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Philippe Couillard’s “premptive” damage control positioning and constitutional preps (#334)
The marriage of the “adrenaline-charged Super-Duo”, PKP (Pierre Karl Péladeau, the head of the Parti Québécois) and Julie Snyder (Québec’s best known super-star celebrity), this weekend was a reminder to all that the 2018 Québec election will be squarely about Québec independence.
Premier Philippe Couillard knows that this will be the #1 topic coming from the lips of the PQ for the next few years (a major shift from the past which saw the PQ be just as pre-occupied about subjects of day-to-day governance as the Liberals and CAQ).
The turfing of the Bloc Québécois leader a couple months ago, Mario Beaulieu, by his own party (and presumably by PKP) and the resurrection of Gilles Duceppe has shown to what extent the sovereigntist movement is prepared to go to in order achieve their goal.
Under PKP’s leadership, the entire movement is beginning to resemble more and more an extremely slick, well ran, and super-competitive board-room or corporation (of the likes of Wal-Mart when it tries to run all other competitors out of town), rather than that of a political party.
This is new. We have never seen something like this before.
Although it continues to be new to the extent th at it has not yet found “solid” traction with the electorate, there have been polls which have shown a slight increase in support for the PQ and sovereignty (hovering around 35% or 40% at its highest. But the numbers remain quite low considering that the figures group soft sovereigntists — who are less inclined to vote “yes” during a referendum, which would probably bring a “YES” to under the numbers I just provided…. But 35% still isn’t a number to laugh at).
Update 2015-08-20 – A new CROP poll today shows that the PQ’s support has fallen to 29% (35% for Francophones) in the days following the PKP/Snyder marriage. Pierre Karl Péladeau’s personal popularity took a nose dive to 23%. Perhaps people are seeing after all that the PKP/Snyder’s Party will only be about one topic, and perhaps people have had enough … for now. The Liberals are only slightly ahead.
Three years can be an eternity in politics, and 2018 could be enough time for the movement to bounce back if the
“corporation’s” PQ’s business political plan is effective.
Since 1995, the most effective method Federalist parties have invoked to avoid mass sovereigntist sentiments from reigniting has been to avoid a Federal-Provincial clash between Ottawa and Québec – especially one involving constitutional matters.
Both the Chrétien/Martin Liberals and the Harper Conservatives were of the opinion that slow and stable civil-service governance, and tackling each issue as it arrives (without opening the constitution) was the best way to prevent a show-down or constitution crisis. I also have to admit that the fact that Harper has kept a very tight reign on the flow of information has probably, and ironically, helped somewhat too (in the sense that it has likely avoided unintentional slips-of-the-tongue from backbencher MP’s… especially preventing comments which could have inflamed sovereignist politicians and debate).
The Chrétien/Martin Liberals, and the Harper Conservatives firmly took a stand that a large degree of national reform could be achieved “on-the-ground” via small adjustments over time (supported by Common Law at the courts) rather than through re-opening the constitution. In this sense, the constitution, its interpretations, and its application has been able to keep up with the times — turning it into a “living” document, without ever having to change the document’s wording or provisions.
They were of the view that the constitution could be re-opened at a date in the distant future once enough incremental “administrative” and “legal” reforms had occurred over a number of years (or decades) on the ground. Thus, when it would come time to re-open the constitution, it would have simply been a matter of “updating it” to reflect “already-existing” realities (rather than having it “create new realities” in and of itself).
So far, this approach from Ottawa seems to have worked (on many levels, independent of one’s political affirmations or party beliefs). It has been good for governance, good for Canada, and good for Québec.
Just as importantly, it had completely taken the wind out of the sails of the Parti Québécois and the Bloc Québécois. It had given them nothing to grab on to – and a few times the movement had come to the edge of collapsing.
But lo and behold, something has changed this year. It appears that both Mulcair’s NDP has expressed its desire to try to re-open the constitution (although Trudeau’s has not expressed a desire to open the consitution on the campaign trail, he has said in his book that he would support such a move in the right “time and place”).
