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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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Immigration et certaines prises de position des associations francophones hors Québec (#342)

Vous vous souviendrez peut-être du billet que j’avais écrit sur les formations francophones quasi-politiques qui existent dans chacune des provinces et des territoires hors Québec :  (billet en anglais, Official Francophone Representation Outside Québec).

Hier, j’ai vu une vidéo par rapport au nouveau phénomène d’immigration francophone dans l’ouest du pays, en particulier en Alberta.

Lorsque j’ai quitté l’ouest il y a plus que 15 ans, ce genre de mouvement d’immigration n’existait pas.

Ça m’a fait réfléchir un peu aux prises de position des organismes francophones quasi-politiques, telle celles de la Fédération des communautés francophones et acadienne du Canada (FCFA).

À chaque fois que je rentre dans l’ouest du pays, parfois deux ou trois fois par année (que ce soit à Edmonton, à Régina ou ailleurs), le “visage” de la francophonie change de plus en plus – c’est bien visible.

C’est encourageant et c’est du jamais vu depuis 100 ans (de 2001 à 2011, la population francophone de l’Alberta s’est vu accroître de 14,5% selon le dernier recensement).  C’est fort intéressant.

Sur ce même thème, sans vouloir trop y pencher, je vous présente le lien d’une autre vidéo; une entrevue à TFO (le diffuseur publique francophone de l’Ontario, l’équivalent ontarien de Télé-Québec).

Dans cette prochaine vidéo, l’ancienne présidente de la FCFA penche sur plusieurs sujets (Marie-France Kenny n’est plus à la tête de l’organisme depuis cet été).  Sa réponse à la question “Est-qu’on peut vivre aussi bien dans l’ouest du pays qu’en Acadie?” m’a fait soulever un sourcil.

Je dois avouer que moi-même, j’étais un peu étonné de constater qu’elle ne mâchait pas ses mots envers ses observations entre l’est et l’ouest du Canada (compte tenu de son rôle très médiatisé).  Cependant, sa façon de voir les Anglophones de l’ouest du Canada est tout à fait différente. Intéressant pour dire le moindre.

Cette question spécifique est posée à 5:43, et sa réponse dure jusqu’à 8:07. Ça vaut la peine d’écouter cet extrait.

D’ailleurs, au cours de l’entrevue, elle parle des défis des communautés francophones hors Québec.

Malgré mon optimisme personnel, j’avoue que les défis demeurent bien réels – mais c’est certainement mieux qu’avant, surtout avec l’arrivée de l’internet et les possibilités qu’il présente (du côté économique, social, et politique).

À mon avis, plus souvent qu’autrement la responsabilité de préserver et de promouvoir sa langue tombe sur les épaules des francophones hors Québec eux-mêmes… car si une personne “lâche” le français, ce n’est pas forcément la faute des Anglophones.

Du même coup, je dois dire que j’avais l’impression depuis des années que Mme. Kenny penchait trop peu sur le positif, même lorsque le positif lui sautait aux yeux (peut-être une manque de balance dans ses entrevues et discours — mais en revanche il faut reconnaître son rôle de “batteuse de profession”)… mais c’est juste mon opinion à moi.

En même temps, pour la santé du pays, j’étais toujours confondu s’il était mieux d’avoir

(1) un niveau accru du bilinguisme français/anglais chez les anglophones hors Québec, ou

(2) un niveau accru du nombre des francophones hors Québec (car on lorsqu’on retire Toronto et Vancouver de l’équation, on constate que le taux du bilinguise chez les anglophones ailleurs au pays est en pente ascendante.  Il faut retirer Toronto et Vancouver du jeux des chiffres car ces deux villes accueillent la plupart des immigrants « anglos » récents au pays – et la première génération n’a pas encore eu l’habilité d’envoyer leurs enfants en immersion française comme ailleurs au Canada).

En écoutant les discours de Mme. Kenny au cours des années, elle me porte à croire qu’elle etait de l’avis que la deuxième question fût primordiale.

Cependant, je ne suis pas certain d’être en accord.  Je suis plutôt de l’avis qu’un mélange soit préférable – un point équitable si vous voulez – et qu’il faut encourager ces deux tendances en même temps (l’une avec l’autre).

