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The following is a commentary I wrote, in conjunction with consultations and discussions with Andrew Griffith of the widely read blog Multicultural Meanderings.
It is a blog worth following (it’s very unique and insightful).
It has been a week since the Federal election (although it feels like more). Stephen Harper is Prime Minster for a few more days.
It is not unreasonable to ask what has changed, in particular in Québec. Although Prime Minister-Elect Justin Trudeau will not assume office until November 4th, the answer is that actually quite a lot has changed.
In fact, everything.
This week we are seeing the convergence of two very important events in Canadian history. Their importance is not to be underestimated. How these two events are being viewed in Québec constitutes an earthquake of change.
First, the obvious event which everyone is talking about in Québec is how a Liberal government, headed by a new leader who appears to embrace a new spirit of openness (relative to the outgoing Prime Minister), embodies a focal point for cohesiveness in both a pan-Canadian and Québec societal sense, rather than regional or partisan divisiveness.
Second, and perhaps more profound, is that this week marks the 20th anniversary of the 1995 referendum for Québec independence. Yet, the manner in which this week is already unfolding, being talked about, and “felt” with the backdrop of a newly elected Trudeau-led government is something I would not have fathomed only a year ago.
Political commentators in Canada’s English media often report on events in Québec from the perspective of being “outside the fish-bowl looking in”. Sure, they can tell you which direction the fish are swimming, as well as the colour of the fish and the pebbles.
However, how the water tastes, the suitability of its temperature, and how the fish feel about each other (and how they feel about those peering in at them from outside the bowl) can only be told from the perspective of the fish themselves.
I’m going to take a crack at describing the tone in Québec from the perspective of the fish (ignoring the colours of the pebbles and the likes).
Let’s back up to a year ago.
Trudeau had already been head of the Liberal party for more than a year. Not only was his party in third place in terms of physical seat counts, but in the minds of Québécois, he might have well been in fifth place. The Liberals were stagnant from a legacy going back to the 1990s, years of leadership gaffes, and a lack of innovative policy.
For the longest time, Trudeau was not making decisions which demarcated himself as a credible replacement to Stephen Harper, and was viewed in Québec as the greater of the two evils.
A large part of the reason was that in the minds of Québécois, he was viewed as “the son of…”. To many Francophones in Québec, Pierre Trudeau (Justin’s father) is still viewed as the man who forced a constitution down the throats of Québec rather than finding common ground which could have seen Québec otherwise sign it. To this day, the constitution is regarded by Québec’s baby-boomer generation as being an illegitimate document, and by some as a reason to withdraw from Canada.
This all played against Trudeau (Jr.) for the longest time in Québec. He was viewed as leader who was set to go nowhere (another in a long line of Liberal Martins, Dions and Ignatiefs).
Let’s move forward by a few months to the winter of 2015 and what happened on the provincial political scene.
Pierre Karl Péladeau (PKP) was campaigning hard for the leadership of the Parti Québécois (PQ). With Harper at the helm of Canada, those in the sovereigntist camp saw PKP as the man to take on the Federal government and achieve sovereignty. He was a successful billionaire, he was business-friendy (able to connect with a new demographic) and he was viewed a potential “saviour” (to quote an often-used word in sovereignist circles last winter). The optimism towards PKP from both soft and hard sovereigntists alike had not been seen since the days of Lucien Bouchard.
Add to this mix that PKP’s wife, Julie Snyder, is Québec’s #2 pop-culture superstar, only eclipsed by Céline Dion. Thus, the PKP/Snyder power-couple was viewed as a potentially unstoppable force to woo the masses and lead Québec to sovereignty.
But starting last April, PKP proved to be awkward in his speeches. His stances on critically important issues were incoherent. For example, one day he would say the Bloc Québecois was utterly useless in Ottawa, and the next day he would say it was as important as oxygen is to life. He would attack immigrants as being detrimental to the sovereignty movement on one day, and then the next day he would say that he loves them and that they’re family.
It was clear that PKP was testing the waters in every direction to see what issues might find traction with the public rather than speak from consensus-reached convictions. It showed a side of him the public did not like. In the end he began to develop an aura of “playing” the public. It diminished his credibly, and prevented support from ever coalescing on a massive scale (he ended up winning the PQ leadership with only 58% of the membership vote, and he and his party have only ever hovered in the 32%-35% percentile range of public approval since his accession as party leader).
In addition, Julie Snyder’s injection of “showmanship” into sovereignist politics (using her TV programs to drum up nationalism, and even going so far as to give autographs in exchange for PQ membership cards at the subway entrances) has been viewed with more and more cynicism on the part of the public. The Julie card appears to have backfired, and her Princess Diana styled wedding in August seemed to be the straw that broke the back of a camel named “credibility”.
