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A building public debate concerning foreign investment in Canadian real-estate (#233)

The last three of posts and this post relate to how Canada and Québec consistently exchange issues which mutually influence their collective psyches and give rise to a symbiotic relationship.

This post will provide the last of three such examples.  This one is a bit different from the last post.  I’ll write about a “sensitive” and “controversial” issue being discussed more and more in English Canada, but which has not yet fully made it into the arena of public debate (both politically or across the country).  However, there are increasing signs which point to it soon becoming a full-blown public matter of debate.

If it does continue to build more steam in English Canada, it very much has the potential to make the leap into Québec’s arena of public debate.

The matter relates to foreign investment in Canadian real-estate, and how it may be affecting (and misaligning) the affordability of housing for “average” Canadians.

It is a debate which primarily involves Toronto and Vancouver, but which is not exclusive to these two cities.

Anecdotally speaking, from my own observations, there appears to be a growing belief among residents of Vancouver and Toronto that massive foreign investment may be flowing into the real-estate markets of these two markets, primarily from China, but also from other countries.  I consistently hear people say they believe this to be a major factor as to why the average home price in Toronto is now over $1,000,000, and over $1,500,000 in Vancouver (now rated as the second most expensive real-estate market in the world after Hong Kong).

The argument goes that foreign investors (who do not have immigration status in Canada) “park” their money in Canadian real-estate for investment purposes, and then rent the properties out at very high rents – all the while shutting out hundreds of thousands of local residents from their own real-estate market.

Up front, I want to make myself perfectly clear that I do not know if such allegations are accurate or not.  I have yet to see any major studies on the issue.

I also want to be very categorical in stating that even if this were to be a factor in rising real-estate prices, it would likely be only one of several reasons.

I have searched high and low, but I cannot find any in-depth studies regarding this matter.   However there are numerous “incidental” studies out there which perhaps lend credence to the above public beliefs.  For example, there are studies which show that power consumption rates during peak hours indicate that up to 40% of many “high sales” neighbourhoods demonstrate properties to be vacant, or that driver’s license holders tied to many single-family home neighbourhoods have low Canadian permanent residence or citizenship rates.

This clearly indicates the need for urgent and comprehensive studies to be conducted to determine if such anecdotal or observation-based evidence is indeed correct or not.

Australia conducted studies and found their cities did have a serious enough problem with foreign investment (primarily from mainland China) in their housing markets to warrant Australia imposing residency requirements in order to purchase Australian real-estate in order to correct disproportionately priced real-estate markets.

There may be reasons in Canada why we are not seeing such studies conducted.  City governments may fear the results may indeed show a problem exists.  They may then fear losing property tax revenue if housing restrictions are imposed.  In this sense, this debate may become highly political.

Some of my own anecdotal observations which lead me to advocate for objective studies to be conducted:

Here are some reasons, from my own anecdotal observations, as to why I believe there should be objective and independent studies into this issue.

As you may be aware, I lived in mainland China for over a decade.  The Chinese currency is not a freely traded currency on world markets.  Mainland China’s population does not have access to the diversity of investment opportunities as us in Canada.   They don’t have a free and developed mutual, bonds, RRSP, REP, securities or derivatives market.  Where such opportunities do exist, they come with excessive risk, little return, or they may be highly restricted.   Therefore, for most of China’s 1.3 billion people, the only options for investment are (1) housing, (2) domestic stocks, and (3) gold.   Yet housing purchases in China are restricted to one property per person, Chinese stocks have not performed for years, and gold yields little return.

For many (perhaps most) mainland Chinese, the only “safe” and “secure” investment is overseas real-estate.  Canada, the US, and Australia are the preferred markets.  When I resided in China, I met many Chinese (often middle-class Chinese, earning a middle-class income between CAD $50,000 – $80,000) who owned property in Canada or who had friends/relatives who owned property in Canada.  Yet they did not reside in Canada.