Trudeau’s book “Common Ground” talks in length about his disappointment in that Québec has not signed the constitution. He did not necessarily believe in Meech or Charlottetown, but he did say that the constitution will have to be re-opened and signed by Québec eventually (something I also say). But you get the feeling that his “right time and place” may be sooner than later. I say this because the book gives you the impression that wants this whole issue to go away as fast as possible, and that he believes his terms will be the right ones. Thus, if elected PM? (Oh, Oh – there just might be a new constitutional round, and that could mean trouble).
Mulcair has even gone so far as to campaign on the issue of re-opening the constitution in order to abolish the senate (Oh crap – big trouble!).
Their intentions (Trudeau’s and Mulcair’s) might be good, but the timing could not be worse.
They would be putting Premier Couillard in a very difficult position, and they would be picking a fight with PKP-Snyder, as well as with PKP-Snyder’s grasp on Québec’s media, pop-culture elite, and their board-room games to capture the hearts and minds of Québec.
Above; Premier Philippe Couillard… If you’re not familiar with him, take a good look now, because if Mulcair or Trudeau (or both of them together) try to re-open the constitution, it will be this man’s face which you will see plastered all over English Canada’s news for the next several years as he tries to keep Canada together.
Although Premier Couillard is the most Federalist premier Québec has possibly ever had, such actions on the part of Trudeau or Mulcair would thrust Couillard into the political battle of not only his life, but possibly for the survival of Canada.
A new round of constitutional discussions would be messy – very very messy.
It would not be as clear-cut as what Mulcair says (and Trudeau isn’t letting us know what he would throw on the table – but if his book is any indicator, it could quite possibly be everything, since he seems to want to change everything [remember that Mansbridge interview a few years ago when Trudeau said he want to, quote “change the world”?] ).
- This would result in the PQ crying for everything to be put on the table at a new round of constitutional negotiations (which is impossible to do), otherwise they would shift into war mode to raise emotional tensions to the maximum with which to convince Québécois to vote to leave Canada,
- BC, AB, and SK would have their own demands (Christie Clark, Rachel Notley, and Brad Wall have all hinted they want bigger roles and controls (code for constitutional changes) for their provinces).
- Ontario (under Kathleen Wynn) says Ontario want new mechanisms to prevent Ottawa’s “lack of cooperation” on matters of importance to her government (with the new Ontario Retirement Pension Plan being a prime example).
- And then there are the Atlantic Provinces which would likely want their own constitutional provisions to counter the effects of what they believe is the “fight of their lives” to retain political relevance at the national level (as their populations continue to shrink as people move West).
This could not be better news for the PQ and the PKP-Snyder duo. They must be salivating at the prospect of a possible Mulcair led government (and it would be even better for them if it is a minority government with Mulcair as PM and Trudeau as head of the official opposition – thus paving the way for re-opening the constitution, a demonizing of Canada, and emotions getting the better of everyone – including the public).
Last weekend was the Québec Provincial Young Liberals convention. Premier Couillard is well aware of the unfolding situation which I just described.
True to his brain-surgeon style, Philippe Couillard is a strategist hors-pair. At the Liberal convention, he announced that he will “not concede an inch to the sovereignists”.
For the very first time, we have just seen Couillard shift into high gear anti-sovereigntist mode – that of pre-emptive damage control.
He knows that should the Federal NDP or Liberals come to power in October (as a minority or majority government), they may try to re-open the constitution.
Couillard wants to be ready and have his ducks all in place.
This weekend, he asked Liberal delegates to “quickly” (within hours) give him a short-list of what they would want to see added to the constitution should it be re-opened. Precisely, he asked them “What is Québec’s role in Canada?”
Do not forget that Couillard is 100% pro-Canada.
His convictions make it so he would do anything to avoid hurting the federation. He would want any propositions to work for his own electorate and all people in Québec, as well as for everyone else across the country. In fact, at the Liberal congress, he delivered a fiery speech against sovereignty – one which carried an overtone which would have anyone believe we were already in full referendum mode.