This past summer, the PKP/Snyder duo flopped faster than an ice-cream cone melts in the August sun. In Québec, you often hear the phrase “There was no PKP effect” (let alone any political honeymoon) when political commentators talk of the new PKP era of sovereigntist politics. The provincial Liberal government in Québec City has managed to remain at the top of the polls (although their overall polling numbers are not sky-high either).
Fast forward to the present and back to federal politics.
Three weeks before the Federal election the Trudeau Liberals attracted the public’s attention in both Québec and English Canada.
The Liberals developed a wide-range of policy proposals, and famously broke the mould needing to avoid deficits. They were able to position themselves as the ‘change’ option. This shift saw their “no-harm, broad-range middle-ground” brand positioned to the left of the Conservatives.
The NDP — hemmed in by fears they would constitute being irresponsible spenders — adhered to deficit-avoiding orthodoxy (in itself less distinct from the Conservatives). Given the NDP orthodoxy on avoiding deficits allowed the Liberals to carve a platform niche.
In Québec, a lack of enthusiasm for the PQ translated into a lack of enthusiasm for the Bloc Québécois. The Bloc was already dealing with a troubled recent past. It was not viewed as being organized (several months ago it voted in a highly unpopular leader, Mario Beaulieu, who was to be booted out a short while later and succeeded by a recycled Gilles Duceppe).
The Bloc was simply not viewed as a viable contender (the PQ and the Bloc were both riding on the same sinking ship – leaving the public to ask “Why bother?”). On election night, the Bloc had the lowest percent of the popular vote in the history of any sovereignist party in Québec (and only gained new seats through a division of the popular vote, which saw the majority of the popular vote in those same ridings go to the Liberals and NDP – and not to the Bloc).
Yes, the Conservatives played up the Niqab issue in Québec, and kept it front-and-centre. In past elections, the Conservatives’ success hinged on being able to play to their base. They believed the PQ’s 2013/2014 hijab/secular debate in Québec ignited the same base they were looking for. Many of the niqab announcements were made in Quebec..
Even if the public shared the view that the niqab should not be worn during citizenship ceremonies or in the public civil service, Québec’s and Canada’s public showed that they have a greater distaste for “wedge politics”.
Ultimately, the public proved they would rather vote against wedge politics than for policies invoked by such politics. In nutshell, the Conservatives overplayed their card. The tipping point perhaps came with the ‘snitch-line’ announcement (a new government hotline to denounce barbaric cultural practices) by Ministers Leitch and Alexander.
Combined with a lack of enthusiasm for Harper-style politics in many other areas of governance, it is noteworthy that the Conservative gains in Québec were with moderate Clark/Mulroney PC-styled MP’s, and not Harper-style MP’s (the Conservatives increased their seat count to 12 from 5 in Québec, however their share of the popular vote in Quebec only increased to 16.7 compared to 16.5 percent in the previous election).
The Bloc and the Conservatives both played politics on the “extreme ends” of the political spectrum. It left a bad taste in the mouths of both English and French Canada.
On the other end of the political spectrum was the NDP. Traditionally another “extreme end” party, Mulcair tried to moderate the NDP’s tone, pulling it towards the centre on many issues.
However, the feeling in Québec (and seemingly elsewhere in Canada) was that Muclair was trying to bring the party towards the centre on one hand, yet trying not to alienate his own far-left base on the other. It left room for vast amounts of doubt and uncertainty in the minds of the electorate. Not wanting to risk another bout of “extreme end politics”, the public quickly jumped off the NDP ship.
The niqab issue also played a role. Mulcair’s defence of the niqab was framed in legal terms in the context of the Charter and Constitution, a sore point with many in Quebec. In contrast, while having the same substantive position, Trudeau spoke in terms of values, a softer way of making the same point.
Who did this leave as the first choice for Québec and English Canada? The Trudeau Liberals.
Talk radio and TV interview programs tend to reflect a wide spectrum of the public’s thoughts towards issues of the day. What I find fascinating in all of this is that during the past week, Québec’s talk radio (even those commentators and radio hosts who have been cozy with the Conservatives / NDP / Bloc, or vehement anti-Liberals in the past) all seem optimistic — or at the minimum, comfortable — about Trudeau’s victory.
You get the sense that many are even relieved that there is finally middle ground which is finding broad-range consensus. It is a new middle-ground which has the allures of being acceptable to both the left and right elements in Québec’s society, in addition to Atlantic Canada, Ontario, the Prairies, and BC.
The newly elected Conservatives MP’s in Québec and elsewhere in Canada appear to be more moderate than Conservatives of the past. The NDP members who won their seats are more centrist than those who were voted out. All of this is resonating in Québec.
