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This is the last in our three part Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois and Lise Payette activist mini blog series.
The last two posts touched on some complex and controversial subjects. However, these topics have played a role in forming Québec’s culture and phyche. It’s difficult to attempt to answer “What is Québec’s culture?” without delving into these types of issues. Because they are complex, and because the nuances can only be picked up through knowing French, it contributes to why certain aspects of Québec are poorly understood by Anglophone Canada (just as Anglophone Canada’s culture is often poorly understand by aspects of Québec’s society).
Let’s now bring together Nadeau-Dubois and Payette, and look at the one-on-one conversation they shared over a meal on the radio program « L’Autre midi à la table d’à côté ». Again, like the two other posts I did using « L’Autre midi à la table d’à côté » as a series summary, I am providing you with a link to the recorded program, and I will only give you a written summary of their conversation.
If you are learning French, I really want to encourage you to continue do your best to continuing to improve your language skills. For Anglophone Canadians, it truly will open a whole world for you – one which is your own country after all. It’s perhaps one of the finer gifts you can give yourself, and it will give you a sense of belonging, wherever you are in Canada (and it will tear down that sense that there is “you over here”, and “them over there”).
Even if your French is not at a very high level, give the audio recording your very best try. Here is the link: http://ici.radio-canada.ca/emissions/lautre_midi_a_la_table_da_cote/2014-2015/.
Click on “audio fil” half way down the page. An audio feed window will then open. If there are parts you cannot understand, you can rewind and listen again until you do get it. Use my summary notes below as a crutch to help you work through it. I’m super proud when I see Anglophone Canadians trying their best to improve their French – something which I regularly see. The fact you’re just reading this and are simply interested in tearing down your country’s Two Solitudes, by way of arming yourself with a sense of understanding and awareness is more than reason enough for you to be proud too.
The summary below will be a little bit different than the wrap-up summaries in prior related posts. Nadeau-Dubois says certain things regarding sovereignty which I do not agree with and which I feel quite strongly about. There will be parts of the summary below where I am going to annotate with my own thoughts on why I do not agree with him. A soft sovereignist friend suggested I perhaps could be a bit more “forceful” in my own convictions on sovereignty vs. unity (he’s a pretty open guy, and I’m a pretty open guy too – and making one stances known isn’t a bad thing when speaking with other open-minded people about the topic). I’ve always been a bit hesitant to being too “direct”, simply because I don’t want it to tint the main purpose of the blog, which is simply to bridge the Two Solitudes (regardless of one’s own politics). But I guess I’ve written a number of other posts in a way that its kind of obvious where I stand on the unity front. So, OK… For this post, why not just say my stand on the whole issue? Here we go…
Summary of the recording:
- Payette: She says her mother raised her in the Montréal borough of St-Henrie. Unlike most other mothers in the 1930s, she only had 2 children instead of 6 to 8. Payette feels this was a good thing because it helped the family fight off the poverty others in their neighbourhood were struggling with (in that era, poverty was a daily fight for so many families).
- Nadeau-Dubois: his parents were both militants, his father was a syndicaliste (union leader), Left wing, and both parents were independentistes (sovereignists).
- Nadeau-Dubois: He first attended May Day celebrations (for world labour solidarity) when he was just 5 or 6 years old. It was the first time he saw a group of 100 people wearing cagoules (balaclavas) while beating drums. His father explained to him that the people were anarchists. This made a big impression on him, and he finds it interesting that 15 years later he was marching with the same type of people.
- Payette : She said her grand-mother brought her into politics. Her family wasn’t religious when she was young, which was strange for the era. This gave her a political freedom people which other families didn’t have.
- Payette : Her first job in radio allowed her to meet numerous personalities. One such person who she met happened to regularly perform in front of large crowds on stage. He once told Payette “When I’m on stage in front of crowds, if I wanted to, I could make the crowds run out into the streets, and it could easily get violent.” Payette said this statement left her with a rather deep impression. It was a scary thought for her because it made her aware of the danger which comes with the power of being an influential figure. Payette lightly nudged Nadeau-Dubois to be careful and to remain aware of this. Nadeau-Dubois responded by saying that he understands her counsel. He says he understands it because he did incite people to protest in the streets through the delivery of fiery speeches. However, he realized later that if he had given the same speeches in a different time and place, the situation could have become quite violent.
- Payette said she wants a “recall” law which will allow the electorate to fire a government while they are in their executing their elected mandate. She wants such a measure to be able to be used if the population becomes unhappy with the government. She says this ties into her vision of sovereignty. Her argument is that when people vote today, they too often are voting for a preferred personality rather than on substance. Only after they vote do they find out that they do not like the substance of the politician. She believes this is a way to fix the problem of cynicism towards politics.
- Nadeau-Dubois says one thing that hit him in 2012, during his protests, was that ordinary people were telling him to go home and stop making so much noise and to stop creating disturbances. He was surprised that the people telling him this were not meeting him on an idealogical basis when telling him to go home.
My personal comment related to the above: Take from that what you will… my interpretation of what this signifies is different from his. I believe that if people were not willing to engage him in an ideological debate, it means they did not agree with his ideology, and it should perhaps have been Nadeau-Dubois who should have been more respectful rather that the other way around.