Statistically, China has five to six times Canada’s population which has just as large a personal net worth as five to six times Canada’s population.  If only one tenth (the equivalent of half of Canada’s population) were to “park” their money in Canada’s “safe-haven” real-estate, the repercussions to Canada could be enormous.  If the Canadian market were to turn sour, and the money was pulled back to China in a knee-jerk reaction, the repercussions to Canada’s real-estate market (and thus its economy) could be devastating.   This is yet another urgent reason for serious, independent studies.

Another anecdotal story pertains to farmland.   A few weeks ago I was in Saskatchewan.  While waiting for my luggage at Regina’s airport, I noticed the following sign above the luggage carrousel.

rg.apt.1

The company is a company which facilitates Saskatchewan farm purchases (it is written in simplified Chinese, and thus quite possibly targets Chinese with a mainland education).   Such a company must operate within Canadian laws, so in no way am I insinuating it is doing anything illegal.

Incidentally, while waiting for my luggage, there was a group of approximately 15 Chinese nationals also waiting for their luggage.   I speak fluent Chinese.  Out of curiosity, I asked one of the gentleman what brought them from China to Saskatchewan.  When mainland Chinese find out I speak Mandarin, they generally open up much more to me than what they would to other people.   He responded that they all came from China to purchase farmland.

I told him I was a bit “confused” because I was under the belief that Saskatchewan had a Canadian citizenship requirement for those who purchase farmland.  The man told me that there are always ways around this.  A second man in the same delegation overheard our conversation and he said he sent his daughter to the University of Regina, instead of a US university, specifically to be able to get around these rules (perhaps she forged Canadian connections through which to fraudulently funnel such investments?).

My uncle and cousin own large tracts of farmland in Southern Saskatchewan.  I mentioned to my family what I was told at Regina’s airport, and I also mentioned the sign I saw at the airport.   I was told that within the previous four months, my uncle had three mainland Chinese delegations knock on his door, unsolicited, asking to purchase his farmland.

Throughout the same week I spent in Southern Saskatchewan, I also heard numerous times that many people are becoming quite frustrated with the situation because foreign farmland investment has pushed Prairie farmland to unaffordable limits for most local residents.  Because land is so expensive, and because it would take new farmers so long to pay off their land purchase, banks will no longer grant loans to start-up farmers for fear that it would take too long for famers to see profitable return on their land purchases.

Several times I was told by different individuals in Saskatchewan that the best new farmers could hope for would be to become tenants on Chinese-owned farmland in the Prairies.

I do not know if these anecdotal stories are founded or not.  Regardless, I can find no studies to either prove or debunk the possibility.  That in itself is of great concern.

An example of how public perception appears to be turning into public anger:

On 27 March, 2014, CBC news reported that a Vancouver bungalow sold for $567,000 above the asking price of $1.6 million, for a final sale price of $2.2 million.

You can read the CBC article BY CLICKING HERE

This quickly resulted in 830 comments (which is an unusually high comment count for any CBC article).  Most comments appear to be from Vancouver residents, and the vast majority are scathing remarks towards Chinese investment.  I have rarely ever seen such public anger expressed in the comments section of any CBC article.

There appears to be serious public resentment lying just below the surface.  It leaves me wondering if there will soon be a breaking point (and thus a turning point) with respect to how people channel their frustration, and the direction this debate will take in Canada.

I will say this:  It will NOT be good if public frustration begins to be vented on our local Chinese Canadians (local Chinese Canadians are not the “foreign” investors who park cash in Canada without residing in Canada).  This is yet another reason why very urgent studies are required to paint an accurate portrait of the situation.

Because I do speak Chinese, I have had numerous discussions with local Chinese Canadians in Toronto.   The people I have spoken with are also becoming very frustrated with what they also perceive to be unsustainable levels of mostly “foreign” Chinese investment in the Canadian real-estate market.  Chinese Canadians I have spoken with also believe such investment is tipping Canadian housing to unaffordable levels.