Thus his question to provincial Liberal delegates should not be viewed as something negative by the rest of Canada.
When he posed the question to delegates, he asked them to bear in mind issues such as:
- Equalization program,
- Health payment transfers,
- Economic development file, such as infrastructure, Northern development, and Maritime strategies.
These are all soft (and safe) issues. They are issues people across Canada can agree on.
Couillard also asked federal party leaders to make clear their stance on how they view Québec in Canada. (After all, if he’s going to stick his neck out to confront the PKP-Snyder offensive, and if Mulcair & Trudeau are going to back him into a corner by forcing him to confront PKP-Snyder, he naturally wants Trudeau and Mulcair to also step up to the plate, to put their money where their mouths are, and to take some responsibility for their own words and actions).
The delegates gave Couillard their thoughts, and he sent off a letter to all Federal party leaders with his views on what he believes needs to be reviewed in the constitution:
- Senate reform
- Supreme Court judge nominations
- Limitations on Federal spending in the areas of provincial jurisdiction,
- A veto vote for any other constitution changes.
When elected in September 2014, Couillard told Harper that he would like to see Québec eventually sign the Canadian Constitution. Ever since 1982, the fact that Québec has never signed the constitution has been the “raison d’être” and free wind in the sails for the sovereignty movement – precisely the ammo the PQ was always used to argue their point.
Couillard wants to put this to rest once and for all.
But as you can see, re-opening the constitution is a double-edged sword.
So while the rest of the country is talking about things such as whether Toronto should or should not host the 2024 Olympics, whether it should be illegal for regular citizens to transport wine from Halifax to Fredericton in their cars, or whether Alberta should or should not regulate the flavour of chocolate, Philippe Couillard is already beginning to fight the political fight of his life, and that of the future of Canada.
Owing to the fact that others in Canada do not seem to know what is happening, I just hope the rest of Canada does not (innocently and naïvely) act too surprised, offended, or dare I say “angry” when all of this suddenly comes to the fore should a new government in Ottawa try to do something risky such as “prematurely” (or foolishly) reopen the constitution at this point in time — or at the very minimum, before Couillard specifically tells Ottawa, and all the provinces (after back-door discussions) that he’s ready to go forward and safely deal with all of this.
After all, the rest of Canada will have had had someone in Québec who has long since been trying to do his damndest to avert what could have easy been a catastrophe had anyone else been at the helm.
What can I say… The two solitudes (Sigh).
Edit: An earlier version say that Trudeau was disappointed with the failure of Meech and Charlottetown. What I meant to say that he was disappointed with the “wording” of Meech and Charlottetown which lead to its failure (meaning his own deal, if he were dealing with the issues, would have proposed quite different matters to entice Québec to sign the constitution… or he would have waited for another time to open the constitution). I corrected my post.
Québec’s 20 most trusted individuals: 10th and 11th positions [post 6 of 11] (#261)
Let’s kick off the second half of the list of the 20 most trusted people in Québec.
# 10 Philippe Couillard –
The last post contained the first appearance of a politician in the list. The second highest ranked politician on the list enters this list – and it is none other than Québec’s own sitting Premier, Philippe Couillard (Liberal), who takes the #10 spot.
I’m not going to go into all of his biographical information. Rather, I’ll try to sum up why I believe he is the highest ranked “provincial” politician in this list.
Couillard been Québec’s Premier for just a little over one year (having taken the premiership in April 2014). In politics, one year can be a lifetime. Yet Couillard still maintains the top spot as the most trusted provincial politician in Québec. Poll after poll of the last few months also indicate he is the most “popular” politician of the most “popular” party (the provincial Liberals).
It is a honeymoon which has not yet quite faded (but which is being met with some challenges).
Why is this? I have my own pet theories, and I can share some of them with you.
- Couillard is viewed as someone who is trying to get the average Québécois out of a financial squeeze. Québec is one of the highest taxed, most indebted, and most bureaucratic jurisdictions in North America. Despite generous social programs which provide a well-supported “lift” for certain sectors of society (particularly families), the middle-class has been financially squeezed. It is a financial pressure which average people could feel.