Many sovereignists for the first time are not sad to see the end of the BQ (that’s new). Yet this week in sovereignist camps, there has been quite a bit of talk about how they can learn from the federal Conservatives’ mistakes (as well as the mistakes of the Marois era).
There is now talk that the PQ may want to consider abandoning nationalist identity policies, and embrace all-inclusive (ie: a “multicultural’ish” but labelled as interculturalism, of course) style of sovereigntist policies in order to try to woo the youth and the electorate in the 2018 provincial election. The PQ may be looking for ways to capitalize the public’s sentiment enough is enough with divisive politics based on ethno-religious grounds (ie: the niqab and state secularism).
In this same vein, the BQ looks as if it may be trying to quickly create their own “Trudeau” by having 24 year-old (and defeated BQ candidate) Catherine Fournier slipped into presidency of the BQ. Fournier has been front-and-centre in Québec’s talk-show and panel circuit for about 6 months now.
She has taken many by surprise with her maturity and insight, and people are saying she’s a real change from the old guard. I don’t have any idea if she would be able to woo the youth to the sovereignist cause. However, she’s getting noticed, and she may be just the type to introduce a style of “multicultural’ish” sovereignty.
Yet, if open-style politics led to Trudeau’s election win, he may have already taken the sail out of the sovereigntist movement’s countermeasures (it is difficult for an opposition party to re-invent itself on a new platform when their number one challenger already owns that platform).
The question will be if he can avoid a Federal-Provincial clash of ideologies and values with Québec leading up to the 2018 provincial election (Harper managed to take the wind out of the sails of Québec’s sovereignist politics by staying out of matters of provincial jurisdiction and keeping a tight rein on what issues his MP’s were allowed to comment on… It remains to be seen how Trudeau will manage to juggle similar issues).
For the first time after a federal election, people on the street and in the media in Québec are no longer referring to the Canadian West as the “Conservative base” or the “Conservative West”. Yes, the majority of the Prairie ridings have gone Conservative, yet Québec’s political commentators are emphasizing the fact that that a large chunk of the Prairie’s Conservative ridings only saw Conservatives elected through vote splitting, with the majority of the popular vote in many ridings going to the Liberals/NDP – especially in cities which make up the bulk of the Prairie’s population and decision-making base: Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon and Winnipeg.
That’s a big change in the conversation in Québec, and an even larger change in how Québec views the rest of Canada.
To see almost no federalism-bashing or Canada-bashing in Québec following a very long and hotly (even venomously) contested election — even from those in the sovereignist camp who traditionally love to Canada bash — is quite a game-changer.
To think that we’re seeing this change in tone during the week of the 20th anniversary of the 1995 referendum makes it even more significant.
The marriage of the “adrenaline-charged Super-Duo”, PKP (Pierre Karl Péladeau, the head of the Parti Québécois) and Julie Snyder (Québec’s best known super-star celebrity), this weekend was a reminder to all that the 2018 Québec election will be squarely about Québec independence.
Premier Philippe Couillard knows that this will be the #1 topic coming from the lips of the PQ for the next few years (a major shift from the past which saw the PQ be just as pre-occupied about subjects of day-to-day governance as the Liberals and CAQ).
The turfing of the Bloc Québécois leader a couple months ago, Mario Beaulieu, by his own party (and presumably by PKP) and the resurrection of Gilles Duceppe has shown to what extent the sovereigntist movement is prepared to go to in order achieve their goal.
Under PKP’s leadership, the entire movement is beginning to resemble more and more an extremely slick, well ran, and super-competitive board-room or corporation (of the likes of Wal-Mart when it tries to run all other competitors out of town), rather than that of a political party.
This is new. We have never seen something like this before.
Although it continues to be new to the extent th at it has not yet found “solid” traction with the electorate, there have been polls which have shown a slight increase in support for the PQ and sovereignty (hovering around 35% or 40% at its highest. But the numbers remain quite low considering that the figures group soft sovereigntists — who are less inclined to vote “yes” during a referendum, which would probably bring a “YES” to under the numbers I just provided…. But 35% still isn’t a number to laugh at).
Update 2015-08-20 – A new CROP poll today shows that the PQ’s support has fallen to 29% (35% for Francophones) in the days following the PKP/Snyder marriage. Pierre Karl Péladeau’s personal popularity took a nose dive to 23%. Perhaps people are seeing after all that the PKP/Snyder’s Party will only be about one topic, and perhaps people have had enough … for now. The Liberals are only slightly ahead.
Three years can be an eternity in politics, and 2018 could be enough time for the movement to bounce back if the
“corporation’s” PQ’s business political plan is effective.
