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Lise Payette – An “eavesdropping” short series: Nadeau-Dubois / Payette – Post 2 of 3 (#154)

I’m actually writing this post during the middle of the night from about 40,000 feet, flying somewhere over the state of Wisconsin, I think.  I have to make a quick trip to Nevada for work, and will meet up with some friends flying in from overseas, but I’ll try to find time to keep up with the daily posts.

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Although this is the second post in the three-part mini blog series featuring Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois and Lise Payette, this post is a must-read for context, in order for the next post to make sense (the next post will be the summary of the actual audio recording of the coversation between Nadeau-Dubois and Payette).

Lise Payette (born in 1931) is a still-respected former, well-known politician (learning about her has even been incorporated into Québec’s school curriculum).  She used to be a government minister within René Levesque’s Parti Québécois government.   She has not been a politician since the early 1980s, but she certainly made her mark on the party, and on Québec.  In more recent times (including today), she is a listed, and widely-read newspaper columnist (thus, her opinions still hold weight in certain circles).

Despite only being in government from 1976 to 1981, it’s notable just how well known she is – although younger generations (under 40’s – which I’m still part of) may not necessarily know her as well as those over 40. We under 40’s (especially Francophones, or those who have lived large parts of their lives between the French-English lines) have undoubtedly seen her in old film footage or documentaries, dozens and dozens of time.  Probably most Anglophones in Canada have also seen her in Canadian history documentaries, very often standing beside René Levesque, but perhaps were not aware of who she was.  However, for Anglophone Canadians, she likely is simply “that lady” they see standing on stage, beside René-Levesque, when seeing old footage of his speech upon losing the 1980 referendum, or of old footage of his other speeches.   But now when you see documentaries or old footage on the History channel or other major networks, at least you’ll now know who she is.

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If you’re over 40 and Francophone (or well acquainted with Francophone culture), you perhaps already know quite a bit about her. Likely two things would stand out in your mind :

  1. She was one of the first women in Canada to be a career cabinet minister. She held numerous cabinet positions in her short five years in politics – charting the way for other female politicians to hold senior government positions.
  2. She is forever associated with « L’affaire des Yvettes » (The “Yvettes Affair”).

So what is this « Affaire des Yvettes » (The “Yvettes Affair”)??

We all know about the infamous 1995 remarks Jacques Parizeau made when, upon losing the 1995 referendum, he declared it was lost because of “money and the ethinc vote”.  But you may be surprised to learn that a similar referendum “oral gaff” scandal took place during the first 1980 referendum, caused by remarks made by Lise Payette.

You’ll need to understand a little bit of the background first.  Not only was Lise Payette a successful and pioneering politician, but prior to her time in government she was also was a successful media personality.  With several high-profile exceptions (such as Jeannette Bertrand), a woman of media prominence in Québec during the 1960s and 1970s was still relatively uncommon (and a multi-portfolio female cabinet minister was even less common).  After having attained media prominence, and after being a government cabinet member for a few years, she was sensing that the 1980 referendum may be lost.  But more importantly, she feared women may be the “loosing factor”, meaning she feared they would not vote for sovereignty.  Payette therefore launched a controversial plea to women across Québec; to stop being “Yvettes”, and to take a chance and vote for sovereignty.   By accusing women of Québec of being “Yvettes”, the “Yvette” she was referring to was a character from Québec textbooks who was a subservient, traditional and passive girl.  Yvette, the character, fit the traditional role of what females had filled for hundreds of years.  Basically, translated into a reference Anglophones can identify with, Lise Payette was calling Québec women “timid little June Cleavers” (for lack of a better way of putting it).

Payette’s exact words were (translation from French):

« Guy practices sports : swimming, tennis, boxing, and diving. He plans to be a
champion with many trophies. Yvette, his little sister, is happy and docile. She always finds a way to please her parents. Yesterday at supper, she sliced the bread, filled the tea pot with hot water… And after lunch, she’s more than happy to wash the dishes and sweep the floor. Yvette is quite a dainty girl, eager to please ».

