It’s Everyone’s Problem

It’s been an awful week in Quebec. On Sunday, a man opened fire in a Ste-Foy mosque on attendants as they were praying, killing six men. Alexandre Bissonnette has been charged with six counts of first degree murder and faces possible terrorism charges. The victims were Azzedine Soufiane, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Aboubaker Thabti, Ibrahima Barry, and Abdelkrim Hassane.

In the flood of think pieces that come out after an event like this, there was some attempt to frame this as something unique to Quebec, that somehow this province is more prone to violent outbursts than others. This bizarre piece from the Washington Post by J.J. McCullough cherry picks some events to suggest Quebec is somehow more prone to gun massacres than other provinces. Others have suggested there is more bigotry toward Muslims from white, francophone Quebeckers than other Canadians.

Certainly, the accused is reported to have extreme views on Muslims and is a fan of Donald Trump and Marine le Pen and their views on Islam are well documented. And, indeed over the past number of years in Quebec politics, there have been a number of proposals put forward by politicians that views as targeting the Muslim community. The views heard on Quebec’s talk radio stations, radio poubelle, as it’s known, are often extreme and derogatory toward Muslims.

But I would say it’s a mistake to lead people to believe Quebec is somehow more than Islamophobic than anywhere else in the world. I think Islamophobia is generally a Western problem. In Canada, the far-right news website Rebel Media spent the week trying to prove the attack was done by Muslims. (I won’t link to that site but instead you can read the Beaverton’s take on it here). In Europe, far-right, anti-immigration parties are making gains partially based on a fear of Muslims. So this is by no means unique to Quebec.

I don’t know if this event will make people behave a little more decently to each other and stop fearing the “otherness” of them but it was gratifying to see so many people coming out to vigils and the funerals of the victims. If nothing else, people should know that those who hold such extreme views represent a only fringe minority of the population.

For my part, I donated to a fund for the victims’ families here.

La Meute

Rather disturbing, if not entirely surprising, story at CBC today about the rise of far-right, anti-immigrant groups in Quebec.

The question of Quebec identity has come up in this province from time to time whenever new customs are introduced into the majority culture. It came up with Charter of Values two years ago and now it’s manifesting itself into this group called La Meute or, “the Wolfpack.

Aligning themselves more France’s Marine Le Pen of the Front National than Donald Trump, la Meute, according to the CBC, “hope to become a lobby group of sorts, dedicated to making Quebecers aware of the threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism.” Generally, I’ll assume your political movement is bad news if it has “Front” in the name.

Of course, they seem mostly based in rural Quebec where few immigrants actually live but anti-immigrant sentiment is often highest.

Over the past year, with the refugee crisis in Europe, as well as with the election of Donald Trump, it seems as though people, egged on by fake news designed to whip up hatred, are now emboldened to act out against those who are different.

We need to guard against complacency and smugness in Canada because we’re not so different from the rest of world.

On Memory and Identity and Lost Supermarket Chains

lanceetcompte
(image via nous sommes folklore)

The other day, I went to the dentist for a check-up and cleaning (no cavities, mother!). The dentist’s office is located in a mall that is celebrating its 60th anniversary. In the mall, there were signs detailing the history of the mall, showing when it opened in 1954, and the new dining sensation of barbecued chicken available at Miss Montreal diner. The supermarket attached was Steinberg’s, naturally, as the Steinberg family owned the mall and adjacent car dealership. All that exists of Steinberg’s these days is the Pik-Nik in the mall’s food court.

“Oh yeah,” I thought. “I remember Steinberg’s.”

Which was not true at all. I came to Quebec in 2003, eleven years after the chain declared bankruptcy and got sold off to the Provigo chain. I had vague memories of being aware that it was a chain in Quebec in the 80s just from watching Lance et Compte and Rock et Belles Oreilles on Radio-Canada.

But I don’t “remember” this place as though I’ve always lived here. Maybe after having a kid born in Lasalle, getting married, and buying a home here, I finally see myself as a Montrealer/West Islander/Quebecker. So much so that my memories start pretending I’ve always been here.

Later, while listening to the game on TSN 690, I thought to myself, “I miss Dino Sisto calling the games on CJAD.”

Or maybe when you start pining for days long gone by in your adopted home, that’s when you’re part of the place for good.

