or family – or even most of your compatriots around you double-crossing, heartless, will cheat-ya kind of bastards?  I’m assuming you’re not.  And, you know what?  Neither am I.

The Two Solitudes exist… but that does not mean everyone is the Wicked Witch of the East, West, North, South, or whatever other place Sol can dream up.  All of our people are actually pretty cool — Francophones and Anglophones alike .

Thus, me thinks that Mr. Zanitti needs to take a chill pill… Especially if he frets over events which might have well happened during the ice age!  I’m mean, really?  Did he actually invoke a battle in the 1700s with cynicism to mark political points?  Seriously?  (Oh, big big sigh — Reset button… push the reset button Mr. Zanetti!).

Some additional remarks regarding conditioning and Mr. Zanetti’s video:  You can see that Mr. Zanetti’s conditioningand the historical context upon which that conditioning is based is very different than mine – and perhaps equally as different from yours.  His conditioning could stem from as diverse a range of factors as those who he has been surrounded by when growing up, the education he received, how he was taught to interpret history, his travels and where he has lived, and all the emotions which arise from these factors.

I am not in any way diminishing the validy of Mr. Zanetti’s emotions.  Everyone has reasons why they harbour their emotions.  But emotions often take the “objectivity” out of a situation.

This video is a prime example of how conditioning can prompt one to take action.  But as you have also seen from the last few posts, there is more than one way to look at an issue (these issues) and how to resolve these issues.

Therefore conditioning can become quite dangerous when it blinds people from existing alternatives and closes ones views to other possibilities, realities, and other people’s experiences.

In a sense, Mr. Zanetti’s video it reminds me of two friends, one Anglophone, one Francophone, who are each living in minority environments.   I used their cases as examples in post #277 as examples of negative conditioning.  In each of their cases, they believed they were being mistreated by the other linguistic group – and thus it tainted their view of other people in those linguistic groups… Whereas in reality I could see that only a few unfortunate, isolated incidents tainted their views of the remaining 98% of all the other good which was going on around them.  Negative conditioning led them to look for the bad along linguistic lines, rather than the good.

Despite Canada having been chugging along and slowing but surely finding its way to improve socio-linguistic inequalities, I find it very interesting how nobody in the sovereignist movement wishes to talk about Québec’s delegates roles in the First Night of the Long Knives in 1969, and how that quite possibly snow-balled into the Second Night of the Long Knives, and events throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s.

The subject is not even taught in Québec school curriculums, and barely touched upon at university – at least not from this angle (rather, it is taught as a matter of triumph and not betrayal… but triumph over who and what?  Other Francophones and Francophiles elsewhere in Canada, like myself?  Strange – truly, very strange).

I truly don’t talk about these subjects very much with people know.  But I can tell you that the few times I have talked about the Estates General, and how it’s needless collapse affected all events which came afterwards (considering an alternative future could have otherwise played itself out), it has left more than a few of my friends in Québec in a bit of a state of surprise.  It sometimes gets an “OMG” moment of realization, but most of the time just surprised silence (especially when I ask the above questions of those who I know who are soft-sovereignists).

As you can see, this is why I strongly advocate for a “reset” on all of these issues.  When everyone chills, people see that the matters at hand are (1) not insurmountable, and (2) are not so bad (actually, I think they’re pretty good).

Moving on…

The Mulroney intiatives, the 1995 referendum, and the period to the present

By way of the Charlottetown and Meech Lake Accords, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney sought to seek agreement for a re-written version of the constitution acceptable to all the provinces and the people of Canada.  He could not reach agreement, neither by way of provincial quorum nor by a referendum on the matter.

The failure of Mulroney’s efforts brought Canada to the brink of self-destruction (we have since learned that Saskatchewan’s Premier’s office and core cabinet members were even presented with the idea of joining the United States if Québec were to leave following the 1995 referendum… which perhaps would have had a spin-off effect with new countries created across the continent from the ashes of what once would have been Canada.  With such a large land mass as Canada with so many different regions, it truly was uncharted territory).   The failure of Meech and Charlottetown caused support for sovereignty to skyrocket.  The 1995 referendum results were 50.58% no and 49.42% yes.

Since the second referendum of 1995 (largely brought about by Mulroney’s failed attempt to seek consensus on a constitutional modification), support for sovereignty has declined.   Since 1995, it has rarely left the 33-39% range (give or take a couple of percent).