Since 1995, the most effective method Federalist parties have invoked to avoid mass sovereigntist sentiments from reigniting has been to avoid a Federal-Provincial clash between Ottawa and Québec – especially one involving constitutional matters.
Both the Chrétien/Martin Liberals and the Harper Conservatives were of the opinion that slow and stable civil-service governance, and tackling each issue as it arrives (without opening the constitution) was the best way to prevent a show-down or constitution crisis. I also have to admit that the fact that Harper has kept a very tight reign on the flow of information has probably, and ironically, helped somewhat too (in the sense that it has likely avoided unintentional slips-of-the-tongue from backbencher MP’s… especially preventing comments which could have inflamed sovereignist politicians and debate).
The Chrétien/Martin Liberals, and the Harper Conservatives firmly took a stand that a large degree of national reform could be achieved “on-the-ground” via small adjustments over time (supported by Common Law at the courts) rather than through re-opening the constitution. In this sense, the constitution, its interpretations, and its application has been able to keep up with the times — turning it into a “living” document, without ever having to change the document’s wording or provisions.
They were of the view that the constitution could be re-opened at a date in the distant future once enough incremental “administrative” and “legal” reforms had occurred over a number of years (or decades) on the ground. Thus, when it would come time to re-open the constitution, it would have simply been a matter of “updating it” to reflect “already-existing” realities (rather than having it “create new realities” in and of itself).
So far, this approach from Ottawa seems to have worked (on many levels, independent of one’s political affirmations or party beliefs). It has been good for governance, good for Canada, and good for Québec.
Just as importantly, it had completely taken the wind out of the sails of the Parti Québécois and the Bloc Québécois. It had given them nothing to grab on to – and a few times the movement had come to the edge of collapsing.
But lo and behold, something has changed this year. It appears that both Mulcair’s NDP has expressed its desire to try to re-open the constitution (although Trudeau’s has not expressed a desire to open the consitution on the campaign trail, he has said in his book that he would support such a move in the right “time and place”).
Trudeau’s book “Common Ground” talks in length about his disappointment in that Québec has not signed the constitution. He did not necessarily believe in Meech or Charlottetown, but he did say that the constitution will have to be re-opened and signed by Québec eventually (something I also say). But you get the feeling that his “right time and place” may be sooner than later. I say this because the book gives you the impression that wants this whole issue to go away as fast as possible, and that he believes his terms will be the right ones. Thus, if elected PM? (Oh, Oh – there just might be a new constitutional round, and that could mean trouble).
Mulcair has even gone so far as to campaign on the issue of re-opening the constitution in order to abolish the senate (Oh crap – big trouble!).
Their intentions (Trudeau’s and Mulcair’s) might be good, but the timing could not be worse.
They would be putting Premier Couillard in a very difficult position, and they would be picking a fight with PKP-Snyder, as well as with PKP-Snyder’s grasp on Québec’s media, pop-culture elite, and their board-room games to capture the hearts and minds of Québec.
Above; Premier Philippe Couillard… If you’re not familiar with him, take a good look now, because if Mulcair or Trudeau (or both of them together) try to re-open the constitution, it will be this man’s face which you will see plastered all over English Canada’s news for the next several years as he tries to keep Canada together.
Although Premier Couillard is the most Federalist premier Québec has possibly ever had, such actions on the part of Trudeau or Mulcair would thrust Couillard into the political battle of not only his life, but possibly for the survival of Canada.
A new round of constitutional discussions would be messy – very very messy.
It would not be as clear-cut as what Mulcair says (and Trudeau isn’t letting us know what he would throw on the table – but if his book is any indicator, it could quite possibly be everything, since he seems to want to change everything [remember that Mansbridge interview a few years ago when Trudeau said he want to, quote “change the world”?] ).
- This would result in the PQ crying for everything to be put on the table at a new round of constitutional negotiations (which is impossible to do), otherwise they would shift into war mode to raise emotional tensions to the maximum with which to convince Québécois to vote to leave Canada,
- BC, AB, and SK would have their own demands (Christie Clark, Rachel Notley, and Brad Wall have all hinted they want bigger roles and controls (code for constitutional changes) for their provinces).
- Ontario (under Kathleen Wynn) says Ontario want new mechanisms to prevent Ottawa’s “lack of cooperation” on matters of importance to her government (with the new Ontario Retirement Pension Plan being a prime example).
- And then there are the Atlantic Provinces which would likely want their own constitutional provisions to counter the effects of what they believe is the “fight of their lives” to retain political relevance at the national level (as their populations continue to shrink as people move West).