This comment inflamed women across Québec. To add further insult to injury, Lise Payette took a cheap shot at the expense of the wife of Claude Ryan, the then head of the Liberal Party and leader of the federalist “No” campaign of the 1980 referendum. Of Claude Ryan’s wife, Payette she proclaimed (in French):

“He (Claude Ryan) is just the type of man who I hate… I’m sure that Québec is full of “Yvette’s”… after all, he (Claude Ryan) is married to one.”

Just as Jacques Parizeau’s 1995 post-referendum “money and ethnic vote” comment infuriated huge swaths of Québec society, and perhaps turned off segments of society from ever voting for sovereignty in any future hypothetical referendums, so too did Lise Payette’s remarks infuriate significant segments of women in Québec. The difference, however, was that Payette made her Yvette comments “before” the 1980 referendum (whereas Parizeau made his comment “after” the 1995 referendum was already lost).

Following Payette’s remarks, but prior to the 1980 referendum, women across Québec founded a grass roots movement called « Les Yvettes » (“The Yvettes”). They organized conventions and rallies to denounce Lise Payette, the Parti Québécois, and to thus vote against sovereignty. The first rally, organized by Claude Ryans’s wife herself, attracted 1700 women. Subsequent rallies took place, with the largest attracting 14,000 women. It’s estimated that over 40,000 participated in several rallies in just a few short weeks.

Did this female backlash influence the result of the referendum?  Perhaps it did somewhat.  But did it result in the referendum being lost by a 20 point spread? Despite some people claiming it did, we will never truly know for sure what the effect was on the results, or by how much it influenced the result (opinion-polling was not a major part of the process in 1980, but I cannot see how it could have influenced the vote by a full 20 point spread – but that’s just my own guess).

What’s interesting is that both the 1980 and 1995 referendums came with major verbal gaffs from the highest ranks of the PQ leadership (I suppose whenever people are involved in something so critical and so emotional, human error will always have the potential to become an unpredictable wild-card).

Verbal gaffs are as old as the hill, and regrettable human gaffs will likely always be a part of politics.

Speaking of verbal gaffs, as a somewhat related aside (and something we may see escalate further in the next few weeks), the following recent account of verbal gaffs gives a good idea about how quickly they can snow-ball in Québec politics:

We recently saw a similar episode of a few verbal faux-pas in Québec politics. The first week of November, 2014, François Legault, the party leader of the (recently rebranded “federalist”) provincial party “Coalition Avenir Québec -CAQ” (Québec’s 3rd place party out of the four parties with seats in the National Assembly), took a verbal jab at both Pierre Karl Péladeau, PKP, (the aspiring leader-to-be of the Parti Québécois), and his politically engaged “media super-star”and activist wife, Julie Snyder.  In French, Legault made off-the-cuff remarks which he likely thought would highlight that Snyder and PKP come as an activist pair, but that he felt the two as a pair shouldn’t be given disproportionate attention.  Instead of referring to either of them by name, he referred to them as (translation):  “that guy and the wife of that other”.  

In response, Julie Snyder publicly proclaimed that Legault’s remarks should be interpreted as him having “no respect for the public, and no respect for women in general”.  Her husband, Pierre Karl Péladeau said that Legault should have more respect for his wife, considering “she is the creator of the most successful television and entertainment programs in the history of Québec”.  (their words, not mine).

Aspects of the media in Montréal, many of which have professional ties with, and are historically friendly to Julie Snyder, launched a barrage of accusations against Legault, with some accusing him of being a “misogynist” (dictionary definition of a “misogynist”: someone who hates or dislikes women or girls, and which can include sexual discrimination, denigration of women, violence against women, and the sexual objectification of women).

