Tag Archives: quebec

Not all Maclean’s Covers are Created (or Treated) Equal

Which one of these covers is more damning?

Macleans-Cover vs.  images

Now that a little time has passed I was reflecting on the controversy about the Maclean’s cover about Quebec as “The Most Corrupt Province in Canada” and remain amazed at the outcry it generated. It is stunning that Parliament took time out to condemn the cover. I don’t say this because I think the article is true. Let’s face it, Canada really isn’t that corrupt. In 2009 Transparency International ranked us as tied for 8th as the least corrupt country in the world. What is more interesting is that so many people felt it was in their interests to take seriously (or exploit) what was obvious link bait.

Indeed what made the outcry all the more fascinating was the a mere 2 years earlier Maclean’s called BC a “World Crime Superpower” and that elicited no response. No outcry from parliament… no screams of protest… Again, in the grand scheme of things claiming BC us a World Crime Superpower on par with countries like say Mexico, Afghanistan and Colombia feels, like a stretch. (Although the economic impact on BC of California decriminalization marijuana is fascinating topic)

Lots of reasons can account for the difference. Part of it may be that BCers frankly don’t care what the rest of the country – not to mention Maclean’s – think. It’s also possible the BCers have less of a sense of common identity – especially one sensitive to how the central Canada describes it. It may also be a reflection of how political power doesn’t always flow with demographics or even opportunity. Today there are few seats to be won in Quebec – the bloc is entrenched and unlikely to move. making a big stink probably isn’t going to change one’s fortunes. In contrast, in BC, vast swaths of the province are up for grabs for all the parties (save the Bloc) – defending the honour of BC might actually yield something. And then, of course, all the parties may not be interested in condemning the Superpower of Crime label – a real, or imagined – creates a mega-crime menace in BC that would play well with a party interested in finding kingpins to fill the empty prisons it plans to build. Perhaps not coming to BCs defense is the shrewd move for some (although one is left wondering, where were the others?).

I think what is most interesting though is that it suggests that for all of the past challenges Quebec has had regarding being in Canada, it is an activist member of the dominion, both in its politics and in its populace. Quebecers seem to care what the rest of the country thinks and they’ll sharpen their elbows and let themselves be heard if necessary. In short, they’ll play in the game. BC has never cared to separate, but sometimes it feels like the province the least part of the dominion. Federal politics don’t get much play in BC, its provincial politicians rarely play the federal game (well) and its population is usually oblivious to what goes on east of the Rockies. Hence the irony of a province that has at times wanted out still cares so much, and a province that defined the country by asking to come in, cares so little.

Or maybe it’s just all a fun note about the fun country we live in and how old stereotypes sometimes send us into a tizzy… and sometimes not.

Let's Turn up the heat on Rex Murphy's flawed logic

In his regular column the other week Rex Murphy published a piece entitled Don’t turn up the heat on the West, which also had the great sub title: By making Western provinces pay for adventures in global warming policy we will be playing with Confederation.

For a man that regularly rails against the lack of political imagination in this country it is odd to see him shut down debate and present us with a narrow (Bush-styled) choice he usually loathes: our planet or our country. As a red blooded Canadian the choice for Rex is easy. The costs of climate change can be ignored since they will be born by my children in some hard to quantify future. In contrast, the political costs of acting (which he will witness) are “real” and “reckless.”

What is sad is that we’ve been here before. One wonders what Rex would have said in the 30’s or 60’s about asbestos mining. Here is a mineral for which there was overwhelming evidence that there was a negative impact on miners especially, and citizens generally, that came into contact with it. Indeed as early as 1935 senior executives in two of the largest firms in the industry – Raybestos Manhattan and Johns-Manville – secretly agreed that “our interests are best served by having asbestosis receive the minimum of publicity.” But the growing scientific literature from the 30’s-60’s that suggested asbestos had serious negative side effects didn’t matter. For one there were asbestos deniers (those contrarian thinker-types Rex would love), such as J. Corbett McDonald, a McGill professor who received $500,000 in research funding from Quebec Asbestos Mining Association and determined that contaminants in the environment, not asbestos, cause lung tumours seen in Canadian workers. Phew!

Looking back, we can see now that Asbestos was massively damaging and deeply, deeply costly. Asbestos is so problematic and has created so much exposure to the insurance industry that much of it remains unresolved today. In many countries the government simply had to offer direct compensation packages since the liabilities were too great to be covered. This is to say nothing of site and building cleanups (like out parliament buildings which are currently spending 10s millions to have the asbestos removed from). In total, we are definitely talking about 100s of billions of dollars. Possibly over a trillion dollars in costs over the last two-three decades. And that’s just in Canada.