- Nadeau-Dubois says he believes Québécois are not willing to become more militant like him, and are not willing to take up his causes because he feels they have it in their heads that the province’s population is not big enough to take up causes which may cause divisions within society
My personal comment related to the above: I find Nadeau–Dubois’ comment condescending, and bordering on insulting. It’s almost as if the notion or reality could not occur to him that there are people – a majority in fact, based on two referendums and poll-after-poll – who actually care for, and have a vested interest in the health, advancement and strength of Canada (not just a majority in Québec, but elsewhere in Canada too). I mentioned in earlier blog posts that Anglophones can be amazingly cool, and Francophones can be amazingly cool. There are many of us, in Québec and across Canada, who enjoy living together and building something together, as compatriots. The reasons both referendums failed in the past is because there “is” a majority which is concerned with splitting up the country, and who would not feel whole – culturally, as a nation, or as individuals – without one another. This is quite unique on the world stage, and it is very special.
Canada is not dysfunctional or abnormal, as many sovereignists do argue (their words, not mine). Rather, for Federalists, it is sovereignty which can be argued as dysfunctional and abnormal, in the sense that Sovereignists proclaim sovereignty is the right option, whereas the majority does not agree. (On that note, I’m not a big fan of the word “Federalist”… simply because in many people’s mind, it has a legal association related to the signature of the 1982 constitution defining the legal framework of the “Federation”. That’s a whole other kettle of fish, and that’s not what I’m talking about when I say “Federalist” When I use the word “Federalist”, I simply mean someone who is pro-Canadian Unity… and the “legal” stuff can be hashed out in a different context).
Most people across the country (including Québec) do not want to give Canada up or allow others to take it away from them. Most people want to seek and work for the continued evolution of Canada through collaboration. Canada is not what it was 100, 40, or even 15 years ago.
For Federalists, why sovereignty seems like a dysfunctional and abnormal option is because it feels like someone is telling you the brother or sister you have always lived with (even when there was tension in an earlier era) is someone you should try to not like, and you should turn your back on them and learn to dislike them because there are differences in personalities. Most people, when faced by that type of discourse, would simply tell that person to kiss off! Family is family.
When I’m told that Québec’s relationship with Canada should be severed so Québec can normalize its economics and policy decisions, that argument also doesn’t hold weight with me. What is normal? If a majority of the population accepts it, or wishes for its continued evolution, improvement, and reform within Canada, then it already “is” normal. Getting into specific economic or policy arguments, frankly speaking, is just a waste of time for both Federalists and Sovereignists. Why? Because anyone can twist numbers or policies in their favour (A Federalist can make it sound like 4+4 = 9, and so can a Sovereignist). So what boils down to is what do you harbour as feelings, emotions, and sentiments. You either feel attached to Canada, or you do not. If you do not, fine – that’s OK, and Federalists should respect that. But if there are people who are attached to Canada, then as a Sovereignist – you too should respect that, live with it, and also move on… just as you would want, and ask for Federalists to respect Sovereignist’s sentiments, especially if Sovereignists were the majority – am I not right? It should not be a one-way street when I hear that Federalists should respect Sovereignist sentiments right now, then thus move on if they lose a referendum, but that Sovereignists should not accept Federalist sentiments right now, nor simply move on if they lose a referendum (and continue to lose a majority of the public’s support and sentiment). How does that make sense?? Think about it. The old adage is “if you can’t beat them, join them” (at least that’s what Sovereignists often tell Federalists they should do if a majority wants and votes for Sovereignty). But if the reality is the other way around (as it is right now), why does that not hold true in the opposite sense? Actually… I don’t advocate that Sovereignist should drop their convictions and “join” Federalists. I think both sides should respect each other’s sentiments. But I do advocate “acceptance”, which means accepting and “moving on” if public opinion is not on your side (regardless if you’re Federalist or Sovereignist – and at this moment, and quite possibly for a long long time – if not indefinately- public sentiment is towards a united Canada, both in Québec and in every other province).
But hey, Gabriel Nadeau–Dubois is entitled to his opinion. His exposure and experiences in the Canadian context are very different than mine and many others (which is why most people in Québec seemingly did not, nor do not agree with a good deal of his actions). But I figure that’s ok – everyone can lead their life how they want. It’s a free country. I suppose for Federalists like myself, the idea of respecting and having strong sentiments and emotions “for” Québec, its people and other people across Canada goes hand-in-hand with what we represent as a country. These values are not out of sync with some of Québec’s most profound values. It’s about caring for people, sharing our wealth, our accomplishments, creating something we can be proud of, encouraging others to pursue a better life, and to give society the tools and opportunities so people can also help themselves make life a little better. We share those values, in Québec, and across the country – and people are given the opportunity to live anywhere they want in this country in pursuit of those goals. End of my commentary.
- Nadeau-Dubois says he is always having to consult his entourage to help him make decisions. Payette says that’s a healthy thing, and doing the same thing has always been important for her too.