Of equal concern, they are concerned that Canada’s general public will confuse Chinese Canadians and Chinese “foreign” investors.   Some feel that the general public is already beginning to take frustrations out on Chinese Canadians (who are not the cause of this issue).   This is very serious, and it should be of great concern to all politicians.

We must avoid a “witch-hunt” and “run-away” anecdotal public conclusions at all costs.

Yet, you may say I am talking from both sides of the mouth.  You may say to yourself that I am contributing to such anecdotal conclusions by what I have just written.

Understand that my point in writing this post is not to say this is “definately what is happening”.  Rather it is in part to demonstrate that if I, as a member of te public, believe there may be possible problematic issues, even in the absence of proof, then many others also may be thinking in then same vein.

The difference is that I am more than willing to accept that my own percsptions may indeed be wrong in the absence of objective studies.

The problem lies in the fact that other people may not accept the possibility that their own conclusions may be wrong.  Their own frustrations may turn into a public witch-hunt, and innocent Chinese Canadians or permanent residents may bear thee brunt of frustrated public sentiment.

That’s the danger, and that’s why we need stufies to figure out precisely what is (or what is not) happening in our real-estate maket (be it government sponsored or government endorsed independent studies).

Do you see the difference?

How this debate may eventually find its way into Québec’s arena of public debate:

This debate has not yet become a major political debate in English Canada, but I believe it is moving in that direction.   However, Québec’s population does not yet seem to be aware of this debate in English Canada.

With this being said, I still believe this “English Canada debate” does have the potential to jump from English Canada to Québec.

In January, I was in Montréal accompanying a friend as she was condo shopping.  We looked at five separate condo complexes.  In two of the complexes there were delegations of mainland Chinese investors looking at condos at the same time as us.   They all averaged 3 to 4 couples (6 to 8 individuals).  Again, I spoke to them in Chinese.  I asked what happen to “bring them to Canada”.  All lived in China, and all made the trip to Montréal on a condo-investing mission.   They told me Canadian real-estate investments are more lucrative and safer than Chinese domestic investments – particularly for retirement capital.

After my friend and I finished looking at condos, I asked the condo sales representatives if “mainland Chinese sales” constitute a common type of sale for them.   They responded about 40% of their sales inquiries are from Chinese buyers, and about half of those are for to purchase a condo for their children temporarily study in Montréal (with the intention to renting out the condo after their children graduate).  Yet, the remaining half are simply for an investment property which may, or may not be rented out.   (Note: they did not tell me what percent of their “sales” were to foreign Chinese nationals, but their responses regarding “inquiries” are quite telling).

This appears to demonstrate that real-estate investment concerns which exist in English Canada may also exist in Québec.   The major difference is that Québec’s population has not yet began to debate the issue, whereas we’re starting to see potential signs of a very heated (and intolerant) debate in English Canada.

If the debate in English Canada becomes emotionally adversarial, I would not be surprised if it triggers a similar debate in Québec.

In the meantime, I just hope that people don’t confuse the issues and incorrectly take their frustrations out on Chinese Canadians who are struggling with high home prices just as much as other Canadians.

I strongly urge our politicians in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montréal to conduct impartial, in depth studies into this matter as quickly as possible, so as to either prove or disprove what many Canadians perceive to be a major problem.

———————————————–

This concludes the four-part mini-blog series on how public policy and public debate can cross back and forth between English Canada and Québec.  I hope I provided some concrete examples which show how both side’s issues can mutually affect how all sides view the world, how they evolve and how they develop together… to the extent that both sides often think more along the same lines than not.

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The “reasonable accommodations” debate makes the leap from Québec to the rest of Canada (#232)

The last couple of posts, and this and the next post relate to how Canada and Québec’s issues, politics, societal concerns, and social spheres mutually effect each other.  This is why we very much share a collective psyche in so many spheres (more which is shared than not).  It is a symbiotic relationship.