Legault apologized, saying it was just an off-the-cuff comment meant to be humourous, and that his remarks had no association with a stance regarding women.   But Legault obviously was quite bitter about the way Snyder drew massive public media attention to his remarks, owing to her celebrity status, and the way that this can create a sour mix when media-meets-politics.

A few weeks later, on December 18, Legault upped the ante and bore out his frustrations live on the “Show du matin” (The Morning Show) of one of Québec’s most listened to radio stations, Radio X (which is the most popular radio program in Québec City and Eastern Québec).  I was actually listening to the program live, as I was getting ready for work, when François Legault sought to even the score with Julie Snyder.

Legault ranted that Julie Snyder is (quote – his words, not mine) “more dangerous than her husband” and “(she is) dangerous in the sense that she allowed inferences to go on that I am a misogynist, she allowed inferences to go on that my wife doesn’t have the right to speak… Do you know anyone who is able to, in one fell swoop, appear on (Québec’s most popular morning TV show) ‘Salut Bonjour’ (on TVA), who can appear in every show on TVA, and can appear on all radio stations?  Do you know anyone else like that?  She is dangerous in the sense that she can have an impact on public opinion, which has nothing at all to do with reality.”

This latter statement garnered attention in the Québec City / Eastern Québec regions (the web lit up – check it out), but strangely enough, did not receive much coverage in Montréal, where Québecor/TVA/Newspapers (owned by Pierre Karl Péladeau), Productions J (owned by Julie Snyder) and their media “acquaintances”  are physically based.

I’m still waiting to hear what response Péladeau or Snyder will give.  They have not yet responded, but my guess is there will be some pointed comment launched at Legault sometime in the coming weeks, bringing all this squarely back into the public arena.  After all, it appears the duo is now are trying out a new tool in their war-chest… That of trying to find ways to make labels stick to their opponents the way people managed to brand Lise Payette in 1980 on gender-based issues.  But apart from a ranting few and some TVA personalities (all in Snyder’s court by default), the public didn’t bite.  The question is, will they try this stunt again?  And who will be their next target?  Stay tuned…

My advice?  Now, now, Children, Kings, Queens!! Grown ups!!  Settle down a bit and behave!  (Aren’t politics so much fun?!?!).

But enough about the Snyder/PKP-Legault gong show (regardless of how entertaining it has become), and lets get back to Lise Payette.

The next post will wrap up this 3-part mini blog series which brings Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois (part 1) and Lise Payette (part 2) together. The next post will give you a summary of their first meeting together over which they share a meal and conversation. I find it quite interesting.  You will have the controversial 24 year old, aspiring-world-changer activist share a meal with the 84 year old formerly controversial aspiring-world-changer activist of yesteryear. What will they talk about? What advice with Payette give to Nadeau-Dubois? Will he agree with her? Will either of them make controversial statements? Will they be two peas in a pod, or will they disagree like oil and vinegar?  In anticipation of the next post, I will say this upfront; they won’t be throwing their food at each other.

But stay tuned – and we’ll find out tomorrow.

P.S.  Gee, I wonder if I too will be given any labels by Julie for referring to Lise Payette in one of the sentences above as that lady” standing beside René Levesque!  (Score!   Ooops!, my bad)

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MINI “EAVESDROPPING” SERIES

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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.

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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. 

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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).

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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.

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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-Duboisrefusal 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).

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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).

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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.

Next post:

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 !!

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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).

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MINI “EAVESDROPPING” SERIES

25th Anniversary of RDI (#133)

Today is not only New Year’s Day, but it’s also the 25th anniversary of RDI (le Réseau de l’information), North America’s first French-language 24-hour television news station, owned and operated by the public broadcaster Radio-Canada, based in Montréal.     It’s a CRTC designated “Category A” station, which means everyone in Canada receives it as part of their basic television bundle.

The official name is ICI RDI.