Une bonne partie des changements positifs des années récentes est due au fait qu’il existe une population anglophone de plus en plus bilingue.  Une telle population bien sûr serait plus réceptive et accueillante envers l’évolution et la protection du fait français au Canada.

Dans cette même veine, j’ai toujours pensé que l’accent « économique » des organismes, telle la FCFA ,était mal placé ou quasi non existant.

Plus tôt cette année, devant le Comité permanent des langues officielles du Sénat, l’ancienne présidente de la FCFA avait plaidé l’aspect négatif qu’apporte l’immigration anglophone à la population proportionnelle des communautés francophones hors Québec (c’est-à-dire – et je n’ai pas les chiffres exactes devant moi – si le Canada reçoit deux immigrants anglophones pour chaque 1.2 enfants francophones nés au Canada à l’extérieur du Québec, on verrait l’impact négatif au cours des générations à venir).

Sur la surface, je suis d’accord avec le constat de Mme. Kenny.  Mais c’est quant à sa position sur les solutions que je ne suis pas en accord.

À titre de présidente de la FCFA, elle était de l’avis que le gouvernement du Canada devait augmenter massivement le taux d’immigration francophone au Canada anglais pour contrer ces tendances.  Elle voulait que le gouvernement fédéral entame des programmes d’immigration qui visent mieux les immigrants francophones afin de les accueillir dans les villes hors Québec.

Elle a laissé croire que si les programmes d’immigration seraient mieux que ceux qui existent maintenant, les immigrants francophones débarqueraient au Canada anglophone à grand pas.

Là, je ne suis pas d’accord.

J’aimerais vous proposer une analogie.

En Finlande, on parle le finlandais dans la plupart du pays, mais on y parle également le suédois comme langue principale protégée dans l’état de l’Åland, une partie du sud-ouest du pays (une mini-version de la réalité linguistique du Canada, mais avec le suédois et le finlandais comme exemples).

Si vous parliez déjà le suédois mais non pas le finlandais, et si par hasard vous alliez vous installer en Finlande, iriez-vous vous installez dans la partie suédophone (où là langue suédoise de travail est protégée)? Ou iriez-vous dans la partie finlandophone, là où il serait plus difficile de trouver un travail selon votre expérience et compétences antérieurs  en suédois? (n’oubliez pas que vous ne parlez pas le finlandais).

Bien sûr que vous n’allez pas choisir de s’installer dans la partie finlandophone, et ce même si le gouvernement finlandais vous ouvrirait les portes d’immigration grandes ouvertes en raison de votre connaissance du suédois.

Pour vous, en tant qu’immigrant(e) qui doit s’installer et gagner votre pain le plus rapidement possible (car vous avez une famille à nourrir et loger malgré tout), de s’installer dans la partie finlandophone n’a très peu de bon sens (peu importe la bonne foi et la grandeur de n’importe quel programme d’immigration entamé par le gouvernement finlandais).

Votre premier choix serait de s’installer dans la région suédophone.  C’est la nature humaine.

Pour reprendre ce même exemple:   En tant que suédophone, si dans la partie finlandophone il vous serait possible de trouver un emploi « comparable » en suédois, du genre que vous pourriez trouver dans la partie suédophone, dans ce cas-ci vous seriez peut-être plus apte et ouvert à l’idée de s’installer dans la partie finlandophone.

Mais si vous êtes mécanicien, nutritionniste, courtier d’assurance, banquier, chauffeur de camion, coiffeur, travailleur dans un Tim Hortons, comptable, avocat, recherchiste, ou caméraman suédophone, et vous croyez ne pas pouvoir trouver du boulot dans votre langue dans la partie finlandophone, vous allez écarter toute possibilité de s’y installer (surtout si la plupart des postes suédophones dans la partie finlandophone ne sont que des postes limités au secteur publique, ne sont pas dans votre métier d’expérience, et ne vous satisfont pas / ne correspondent pas à vos désirs non plus!).

Alors la problématique se pose concernant la solution.