The following is the second example of three where Québec and Canada are mutually, and currently (right now) influencing and shaping each other’s societal views and collective psyche (an “averaging out” and “melding” of the two, if you will).

This example examines a debate going on right now which involves reasonable accommodations.  I have already sufficiently blogged on the question of reasonable accommodations, so there is little need for me to delve into the details of it again.  If you wish to read up on the details, you can refer to a few past posts:

SERIES:  MULTICULTURALISM AND INTERCULTURALISM (8 POSTS)

The latest public debate regarding reasonable accommodations pertains to the wearing of Niqabs in public, or during the participation in / exercise of official government bureaucracy.

H.dr.s1

The debate started in Québec before it took off in the rest of Canada.  The debate took flight in Québec in 2012 with issues surrounding the Chartes des valeurs..

Now that we’re in “unofficial” election mode for the 2015 Federal election, the debate has recently made the leap from Québec into the overall Canadian arena in the last few months (since the end of 2014).   However, I do not believe the debate would have become mediatized or political elsewhere in Canada had the matters not already been issues in Québec.   Federal pan-Canadian politicians, desirous of votes in Québec and elsewhere in Canada, have brought the debate into the full public Canadian arena (which perhaps would not have happened had certain high-profile federal politicians not got their fingers in it).

A mix of Middle-Eastern politics, current events and religious fundamentalism (which in my view should never have been mixed into the Niqab debate) has been capitalized upon by opportunistic politicians – and these completely unrelated matters have now somehow ended up being tied to a discussion regarding the wearing of the Niqab by the narrowest of minorities in Canada (perhaps involving only a few hundred individuals across the entire country).

Three posts ago, you saw how this debate is now entering the realm of federal political attack advertisements – in a very high-profile manner to say the least (click HERE to see one such ad against the Niqab, but be aware that there are others out there as well).

Generally speaking, for many Canadians, this is the first time they have come face-to-face with this specific debate.   Thus, for many in the country, they are still in the learning stage regarding the issue at hand (many, perhaps most, did not even know what a Niqab was until certain politicians decided this would be an election issue).  This has therefore left a huge public understanding gapwhich a number of politicians are capitalizing on.  These politicians have insinuated to the public that current (violent) Middle-Eastern events and / or “anti-Canadian values” can be tied to wearing the Niqab in a Canadian context, and thus they have filled the public misunderstanding gap with an emotional “plug” (regarding citizenship ceremonies, appropriate dress at court, what is “comfortable” clothing in a public space, what symbols are to be associated with radicalization, and even terrorism [Yikes! Seriously??], etc.).

A few provincial Québec politicians and parties (four parties in Québec to be precise;  1 federal party (the BQ), 3 provincial parties in Québec (the PQ, QS &ON) have been flogging the Niqab issue for three years.   It was only because some Federal politicians only recently saw that this was a debate upon which could be capitalized on (following Québec’s example), that this was brought into the Canadian arena as a whole — primarily by the Conservative party

(Note:  I am not making a political statement as to whether or not I support the Conservative party overall… I am merely stating that it is a fact that the Conservative Party has brought this issue into the public arena).

The Conservatives have tried their hand at this debate with the rest of Canada, they have crafted their own messaging, and it is now dividing aspects of the Canadian population, and perhaps is paying political dividends (big sigh).

I also know that this issue is dividing certain Conservatives and even Liberals within their own respective parties — right across the country (I have friends in both parties, and people in both parties seem to be torn over the issue, and how it has been politicized).  This division within each respective party was perhaps an unintended and unexpected by-product of the debate.   But it is also a division which is very present in Québec as well.   It is being talked about across the country, and it has now become a Canadian debate in this respect, rather than just a Québec debate (regardless if one is Francophone or Anglophone).