This could not be better news for the PQ and the PKP-Snyder duo. They must be salivating at the prospect of a possible Mulcair led government (and it would be even better for them if it is a minority government with Mulcair as PM and Trudeau as head of the official opposition – thus paving the way for re-opening the constitution, a demonizing of Canada, and emotions getting the better of everyone – including the public).
Last weekend was the Québec Provincial Young Liberals convention. Premier Couillard is well aware of the unfolding situation which I just described.
True to his brain-surgeon style, Philippe Couillard is a strategist hors-pair. At the Liberal convention, he announced that he will “not concede an inch to the sovereignists”.
For the very first time, we have just seen Couillard shift into high gear anti-sovereigntist mode – that of pre-emptive damage control.
He knows that should the Federal NDP or Liberals come to power in October (as a minority or majority government), they may try to re-open the constitution.
Couillard wants to be ready and have his ducks all in place.
This weekend, he asked Liberal delegates to “quickly” (within hours) give him a short-list of what they would want to see added to the constitution should it be re-opened. Precisely, he asked them “What is Québec’s role in Canada?”
Do not forget that Couillard is 100% pro-Canada.
His convictions make it so he would do anything to avoid hurting the federation. He would want any propositions to work for his own electorate and all people in Québec, as well as for everyone else across the country. In fact, at the Liberal congress, he delivered a fiery speech against sovereignty – one which carried an overtone which would have anyone believe we were already in full referendum mode.
Thus his question to provincial Liberal delegates should not be viewed as something negative by the rest of Canada.
When he posed the question to delegates, he asked them to bear in mind issues such as:
- Equalization program,
- Health payment transfers,
- Economic development file, such as infrastructure, Northern development, and Maritime strategies.
These are all soft (and safe) issues. They are issues people across Canada can agree on.
Couillard also asked federal party leaders to make clear their stance on how they view Québec in Canada. (After all, if he’s going to stick his neck out to confront the PKP-Snyder offensive, and if Mulcair & Trudeau are going to back him into a corner by forcing him to confront PKP-Snyder, he naturally wants Trudeau and Mulcair to also step up to the plate, to put their money where their mouths are, and to take some responsibility for their own words and actions).
The delegates gave Couillard their thoughts, and he sent off a letter to all Federal party leaders with his views on what he believes needs to be reviewed in the constitution:
- Senate reform
- Supreme Court judge nominations
- Limitations on Federal spending in the areas of provincial jurisdiction,
- A veto vote for any other constitution changes.
When elected in September 2014, Couillard told Harper that he would like to see Québec eventually sign the Canadian Constitution. Ever since 1982, the fact that Québec has never signed the constitution has been the “raison d’être” and free wind in the sails for the sovereignty movement – precisely the ammo the PQ was always used to argue their point.
Couillard wants to put this to rest once and for all.
But as you can see, re-opening the constitution is a double-edged sword.
So while the rest of the country is talking about things such as whether Toronto should or should not host the 2024 Olympics, whether it should be illegal for regular citizens to transport wine from Halifax to Fredericton in their cars, or whether Alberta should or should not regulate the flavour of chocolate, Philippe Couillard is already beginning to fight the political fight of his life, and that of the future of Canada.
Owing to the fact that others in Canada do not seem to know what is happening, I just hope the rest of Canada does not (innocently and naïvely) act too surprised, offended, or dare I say “angry” when all of this suddenly comes to the fore should a new government in Ottawa try to do something risky such as “prematurely” (or foolishly) reopen the constitution at this point in time — or at the very minimum, before Couillard specifically tells Ottawa, and all the provinces (after back-door discussions) that he’s ready to go forward and safely deal with all of this.
After all, the rest of Canada will have had had someone in Québec who has long since been trying to do his damndest to avert what could have easy been a catastrophe had anyone else been at the helm.
What can I say… The two solitudes (Sigh).
Edit: An earlier version say that Trudeau was disappointed with the failure of Meech and Charlottetown. What I meant to say that he was disappointed with the “wording” of Meech and Charlottetown which lead to its failure (meaning his own deal, if he were dealing with the issues, would have proposed quite different matters to entice Québec to sign the constitution… or he would have waited for another time to open the constitution). I corrected my post.
Here is a more-than-interesting experience I had last night in Dundas Square which demonstrates a couple of things:
(1) the two solitudes which exist between some (but not all) Francophones inside Québec and some Francophones outside Québec, and
(2) the awkwardness which can occur when sovereignists and federalists meet on the field of culture.
I wish the following had not happened, and that everyone could have just behaved without people having to score political points in public like this.
To battle out ideological differences in the written press and on internet is one thing (I do so in my own blog, but people can chose to not read). Yet to do so in a public square and / or concert? For crying out loud. Not cool.
Fortunately, these sorts of “hiccups” occur less and less frequently, so I do believe the situation is much better than it used to be (and indications are that it will continue in that direction).