The 1990s were a period in which most regions and jurisdictions across the world were creating their own local 24-hour news channels, a trend which continues today.    Countries as diverse as Albania, Turkey, Argentina, Kazakhstan, the US, India, and China (to list just a few in a very long list) all have their own 24-hour news television stations.  It allows them to stay on top of local issues, in their local languages – and they play a vital role in keeping issues in the forefront.

Here at home, our 24-hour TV news stations definitely focus on local issues, and competition can be quite fierce.   We now have a wide-range of such stations across the country:  RDI (French), Newsworld (English), LCN (French) and CTV News Channel (English).  We also have other minor, specialty, headline or opinion 24-news channels in both English and French.

RDI’s main competition is the French-language 24-hour news station LCI which attracts greater viewership numbers.

My own thoughts regarding RDI

I’m a News Junky (for those of you learning French, there actually is no direct translation in French for the slang expression “News Junky”.  The closest phrase would probably be “un accro des nouvelles” or “un adepte des actualités”).

In a nutshell, I think RDI plays a valuable role, and I have a great deal of positive things to say about the station, its program line-up, its on-air personalities, and their overall product.   It’s a channel I regularly watch as I’m doing things around the house (I wouldn’t have the channel on if I didn’t believe it’s worth watching).  But I also have criticisms and a number beefs about the direction RDI has taken.

As a Radio-Canada channel, RDI has a few hundred journalists at its disposition, a network of a few-dozen overseas and pan-Canadian news bureaus (which all belong to CBC and Radio-Canada), it’s part of a billion dollar television corporation and thus can do things many smaller stations never could.  Along with this comes all the power that stems from the notoriety of being one of Canada’s main news networks (if RDI asks a major politician, business person, or other news-maker a question during a news conference, they’re going to get an answer).

Because of this, RDI keeps politicians on their toes, it has the power and ability to investigate economic, societal or political issues which may otherwise go unnoticed, and it can shape public opinion (which has both pro’s and con’s).

As someone who goes back-and-forth between our nation’s two languages, cultures, and even physically between Québec and the rest of Canada (I’ve lived all over Canada, including Québec, and I have business in Québec through my own business ventures), I pay attention to how equitable RDI’s reporting is in a national sense.  Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that their news headlines seem to cover more and more pan-Canadian news.  In the early years, this didn’t seem to be the case (or at least it didn’t feel like it was the case).   I can recall living in provinces other than Québec, turning on RDI, and hoping to hear news which affected us in the provinces where I was living.  Yet, most times I was greatly disappointed (almost as if RDI was ignoring news stories elsewhere in Canada).   That has now changed somewhat.    A perfect example:  I am right now visiting Alberta for a couple weeks, I turned on RDI this morning, and the hours’ top news story (broadcast from Montréal) was about a crime that occurred in Calgary, and the second story was about another crime that occurred in Edmonton (both cities are here in Alberta).     In this sense, I commend RDI for having made improvements in the way they balance out their pan-Canadian reporting.

If you were to watch Radio-Canada’s main competitor, LCN (owned by Québecor and Pierre Karl Péladeau), you would generally not see coverage of pan-Canadian issues (LCN is a private network, and Péladeau’s interest is to probably not have LCN to focus on pan-Canadian issues).

With that being said, if I were to rank a station on a scale of 1 to 10 (with “1” signifying its reporting as being completely  geographically equitable regarding issues across Canada, and “10” being completely Québec-Centric, with no coverage of anything outside Québec), I would nonetheless rank RDI as a 7.5, and its competitor LCN as 9.8.   Neither of these are good scores.   This is a the beef I have with RDI.

RDI is supposed to be Canada’s French-language 24-hour public news broadcaster (funded by my and all of my compatriots tax dollars, regardless where they live in Canada), yet I’d only give them a 7.5 for being geographically equitable in their news reporting.    That’s actually quite sad, considering they have access to reporters, hundreds of millions of dollars in resources, and 30 news bureaus all across Canada.  If you live outside Québec, it kind of makes you say to yourself “So much for my tax dollars serving me”.