However… my personal feeling is that most Canadians feel that this should not be a public debate, and are rather indifferent to the issue (even if they vote Conservative), despite the attention it is garnering.   A perfect indication of this:  An election was called in Alberta today for later in May (Canada’s most big “C” Conservative province, and the province where I grew up, and in which much of my family still lives)… and this appears to NOT to be a matter which any Alberta provincial politician wishes to capitalize upon as an election issue (be it Progressive Conservative, Liberal, NDP or Wildrose).  I think that says a lot (and I also know many people in Québec who had wished this issue never surfaced in Québec either).

Nonetheless, on the Federal scene, I’m guessing this one debate alone has occupied 15%-20% of the Federal election-issue debate for the first third of 2015 (perhaps even 25% or higher).  I personally feel that this is quite sad if these numbers are anywhere close to being accurate; what a waste of precious electoral debate time, especially when there are way more important issues to debate.   On the other hand, perhaps it is a good thing that this is being debated… if for nothing else, than to get this debate over with as quickly as possible, and to bury this issue once and for all as a question of public debate; both provincially in Québec, and Federally across Canada.  Time will tell what the outcome will be.

If you have never “met” someone who wears a Niqab, I strongly urge you to have a look at the following 25 minute video interview in the CBC article below.

It is an interview with a very well educated businesswoman / entrepreneur who wears the Niqab (does that in itself peak your curiosity??).   This interview might help you to understand this Niqab issue better (I wish we saw many more video interviews like this, especially in French and in Québec… where I have so far seen no interviews of this nature to date).

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/niqab-a-choice-that-doesn-t-limit-us-ottawa-s-mahwash-fatima-says-1.3019347

Within the first 24 hours, the above CBC article and interview garnered 2500 comments.  I personally cannot remember the last time that I have ever seen a CBC website article accumulate 2500 comments in such a short period of time (I have been reading the CBC news online on an almost daily basis for over a decade, and I have actually never ever seen any of their articles garner 2500 comments).  I think that shows just how strongly people across the country feel about the issue — either in support of the person in the video, or against the wearing of the Niqab under certain conditions.

That is precisely why certain political parties are so quick to capitalize on the question, and turn this into an election issue; a perfect example of how Québec’s political and societal debates and sphere also affects the rest of Canada – coast-to-coast.

The next post will provide an example of a public debate which is just starting to gain momentum in English Canada, which has the potential to become a significant issue, and which has the potential to make a jump from English Canada to Québec.

Current budgetary debates – a page taken from everyone’s books (#231)

The last post was an introduction for this and the next two posts. In the past post and the next two posts, let us explore how Québec’s (and Canada’s) relationship is one of symbiotic evolution.

All provinces have a role to play in our country’s symbiotic relation.  However the nature of Québec gives it a unique role in this evolution – to the extent that I am certain Canada and its people would not have been the same in the absence of this relationship.  Likewise, Québec and its people would not have been the same in the absence of this relationship.

The following example is one in which the overall Canadian context is currently (right now) influencing Québec’s own internal public policy & collective or public psyche.

Québec, like a number of other provinces is currently undergoing a period of hard fiscal restraint (some call it “austerity”, but I am not sure austerity would be the correct word — at least not in the sense of what we have seen in certain European countries over the past seven years).

Nonetheless, this is currently a hot-button issue (as it usually is).

In Alberta, the “Progressive Conservative” government recently implemented what could stereotypically be viewed as a “Liberal” budget (oil prices tanked, but despite a severe drop in oil revenue, Alberta wants to take a cautious, slow approach to eliminating their deficit until it becomes clear what direction the economy will take over the next two or three years).

Yet, in Québec the “Liberal” government has recently implemented what could stereotypically be called a “Progressive Conservative” budget (the current government is making fast and deep cuts, eliminating a massive deficit in a little over one year.  They’re doing so because they already know where the province would financially sit in the absence of such cuts).

I am certain that both provinces (Alberta and Québec) would have drawn from to past Federal, Alberta, and Ontario experiences from the 1990s and 2000s when trying to decide how best to navigate their current difficult cash-flow realities.   They also would have compared each other’s situations with those of other provinces when trying to guess where they would be in a few years.