But those in the sovereignist movement took away three major lessons:

  1. Provoking a constitutional crisis can cause pro-sovereignty sentiments to spike,
  2. People are fearful of their economic future and are reluctant to risk that future, and
  3. Immigrant sentiments are key to any referendum outcomes.

Since 1995,

  1. we have seen the Parti Québécois (PQ) try to poke at things here and there to provoke a constitutional crisis (without success… precisely because successive Federal governments have not been willing to poke back after the lessons learned in the early 1990s),
  2. we have seen the PQ try to persuade Québec’s population that a sovereign Québec would be economically more viable as an independent state (hence why the billionaire businessman Pierre Karl Péladeau was chosen as the PQ’s latest leader), and
  3. we have seen the PQ try funny things on the immigration and integration front (hence why we see schizophrenic and finicky actions such as trying to woo immigrants, spend money on immigrants, blame immigrants, and fence-in immigrant issues with mechanisms such as the Charte des valeurs).

Despite all these efforts on the part of the PQ (and the Bloc Québécois, Québec Solidaire and Option Québec), support for sovereignty has rarely left the 32% to 39% spectrum.  There are many factors why this may be the case.  Yes, economic stability for an aging population may be a reason.  Youth who view politics in a more global rather than local sense may be another.

But I also tend to think that another factor is that people have become desensitized to the emotional impact of events of the 1970s, 80, and 90s.  In addition, overall good governance of Canada (relatively speaking when viewed in a global or Western context) as well as massive social changes in Canada since 1995 (not related to Constitutional affairs, but rather to individual sentiments) have played just as much, if not more of a role in a decrease of support for sovereignty.

This is not to say that support for sovereignty in Québec may not once again find its foothold.  I am watching with great interest what will come of the latest chapter involving the PQ’s new leader, Pierre Karl Péladeau.   Is he the ideology’s new magic ticket?  Or will he turn out to be the one carrying the shovel which will bury the issue even deeper into the ground? (perhaps once and for all).

But back to the national front

When all is said and done, the last 20 years have proven that we do not need constant constitutional amendments as a prerequisite for constant societal evolution in Canada.  That’s not to say the matter will be closed indefinitely.  It’s just to say that so far the past 25 years have demonstrsted that reopening the constitution is not of prime importance for the country to continue to evolve in the right direction.

When interpreting the constitution, the courts have shown that they are apt to interpret it in new, modern, and dynamic ways… turning a static document into a living one.    And for the most part, our societal evolution since 1995 (both for Francophone and Anglophone societies) have moved along in the same direction; not in opposite directions.   They are becoming more and more similar as time moves forward.   

In a twist of irony, despite there having been no constitutional amendments since its repatriation, Francophone and Anglophone societies in Canada have become more and more similar in the past 20 years than during any other time in our shared history.  (That may ultimately be the real killer of the sovereignty movement).

I’m of the belief that this has diminished the risks of a constitutional crisis.   That is not to say that some day there may not be another one.  But if the Federal government keeps its nose clean, and if the PQ’s attempts to provoke a constitution crisis can be tactfully brushed off, then things should go well and society should continue to positively evolve (socially, culturally, and socio-linguistically).

That does not mean that Anglophone Canada should cease being proactive.   On the contrary, evidence to date shows that many aspects of Anglophone society continue to be proactive (the subject of numerous past posts).  But people on both sides of the linguistic divide need to remain empathetic to each other, and share in each other’s culture to enrich our overall Canadian experience and nationhood.  After all, we continue to evolve as a country.

It is this type of societal conditioning for which I advocate.

I am not a fan of the type of conditioning from certain aspects of Québec’s ultra-nationalist factions.  There are segments of Québec’s the political, media, and education world which continue to erect walls between Québec and the rest of Canada.  This in turn prevents cross-linguistic empathy and learning.   But these segments are becoming more isolated with time.

Likewise, I am not a fan of the conditioning from certain aspects of Anglophone Canada which are ignorant to many issues pertaining to Francophone Canada, not only in Québec, but also coast to coast.   We often see such ignorance on issues in certain aspects of Anglophone Canada’s own political class, media and education systems.  Again, I believe that these segments too will become more isolated with time.

That, in a nutshell, sums up Canada’s recent history with respect to the Two Solitudes.  And it lays the foundation for aspects of Canada’s modern socio-linguistic conditioning with respect to why the Two Solitudes have been maintained during the past 45 years (at least from my point of view).

The next post will put into context the last few posts, and open the way for us to look at little things which reinfoce conditioning of the Two Solitudes; on a more localized, daily basis.