Je suis de l’avis que la solution ne se trouve pas dans l’encadrement de nouveaux programmes d’immigration (même les programmes d’immigration les mieux bonifiés au monde n’auraient qu’un impact minime).

Je suis plutôt de l’avis que la création d’emplois en français dans le secteur privé demeurre la baguette magique.

Il y aurait une certaine remédiation à toutes les problématiques reliées à la croissance de la francophonie pancanadienne si les francophones (et les francophiles d’ailleurs) créaient eux-même, et trouvaient plus facilement, des emplois en français, dans tous les domaines privés, là où ils se trouvent au Canada.

Mais bizarrement, la question économique et la création d’emplois en français est une discussion qui ne se fait pas publiquement de la part des organismes francophones — du moins comme cible primaire.

Devant le public, ce sont leurs réclamations pour plus de programmes d’immigration qui semblent toujours être au première loge.  Mais une telle discussion est mal placée à mon avis.

Il faut faire une réingénerie du marché si on veut créer des emplois en français hors Québec (je répète:  si on veut “vraiment” les créer).  Une mini-révolution tranquille « économique » hors Québec est possible sur plusieurs niveaux afin de déclancher une telle restructuration:

  • On pourrait créer un fonds de solidarité francophone pancanadienne pour les cotisations des entreprises francophones hors Québec (cela pourrait remplacer le rôle de revenu Canada dans ce domaine, et pourrait inciter les entreprises francophones à continuer d’opérer en français hors Québec si, en revanche, on leur offre des avantages sur la taxe sur la masse salariale).
  • On pourrait fonder une banque de développement d’affaires francophones spécifiquement pour les entreprises hors Québec qui prouvent que leurs opérations internes se déroulent presque uniquement en français.
  • On pourrait créer une société d’assurance pancanadienne francophone avec des branches partout au pays.
  • On pourrait financer des cliniques médicales francophones, et de les loger dans les hôpitaux anglophones à travers le pays (il existe des cliniques de langue anglaise dans les hôpitaux chinois en Chine pour les étrangers, alors pourquoi ne pas implanter un système semblable au Canada anglais pour les francophones?)
  • On pourrait offrir une aide financière au niveau des cours de formation pour les employés qui travaillent dans les entreprises qui ont le français comme langue principale d’opérations internes (affichage, réunions, documents, main d’oeuvre).

Un tel programme serait nécessaire, et je vous offre un exemple pourquoi.

    • Mettons il existe deux sociétés en distribution de matériaux en construction en Saskatchewan.  Une société de langue anglaise compte 20 employés et existe depuis déjà 20 ans.  L’autre société francophone n’a que 4 employés, n’existe que depuis 2 ans, mais fonctionne à 100% à l’interne en français.  La société francophone veut faire concurrence avec la société anglophone.  Alors, puisque les opérations internes sont en français, il faut engager des francophones pour combler les postes de vendeur et du marketing.
    • Mais en Saskatchewan l’employeur n’arrive pas à trouver des francophones avec l’expérience nécessaires pour vendre ce genre de matériaux de construction assez particulier (pourtant, des anglophones qui ont de l’expérience avec ce matériel spécifique, il y en a à la pelle en Saskatchewan avec 10, 15 ou 20 ans d’expérience).
    • Cela veut dire que l’entreprise francophone fait face à deux choix difficles, et presque insurmontables :  (1) abolir les postes francophones et convertir les opérations en anglais pour se garder concurrentiel, or (2) embaucher des francophones/francophiles (locaux ou des immigrants) et de les former à un coût très élevé.  Mais les coûts de formation de six mois à un an (une formation sur le champ, et pas nécessairement dans une salle de classe) rendrait l’entreprise francophone non concurrentielle face à l’entreprise anglophone.
    • Pourtant, s’il existait des programmes de remboursement des coûts de formation (peut-être sur la masse salariale?) pour les entreprises francophones qui se trouvent dans une telle situation, cela pourrait inciter les entreprises francophones à « embaucher » et de « garder » les employés francophones.
  • Et finalement, les prestataires et fournisseurs hors Québec d’une certaine taille, qui désirent obtenir les contrats du gouvernement (soit du gouvernement fédéral, ou des quatre provinces et territoires qui opèrent en français tout comme en anglais) devrait embaucher un seuil minimum de francophones (dont les compétences linguistiques auraient été évaluées au préalable par un tiers neutre et impartial).