- Nadeau-Dubois says he didn’t know what to do when he was awarded the Governor General’s award. Payette said if it was her, her initial reaction would have been to reject it. Payette said she was very surprised to see what happened when Dubois accepted it. She was surprised he donated the money to another cause of his liking, one linked to Québec independence. Both he and Payette agreed that receiving the Governor General’s award money wasn’t such a bad thing after all, and served their cause well (commentary supplement: through garnishing media attention in the form of a media event, as well as providing money to a cause of their approval. As I stated two posts ago, after receiving the money, Nadeau-Dubois was given a platform on “Tout le monde en parle”, where Nadeau-Dubois began a telethon of sorts to increase the dollar value of the fund).
- Both said that they felt it was too bad that people frown upon those who disagree with others (Commentary: I can only guess they’re talking about mud-slinging politics. To Nadeau-Dubois’ credit, I’ve listened to him criticize ideas and other people’s actions from A to Z, sometimes quite forcefully – but, with the exception of some of the most heated moments of the 2012 protests, he generally does not launch “personal”.. so on this point, I agree with him).
- Nadeau-Dubois says he feels the Quiet Revolution should continue because he feels societal inequalities were dealt with during the Quiet Revolution. Payette responds that it should start with a connection between the old guard (her generation) and younger generations. After forging such connections, she believes the torch should then be left to the younger generations to re-take up the causes of the Quiet Revolution and morph into into a new movement.
- (Commentary: this next paragraph is an interesting point of disagreement between Nadeau-Dubois and Payette): Nadeau-Dubois asks Payette what she thinks of Pierre Karle Péladeau and the likelihood of him becoming the leader of the Parti Québécois. Payette responded she believes PKP can incite Québec’s business spheres to take up the sovereignist cause (which, for the most part, they never have before). She said, because PKP knows Québec’s business community very well, it would be interesting to see if he can convince the business world not to choose sovereignty because of the Parti Québécois, but rather to simply vote yes in one referendum, and then vote for whatever party they want (left, right, centre) after a referendum succeeds. She feels PKP would also be a good negotiator against the might of Ottawa should a referendum succeed. She doesn’t know if having PKP as the head of the Parti Québecois will bring about these results, but she said it would be interesting to find out. Nadeau-Dubois rebutts what Payette (Comment : For Anglophone readers who do not speak French or who do not follow the sovereignty debate in Québec, you may find the following insightful because it will allow you to see that there can be quite different views within the sovereignty movement itself). Nadeau-Dubois said he’s very worried by the idea of PKP becoming the Parti Québécois leader because of his refusal to resolve his apparent conflict of interest. PKP should not be allowed to be both the owner of the Québecor media empire and a politician at the same time. He said he believes politics are not like business – that politics call for a different kind of compromise and self-restraint. He said PKP’s background as someone who goes on the offensive until he achieves what he gets will cause more problems than what it will solve. He believes PKP was too anti-worker, too anti-unions, and too far to the right in his business relations.
- Payette retorts that if there will be another referendum, regardless of which way it will go, it will be the last one (Nadeau-Dubois agreed), and thus, regardless of how PKP may have managed his businesses, if he can get results in a referendum, everyone should stand behind him. Payette says she believes PKP would rapidly introduction a referendum, and everyone in the Parti Québécois should set aside their differences to make it a reality.
- Nadeau-Dubois said, as a person, he’s calm on the outside by nature, but that’s a good thing because it naturally tempers strong emotions he harbours on the inside.
- Nadeau-Dubois said one of the motivating factors for his social & political engagement was having seen a new-immigrant child living in poverty. He said his life-engagements have since been as an anti-poverty activist.
This 3-post mini blog series, for me personally, was one of the more interesting ones I wrote. As you saw, I through both hands into the dough in a political sense, and in this post I opened up about some of my own convictions on the unity vs. sovereignty front – more than I have in other posts. Like I said earlier, one friend in Québec (someone who is a “Soft” Sovereignist)
gave me a hard kick in the butt for hesitating to be a bit more direct on my own thoughts on sovereignty encouraged me not long ago to not be afraid to be more upfront, in my blog from time-to-time, with respect to my own convictions. He’s of the same mindset as me that if you’re open about your thoughts, and those listening are also open people – dialogue can still be a great thing for mutual understanding and respect (even if views don’t change — but, hey, sometimes they do too). So with my commentaries above, there you now have how I view the sovereignty debate.
But I’m not going to keeping focusing on this particular political matter… Rather, the posts will continue to be based on what I think will be of interest to bridging the Two Solitudes (with the odd political-related post inserted here-and-there 😉 ).
I hope you found these last three posts insightful. 🙂
I mentioned above that it will be interesting to see where Nadeau-Dubois pops up next. Well, he just appeared… and you’re not going to guess where. Read the post GND Does it Again.
MINI “EAVESDROPPING” SERIES
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois – An “eavesdropping” short series: Nadeau-Dubois / Payette – Post 1 of 3 (#153)
In this post, you’re going to get quite a dose of Quebec-Reality-Politics 101 (perhaps unlike little else out there – at least not in Anglophone Canada). Basically I’ll give you a summary of what has been playing out in Québec politics from March 2012 to January 2015. Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois has been one of the players on this front, and his actions have had ripple effects (actually more like waves) which have shaped public opinion, and thus the politics of the Québec since March 2012 – playing a part in Québec having three different Premiers during that period.