The 7.5 score I give it for geographic equity becomes even worse if you factor out top-of-the-hour news reports.  Once you look at the programming in remaining 45 minutes between the news headlines,  my 7.5 score quickly becomes a 9.5 or worse (just like LCN). 

My thoughts on four of RDI’s main anchor-programs

RDI has 17 programs and information segments, all of which can be viewed on their main website.  Of these, four stand out as being very Québec-centric (with the others kind of being everywhere on the Québec-centric scale, depending on the topics being discussed).    Below are my thoughts on the four most Québec-centric programs on RDI (which, happen to also be some of RDI’s highest rated programs).

One of RDI’s anchor-programs is Le club des ex, which is a political commentary program – but focused almost 100% on Québec related politics.   If all they talk about is Québec provincial politics, or how Federal government decisions affect Québec, what good is such programming to anyone in Ontario, the Atlantic provinces or the Western provinces and territories?   I have a strong suspicion that the three main commentators would not even be able to name opposition leaders in any other province, let alone reflect many of the political issues important to Canadians outside Québec.  This isn’t a cultural problem or cultural difference… rather it’s 100% a management decision problem.    However, the host of the program, Simon Durivage, I think is one of the best reporters, anchors, and most well-informed, dedicated journalists in all of Canada.   I think it’s completely unfortunate that he’s not playing a much wider journalistic role in RDI.  It’s obvious he knows the issues across Canada, and I think Le Club des ex is actually too narrow of a role for him and could be considered beneath him (this is actually a huge compliment to Durivage).  But, aside from the Québec-centric nature of Le Club des ex, it is a very good program, it’s host does a tremendous job, and the format is quite unique.

Another anchor-program with similar problems is 24/60, hosted by Anne Marie Dusseault.  It’s an opinion-maker program (which I often feel has a slanted political agenda – but I can live with it because it’s important to have exposure to multiple political and social views).  But again, you can’t help but feel it ignores anything occurring elsewhere in Canada if the issues cannot be related back to Québec.  A prime example: Dusseault recently took her show to Vancouver for one episode to interview Robert Latimer (the Saskatchewan farmer who euthanized his mentally handicapped daughter because she was suffering terribly from a debilitating disease).   During the interview, Dusseault constantly steered the issue back to Québec; what Québec should do, how Québec should react, how aspects of Canada’s overall politics may be at odds with some people in Québec, etc etc.   Here she was, reporting on something very important to all of us in Canada, even travelling all the way to Vancouver to interview Latimer (who has likely never even been to Québec himself), but yet her focus was Québec, Québec, Québec.  Latimer simply couldn’t address her questions properly because she kept venturing into unknown territory for him.  It just wasn’t fair for him, and I believe it was really poor reporting in that sense.

RDI Économie is another anchor-program which is quite Québec-centric.  However, this one is different from the above two.  Like Durivage, the host of RDI Économie, Gérald Fillion, is someone who I hold in high esteem.  I believe he’s one of Canada’s best economic television journalists.   He knows his stuff, and he knows the issues across Canada.   Yet, I get the impression he’s boxed into a corner because his program has to generate Québec-based ratings.  Thus, the programs remains heavily Québec-centric.

RDI Matin is the morning news and variety-information program.   Yet, as you’re preparing to leave your house for your commute to work in Winnipeg, Victoria, or Halifax, they’ll warn you about traffic congestion going into downtown Montréal, or over the Champlain Bridge in Montréal, or an accident in Laval just outside Montréal.   The weather report might give updated temperatures in Québec City or Ottawa, but then they may simply say “it will be an OK day in Saskatchewan” (does that mean cold? Or hot? And will it be the same weather in Saskatoon as Regina?).   It’s kind of insulting if you think about it.   Combined with Montréal-centric news and events, you sometimes get the feel you might as well turn the TV off if you’re living somewhere other than Montréal.