Personne ne semble vouloir parler de ces enjeux hors des huis clos.  Je suis entièrement reconnaissant qu’il s’agirait d’un changement de paradigme majeur pour ceux qui se préoccupent de ces sujets.  Pourtant, c’est un changement qui pourrait avoir lieu (et devrait avoir lieu).

Arrêtons de blâmer le Ministère de citoyenneté et de l’immigration du Canada (CIC).  Ce ministère ne devrait se servir d’outil pour faciliter l’entrée des immigrants une fois que toutes les autres fondations soient en place.

Franchement parlant, quant à CIC, ce n’est ni leur responsabilité, ni leur bataille.

Ai-je tort?

—————————————————————————–

S’il vous intéresse, voici le procès-verbal du témoignage de Mme. Kenny devant le Comité sénatorial permanent des
Langues officielles:  http://www.parl.gc.ca/content/sen/committee/412%5COLLO/04EV-51239-F.HTM

Le voici un petit aperçu de la volée d’attention médiatique qu’a obtenu le témoignage de Mme. Kenny suite à sa comparution:

Oil Pipelines in Québec – A Hot-Button issue (#123)

This post will be on the very hot-button issue of oil pipelines in Québec.  The pipeline company, TransCanada, is planning to upgrade existing cross-Canada pipelines, and build extensions.  It will pipe Canadian domestic “oil-sands” oil to Eastern Canadian refineries for the very first time in history (currently, Eastern Canadian refineries refine imported foreign oil or oil brought in from Western Canada by train).

Here’s a map I made which gives a general overview of the plans (click to enlarge)

Ppln1

Unless you watch or listen to the media in French, people in predominantly Anglophone provinces seldom hear the actual conversations going on between Québécois themselves (it’s kind of an unfortunate reality, but then again, provincially-specific topics in Canada are rarely discussed anywhere but in their own respective provinces, regardless if they are in English or French).

I was driving from Québec City to Montréal earlier this week and listening to a Québec City radio station when I overheard an interesting discussion between two rather influential public figures.  It was a discussion of opposing views on the whole issue of oil pipelines being laid across Québec.  I thought I’d translate a portion of the conversation and share it with you to give a little bit of insight of how people in Québec are viewing the issues.    The next Federal election is slated for end October 2015 (unless for some reason it’s called soon after the March budget – which looks less and less likely), and this conversation embodies how the issue is being discussed in the run-up to the election.

Carl Monette is a radio program host on Radio-X, Québec City – Eastern Québec’s most listened to radio station.

Bernard Drainville is a contender for the leadership of the Parti Québécois.  He is a former PQ cabinet minister, and used to be a well-known reporter for Radio-Canada.

The following is a translation (from French) of a small part of their much larger conversation on Radio-X.  This particular segment relates directly to oil piplelines.

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DRAINVILLE:  [In a conversation about sovereignty, Drainville says…]  If we cannot hold a referendum in the first mandate [if we can win the next election], then we need to take the time during that mandate to show to the electorate that we’re able to [achieve sovereignty].  We need to give the economic numbers, we need to present economic and financial forecasts.   We need to demonstrate that it will be a good thing. Look what’s happening with the [TransCanada] pipeline [which they want to build across Québec].   [Liberal Québec Premier] Couillard tells us we have to accept a pipeline which moves 1.1 million barrels of oil a day, on our soil, solely in exchange for a [$9 billion federal] equalization cheque.   For me, forget the equalization cheque – because just look at the price tag which will come with it for us:  It’s going to be a 100 year pipeline, it can actually last 100 years if it’s well maintained.   So then [within that period], who’s going to pay if it bursts?   Who?  Who’s going to pay if it bursts [sometime in the next 100 years]?  (note:  I’m assuming he means that TransCanada, the company, may not exist in say 40 or 80 years, just as companies which existed 50 years ago don’t exist today).