For a couple of months, I have been asking myself what might be the best format with which to introduce you to Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois. He’s an activist. He is someone who every person in Québec knows. And he’s one of Québec’s most attention-getting personalities. He is also a very divisive figure, which is why I’ve been somewhat torn on how to present him. But I think presenting him to you in the context of the “eavesdropping” conversation program “L’Autre midi à la table d’à côté” provides the perfect opportunity. Therefore I’ll keep this post in the same format as the last few posts which also were tied into “L’Autre midi à la table d’à côté”.
First, he’s young… very young – born in 1990. I have never seen someone so young in Canada forge their way onto the public stage in the way Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois has. Just to wet your appetite for the following “long” post – I will tell you now that I believe Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois was in part responsible for the fall of the Jean Charest government in September, 2012, was one of the reasons Pauline Marois’ Parti Québécois government managed to gain power in 2012, but was also one of the reasons she was not able to achieve a majority government. I also believe he was one of the main figures responsible for creating an ideological division within the Québec public, which resulted in the Parti Québecois losing power in 2014 and which lead to an overwhelming majority and astounding come-back for the Québec Liberals under Philippe Couillard 2014. In the the lastest round, if the TransCanada pipeline fails to go through for political reasons (which is unlikely at this stage, it is almost certain to go through unless there are unforeseen economic or environmental issues), it could be in part because of Nadeau-Dubois’ activism.
Have I got your attention and is your curiosity peaked? If you’re Anglophone living in a province other than Québec, but have never heard of Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, thank Canada’s Anglophone media for keeping the Two Solitudes alive and well by failing to report on some of the most prominent and ideologically powerful people in our country if they’re Francophone. All I can do is shake my head, sigh, and try to do my part in tearing down the Two Solitudes by bringing awareness to key figures, events, and issues. But then again, most Francophones, until recently, had no idea who David Suzuki was – so the door swings both ways.
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois: I guarantee you will have never heard of anybody else like him in his generation.
He’s a social activist, on the far left-end of the social activism scale (he’s even considered quite far left by many other left-wing elements in Québec – which should give you an idea just how “left” he is).
He has several major activism milestones behind him on a variety of matters. It’s difficult to peg him in any one single sphere of activism: be it absolute universal government social services advocacy, environmental activism, sovereignty activism, anti-poverty activism, or other. I think he’s simply the sum of his activist “career”. Yet, he has achieved more, in terms of garnering public notoriety (stemming from the fall-out from some of his better known actions), than what most people have achieved in their lifetime. I don’t think he’ll change the world, but boy, Québec’s eye have been focused squarely on him a good number of times – making everyone wonder what he is going to do next.
Perhaps the best way to describe him is through a chronology of events.
Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois was born into a militant union-leader and environmentalist family. He even attended protests as a child in which protestors wore balaclavas.
As a teenager, he was a volunteer anti-poverty activist.
As a student, he became more and more disgruntled with how the world works (I don’t know if he is a pure Marxist-Leninist, but his activities and speeches have pushed the envelope in that direction. It’s tough to say if it’s grandstanding in that sense for the purpose of adding pressure to his causes, or if he does actually desire a true communist state).
The March 2012 to September 2012 Student Protests & General Student Strike:
While Nadeau-Dubois was attending University in Montréal in 2012, the then Premier of Québec, Jean Charest wanted to increase university tuition by 1/3. To Anglophones outside of Québec, I will let you know that there is a difference between how Québec has traditionally viewed the issue of tuition fees versus the rest of the country. Québec too had seen rapid increases in tuition in the last 15 years, but it was not deemed acceptable by a significant part of Québec’s population (perhaps a majority of the population was prepared to accept tuition hikes to some extent, but there were certainly significant portions of the population which were not). In Québec, tuition was a sacred-cow for many people, much like universal healthcare is outside of Canada. Students especially were not prepared to pay more for education. By 2012, post-secondary education was still cheaper in Québec that other provinces (around $2500 a year, give or take, for certain university programs). Thus, most families had not saved money for their children’s education, people had never positioned themselves to qualify for tuition loans, students never took summer jobs (or part-time jobs) because they didn’t expect to have to pay much for their studies, and there was a just a general mentality that cheap education would simply always be there.
In the run-up to the 2012 election, people in economic and political circles were becoming antsy about Québec’s finances, with at least one credit-rating house threatening to degrade Québec’s debt rating. The world recession and a climbing Canadian dollar also took a huge toll on public finances and manufacturing sectors. The Charest government, although not willing to go on an austerity slashing binge, was looking for areas where they felt they could reasonably make fiscal adjustments. Education tuition was one of those areas. What they didn’t expect was that students would essentially go on “strike” against tuition hikes. (At the time, the word “strike” was quite controversial, because it legally was not a strike; it was more of a school “boycott”).