In the end, you’re left with the impression you’re watching RDI-“Québec”, despite the fact that RDI’s mandate and tax dollars are supposed to provide people across Canada with access to their news in French.

Why might there be this disconnect?

I’ll be the very first person to say that Anglophone media does just as poor a job reporting on issues in Francophone parts of the country.  Québec garners lower national coverage, than say Ontario.  Acadia does too, as well as Francophone Ontario (which is pretty much all of North East Ontario and an important chunk of Eastern Ontario).  In Canada’s Toronto-centric Anglophone media, these places might as well not even exist, and other aspects of Francophone Canada are ignored out of existence (I also feel that Anglophone Atlantic Canada more than often also gets the short-end of the stick from Toronto-centric Anglophone media, so it’s not just Francophone Canada which gets short-changed).

Remember, the word “Two” exists in the expression “The Two Solitudes”… it takes two to tango (the reason I say Anglophone media can be just as guilty as Francophone media in not covering events across the language divide).

Now that I’ve layed out my beefs, at the end of the day I’m a realist and I get why this situation exists.   And in the end, my overall views about RDI are not as harsh as they may appear from my above comments.

When you’re a media company, it means that you rely on ratings for survival — period!.  No ratings = no $$ = no existence.

The majority of RDI’s viewership is derived from Québec.  So you have you ask yourself if you can swallow the Québec-centric nature RDI’s programming in exchange for justifying its existence.  (Despite the fact that RDI is a public corporation, it is still heavily dependent on advertising dollars, which are dictated by ratings).

Another reason for this disconnect is because of the competition RDI faces from online and social media news.  The age of instantly-available news makes it so that television news has to focus more and more on

  1. analysis programming, and
  2. commentary programming

(both of which are types of programming online and social-media news have more difficulty competing against).

Commentary programming often focuses on politics (the easiest things to comment on), and the general public tends to bend their ear towards, and be better-informed about local politics than the politics of other jurisdictions.   Because RDI is leaning quite heavily on political commentary programming to garner ratings (much more than many of Canada’s other news networks), they have to keep the topics local to maintain viewer numbers.

The general public in Québec wouldn’t have a clue what’s being talked about if commentary programs discuss politics in British Columbia (BC) or Prince Edward Island (PEI) for example.  However, there is room for “analysis programming” to pick up the slack and narrow the gap in this realm.   The general Québec viewer perhaps wouldn’t understand commentaries on BC or PEI politics, but if the issues were explained to them through an analysis program, they then may take an interest (analysis programs are shows which explain the issues, versus commentary programming which simply comments on the issues and presents opinions).

I’m one who will accept RDI’s Québec-centric nature if it means that it remains on air.  RDI does still report on issues across Canada, and that’s important to me and many others.   I wouldn’t want it to become any more Québec-centric — but I have a hunch it will continue to move in the direction of more geographically-equitable reporting with time.  I say this because I see excellent journalists like Fillion, Durivage and many others who have the knowledge and capacity to deliver analysis-based programming rather than commentary-style programming.

It might take a while to get there, but with added pressure to compete against internet and social-media news sources, RDI will have to shift to more analysis programming rather than relying simply on commentaries to compete (to put all your eggs in one basket, ie: too heavily commentary-based, is just bad business basics and practices).  I’m optimistic they will continue to diversify into the realm of analysis programming, which holds more promise for pan-Canadian reporting of issues.

In the end, the news junky in me is just happy that RDI exists (glass half-full…)  🙂

RDI’s official website is http://ici.radio-canada.ca/rdi/. 

Their website has streaming video, news, program info, etc.  Check it out.

Happy 25th RDI !

Simon Durivage (#129)

Simon Durivage just received the Order of Canada.