MONETTE:  So then, are we better to then just continue importing our gas from Texas, already refined, on our St. Lawrence River?   You want it to be done this way rather than bringing it in from here at home, refine it here at home, and using it here at home?  That’s what I understand you to be saying.

(note:  Eastern Canada imports oil primarily from North Africa, Venezuela, and somewhat from the US.  This is because there are no pipelines from Western Canada.  Whereas Western Canada’s gasoline is mostly from domestic sources, Eastern Canadian gasoline is primarily imported from other countries).

DRAINVILLE:  Come on, we don’t refine anything here at home.  The TransCanada pipeline…

MONETTE: So then we don’t do anything?  We do absolutely nothing?   The money that Canada will make from the pipeline, it’s going to come back to us.  It’s also our money too you know.

DRAINVILLE:  The TransCanada pipeline, it’s used to transport oil across our territory [Québec], which is not refined here.  [The pipline’s] only function is [to move the oil from West to East], to export the oil.

MONETTE:  Yes, but that money, who do you think it goes to?   Canadians get it.

DRAINVILLE:  (Pause, & puffing noise)

MONETTE:  We get it back in taxes!  Would you rather pay for oil from Texas, and bring it in by boat on our St. Lawrence, than bring it in by pipeline?   I don’t understand you.

DRAINVILLE:  My objective is to reduce our dependence on oil.  You know, our oil comes in from elsewhere, regardless if it comes from Alberta, Newfoundland, or Saudi Arabia – it all comes from elsewhere.  It’s about time that we replace…

MONETTE:  Why not bring it in from here at home?  It’s always better to bring it in from our own country than from another, or a Mid-East country, or the United States?

DRAINVILLE:  What’s the interest in allowing a pipeline which brings us hardly any major advantages?

MONETTE:  It’s the most secure form of oil transportation that exists.  It’s coming across our territory [Québec] regardless.  So we’re better to take it in this manner for the time being [by pipeline], and once we develop other resources, then we’ll take those other sources.  But for the time being, I know it sucks, but my car doesn’t run on water.

DRAINVILLE:  Well, once we get to that point, the pipeline, we’re going to be stuck with it for 100 years.  I’m not one for that.  I think there are ways we can develop… Yes, I think you’re right, we have to make a transition.  Of course we’re going to continue to use oil for a certain period of time…

MONETTE:  We don’t have a choice.  Look around you.  About 95% of anything you see if made from oil.  We don’t have a choice.   I don’t want to buy my oil from the United States, or from the Middle-East.  We have it here, so why don’t we use it in our own country?

DRAINVILLE:  No, not with the [environmental] price that’s to be paid for it.  Not with the risks that come with it.   It’s not right what you’re proposing.   The oil sands, the dirtiest form that exists.

MONETTE:  When it comes to oil, there is no such thing as dirtier or less dirty, or half-dirty… Can we just agree on this?  I don’t want boats coming here from Texas with oil that has already be refined.

DRAINVILLE:  I’m going to tell you something… If you run a pipe under my property, but I’m the one who assumes all the risks, if an accident does ever occur, then I’m the one who’s on the hook for cleaning it up.   Can you think of a reason why I should say that’s ok?

MONETTE:  Ok… we have the (Québec) Ministry of Natural Resources who have already announced that the risks are going to be assumed by the pipeline companies. It was all covered in the media last week.

DRAINVILLE:  Oh, come on… look at how you believe that sort of thing!

MONETTE:  Yes. Well, it’s better than listening to the Parti Québécois when they say we’ll be living a rainbow dream with separation and that will make us rich.

DRAINVILLE:  We saw how much the “beautiful assurances” did for us when we saw what happened in Lac-Mégantique.  (Note:  A train, moving oil from North Dakota to Maine, transited Québec two years ago, derailed, exploded, killed about 40 people, and basically blew an entire town off the face of the map – it was an awful tragedy, and emotions have been running sky-high ever since). Frankly, in Lac-Mégantique, Transport Canada didn’t do its job – Specifically Transport Canada.  We saw the risks involved when you transit oil through our territory.   Don’t you think it’s possible to draw some lessons from that experience?  Don’t you think we can create a goal of reducing our dependence on oil?  Are we not able to resist jumping on board in such projects, such as those of TransCanada which do nothing but make us run enormous risks for marginal benefits?