Student organizations banded together, and organized themselves into three separate bodies – each representing different aspects of the student corps. Two of these bodies took the form of student unions against tuition hikes, and the third body took a much more militant form, basically advocating the fall of the Charest government for interfering in what they believed should be an inalienable right to near-free post-secondary education. These three groups worked together to organize mass student protests (the more militant group of the three advocated for a more militant form of protest).
The leaders of all three groups were students themselves. All three have since become extremely well-known in Québec, and they occupied the daily headlines of Québec’s news for months (and they continue to make the news in their latest roles in society).
The first two student union groups La FEUQ and la FECQ were headed by Martine Desjardins (who would later be a defeated candidate for the Parti Québécois, and who today is a very famous columnist in Québec), and Léo Bureau-Drouin (who later became an elected member of the Parti Québécois, but who was later defeated in the 2014 election). The third, more militant student “group” (not a permanent student union) was the CLASSE, specifically formed to counter tuition hikes, as well as to promote universal access to education and counter the economics of globalization in education. This latter, more militant group, was headed by Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois.
All three leaders were also supporters for Québec sovereignty.
The leaders of these three groups organized a mass walk-out of students, across Québec, in March of 2012, basically shutting down the entire post-secondary education system for months, and for the remainder of the academic year. Many professors also walked out in support of the activities of these groups, or for lack of having sufficient students to teach. Between March and May, 2013, nearly 200,000 students were on strike, and tens of thousands of people protested in the streets, almost daily. A sign of solidarity became small red squares of fabric pinned to people’s clothes. The term les carrés rouges (the red squares) has since entered Québec’s daily vocabulary. It has come to mean people who are prepared to take militant action to support a leftist viewpoint (you’ll still hear this term quite often – with individuals being referred to as a carré rouge).
More left-wing elements of the protests, often aroused or inspired by the boldness of the CLASSE leader, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, became violent during protests; property was damaged and people were injured. Because of the sheer number of people in the streets, a mob mentality often set in, and peaceful demonstrations quickly got out of hand.
Although Desjardins and Bureau-Drouin condemned and discouraged disorderly or illegal conduct of any nature, Nadeau-Dubois would not, and elements of the protests were seemingly emboldened by Nadeau-Dubois’ refusal to condemn violent actions. His justification was that the government was at fault for any illegal activities in the streets because they provoked the students.
Enough was enough for the provincial Liberal government. After three months of people and police getting hurt and property getting damaged, the government passed legislation stating that all public protests must first be registered with the police, the routes must be clearly defined in advance, and that it was illegal to wear any masks during protests (I, myself, was in Montréal for business shortly after this law was enacted – and I saw firsthand that this had the effect of allowing the police to line the streets of anticipated routes in advance, so as to prevent the situation from getting out of control). Any unregistered protests would be deemed illegal and protestors could be arrested or fined. Illegal protests did persist, and Nadeau-Dubois was considered by many as an instigator of them – although he was never formally charged by authorities.
However, everything came to a head when Nadeau-Dubois made public statements inciting protestors to block “dissenting” students from entering universities to pursue their studies. Only a small minority of students were “crossing the picket lines” during the protests, and by law it was illegal for any one person to prevent another person from having access to an education (remember, legally this was never a “strike”, but rather a boycott, thus it was illegal to prevent students from entering schools since the legal concept of line-crossing did not exist). But when one student was actually blocked from entering a university, he made a legal complaint against Nadeau-Dubois, resulting Nadeau-Dubois being initially found guilty of contempt of court. (Update 22 Jan 2015 – He appealed his conviction and was found not guilty on 22 Jan 2015).
By June, 2012, after months of intense protests and government paralysis (the government had to devote all their energies to managing the situation), everyone was exhausted. Parts of the city of Montréal had been paralyzed for three months and its citizens were exhausted. The government was tired, the opposition parties were tired, the police were tired, the students were exhausted, and even Nadeau-Dubois (arguably the most famous face of the whole movement) admitted he too was exhausted. Most “major” protests started dying by June. Protests and the strike, however, did continue into September, 2012, when the government went into an election.
The late 2012 election: The Liberals voted out, and the Parti Québécois voted in with a minority government:
The Jean Charest Liberals lost the fall 2012 election. A new PQ government, lead by Pauline Marois, pledged to freeze tuition fees and the student strike ended.
After the protests, Nadeau-Dubois returned to his studies to pursue his master’s degree. However, his actions, I believe greatly split the ideological Left in Québec, as well as public opinion in general. I think this had several direct spin-off effects, which we’re still feeling today, and which will likely continue to be felt in Québec for years to come.
The largely Left-oriented protests turned a large part of the population of Québec away from certain Left-wing stances (a major shift in Québec politics) – perhaps even making much of the population hostile to far-Leftist politics (after all, Québec’s largest cities were ransacked and overran because of these protests lasting for months). In other circles, Left-of-Centre elements disassociated themselves from elements even further to the left (before the protests, these two Leftist camps generally accepted each other’s differences and rallied with one voice). This had the effect of splitting the left vote between two separate Leftist parties in the 2012 election : those who supported the Parti Québécois, and those who supported the even further Leftist party, Québec Solidaire. I believe this split of the Left, largely stemming from the turmoil caused by Nadeau-Dubois-incited protests, resulted in the PQ not being able to consolidate the entire Left-wing spectrum, and thus cost them a majority government (relegating them to a minority government).