With a rapidly aging population, low birth rates and low levels of immigration (when compared to a few other provinces), a growing debt, and low rates of new business growth/investment, people could see that the squeeze would get even worse.
Apart from a growing debt, just prior to Couillard taking the reins of power, there was talk in the wind of a debt rating downgrade which would have increased the costs of servicing the debt. The result would have meant that the average person would have been squeezed even further.
A brain surgeon by training, Philippe Couillard took a surgical view to remedying the problem. He sought to make cuts and some structural changes to the government, civil service and bureaucracy to balance the budget. Many critics have called the measures of austerity. Yet, I’m not sure his measures met the popular definition of austerity. Rather, I think in most people’s minds, his measures were viewed as “short-term-pain for long-term-gain”. They were budget cuts (with accompany restructurings to be able to achieve the cuts); but just enough to get rid of the deficit and to be able to post modest surpluses.
To put it into perpective: On the budget control scale, you have
- splurging on one end,
- budget cuts / balancing / restructuring in the middle, and
- austerity’s slash-and-burn / government dismantlement on the other end).
In Greece and Cyprus, we saw austerity. In Italy, we saw “near austerity”, in Alberta in 1993 we saw “near austerity” (with a 22% decrease in the size of government following the Klein cuts). What we have seen in Québec over the past year has been nothing close to the “popular” definition of austerity (I think less than a 5% reduction in government expenditures if I am not wrong, but accompanied with an actual growth in government size by about 1 or 2%).
I think that ordinary people recognize this does not constitute the “popular” definition of “austerity”.
I also think they recognized that the “rebalancing” measures Couillard has taken are likely to bear fruit in some form or another (it only took him one year to balance the budget – another clear sign that it was not structural, year-after-year long-term austerity).
I believe this is one of the reasons why people trust Couillard.
2. I believe there is one other big reason why people trust him.
Yes, Couillard is a politician. Let there be no doubt about it. He strategizes and plays the game like all politicians. But he does not seem to get caught up in trying to force trending-ideologies down people’s throats, or social-engineering in order to gain power.
After everything people in Québec went through with the student strikes of 2012 (and the short-lived student “fart” of 2015), after the social divisiveness people felt from the PQ’s proposed Charte des Valeurs, and after what people perceive as an “tired” ideological battle involving the sovereignty movement, I think people have been “ok” with Couillard’s refusal to engage in such politics (people might not be overjoyed with Couillard, but he’s acceptable in people’s minds).
This does not mean that everyone agrees with Couillard’s style of politics or decisions, but it does mean that there is a large enough portion of the population who would prefer Couillard’s style over others. Enough at least that Couillard is considered Québec’s most trusted provincial politician.
#11 Chantal Hébert –
This is one of the people who I would personally have placed in the top three. But the #11 spot is not so bad either.
Regardless if you are Anglophone or Francophone, if you watch the news anywhere in Canada in either language, you already know Chantal Hébert. Thus, there is not much of an explanation needed on my part. She is likely high up there in the trust level of most people across Canada (and not just in Québec).
But I will offer you some fillers.
She is one of Canada’s best known political commentators. She is a regular on the CBC, as well as both the television and radio divisions of Radio-Canada. Hébert has a column in the Toronto Star, and another in Le Devoir. More recently, she has been a best-selling author. (And then there are those memorable light-hearted parodies of the last couple decades which we’ve all laughed at across Canada).
She is known for her straight talk and unbiased opinions. What I love about her is that she has no qualms about holding back the way she sees things, and will support her views with anecdotal observations and facts.
Here is an example of what I mean:
She will sometimes make an appearance on television programs to give an unbiased opinion. But the audience and host are known to have a bias. In such circumstances, the host will set up a question so that he / she expects the answer to play into their own bias. But yet Hébert will come out with the most unexpected, objective answer – leaving everyone to eat humble pie. You can’t imagine how many times I have laughed out loud at such situations.