MONETTE:  Oh, come on. No way, No way.  It will be billions of dollars in taxes which will go into Federal coffers from this.

DRAINVILLE:  Yah, there you go (sarcastic tone), right, the Federal government is going to put the money in “their” pockets.

MONETTE:  Well, they’re giving us right now $9 billion dollars [in equalization payments], so I’m not jumping on the line you’re feeding me, you know. We’re never going to agree on this.

DRAINVILLE:  No, on this we’re not going to agree on, but there will be other things we can agree on.

MONETTE:  Yes.

The two concluded their conversation on other topics.   After hanging up, Monette had the following to say…

MONETTE:  Bernard Drainville is someone for whom I still have respect, even if I agree with almost none of his stances, except for the Charter of Values.   He’s come to the studio for past live interviews.  We always have good discussions, but then we always finish in a pile of crap (tout le temps dans la marde).   It’s not complicated – it usually goes like this… we start out never agreeing, our conversations go slowly up-hill, it turns an a not-so-great direction, but at least we finished on a good note.

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As you can see, pipelines are very hot-button issues in Québec, with many people at odds on how to view them.  I’m doing my best to write this post in as an objective manner as possible (I do have long-standing views on oil pipelines myself, but I don’t consider my views to be extreme, one way or the other.  I consider them to be balanced, but in this post, I won’t discuss my own specific views in order to maintain a more neutral tone).

I can tell you, from my own personal experience in discussing this issue with friends in different regions of Québec, the whole issue of pipelines can become very emotional.  There can be a strong principle & ideological based divide between people who believe pipelines are mostly an environmental matter versus those who believe they are mostly an economic matter.  Adding to this complex mix, some people believe the issues should be managed strictly on a principle and ideological-based platform, and others believe the issues should be managed strictly on a practical, quick results, and a day-to-day reality basis.  Regardless of your views on oil pipelines, more than in any other province in Canada, it would be in Québec where you would be likely to get into a very heated and emotional discussion on this issue (of course there are exceptions in every province, but I’m presenting this post in very general terms).

Probably only a few major issues will play into how Québécois will vote in the next Federal election (perhaps 4 or 5 major issues).  One of the main issues will be the issue of laying oil pipelines within Québec.

In order to understand the issues, it’s important to mention that environmental and natural resource issues are usually “provincial” jurisdiction – but they constitutionally become federal jurisdiction when it enters the realm of cross-border domestic pipelines or cross-border international pollution – and thus because the pipelines will be crossing various provincial borders, the matter has become federal jurisdiction.  It thus becomes an issue for the federal vote.   That being said, Federal parties are more than aware that it would be political suicide to not include their provincial counterparts in the discussion, and at the very minimum, give weight to what provincial governments have to say (even if it’s not provincial jurisdiction).  Much like BC and Ontario, Québec’s provincial government has said it will not give their (symbolic) consent to the TransCanada pipeline project unless certain environmental and safety conditions are met (Québec and Ontario drafted a list).  Despite the province not having jurisdiction to impose such conditions, it would be political suicide for the Federal government to ignore such conditions – and thus the Feds are agreeing to accept provincially outlined conditions.

People in Western Canada are generally used to dealing with pipeline issues.  Generally speaking (and yes, I’m overgeneralizing here):

  • we see strong support for pipelines in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba,
  • little support for them in BC (particularly in urban regions where the majority of the population resides, and especially when discussing pipelines in environmentally sensitive areas),
  • very mixed signals towards them in Ontario (Ontario is a funny case – some regions are ok with them, yet other regions and people are quite skeptical or anti-pipeline)
  • Pro-pipeline and luke-warm support in Atlantic Canada (yet NB is quite anti-fracking, which is interesting because other pro-pipeline regions across North America are often OK with fracking),
  • A very mixed bag in Québec, but overall, a negative view towards pipelines being laid in the province. But there seems to be a lot of soul-searching on the issue in Québec at the moment.