It makes for an interesting discussion.   See you soon!


SERIES:  HOW THE PRESENTATION OF EVENTS IN MODERN HISTORY WHICH HAVE CONDITIONED US ALL REGARDING HOW WE VIEW OUR PLACE IN CANADA (13 POSTS)

Conditioning: What happened after the Estates General? (#281)

In the last post, I discussed the circumstances surrounding the failure and collapse of the Estates-General of French Canada.  Despite its failure, there were still many people across Canada (both Anglophones and Francophones) who believed that progress could be made in the absence of the weight and momentum which would have come from the Estates-General — despite the betrayal and non-participation of Québec’s delegates.

A quick reminder that I am presenting events from the point of view of how Canada’s Francophones outside Québec tend to often view Canada’s recent history.  It is a version which places extra weight on the failure of the the “Estates-General of French Canada” (Les États généraux du Canada français” as being one of the root causes for other constitutional events snowballing over the past 40 years.  It’s a very poignant and powerful version of our recent history, and thus I believe it is beneficial to also view things from this vantage point.

Trudeau’s first attempt at a solution:

The Bi-Bi Commission made four major recommendations to the Federal government (in addition to other recommendations which touched upon various levels of jurisdiction).  There were nuances to each of the recommendations, but notwithstanding the nuances, the four major recommendations were:

  • The creation of bilingual districts in certain areas of Canada,
  • The creation of Francophone education rights in areas of Canada where there were needed,
  • That French and English become official languages of Canada,
  • That Ottawa be declared bilingual.

Prior to the collapse of the Estates-General, there were perceived signs of a softening by several provinces towards increasing Francophone and bilingual services.  However, in the wake of the collapse of the Estates-General and the pressure it would have brought to the table, Anglophone provincial governments were no longer so inclined to act of their own (in a sense, they too were “flipped the same bird” that Francophones outside Québec were “flipped” – so hey, what do you expect).

In the early 1970’s, the task was mostly left to the Federal government to take action alone, but their jurisdiction only reached so far (compared to the Federal government, the provinces held jurisdiction over many more matters which touched the daily lives of its citizens and Francophones across Canada).

The new Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, did what he could within his power, but he could only deal with what was within the Federal government’s jurisdiction.   He introduced greater bilingualism within the Federal government, and sought to protect Francophone rights across Canada at a Federal level.

However, with Trudeau having seen what happened with the collapse of the Estates-General, I would not be surprised if he felt as betrayed and as bitter as everyone else across Canada who expected a successful outcome of the Estates-General.   As Prime Minister, Trudeau was now facing difficult choices.

The Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism (the Bi-Bi Commission) was initially advocating for a bi-cultural country… one in which new immigrants would integrate into Canada’s two linguistic cultures (in some people’s minds, had the Estates-General succeeded, pressure from the outcome of the Bi-Bi Commission could have led to spin-off changes as dramatic as immigrants in places like Saskatchewan having to take English and French lessons, and even being compelled to pass French and English exams to obtain permanent residency or citizenship).

Eventually, it was possible that new segments of Anglophones also would have had to have adjusted to a new bilingual and bi-cultural reality (over a break-in period of a couple of decades or course).  One area being discussed was perhaps having to achieve a certain level of French prior to gaining a university diploma, or to be granted certain professional licenses.  Anglophone companies may have been required to have a core number of bilingual employees in order to secure federal incorporation status (Federal incorporation is necessary for any incorporated business which wishes to operate beyond their home province).   All of this would have made Canada a very different country than it is today.   To a major extent, it would have involved provincial governments in a whole new way.

Some of the above views may have been overly optimistic.  But had the Estates-General succeeded, there could have been a concerted, long-term movement in this direction all across Canada.

However, considering that Québec drew a line in the sand out of self-interest, I personally believe it led Pierre Trudeau to become fearful that accentuating that line, possibly by adopting an official policy of bi-culturalism, could increase the possibility for future betrayals – perhaps the kind which could tear the country apart in one fell swoop.

Thus, Trudeau did introduce a culturalism policy… but it was not bi-culturalism.   It was multiculturalism.   One of the people involved in the Bi-Bi Commission, Jaroslav Bohdan Rudnyckyj (of Ukrainian Cultural descent) advocated for multiculturalism.  But I’m inclined to think that perhaps in Trudeau’s mind, multiculturalism served as much a tool to ensure that no single linguistic or cultural group could ever “highjack” the country again, as it did as a nation-building tool for accommodations in a country becoming increasingly diverse.