Our provinces have a habit of sharing best practices. 

Considering our provinces basically share the same systems, I would not be at all surprised if Québec consulted other provinces to learn from their own budgetary experiences to seek out best practices.  This would take out a great deal of the guess work, and would allow Québec to implement fiscal and structural changes which worked for other provinces, and which worked without “harming” the system.  Areas where there could have been consultations likely would have been regarding the consolidation of health administration structures, the fusion of education districts, the balancing of tax changes etc. – all which have (successfully) occurred in other provinces, and some of which appear to have been copied in Québec.

In my view, learning from the lessons of other provincial budgetary exercises is a broad type of Canadianization.   It simply makes sense that our current provincial governments would look at how other parts of Canada have handled similar issues when deciding how best to deal with present regional / provincial issues.  This is all-the-more important considering that our political and economic systems are generally the same at their core, regardless of what province we reside in.

But frankly speaking, I don’t think we should apply a party label to any budget.  A government just needs to be practical and needs to look to past Canadian experiences in order to determine the best route of the present (that’s why we have seen Liberal budgets which have both splurged and slashed, PC budgets which have both splurged and slashed, and a very mixed bag from NDP governments).

The fact that one jurisdiction tends to learn from another is where I believe Canada, as a Federal State, has a HUGE advantage over “unitary” countries (like Italy, the UK, France, Portugal, Japan, etc.).   We have 10 provinces, 3 territories, and one federal government which, in our highly decentralized environment, operate quite autonomously on many fronts.  Within the span of 5 years, each of these 14 relatively autonomous jurisdictions will have at least one election cycle.  Thus, within only 5 short years, as a country we have 14 times the amount of government budgetary experiences from which to draw from – from which to find “best practices” — and from which to implement the best-of-the-best as we continue to move forward.

Compare this with unitary” countries.  “Unitary” countries only have one election cycle and only one government within a 5 year span.  Thus, they have no other “best-practice” examples from which to draw from within the confines of their own economic, governmental and social systems.

One short side-note in closing:  Unfortunately our “local” media generally does not report on the budgetary successes of other provinces when reporting on local budgetary exercises.   Local media will often be more apt to criticize local budgetary exercises without pointing out how the same measures have worked elsewhere.  It’s unfortunate – especially when there is a language barrier.  Take from that what you will.   But then again, I am an advocate for bilingualism, which allows for light to be shed on these issues — and for a better informed, well-rounded perspective.

The next couple of posts will provide additional examples of our current symbiotic evolution in action.

Québec and Anglophone Canada, a relationship of symbiotic evolution (#230)

We often hear people say that Canada is influenced by Québec’s public debates – be it societal, social progressive, or economic in nature.

The argument is that Québec plays a role in “boost-starting” societal debate elsewhere in Canada, policy and legislation in the rest of Canada, or will sometimes lend that “extra little push” to public debates which already exist in Canada – enough to tip it over the edge to incite change.

Over the years we have seen several such examples:  recent issues surrounding the allowance of doctor assisted suicide, the much earlier debates and policies pertaining to abortion-related issues, gay marriage, national linguistic policies, certain Federal parties adopting a Québec approach to things such as universal daycare platforms, environmental issues, etc.

I tend to agree with the above portrait in a “general” sense, but I also firmly believe that it is a two-way street.

As much as Québec has a Québeconization effect upon the rest of Canada, the rest of Canada also has an overall Canadianization effect on Québec  (just as all provinces are influenced by this Canadianization effect).  Examples of this include the earliest notions of industry nationalization (huge swaths of key Canadian  industries, and other provincial industries were once “nationalized” much earlier than Québec’s round of provincial nationalizations — which helped to serve as a model for Québec’s nationalizations, such as Hydro-Québec), universal health-care from Saskatchewan, or provincial-aboriginal autonomy agreements to name just a few (BC’s landmark Nisga’a agreement could be said to have served as a model for Québec’s historic “Cree Nation Agreement” signed by Bernard Landry — although I doubt Landry would admit it, considering that it serves as a perfect example of the effectiveness, practicality and pragmatism of Federalism).