I say there’s a mixed bag in Québec because of the Montréal / Québec City political and economic divide.  Québec is often a Tale of Two Provinces (a concept very poorly understood in the rest of Canada).  It’s a split between two major population zones; the East (Greater Québec City, and to some extent Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean / Beauce), and the West (Greater Montréal and to some extent other adjacent regions).

To give you an idea just how differently these two regions think, view issues and vote, you need to look no further than today’s Crop-La Presse poll on Québec City’s voting intentions :

  • In Québec City region, with 37% of intended votes, the Federal Conservatives would win the majority of the vote if an election were held today.  They would also likely pick up additional seats. The 2nd place goes to the NPD (31%), the Federal Liberals are 3rd place (they get 21%), and the Bloc Québécois is 4th place with 11%
  • The poll didn’t give Montréal (West Québec) voting intentions, but it did give Québec’s overall voting intentions as a whole. The Liberals and in 1st place (37%), the NDP 2nd place (30%), the Bloc Québécois has 3rd place (17%) and the Conservative are 4th place (13%).   That 13% presumably is entirely concentrated in the Québec City and adjacent regions.
  • These latter numbers are for Québec as a whole, but Montréal votes much heavier for the NDP than other reasons. In Montréal, I would not be surprised if the NDP has 1st place, the Liberals 2nd, if the Bloc is 3rd, and the Conservatives have almost zero (the exact opposite from Québec City and Eastern Québec).  These are what recent past polls have shown at any rate.

Montréal, and surrounding regions (which has the bulk of Québec’s population) are generally against pipelines – and you see this reflected with almost zero Conservative support in the Montréal region.  There is a strong anti-pipeline activist movement in the region and in Montréwood media.  People in the region often take a harder environmental line based on principle.  Yes, I know there are nuances, but this is a general overview.

Québec City and surrounding regions (the 2nd most populous region of Québec) are not as hostile towards to the idea of pipelines, and you’ll note that the Conservatives are leading in this region.  There is a major refinery in the Québec City metro region (Lévis), and people in the region are used to seeing (with their own eyes) petroleum ocean tankers going down the St. Lawrence, past downtown Québec, and docking at the oil terminal port in Lévis (when I was in Québec City this week, I stood on the banks of the St. Lawrence and watched as a couple foreign oil tanker steamed passed me – it was interesting to watch them dock at the refineries – and even more interesting to know that this very oil, be it from Africa or Venezuela, could very likely end up in my car’s tank in Toronto in a few weeks time).    Also, overall political tendencies in the Greater Québec City region can be very different from those in Montréal.

If we look back to the radio conversation, both sides said things which are valid, and there are many other things both sides could have used in their respective arguments.  As you could see, the conversation was generally discussed on an environmental vs. economic scale.  Some of the facts which both Drainville and Monette gave were not correct, and some of the facts both gave were correct but incomplete.  But the points which were incorrect were not major inaccuracies.

Drainville could have mentioned additional argument points, such as:

  • the high CO2 emissions and waste water created from the oil-sand extraction process (in Alberta)
  • issues regarding water and solid waste resulting from the oil-sand extraction process (in Alberta)
  • the need to inject polluting and diluting chemicals directly into the heavy oil within the pipelines in order to make the oil viscous enough to be transported – and the problems of what to do with all these chemicals after the oil reaches its destination
  • the emissions which will come from the Suncor, Lévis and Irving refineries in Québec and New Brunswick once a heavier oil is refined in these three refineries (imported oil, currently being refined in here is much lighter and doesn’t require as much upgrading).
  • Even after refining and consuming the pipelines’ oil, there will be an excess of oil (about 1/3 of all the oil piped in the pipeline) which can be exported from Québec ports to other countries of the world. To date, proposed locations for new export terminal ports have been in environmentally sensitive areas, such as Cacouna, Québec – a place where noise-sensitive Beluga whales (an endangered species) mate and rear their young. (Note, two weeks ago, both TransCanada pipelines, the Québec government and the Federal government all agreed Cacouna is not an acceptable place to locate an export port – and they’re now searching for a new location)
  • With more pipelines come more oil extraction, and there is a question as to whether “per-ton of oil” reductions in pollution can outpace “per-ton increases” in oil extraction.
  • The potential damage to the environment (in Alberta and Québec, through potential pipe leaks, oil tanker accidents, and general emissions), while waiting for better environmental results to come about, could be severe.