He’s a very famous, longtime anchor — with a television anchoring career dating back to 1968.  Actually, he’s one of Canada’s and Québec’s most respected Editor-in-Chiefs and Chief Station Anchors.  He continues to be a television host, and in this respect, he is among a very small group of Québécois anchors who could be considered the Québec version of a living/ongoing Nolton Nash & Lloyd Robertson (in English Canada) or a Dan Rather, Mike Wallace, or Barbara Walters (in the US).

Durivage started his career with Radio-Canada, and for many many years, he hosted several of R-C’s pillar programs including:

  • Enjeux (a W5 / 5th Estate / 60 minutes type program)
  • Le Point (the 30 minute analysis / special reporting section which used to follow the 30 minute news segment of the daily evening news on R-C)
  • Montréal ce soir (the Montréal evening news).

He had also anchored programs on Radio-Québec (today’s Télé-Québec) at the tail end of the 1970s, and he also hosted a show on TV5 (“the” international French television station) for a short period.

Durivage then moved to Québecor’s TVA network in 1997 in prominent Chief Anchor roles, hosting his own programs.

He moved back to Radio-Canada in 2003 as a Chief input anchor on R-C’s 24-hour network RDI.  Today, we see him on air everyday as the host of his own opinion-maker / commentary show, Le Club des ex.

Le Club des Ex is daily a program which sees Durivage as the moderator and interviewer of a 3-personal panelist of “ex”-politicians (hence the title of the show, “The Club of Ex’s”).  The three panelists are paid by Radio-Canada on a year-to-year contract, and are given full-salary by R-C (the salaries have been the topic of media attention over the last few months, and Gilles Duceppe even declined a panelist position because he would lose his former MP Federal pension if he were to derive a salary from a Federal agency, including Radio-Canada).  Each of the current panelists were former Members of Québec’s National Assembly, and they provide commentaries based on their personal experience, views, and political opinions.

Actually, it’s quite fitting I mentioned Simon Durivage’s current role on Le Club des ex, as it ties into some political commentary posts I’ve written in the past.  You may have read my previous post “Québec’s Network of Opinion Makers”.   In that post, I listed some of Québec’s most high profile and well-known opinion makers and opinion maker programs. Among that list, I mentioned Le Club des ex.  I mentioned in that post that some of Québec’s opinion-makers and opinion-marker programs often slant and lean their media-expressed commentaries and views towards sovereignty (although I do not believe “Le Club des Ex” has any political agenda).  In the past post entitled Le Plateau I gave some of the main reasons why this may be, despite a strong majority of Québec’s population not being in favour of sovereignty (although I discussed in the post Maurais Live that, although a majority of people do not support sovereignty outright, there is still an important segment of the population who could be considered “soft sovereignists”).  If you read these few posts together and take them as one continuous series, you’ll get a fairly good insight into how the ideology of sovereignty and the media-world meet (and for a further dose of insight of this sovereignty-meets-media phenomena, you might want to read the continuously running post No way, Le Figaro).

But unlike some other opinion-makers, Simon Durivage, as the host of Le Club des ex, does an  commendable job of maintaining political neutrality – with a sincere attempt to objectively get to the bottom of matters, regardless of the political topic being discussed.  I have absolutely no idea what Durivage’s personal political views are, and I frankly don’t care because he can be trusted to deliver a non-partisan point of view and to take everyone to task equally… always seeking to see and report the bigger picture. As such, Simon Durivage is one of the Canadian journalists who I trust the most (be they Anglophone or Francophone). Add to that a career dating from 1968 (46 years), and all the experience that entails, there truly is almost nobody in Canada’s media who can deliver topics quite like Simon Durivage.

He truly is the one of best that Canada’s media has to offer – and he deserves all the accolades he receives.

ADDENDUM: 2015-06-19

Today is Simon Durivage’s last day as host of Le Club des ex.   He is retiring, but he says the public will continue to see him in media projects dear to his heart.

I sent him a note earlier today, and I wish him the best.

Bonne semi-retraite Simon!  Profitez-en du temps libre avec vos proches.  Vous le méritez.   B.

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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