This mutual influence works as a mutual symbiosis — which I believe is beneficial to all of us in Canada.

It has a “tempering” effect, as well as a “call-to-action” effect.  It makes us a well-rounded, level-headed and worldlier country, with greater opportunities for all (socially, economically, and environmentally).  One could think of it as a check-and-balance approach at a practical level.  But I tend to think of it more in practical terms; as a matter of debating the largest and most important issues across all provinces, then taking the best approaches (and best practices) and adopting them throughout the country.

As things are debated, as policies & laws are formed, and as they make the jump back and forth between Québec and English Canada, we mutually influence each other.  The changes spur our societal evolution, and ends up shaping our collective and individual psyche (both in Québec and elsewhere in Canada).  These changes do not occur overnight.  Rather, they form over years, decades and generations.

This is also a major reason why we have a unique way of approaching and viewing things; a unique perspective and a unique national psyche which differentiates us from even our closest neighbours and friends (such as the USA, Australia, NZ, the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries, Germany, and the list goes on…).  We simply would not be the same people or same country without this internal symbiotic relationship (even in the furthest reaches of Canada are affected by it, as we all our subject to the influences of our national policies, legislation, and growth of our shared values).

This is why, despite the continued existence the Two Solitudes (which are apparent in daily aspects of our lives, such as Francophone versus Anglophone pop-culture), we still share a deep “collective” culture, train of thought, approach to issues, and mindset – common to both Québec’s society and English Canada’s society (you may recall that three posts ago, in the post entitled “How a little bit of ignorance of the Two Solitudes can lead straight to failure” I mentioned that you cannot “split” Canada’s “combined” Anglo-Franco culture when talking about public policy and laws in a national context (versus talking about them in a regional context).

Even today, we’re currently experiencing a series of “national” events which fit with the notion of a melding of common public debate, the formation of public policies and legislation, and the continued evolution of our collective society, values and psyche.

The next three posts will look at three current and specific examples in which

  • the overall Canadian context is now influencing Québec’s own internal public policy,
  • Québec’s recent public debates are now influencing Canada’s overall current public debates,
  • a possible future public debate, which is slowly gathering more-and-more steam throughout English Canada, and which has the potential to provoke a debate in Québec on the same subject at some point in the future.

I’ll see you soon as we explore the above three examples in the next posts.

Guy A. Lepage (#4)

Guy A. Lepage was mentioned in this blog’s first post as being the host of Tout le monde en parle.

Where does one begin (or end) when talking about Guy A. Lepage?  From a pop-culture point-of-view, he has a long list of accomplishments – a force unto himself over a period of 30 years, with wide reaching appeal in Quebec culture (but from his youthful looks and energy levels, you’d never guess he was born in 1960!).

It would take a book to write about the number of cultural and popular awards he has won, or just how well-known he is with Francophones.

In pop-culture, there are past references we can all recall from when we were younger;  references you can joke about any time, and have them instantly understood by your peers.  These shared experiences create a feeling of belonging, commonality, and sense of “yah, I remember that — yes, we are cut from the same mould – , and yes, we get each other in a way nobody from another culture could”.

That’s why pop-culture is an important building block to nationhood in the social sense.  In an English-Canadian context, an example of might be the “Chicken Lady” from Kids in the Hall.  Despite how long the show has been off air, many Anglophone Canadians in their 30’s or 40’s (maybe even 50’s) would instantly understand the context if you mimicked the Chicken Lady.   Even regurgitating that the “Polkaroo” call from Polkadot Door makes for instant recognition — a bonding feeling of “Yah, I get you… we’re definately hatched from the same nest!” (mention Polkaroo to someone in Prince George, Moose Jaw, Windsor, or St. John and you’ll get the same nod and smile).