Monnette could have mentioned things such as:

  • Alberta’s provincial government carbon market imposes financial penalties on oil companies which pollute above a certain bar. The penalties are paid on a per-ton of pollution basis, and monies garnered are automatically placed in an environmental technology development fund.   Companies have therefore been actively developing ways to reduce their pollution per ton of oil extracted, and every year there are better results per barrel of oil.   If results continue in this same direction for another 30 years, there could be very promising results which will satisfy a much larger part of Québec’s concerns.
  • Alberta’s government has been investing massively in developing new environmental pollution control technologies, and has been making substantial progress.
  • The Québec Provincial government and BAPE (A Québec Ministry of Environment public consultation mechanism) have imposed newly developed, strict environmental and safety conditions on the Federal government. They minimize risks of accidents on any portion of the pipeline and oil transport process.
  • Both the Suncor oil refinery in Montréal’s East End, and the Jean-Gaulin refinery in Lévis (Québec City) will, for the first time ever, be refining domestic oil. In order to refine the heavier oil-sands oil, they will require major upgrades with the latest and most modern environmental technology available (more modern than almost any other refinery in the world).   Thus, their pollution controls will be among the strictest available anywhere in the world (better than they currently are), and they will directly create hundreds of direct jobs in Québec, and thousands of indirect jobs.
  • Oil tanker ships are already doing daily runs on the St-Lawrence (Québec City residents see them every day, but Montréal residents don’t see them owing to the location of docking locations). The situation wouldn’t change from today’s current situation, except for the direction the tankers will take.   In addition, all levels of government and private industry are looking for a much safer and environmentally friendly location for an additional export port (after Cacouna’s rejection).
  • There will no longer be any need to transport oil by train across Québec (which is much more dangerous than through pipelines).
  • Pipelines already cross under the St. Lawrence River and all across Québec (even underneath various parts of Montréal City itself), so in this respect, there would be nothing different from what is already being proposed, and nobody has complained before.  The new pipeline would be even more modern and safer than existing pipelines.
  • Current oil tankers bringing in foreign oil on the St. Lawrence are often from developing countries, and their safety designs are not as good as those proposed for the new tankers which will take Canadian oil from Québec ports to foreign markers (thicker hulls, newer technology, etc.).

There are many other arguments both Drainville and Monette could have made, apart from the ones I mentioned above.  But some arguments become quite complex and technical (while still remaining quite significant).  They’re not generally arguments made on a fast-paced radio program or around a kitchen table.

Regardless, Premier Couillard’s nix (a complete ban) earlier this week on any shale gas extraction within Québec was directly related to the public’s lack of appetite for running various environmental risks.  That in itself shows just how touchy a matter energy and the environment can be in many parts of Québec – regardless of what arguments and counter-arguments are presented.

But what really makes things complex is that there is a large part of Québec (the Québec City and surrounding regions) which would be for the pipelines, whereas another large part of Québec (Montréal and surrounding regions) is very much anti-pipelines.    There’s a lot of internal debate in Québec, and heavy-weight public personalities, on both sides of the issues, are making very vocal arguments in the media – television, radio, and newspapers (often anti-pipeline voices are heard much louder simply by nature the Québec’s media base being physically located in Montréal).

It will be very interesting to see how things pan out over the next year.  I personally predict that the pipeline will be built, a much less sensitive location will be found for the new export port, but that the Federal Conservatives and Liberals will both continue to pay a political price in the Montréal region (whereas they’ll continue to fare quite well in the Québec City region) — status quo if you will.  The provincial Liberal government’s own public opinion ratings (and the CAQ which is allied with the government on this issue), as well as those of the opposition PQ may also see similar political consequences shift in théier favour or against them based on a Montréal / Québec City split.

That’s my prediction, but time will tell.  As usual, things will remain quite interesting.

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