And the 1970’s roared on:

In the meantime, nationalism in Québec soared during the 1970s.   It was actually quite ironic.   On one hand, war-cries were heard coming from Québec that sovereignty was necessary because Canada was not changing.  But on the other hand, much of what could have changed in Canada was killed by Québec’s own delegates during the Estates-General.  What could have been the most likely engine for change across Canada over the coming 3 to 4 decades was blasted to smithereens by the actions of Québec’s delegates.

As a side note:  Having grown up to a great extent in French in Alberta, I can attest to the fact that to this very day, there are Francophones outside of Québec and across Canada who remain bitter over what they perceive as having been betrayed and stabbed in the back by Québec’s delegates in 1967.   Thus it should come as no surprise that the reasons invoked to support the sovereignty movement in Québec are viewed as pure hypocrisy on the part of many Francophones outside Québec.

The 1970’s nationalist movement in Québec served to build arbitrary mental walls around Québec’s borders.   It created a “them and us” attitude at a time when grassroot movements outside Québec were trying to break beyond that notion.

This wall building exercise would have a conditioning effect on Québec’s people which continues to be felt today.

Trudeau’s job became more and more difficult.  I do not know if he made right or wrong decisions.  I do have thoughts regarding some of his decisions, but I have a difficult time concluding if my opinions are correct or not in light of the situations of the day (Should have Trudeau he chosen a different direction?  Did he go too far with some of his decisions?  Did he not go far enough on the socio-linguist front?  I truly do not know…).

But I am pretty sure Trudeau was between a rock and a hard place.  Either way, any decision he made would have left someone upset or disappointed (sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other).

Despite any errors he made, and despite if I or any others do or do not agree with his actions and decisions, he likely was acting in good faith considering the disappointing and “hand-tying” actions which came out of the Estates-General.   Had the Estates-General advocated as one strong voice for change from sea-to-sea, Trudeau’s job could have been much easier.  With the federal government in his pocket and the support of the Estates-General, it would have given him the ammunition and moral justification needed to go to all of the provinces to say “Fix this! Because I stand behind our people, coast-to-coast”.  But that opportunity was taken away from him in 1967, and from all others across Canada who wanted to fix Canada’s linguistic inequalities in the 1970s.

Instead, Trudeau was left fighting a referendum in 1980, during which ultra-nationalists were asking Québécois to leave Canada because Canada was not changing (do you too see the irony?).

The story does not stop here.  Numerous other events occurred after the 1980 referendum which provide background to today’s societal conditioning.


SERIES:  HOW THE PRESENTATION OF EVENTS IN MODERN HISTORY WHICH HAVE CONDITIONED US ALL REGARDING HOW WE VIEW OUR PLACE IN CANADA (13 POSTS)

Conditioning: Modern Canada’s “First” Night of the Long Knives – a trigger for the all the rest (#280)

In the last post, I introduced you to the Estates General of French Canada and its end goal.

For the rest of this post to make sense, I highly recommend you read the last post before continuing.  You can read it by clicking here:  The goal of the “Estates General of French Canada” (#279)

Keep in mind that I am presenting events from an angle of history which is not necessarily taught in Québec or in Anglophone Canada.   Rather, it is from the point of view of how Canada’s Francophones outside Québec tend to often view Canada’s recent history.

Francophones from all across Canada were attending the Estates General with the goal of correcting linguistic and cultural inequalities which had lasted for generations.  There was more than a good chance that it could / would lead to massive constitutional changes, a much more “egalitarian” Canada on the linguistic front, and major shift towards a broader “francisation” of Canada (much more than what exists in Canada today).

But what happened at the assize (round) of the Estates General in 1967 was unexepected, and completely different than what was planned.

The bombshell: The “FIRST Night of the Long Knives”

What occurred came to the shock (and horror) of Francophone delegates from Ontario, the Western Provinces, and the Atlantic provinces, as well as to the shock of Anglophones who were preparing to do their best to accommodate soon-to-be Francophone demands for inclusiveness across the country.

When it came time to introduce resolutions, without any warning the majority seat holders from Québec suddenly introduced and passed impromptu resolutions — none of which involved any prior consultation, examination, thought or the benefit of having their true implications examined.   These resolutions were never discussed or planned during the earlier 1966 Estates-General (which was when all of the general motions were to have been disclosed to all delegates from across Canada).