A snapshot of the de-politicization of young artists in Québec:
If we were to describe Québec’s artists’ “public political” involvement 20 years ago compared to today, the story would be very different.
40, 30 or 20 years ago we would have been able to classify large swaths of Québec’s artists in a category named “the politically involved” — which, by default, would have meant lending their public support towards nationalist and sovereignist movements.
Yet something has happened over the last 20 years. A new generation of “artists”, and a new generation of “fans” has come along (a generation which was not even born at the time of the 1995 referendum, or at the very least, was quite young in 1995). These new generations tend to be “indifferent” towards patriotic politics, or at the very minimum, they are un-engaged towards the subject.
What I am saying is not new news.
Many in the Parti Québécois have been openly complaining about this situation (Jean-François Lisée has been the most vocal, but PKP, Alexandre Cloutier and Bernard Drainville have also said they need to do more to try to capture this new and “lost” generation).
The Federalist parties (provincially and federally) also publicly talk about this phenomenon, usually with the tone that Québec’s youth “are just not interested in sovereignist politics” (without mentioning they’re equally unengaged towards federalist positions).
I think that the Premier of British Columbia, Christy Clark, may have most aptly summed up the reasons “why” youth are detached from “local” nationalist questions. A few days ago at the Premiers’ Counsel of the Federation she stated that she believes the PQ will no longer succeed in its goal for Québec independence because
“Québecers are no different from British Columbians… There is a generation of people who are forward looking global citizens who are interested in creating wealth, building their lives, being able to be a part of the world — not just a part of Quebec or a part of Canada.”
The above statement is also not new. Others have drawn similar parallels (I too have made similar statements elsewhere in this blog). Yet Christy Clark’s wording is perhaps the most “concise” I have seen yet.
In addition to how she views the “average” person, she also added emphasis on the younger generations.
Will this new trend be a lasting trend? I don’t know.
The PQ believes things are going so bad for them that they have nowhere else to go but up; slowly wooing the younger generation simply by way of the vacuum effect (or even more if the PQ makes an extra effort — which they are trying to do).
Yet there are others who say that this is a lasting trend owing to the fact that the world is a different, more global, more connected place compared to 20 years ago. They argue that starting now, future generations will remain in this “detached-from-sovereignty” mindset, regardless if the Federalist side seeks to woo these generations or not (unless some major constitutional crisis or major economic shake-up comes along).
How does this fit in with Louis-Jean Cormier?
Louis-Jean Cormier is a very popular singer in Québec, especially with younger people. Cormier (born in 1980) has become a chart-topping pop-singer (I have written a few posts which provided top chart music listings – and Cormier has appeared in those lists).
Yet, despite the fact that his fan-base is not politically engaged, he is one of the most politically, pro-sovereignty engaged artists of his generation.
With the exception of a very small handful of other young artists, you would be hard-pressed to find other singers in Québec who are his age or younger and who are as politically engaged as Louis-Jean Cormier. He is now a rare-breed, and perhaps part of what will continue to be a dying breed ?? Only time will tell (I don’t know any more than the next person).
This past winter, he became heavily involved in Parti Québécois politics, going so far as to write rallying poetry for them. He publicly supported Alexandre Cloutier for PQ leader, he appeared on the popular television program Tout le monde en parle (in front of a million people), asking the public to take out PQ memberships and to support the cause.
He even described how his first name “Louis” was actually given to him by his parents to signify “OUI” (yes), in support of sovereignty (Louis).
Fast-forward to 8:25 in the video below.
His concert yesterday in Toronto
Louis-Jean Cormier is a very talented singer. He is very popular and very well known in Québec (and most Francophone music enthusiasts elsewhere in Canada also know who he is – particularly younger people). I like his music, even if I do not agree with his politics.
He was invited to Toronto to perform at Franco-Fête.
Here is a Radio-Canada interview with Cormier not long before his concert in Toronto: http://ici.radio-canada.ca/widgets/mediaconsole/medianet/7318918##
Considering the degree of his very vocal politics, I was initially a bit surprised he was invited to Franco-Fête. After all, he advocates for the demantalment of Canada – a country which Francophones outside Québec tend to be profoundly attached to and engaged towards.
In all honesty, I was not all that keen on attending his concert. I suspected that it would be filled with nationalist speeches, remarks on giving “us” (outside Québec) lessons on how we should think and act, and I wasn’t sure that the crowd would be very big, nor was I sure if they would be enthusiastic (after all, who wants to attend a concert when the crowd is not enthusiastic?).