Here is a case in point: Last Sunday, Hébert was an invitee on the Radio-Canada talk show Tout le monde en parle (TLEMP). This show has the second highest television ratings in all of Québec and Canada (behind TVA’s La Voix). It’s a program which has a reputation for being “biased” towards the left, the Québec nationalist movement, and sovereignist guests (although I have to admit that I have seen quite noticeable effort on the part of the hosts to appear less biased over the past two to three years… credit where credit is due). Regardess, the show attracts a certain studio audience.
On last Sunday’s show, the host’s (anti-Conservative) panel took a shot at Prime Minister Harper for having started the trend in Canadian politics of locking out the media with an information blackout. From the expression on the faces of the audience, you could see that the audience loved such a comment (as did the other panelists).
But then Hébert quickly pointed out that it was actually Lucien Bouchard and the Bloc Québécois which started the trend of controlling the media message in Canadian politics, and Harper simply learned from the Bloc Québécois. You should have seen the sour looks on everyone’s faces when they heard the facts which Hébert presented to them. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. She took the wind out of everyone’s sails in her usual calm, composed style.
On the same show, but back in 2013, the host and panelists again took shots at the Conservatives for being information control freaks, and for being information manipulators. They took temendous joy in criticizing the Conservatives of twisting facts to portray an inaccurate reality to the electorate (I don’t necessarily disagree with them — but they were having more fun with their Harper-bashing then a kid on Halloween, owing to a tad bit too much of an ultra-nationalist discourse). But what happened next left everyone speechless, before a television audience of 2.3 million people.
Hébert began to cite example after example of the types of tricks certain politicians undertake to control information so as to manipulate public perception and views. She talked about how scientific evidence is suppressed, about how statistics are manipulated, about how messages are distorted and then force fed to the public using government funds. She went on and on, listing this this, that, and all the rest.
As she went down a lists of the sneaky, dirty tactics which she feels Québec is falling victim to, everyone in the room (mostly pro-PQ supporters) were nodding their head in complete agreement. The grins on their faces said it all. They all agreed the tactics Hébert listed were the lowest of the low, and the sneakiest of political moves.
But then Hébert put a name to who she was talked about… and it was not the name anyone expected (they all thought she was talking about Stephen Harper). Hébert said all of these things were exactly what Pauline Marois had been doing as the head of the Parti Québécois.
You should have seen the shock and horror on everyone’s faces when they realized that Hébert was talking about the Parti Québécois and not the Conservatives. To make matters worse for this traumatized group, Hébert supported her arguments with examples and facts! You could see that the pro-Parti Québécois audience and panelists were mortified by the fact that they had all just agreed, inadvertently (and in front of 2.3 million people), that their own party was up to a bunch of dirty tricks.
It was hilarious !!!
And that, my friends, is precisely why people in Québec trust Chantal Hébert. She calls it as she sees it.
Chantal Hébert is only one of two people on this list of 20 who is not from Québec.
Most people in Québéc are not aware that she is not originally Québécoise, but is actually Franco-Ontarian (although she lives in Québec now). She was born in Ontario, was educated in Ontario (at Glendon College in Toronto), started her career in Ontario, and worked for much of her life in Ontario (she used to work as a reporter covering Queens Park in Toronto). This little tid-bit of info is something which usually takes a number of Québécois by surprise when they hear it
Coincidentally, just yesterday, a friend from Laval (Québec) and I were talking about the Alberta election results. We both gave a nod to the fact that Chantal Hébert’s predictions were dead on. My friend said to me “See… there’s one Québécoise who knows lots about Alberta.” I answered “She certainly knows her stuff, but she’s actually from Ontario.” My buddy from Québec was shocked. (I guess he must have thought “I was the only one” from outside Québec… hahaha).
Regardless, people can’t get enough of her – which is why everyone always whats to hear from her. Regardless if she is originally from Québec or not, in most people’s hearts in Québec, she’s part of the family – and they trust her.
In the next post, we’ll look at a very “interesting” investigative reporter, and the host of one of the biggest talk shows in the country (both of these people are tied into others figures already discussed in this list). See you soon!