Guy Lepage has appeared in so many popular programmes, on so many different media platforms, that it could be said he has been a source of many Québec pop-culture references over the past 30 years.   He has become a bonding figure for Québec pop-culture and society in general through the major events in Québec during that period.   That’s a powerful force in all senses of the word.  Whether it’s on purpose of inadvertent, pop-culture holds sway and influence over public opinion on a range of issues.  Being at the helm of numerous programmes also means one has a degree of control over the business and economic end of what the public will see when they turn on their television or radio in the evening.

He rose to stardom as one of the main actors in the regularly aired comedy group Rock et belles oreilles (simply known as RBO).  It ran for nearly 15 years on TV.  For comparison sake, its presentation style was similar to that of Kids in the HallKids in the Hall could be considered risqué for its time, often making fun of issues like sex and homosexuality, at a time when it was daring to touch upon those subjects on TV — let alone make fun of the issues (remember the “anal probes”?).  In a national sense, the programme probably played some role in pushing the envelope of public awareness and acceptability.

With that reference in mind, RBO also used humour during the same era, but to a broader and deeper degree (sexual inuendo,  homosexuality, politics, sovereignty issues, Anglophones, Francophones, public figures of all streams and colours, and various ethical issues).   The majority of the sketches may not have been overly controversial, but by integrating humour into sensitive topics, RBO captivated the province and drew in the masses.

Since the programme disbanded, the actors went their separate ways and continued on various paths of stardom.  But none of them achieved the status of Guy Lepage today.

In the early 2000s, he became more focused on the actual production of TV programmes.   He created the Québec version of the France TV programme Un gars une fille, which ran weekly on Radio-Canada from 1997 to 2003.   Apart from being the producer, Guy was also the main co-actor.   The show became supremely popular, centered on the funny and quirky dynamics between a husband (played by Lepage) and his wife.  The success of the series cannot be underestimated. It’s one of the most internationally prize-winning TV series in Canadian history, and has been adapted and copied in 26 other countries, more so than most any other TV programme in the history of television — full stop.   With that, Lepage has a larger-than-life status in Québec and francophone pop-culture (it may now be more apparent why I mentioned two posts earlier that there were Francophones seemingly “shocked and horrified” when Le Journal de Montréal poll revealed the vast majority of Anglophone Canadians had absolutely no idea who Lepage was – despite the international accolades he has attracted towards both Québec, and Canada as a whole).

Since Un gars une fille went off the air in 2003, Lepage was further propelled into the sky when he adapted the France TV interview show Tout le monde en parle to create the still-running Québec version, starting in 2004 (the topic of this blog’s first post).

Apart from these achievements, Lepage has been an actor in several movies, he’s been the host of several major TV events (Québec national award ceremonies, annual galas, live televised celebrations, etc.), a stage-actor, an actor in commercials, and the producer of other artistic endeavours (with the TV comedy Les Chick’n Swell also having been galvanized in Québécois collective memory).

One of the most surprising aspects of his career is his brilliance as in interviewer.  Perhaps it is owing to his boldness stemming from his RBO days of pushing the envelope into uncharted territory, or perhaps it is his overall confidence stemming from his contact with all aspects of society – but it’s undeniable that his talents as a provocative, probing, and quick-witted interviewer are quite unique.   There are elements of Québec society who may not agree with the direction he takes his interviews, which battles he picks and choses – or who he choses to single out in interviews (he does have political and social opinions), but few would deny his talent.  He nonetheless deserves much respect and accolade.

With all of this behind him, it’s a wonder Guy A. Lepage has time to sleep.  And with his energy levels and determination, it will be interesting to see what comes next, what it will lead to, and how it will shape Québec society’s collective views.

References to search online to view or read:

  • Tout le monde en parle (TLMEP)
  • Un gars une fille
  • Rock et belles oreilles (RBO)

Radio-Canada sells past programmes in various formats.  Please do not pirate.