Lead by the very nationalistic personality Jacques-Yves Morin (who would soon become one of the pillars of the 1970s and 1980s sovereignist movement),  Québec’s delegates moved that:

  • French Canadians constitute a “nation”
  • That “Québec” is the “national territory” for the French Canadian nation
  • That this new French Canadian nation (ie: Québec) is free to choose its future, regardless of what form it would take.

In the eyes of all other Francophone delegates from outside Québec, they had been stabbed in the back.

If one was Francophone, but had only ever had ties to their respective regions of Canada (such as Alberta, for example), pursuant to these surprise resolutions, they as a people were worth nothing in the eyes of their cousins in Québec.  The anger and bitterness towards Québec on the part of Francophones elsewhere in Canada was unprecedented.

In 1967, Francophone delegates left the Estates-General and returned to their respective regions of Canada.   They left as a fractured people with Delegates from outside Québec feeling bitter and betrayed.  They never again met as one people under the same roof.   For the first time in Canadian history, the Francophone family was broken and parcelled..

It is worth noting that in 1967, Canada’s Francophone population outside Québec was proportionally larger than it is now.  Perhaps 20-30% of Canada’s Francophones resided outside of Québec at that time.

Two years later, In 1969, two major events occurred:

First event: 

The last of the assizes of the Estates-General of French Canada took place in Québec. But the Francophone delegates from the Western provinces, Ontario and the Atlantic provinces boycotted it.

Simply put, they did so out of a feeling of having been betrayed by Québec’s delegates in 1967.   When Francophones outside of Québec attended the 1967 assize, by way of agreements reached in 1965, they believed they were at the cusp of finally having the political and population clout behind them to change the status of French and Francophone society in Canada once and for all.   This was shattered by what they viewed as self-serving and selfish actions on the part of Québec delegates during the 1967 assize two years earlier.

Second event:  

The Bi-Bi Commission’s final report came out at a time when, had the Estates-General not collapsed, it would have likely had enough wind in its sails to not only have been fully implemented at a federal level, but quite likely at various provincial levels as well (for matters of provincial jurisdiction).

However, the walls Québec erected around itself left Anglophones sympathizers in government and across Canada, as well as a newly fragmented Francophone population in other provinces all alone to try to pick of the pieces of the Estates-General fiasco.  Those left behind could only manage to get by the best they could with recommendations of the Bi-Bi Commission’s final report.

The Estates-General of French Canada spelled the end of the traditional meaning of “French Canadians”, as one united people.  Québec began to erect walls, disassociate itself from the rest of Canada on many fronts, and to disassociated itself from the immediate efforts to fix many of Francophone Canada’s inequalities.

My personal take on it:  It was awful, a fiasco, and catastrophic.  I personally have never used the word, but I know other Francophones outside Québec who say it was “treason” (that’s how high emotions ran following the actions of Québec’s delegates).  Even today, when I go back to Alberta and Saskatchewan (which I do fairly regularly), this remains a very sensitive topic (It still floors me that Québec’s education system refuses to teach this equally valid angle of history).

It is for this reason that I call the Estates-General the First Night of the Long Knives.

Francophones outside of Québec felt they were stabbed in the back by their own people.  Anglophones and those in government who were working in good faith to help Canada’s Francophone cause also felt betrayed, and we – as a country – are still feeling the consequences today.

Francophones outside Québec were left on their own to try to invoke change with their respective provincial and local governments.  It was this event which gave birth to the notion of Franco-Columbians, Franco-Albertans, Fransaskois, Franco-Manitobans, Franco-Ontarians, and modern Acadians.  Consequently, much of what they have achieved since 1967 (either as individual societies, or as a combined force) has largely been of their own efforts without the direct backing from Québec.

Had Québec’s delegates not done what they did during the Estate-General, and had the Estates-General succeeded, I believe it is quite likely that Canada today would be a very different country.   The recommendations from the Bi-Bi Commission would have likely been implemented to a much greater extent, and much quicker… leaving a clear path for much deeper changes across the country.  I believe Canada today would be much more bilingual, much more bi-cultural, and our muticultural fabric today would revolve around a bi-cultural nature — much more than it does now.

A newly created notion of hermetic walls around Québec had been formed, and a new type of societal and institutional conditioning was about to begin… that of “institutionalized Québécois nationalism”.

The next post will look at how history moved forward in the wake of the failure of the Estates-General, bringing us to the end of the first referendum in 1980.


SERIES:  HOW THE PRESENTATION OF EVENTS IN MODERN HISTORY WHICH HAVE CONDITIONED US ALL REGARDING HOW WE VIEW OUR PLACE IN CANADA (13 POSTS)