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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

P.Coui1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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.

  1. 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!

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.

n-d.g

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

Premier Philippe Couillard’s Year-End Interview (#120)

Radio-Canada’s Chief Anchor, Celine Galipeau, aired a much-anticipated year-end interview with Premier Philippe Couillard yesterday.   The interview was a hot topic of discussion because the government has vowed to balance its buget within only two years (a large feat considering it took power with Canada’s second largest provincial budget deficit after Ontario).  Such action has not been seen in Québec since the Lucien Bouchard years of the last half of the 1990s.

The 15 minute interview (in French) can be viewed by clicking HERE on R-C’s website.

If you’re working on improving your French, the pace and accent in the interview would give you good practice (it’s standard, International French and not very fast).

In brief, Premier Couillard,

  • declared that Québec will not pursue shale-gas extraction due to a lack of benefits, high risks, and little public appetite (this closed the door on a long-standing debate),
  • explained the government’s various budget-cutting decisions
  • explained the government’s goals for the coming year and remaining mandate
  • defended various program decisions.

I skimmed the web, and there are many scathing reactions from various politically-engaged bloggers in Québec.  The web lit-up yesterday and today with people picking apart the government’s actions since taking power last April.

On the flip side, a Léger-Le Devoir poll came out last week saying that the provincial Liberals are still leading in the polls on various matters, such as

  • tax increases for insurance and banking institutions
  • the reduction of school commissions
  • freezing public sector wages for two years
  • charging for public daycare based on the user’s annual income
  • reforming municipal sector pension plans.

Overall ratings remain higher for the Liberals than any other party (at 46%).

Politics are never black-and-white, but it appears those who are barking are not necessarily representative of the majority.  But like anything in politics, nothing lasts forever.   Who knows if this will be a long or a short honeymoon – but it so far has been going for eight months and counting.