The Liberals, already considered by the public as a “tired” party after being in power for so many years (and having a simmering financing and tendering scandal bubbling to the surface) saw their election loss sealed by how they were perceived to have lost control of the protests — especially in light of the twists and turns the protests took owing much to Nadeau-Dubois’ protest strategies and incitation. However, despite being considered a “tired” party past its due date (9 years in power), the Liberals ironically did likely garner votes in 2012, which it would have not otherwise garnered, simply because so much of Québec’s population was also very turned off by anything Left-of-Centre as a direct result of the strikes (the start of what I believe was the re-Centering of Québec’s politics – with a majority of the population not quite Right of “Centre-Right”, but yet not accepting of anything any further Left than just a tad “Left-of- Centre”). This also contributed to the PQ (a traditionally Left-of-Centre party) not being able to secure a majority government (and ensured the survival of the provincial Liberal party, rather than a crushing defeat for them, which could have been the case had the protests not occurred at all).
So as you can see, a major political shake up, and mixed bag of events came out of the protests. The political dust most likely would have fallen differently had Nadeau-Dubois not pushed the protests so far. What made the shake-up solidify was that the Party Québécois endorsed the student protests, with Pauline Marois going so far as to take part in the protests herself (herself wearing a carré rouge – red badge). There was even a very unflattering YouTube video shot of the PQ Pauline Marois protesting, awkwardly banging on a casserole (pot). The video was one of the most viral videos in Québec history – and may have permanently linked Marois with the protests in the minds of Québécois – the new power of the internet. You can view how the Liberals at the time capitalized on this video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7ZXyfb0ozE.
In a nutshell, in the year-and-a-half following the protests and the election of a minority PQ government, the PQ pushed a Leftist social and overtly progressive reform policy agenda, likely in a bid to try to reconsolidate the far Left which split off, in large part, as a result of the protests. That was a bit too much for the rest of the population to handle (a very large part of the population was already put off by Leftist measures during the protests, and now they had to contend with the PQ taking them back in that direction). What really doomed the PQ was that they developed additional risky and controversial policies, which on the surface at least, were interpreted as trying to isolate groups who would not otherwise support them, but yet integrate swing-voters who traditionally could have voted PQ – but who were perhaps turned off by the Left-of-Centre PQ stance during the protests (thus switched their votes to the Liberals or CAQ in 2012). Specifically, this group the PQ sought was white Francophone voters who lived in suburbs or small cities. Part of the PQ’s strategy to win back these voters was to try to push through a Charte des valeurs (Québec values charter) which would forbid anybody who receives a government paycheck from wearing anything which would associate them with any religion (no head scarves, no crosses on necklaces, no turbans, nothing religious at all would be allowed if you worked in the medical, education, or civil service professions). More radical elements of the party wanted to take it further and spoke of extending the charter to force immigrants to attend French-language colleges only, of forcing the Federal government to cease offering English services in Québec. Grassroots fringe groups (such as the Jeanettes, supporters of Jeanette Bertrand’s outspokenness for the charter) sprung up – which took matters out of the control of the PQ’s own public relations unit. It was all a bit much to bear for most people in Québec. When Pierre Karl Péladeau joined the PQ in March, 2013 with his famous fist-in-air declaration that he wanted to make Québec a country as soon as yesterday, the public had enough – and the PQ was finished. Marois apparently grossly miscalculated public sentiment (perhaps it was because she was constantly surrounded by huge crowds of cheering supporters anywhere she went, including during the 2014 protests, or campaign trail rallies). This likely gave her and her entourage the false impression that they were adored and that they were safe to call an election only 18 months into their mandate to try to change their status from a minority government to a majority government (the danger in doing this is that parties can no longer rely on polls to give them an accurate reading of public sentiment – as we saw in Alberta, BC, and Ontario in the last couple of years. This is owing to the fact that pollsters no longer have home phone numbers they can call in the age of cell phones and the internet).
The PQ’s overconfidence in calling an election, their pursuit of even more Leftist and progressive policies, the divisive Charte, the PQ government’s lack of desire to cooperate with other provinces for the economic advancement of the province, and the appearance that a PKP-Marois team would push a referendum as quickly as possible all contributed to giving a majority of the population the impression the PQ was a party even more out of touch with public sentiment than the Liberals were, who were voted out only 17 months earlier.
Along came Philippe Couillard, the new Liberal leader. To many, he didn’t seem so bad (he was saying things people could identify with, and he didn’t give the impression he was a part of the “old Liberal guard”, despite having a cabinet portfolio during the Charest years). He seemed to have firm stances on numerous issues (he concentrated on several concrete issues to move the province forward, financially, and socially). As the most Federalist party leader in decades (and now as the most Federalist Premier Québec has perhaps ever seen), he vowed to work hand-in-hand with other provinces and to work with the Federal government to advance Québec’s economic agenda (Couillard has always been very open about his Federalist views and his strong convictions towards a united Canada. In this respect, he has never tip-toed around the issue in the media or with the public). He vowed there would be no more shenanigans, and people grabbed hold of the whole package, almost like a life-line – as an end to the mayhem of the prior couple of years. All this seemed good enough for a majority the population, and they ran with it.