Why I’m Voting Green This Election

So I had this plan all week to write a dense, point-by-point argument for voting for the Parti Vert du Quebec. But then I remembered that my ability to write long, intellectually rigourous blog posts began to wane, oh, about four years ago. Did I mention my kid’s fourth birthday in a week?

But, for what it’s worth, I’m voting Green this time. Here’s why:

Have You Noticed How Freakishly Hot It’s Been?

Yeah, we as a species did that. And I don’t believe exploiting shale gas or pulling more oil out of the north is going to help matters. The Parti Vert du Quebec proposes the most serious and ambitious environmental platform of all the parties.

And I’d like to live in a society where our stewardship of the environment takes priority above all else because, well, I’d like to leave a smaller mess for my own child to clean up.

The Liberal Government’s Record

The Quebec Liberal Party is liberal in name only. A liberal party does not throw money at an asbestos mine to export a substance known to cause cancer. A liberal government doesn’t legislate things like Loi 78.

I used to like Jean Charest. Or, rather, I liked the guy who stood before a massive Montreal crowd in October of 1995 and gave a spirited defence of Canada. They used to think he was going to be prime minister of Canada. Whatever happened to that guy?

But the fact is, I’m a centre-left progressive kind of guy and the Liberal Party of Quebec has never really fit that bill.

There is More Than One Federalist Option

Let this be the election where we can forever bury the idea that federalist anglophones vote as a block for the Liberals for lack of any clear alternatives.

I have considered Quebec Solidaire. While Quebec Solidaire may have much in their platform that I like, the fact remains that they’re an explicitly pro-sovereignty party and I’m not pro-sovereignty. It’s not just that I’m a federalist. It’s that I’m Canadian. In Nova Scotia, I feel at home. In Toronto, I feel at home. In British Columbia, I feel at home. In Montreal, while, yes, it’s different, I still feel at home. And all of that is something I want to continue. My conception of my country is that Canada includes Quebec and Quebec includes Canada. Now, I do like Quebec Solidaire’s more inclusive approach to sovereignty than that of the Parti Québecois. But that doesn’t change the fact that they’re sovereignist. I’m not.

The PQ, QS, and ON all see Canada as something they want to opt out of. It doesn’t matter how relevant or possible a sovereignty referendum is in the next four years, I will always vote for the party that wants to stay in Canada. To change that would fundamentally change the way I view my own citizenship.

All that to say: we have choices. And they’re not between order and chaos, as Jean Charest would have us believe. All we have to do is choose to make them.

Some Thoughts on the Quebec Election

It has been an excellent summer for nerds: They made a movie starring The Avengers, Alien got its prequel Prometheus, the Batman trilogy came to a very loud conclusion, and they even managed to make a fourth Spider-Man movie in ten years.

This morning a Wil Wheaton quoting robot landed on Mars.

And for political nerds we are going to the polls in my adopted province of Quebec. I love a good election, me. Well, how were we to know that Jean Charest would dissolve the National Assembly in the middle of a construction holiday?

Still, M. Charest wasted no time at all in casting his chief rival, Parti Québecois leader Madame Pauline Marois, as a bit of riff-raff who engages in street politics. To take a woman who sold her palatial home on Ile Bizard for $7 million and redefine her as a heroine of the working classes is a masterstroke in a brilliant chess game that, clearly, only Jean Charest can see.

But today’s Québec is different place from that of our ancestors. Instead of the Liberal/PQ – Federalist/Sovereignist split of yore, we have that plus the welcome addition of the “Possibly-Sovereignist” Coalition Avenir Québec (with their delightfully livid campaign slogan) and “Sovereignist-But-Not-In-That-Way” Québec Solidaire who are so left-wing that they reject the concept of a “party leader” and just go with spokespeople. Also they abuse beavers.

I’m not entirely sure who thought abusing the symbol of Canada in a cute YouTube video was a good idea but there it is.

But I have to say I like the cut of M. Legault’s jib. Not only does every Quebecker get a doctor with a CAQ government, but rumour has it, we all get super-powers.

https://twitter.com/jduncanhansen/status/232515779105521665

It’s difficult to read the tea leaves to see who shall sit on the Aluminium Throne* in Quebec City. In the old days, the winning party was the one that offered the most drives and bottles of rum to the electorate.

Such dirty tricks would never do in today’s open and transparent government.