Regardless, all said and done, just before the end of the day I decided that if the organizers of Franco-Fête could take the moral high road and place themselves above petty politics by inviting Louis-Jean Cormier in the name of culture and music, AND if Cormier could do the same by accepting an invitation to come to Toronto, then I too should do the same and attend his concert.
If anything, I thought that perhaps a strong and enthusiastic “Québec friendly” crowd may actually send a message to Louis-Jean Cormier that Canada is actually a pretty cool country which holds a special place in its heart for Canada’s and Québec’s Francophone culture and music.
I showed up 20 minutes before the concert, and just as I predicted, hardly anyone was there. The other Franco-Fête concerts I attended were packed with waiting crowds long in advance. I thought to myself that perhaps Cormier’s performance wouldn’t fly owing to his political affirmations.
But a few minutes before the concert, people began to arrive. This crowd was much younger than previous Franco-Fête concerts I attended (mostly an under 30 crowd). The crowd did not become as big as the other Franco-Fête concerts, it was not as enthusiastic, but Dundas Square (Canada’s equivalent of Times Square) was full of fans by the time the concert started (Dundas Square is not very small, so that says something).
Error 1: When Cormier was introduced, Franco-Fête’s M.C. not once, but twice introduced him as one of “Canada’s” great singers (or something of the like). Yes, fine – technically correct — but I think it may have rubbed Cormier and his political complex the wrong way (setting the tone for what you’re about to read).
If it had been any other singer, that would have been fine to say. But Cormier this past spring was “PQ Darling #1”. Would you also introduce Mario Beaulieu one of the countries “greatest Canadians” if he were in Toronto (his head would explode).
Granted — we’re all proud of our country despite any issues it may sometimes have. And granted, if I thought he would be receptive to being called one of “Canada’s” greatest singers, then by all means, do so.
But this is Louis-Jean Cormier. For crying out loud, don’t rub the “great Canadian” title in his face seconds before you give him a microphone on a stage in front of a crowd he doesn’t necessarily understand or identify with.
Did you seriously think he would take the title of “greatest Canadian” sitting down?
Because of Cormier’s advocacy, the Franco-Fête should have known such an introduction could have wound him up and ready to fire back – especially in what he may perceive as the Anglo-heartland epicentre of Toronto.
And fire back he did with a couple of shots of his own.
The M.C. should have just kept the peace and should have simply introduced him as “a” great singer who they were happy to have travel from Québec for our entertainment. If they had done that, then Cormier perhaps may have not felt provoked (regardless if no harm or ill-will were intended).
Error 2: As I predicted, Cormier spared no time in quickly uttering several “nationalist” words to the crowd with a theme of what could be interpreted by some as preaching morals to Francophones outside of Québec (For cripes sake! sigh).
He said something to the effect he was going to sing a song about taking political action, and that perhaps it would inspire Francophones in the crowd and outside Québec to rise up and not put up with their situation (am paraphrasing, but it could be interpreted by some as such).
IF this was his intention (and again, it’s open to interpretation), it could be considered condescending and ignorant — as if Francophones outside Québec are “colonized” victims or something.
They’re as engaged as the rest of the lot in the country: citizens who care about their country and who are working hand-in-hand with their Anglophone compatriots to make it a better place in a better world.
I mean, seriously – who does he think he is and what does he expect people to do? Take pitch-forks and chase everyone we live with, grow up with, and care about down the street if they’re Anglophone?
Such an approach is a sure-fire way to get people’s backs up.
I believe he must have also been completely oblivious to the fact that around 1/3 of the crowd seemed to be composed of Anglophones who are standing side-by-side with their Francophone compatriots and embracing Canada’s Francophone fact – a trend I have noticed from one Franco-Fête concert to another. Franco-Fête is not the Fête nationale au parc Maisonneuve. Francophones and Anglophones in Canada’s other provinces are proud to mix and share in each other’s cultures… Just as there are many in Québec who are also doing so. His shots were a direct insult to that fan base who came out to see him.
Cormier also said he was happy to be in Toronto and performing a concert in “Canada” — with extra intonation when he said “Canada” (inferring he is not in Canada when he performs in Québec). Again, an insult to the many Québécois in the crowd who have transplanted themselves to Toronto, or others like myself whose lives have much to do with Québec (and for whom Canada would not be the same without).
Error 3: Of course, the next song was one which contained a line which could be interpreted as a veiled reference to the nasty Anglophones who oppress French, and that you have to fight until you are free (sigh x 10).
A number of us in the crowd couldn’t help but exchange looks, sigh, shake our heads, and shrug our shoulders. These are Francophones I am talking about.
As far as the Anglophones in the crowd, they simply stayed stone-faced when he sang it – I mean seriously, I wonder what they were thinking. After all, Anglophones are NOT the devil in disguise, and the proof is that a large part of the audience was Anglophone — who expressively came to watch Cormier perform (It was completely uncalled for to sing insults to them).