The 2014 election: The Parti Québécois voted out and the Liberal government voted in with a strong majority government.
When Pauline Marois called an election based on a false-read of the tea leaves, she basically unknowingly signed her own resignation letter. PQ policies were perceived to be so far out of touch with the realities of a globalized 2014 which required concentration on economic matters rather than major new, intrusive progressive and Leftist agendas, that the population seemed to jump at the chance to retract their prior ouster of the Liberals 17 months earlier. The Parti Québécois was finished, at least for four to five years. The PQ suffered their biggest defeat in 30 years, and the Liberals were brought back into power with an overwhelming majority, a new leader, a new purpose, and a pledge to clean up the province’s finances. They also pledged to end divisive politics and to work with everyone as best as possible to move agendas forward (incidentally, the Premier’s conference in Charlottetown, PEI last September, was probably the most productive in Canada’s history precisely because of this new Liberal pledge – despite Steven Harper’s absence). Although the Liberals have made serious budget cuts since taking power in September, as of today (January 18, 2015), they’re surprisingly still riding a honeymoon wave with polls showing they continue to be the most popular party with the most popular leader (between 40% – 55% – very rare for any government which makes such deep cuts).
How Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois fits into all of this and his ongoing activism:
I sometimes wonder if the scenario and the results described above would have all turned out differently if Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois had not pushed the 2012 protests so far – which would have not pushed Québec’s population to its breaking limit and tolerance for anything further left than just slightly left-of-centre. That’s why I say I believe his actions played a role in the election of the PQ party, the defeat of the PQ party, and the rise of a Liberal majority. (It’s something poorly understood in many Anglophone media circles, which tend to view Québec politics in Black & White terms of Left or Right / Sovereignist or Federalist. But then again, Québec’s Francophone media also views the politics of other provinces in overly simplistic terms – thus the maintained existence of the Two Solitudes).
Between the time the protests ended until the Couillard Liberals were elected, Nadeau-Dubois was given a short-lived talk-show, was a regular on the talk-show circuit, and held paid activist contracts. He remained in the news (that’s quite something for a 22 – 23 year-old).
But Nadeau-Dubois’ activism seems to be far from finished. And now there is a new twist…
In August, 2013, Nadeau-Dubois, at the age of 23, released his book entitled “Tenir tête” (an appropriate translation could be “Holding your ground”, or “Don’t relent”). From the title, and in light of the events described above, I’m sure you can infer what the contents of the book are about. Nadeau-Dubois talks about his activism, but more from an ideological standpoint to serve as a guide for future actions (hence, he’s holding his ground, and it appears he plans to place himself and his ideas front-and-centre for a long time – and due to their sensational media appeal, we will likely see much much more of him).
The book in itself did not create waves or garner a large amount of attention, but the prize it won certainly did!
Nadeau-Dubois won the 2014 Governor General’s award in the essay category. Yes… The Head of State of Canada – the Queen’s direct representative – awarded Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois one of Canada’s highest awards in literature. Nadeau-Dubois has been, for much of the past three years, one of Québec’s most vocal advocates for sovereignty. I’m not too sure how to describe it – but I think everyone (I mean everyone) was caught off guard: I was dumbstruck, Nadeau-Dubois’ allies, his foes, and entire Québec public were surprised. Nadeau-Dubois himself even said he was shocked when he found out. It was one of the most ironic things of this entire three-year saga.
With the award came a $25,000 prize. Picture this: If you were a 24 year-old die-hard sovereignist who sees yourself as having a duty to pursue ideaological-based activism to separate Québec from Canada, what would your instinct tell you to do with this award? I think most people believed he would have immediately declined the award and denounced the institution of the Governor General itself. Yet that is not was Nadeau-Dubois did.
In secrecy, Nadeau-Dubois informed Guy A. Lepage of Tout le monde en parle what he was going to do. Lepage therefore gave him centre-stage on Tout le monde en parle (Québec’s most-watched television program) to announce to everyone what was going to happen. The public was given one week’s notice that Nadeau-Dubois was going to surprise us all. I don’t know how many people tuned into that episode of Tout le monde en parle, but my guess is the numbers were in the millions. They hype and suspense was thick, to say the least.
On the evening of 23 November, 2014, I, like everyone else, sat down in front of the television to find out what was going to come next in the Nadeau-Dubois activism saga.
I watched, I listened – and then I was shocked (probably most of us were!). Nadeau-Dubois, after taking a jab at the Governor-General as an institution, accepted the award, accepted the money, but cooperated with Guy A. Lepage to use Tout le monde en parle as the launching stage to transform the award into a public lightning rod with which to begin an entirely new activism campaign. He donated the money to a grass-roots citizens movement (named “Coule”, translation: “flow”) against TransCanada’s Energy East oil pipeline running through Québec. (You can refer to the previous post “Oil Pipeline in Québec – A Hot-Button Issue” to get a bit more general insight on Québec’s collective “feeling” towards pipeline issues).