In reality, I think Charest should have resigned sometime during the lest mandate as I just don’t see the Liberals forming the next government. But who knows, maybe they have some internal polling that we just don’t see. Or they’re counting on both a low voter turnout and a split vote among the other options to win. I may stick my vote with the Greens this time but I’m not sure. I wish there was a provincial NDP to vote for but obviously that’s not going to happen in this election.

My gut feeling is that we’re in for some kind of minority government but then, last year I didn’t think Stephen Harper would get a majority with an NDP-led Official Opposition so my gut is never really to be trusted.

*Shoehorned Game of Thrones reference

On The End of Jean Charest

It’s hard to believe in this era, after more than one hundred days of protests, that Quebec premier Jean Charest was once a serious contender for prime minister of Canada.

He came to national attention in the 1980’s as youthful cabinet minister in Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government. He survived the shellacking that party received in the 1993 federal election that brought Jean Chrétien to power. He was returned to Parliament as one half of a two person PC caucus that included Elsie Wayne who was an odious little homophobe and my Member of Parliament while I was in Saint John. You’d think being chained to her for four years would earn him enough karma points for a lifetime.

When the 1995 referendum came along, he became the strongest voice of federalism in Quebec and a serious contender to replace Jean Chrétien. It wasn’t to be, of course. Charest would be the second last leader of the Progressive Conservative Party before it would eventually merge with the Conservative Party of Canada. Charest then jumped the provincial Quebec Liberals where he would soon become premier. At that point, it was evident that he was mainly about power.

I mention all this because I don’t believe Charest is going to survive this which is odd given the national profile he used to hold. It also reinforces my long held belief that the worst job in Canadian politics is Premier of Quebec (second worst is leader of the Parti Québecois). Should Pauline Marois become premier, she’ll have my deepest sympathies, if nothing else. But I don’t believe she will. However dissatisfied people may be with Charest, that has not translated into support for the PQ.

I think the PLQ still has an excellent shot at making government in the next election but Charest’s time as its leader may be at an end. It’s his own doing, of course. He handled the tuition increase plan so badly and Bill 78 is such a draconian, overreaching response to the protests that even many of those who were in favour of the hikes have turned against the government.

So nobody’s particularly happy about the guy and I’ve always felt there’s a natural lifespan for political leaders of about ten years. Charest’s pretty close to that. On OpenFile, Kate McDonnell correctly asks “Down with Charest, Up with Who?”. Let’s say Charest manages to win a fourth mandate, either in a majority or a minority. Either way, I think he may find himself losing support of his caucus. So who would replace him? Finance Minister Raymond Bachand? Justice Minister Jean-Marc Fournier? Immigration Minister Yolande James? Or perhaps someone form outside the government.

But no election has been called and we’re only watching the pre-election ads now. The latest, showcasing Pauline Marois awkwardly marching in a casseroles demostration is probably an improvement over the deceased spirit of Jean Charest addressing us from Heaven. Clearly, the creativity will only increase once the writ is dropped.


Veiled

I’ve been reluctant to write about social issues lately, particularly those surrounding the issue of cultural integration and reasonable accommodation. The reason for this is simply that these are often complex issues with few easy answers. In addition, I often don’t know what I’m talking about.

That said, I generally agree with Immigration Minister Yolande James’ decision to support CEGEP Saint-Laurent’s insistence that students show their faces. This came after a woman was asked to leave a French class where she refused to remove her niqab veil.

While I would never support a law that would ban outright these types of coverings, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to request that faces are shown in classes, or at the polling booth, or on a driver’s license. But there’s a discomfort I feel in telling someone how they should appear in society. But, like Heather Mallick in her column on the subject this week, I’m even more uncomfortable with the idea that a woman feels she is forced to cover up.

I’m equally uncomfortable with the idea that women in secular society, young women in particular, are made to feel as those they should put it all out there. There’s a sexism in that as well.

But to make the argument against certain levels of religious accommodation on the grounds that we’re a secular society is false. We’re nothing of the kind. We’re a society of many faiths and no faith that somehow has figured out to make it all work, for the most part. But our flag has a cross on it (as do many flags) and there’s a crucifix in the National Assembly and there isn’t much desire to change either of those things. Do our members need to be reminded of John 3:16 every time they sit down to pass laws that affect all of us, regardless of our religious persuasion?

So if certain aspects of Islam are unfit for a modern, Western society, then perhaps the same could be said for certain aspects of Christianity.