Error 4: One older guy in the crowd with a very noticeable Montréal East-End French accent (perhaps in his late 50’s) standing not far from me pulled out a large enough Québec flag and started to shout pro-sovereignty affirmations in response to the song (I have to ask myself why a guy like that would even be in Toronto if such a place is enough of hell-on-earth that he needs borders to feel secure, but whatever – free country).
Error 5: A couple of younger people with Ontario French accents and another with a Montréal French accent (all in their late 20s or 30s) standing beside the yelling guy with the flag “took him to task” and quickly put him in his place (I’ll leave it to you to interpret what that means).
That put a bit of a damper on part of the crowd’s enthusiasm for the concert (and it also demonstrates the generational difference involved in these issues).
There are a couple of lessons in all of this unnecessary madness:
If you are famous, especially within cultural circles, and you have already made a name for yourself owing to highly controversial or divisive political actions, you can consider yourself to be forever walking on eggshells in the eyes of one segment of the population or another (regardless of your political stripes).
Thus, people will have pre-conceived notions that you could be entering the stage with an ulterior-motive, and everyone around you will be looking for the slightest message from you (regardless of how subtle it may be).
Thus you can chose to do one of two things:
- You can either continue to send messages, regardless how strong or weak they are, or
- You can be on your best behaviour, a pleasure for everyone, and you can make an effort to keep things on an even keel by not rocking the boat. This means remaining politically neutral and choosing your words wisely.
It’s not for me to decide which one of the two choices a person elects to pursue. But if you do chose the first option, be prepared for a backlash in one form or another (and live with the consequences when they occur – because there more than likely will be a backlash).
If you provoke someone (ie: you label someone something you know they will react to — such as calling Louis-Jean Cormier one of the greatest “Canadians” out there), then yeah, you’re going to get a reaction.
Even if the intentions were innocent and pure, still, what was the M.C. thinking ??
Had it been Arianne Moffatt, Kevin Parent, Lisa Leblanc, Marc Duprès or Garou or dozens and dozens or other singers, I am more than sure they would have been flattered (even Robert Charlebois would likely be flattered considering he views the nationalist questions from a distance now).
But Louis-Jean Cormier? C’mon! He just finished being one of the biggest and most public cheerleaders for the PQ leadership race and recruitment campaigns.
Who is Louis-Jean Cormier’s fan-base?
I asked a Francophone group of younger people beside me if they also understood what was happening (they were perhaps in their early 20s). I was simply curious to know if they were aware of Cormier’s political activism (I wasn’t telling them anything… I simply asked a couple of questions to see if people in their age bracket were aware or following these issues).
They told me they did not know anything about Cormier’s politics. I asked why they attended the concert. They said that Cormier’s music is top of the charts, and they really like his music (the same reasons why I also attended).
That probably sums up his fan base. It is generally non-political, despite Cormier’s own political affirmations.
But more importantly, it likely sums up young people’s sentiments across the country; they are more interested in their daily activities, relations, global connectiveness, and the welfare of those around them than they are with nationalist politics.
And the concert itself?
Cormier ceased the political rhetoric for the rest of the concert and simply concentrated on his performance. He thanked the crowd and Toronto numerous times for attending.
He seemed to loosen up and have more fun with the crowd as the night went on, and the crowd loosened up too.
All-in-all, with the exception of the one “hiccup” I mentioned above, the rest of the concert was non-political and the crowd eventually got into it. (These sorts of “hiccups” are fewer and fewer as the years go on, even in Québec. It is a very noticeable change).
The concert may not have started on the best note, but it ended well. I think we all had a relatively good time.
Here is a video of various clips I made.
If you fast-forward to the end of the video I made below, the lack of enthusiasm on my face after attending this concert is quite evident when you contrast it to the videos I made for the previous two concerts (especially with the last one in which I was super excited to meet Lisa Leblanc!)
Nonetheless, I was happy to have gone, and Louis-Jean Cormier is an extraordinarily talented singer. I’m grateful he made the gesture to come to Toronto and play to his fans here. Sometimes gestures count more than anything.
And one last note:
When I got home, a friend gave me a call and asked how the concert was.
I told him that it went well and Cormier’s performance was very enjoyable. I also mentioned the little political hiccup which occurred. My buddy’s reaction: “Câlique! Y en a encore de ces vieilles chicanes? Pas croyable!” (For crying out loud, these old muck-ups are still happening? Unbelievable!). My buddy is from Québec, he doesn’t speak much English, and he also was turned off by what happened.
When he said that, my response was “Ouais, ça reflète mes sentiments, moi aussi” (My sentiments, exactly).