Nadeau-Dubois challenged the Québec public, live on air, to begin pledging money, right then and there – as if it were a telethon. He asked the public to double the $25,000 award, and to send a message to Stephen Harper, of all things. The show ended at 11pm on 23 November. Four hours later, by 03:00am, $100,000 was collected. By the next evening, $250,000 was pledged. It seemed like it was the only thing being talked about that week – and it put the subject of oil pipelines at the top of the discussion pile (knocking the PKP leadership campaign from the top spot – Wow!). Public relation departments in TransCanada, all political parties, and environmental movements went into overdrive; either on the offensive in certain instances, on the defensive in some cases, or just plain damage control in other cases.
Prior to Nadeau-Dubois’ appearance on Tout le monde en parle, the subject of pipelines were merely a subject of heated discussion and societal reflection. After his appearance, it was a flash point of grassroots action backed by collective donations of cash. Coule collected $350,000 in the days following the airing of the show. In absolute numbers, that is not a lot of money – and objectively speaking, the Energy East and Enbridge 9B pipeline projects will still likely go through (unless falling oil prices thwart the project for economic reasons alone). But Nadeau-Dubois’ and Guy A. Lepage’s activist coup ensured that the public’s eye is turned towards the project’s development, more so than ever in the past.
The Couillard government was forced to re-pledge (much like Ontario) that they would not approve the pipeline unless strict environmental conditions were met. Perhaps related to this heightened public awareness, Environment Canada also refused to approve Cacouna as an export base for oil and to look for a new location (Nadeau-Dubois ensured the public was aware that waters off the port of Cacouna were a sensitive Beluga Whale breeding and nursing zone).
What will the future hold for Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois? I have absolutely no idea – I don’t think anyone does. He seems to keep his cards close to his heart. But judging from his impulsive nature to act when subjects begin to get heated, I have a guess that we may see him if there are mass protests in the spring of 2015 against government funding cutbacks (after the winter weather subsides and protestors no longer have reason to fear the cold 😉 ). But that’s only a guess – I really don’t know.
If you want my thoughts on potential future flashpoints, I added an addendum today to the earlier post “Julie Snyder”. If you find the above interesting, you may also find the addendum to the Snyder post an interesting read. We may see Nadeau-Dubois involve himself in grandiose style in some of these potential future flashpoints.
The next post will be on Lise Payette, an elderly “stateswoman” of sorts; one of Québec’s foremost prominent political and feminist activists, and one of Québec’s most famous former politicians of the past 40 years. The post after that will allow us to see what happens and what was said when Nadeau-Dubois and Payette sat down for a meal (I guarantee you it will be interesting, and it may hold a couple of surprises for you).
Stay-tuned, and happy reading !!
ADDENDUM 2015-04-01: A couple of paragraphs above I mentioned that the student strikes and protests all may start again this spring. Last week and this week they started again. But this time the student strikes are just plain bizarre and not related to the 2012 strikes. They are primarily against two things: (1) Liberal government measures to balance the books (fiscal restraint — but the fiscal restraint being exercises is nothing even close to what we saw in Europe), and (2) against the world… nothing more… just the world (environmental problems, globalization, too much government interference, too little government interference, too much trade, too little trade, and everything else). I get the impression even the media doesn’t know how to report the strikes.
The funny thing is that the political parties are not talking about the strikes. After 2012, the PQ probably learned to steer clear of them, the SQ and NDP probably learned from the PQ’s mistakes, and the Liberals & CAQ are probably banking that the strikes will just die out since they’re not making much sense. We’re only a week and a half into the strikes, and they are already sputtering like an old car that is backfiring. One of the largest groups of student strikes (ASSÉ, with is the direct descendant of Nadeau-Dubois’ CLASSE) is even talking about calling the strikes off until this autumn (because they feel their strikes will be more “effective” then…
I don’t see the logic, but whatever).
This time around the numbers are much smaller than 2012 (40,000 instead of 200,000). I personally don’t think the strikes will go very far. There will be some die-hards of course, but there is no election coming up, and they’re not getting political endorsement (and they certainly will not get any political support if only the most fanatic of the 200,000 continue the strikes). I think it may be the beginning of the end of the strikes, even before the beginning got off the ground.
Who knows, something may breath new life into the strikes at a future date… but I personally don’t think the public will support them unless something unbearable happens with respect to budget cuts, and unless the strikes seem to make more sense (which they’re not at the moment… you can’t just strike because the world exists, and expect to have everyone’s support).
Oh… and where is Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois in all of this? Dunno! Never showed up.
As usual… time will tell (it’s still a story being written).
MINI “EAVESDROPPING” SERIES
- Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois – An “eavesdropping” short series: Nadeau-Dubois / Payette – Post 1 of 3 (#153)
- Lise Payette – An “eavesdropping” short series: Nadeau-Dubois / Payette – Post 2 of 3 (#154)
- “L’autre midi, À la table d’à côte”; Nadeau-Dubois / Payette discussion summary post 3 of 3 (#155)