Of course, back in 1960s and 70s talking about shutting down the abestoes industry would have posed a threat to national unity too. Most of Canada’s asbestoes mines are located in Quebec and so confronting this future risk (that science strongly suggested was imminent) would have required political leadership and tackling regionalism.

Thank god we didn’t. Our inaction spared us having to address the political consequences. Instead we’ve only had to deal with billions of dollars in lawsuits, tens of thousands (likely many more) lives cut short by cancer and other illnesses, and locking parts of our economy into a dying industry which the world was less and less interested in.

What’s most sad? We haven’t stopped. Prime Minister Harper continues to try to block a UN environmental agreement (the Rotterdam Convention) that would list chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous substances. His political quote on the issue: The Liberals are being “duped and manipulated by extremist groups,” and that the other national parties are urban-focused and don’t understand regional issues like asbestos. Of course, by blocking the convention Canada can continue to sell asbestos without informing purchasers – especially those in developing countries (one of the few markets left) – that it is hazardous. Yeah us!

Rex flawed logic is summed up when, in his article, he says:

Should some global warming action plan attempt to put the oil sands and Western energy development at significant disadvantage, or draw taxes out of the economies of the Western provinces to pay for adventures in global warming policy, we will be playing with Confederation.

In short, it doesn’t matter how serious an issue is. If it the politics are too difficult – we shouldn’t act. Indeed, I can imagine him using the same logic back in the 70s writing about asbestos, saying something like:

Should some asbestos regulatory regime place Quebec asbestoes mining at significant disadvantage, or draw taxes out of the economy of Quebec to pay for adventures in health and safety policy, we will be playing with Confederation.

Yes, we would have. And it would have been the right call. That’s what political leadership is Rex. I’m sorry you’re not interested in it.

Tory logic: Injection sites in Quebec = good, in BC = bad

So Yaffe’s Wednesday column (which I talked about yesterday) about how Insite would not be challenged by the conservative government if it were in Quebec has turned out to be sadly prescient.

Today, the Globe is reporting that Federal Conservative Health Minister Tony Clement is willing to consider Quebec’s request for an injeciton site even as he works to shut down the site in Vancouver. For a party that was supposed to let the west in, this is a complete outrage.

Health Minister Tony Clement says his government will not necessarily oppose safe-injection sites for illegal drugs in Quebec even though it will appeal a court decision allowing a similar facility in British Columbia…

…”I am obligated to consider each situation as a unique situation. That’s my obligation as the Minister of Health.”

Appalling. Apparently the local consensus reached in Vancouver about this approach means nothing to this government. Nor apparently, do the votes in Vancouverites. With this move it is hard to imagine the Conservatives winning any seats in Vancouver.

Review of Graham Fraser’s “Sorry, I don’t speak French”

Dear friends, sorry for the long delay between posts. Between the convention last week and the 5 days of seminars in 3 cities I did this week I was a cooked noodle by the weekend. I’m back on the horse though, and even polished off “Sorry, I don’t Speak French” on the flight to Vegas. I’ve written up a little review for those who were thinking about picking it up…

I stumbled upon this book by luck. Sam M. recommended I check it out after posting my CBC piece on the Dominion Institute blog. Serendipitously, a month later the Millennium Scholarship foundation gave me a copy as a thank you gift for a talk I gave at a “Think Again” conference.

It’s a brave soul who wades into Canada’s language politics but Graham Fraser has clearly impressed given that soon after the publication of this book he took on the role of Commissioner of Official Languages. In reading this book I take comfort in knowing we have a Commissioner well educated on the subject. Graham’s book provides us with a basic review of Canada’s language policy – essentially beginning 50 years ago with the launch of a Royal Commission on Bilingualism and weaving its way to the present day, analyzing the impact and effect of the commission’s results along the way.

For me the book had deep personal resonance. If you are a French Immersion Alumnus (Frims, as we called ourselves at Churchill) or have lived in either Ottawa or Montreal, I suspect it will for you as well. Upon reading the book the larger political and policy forces that drove both my education and experiences living in these places came into focus. Graham’s honest recounting of the tensions and problems inherent in Canada’s bilingualism policies often confirm what we likely suspected and/or already knew – his book compelling not because of its novelty, but because it gives those thoughts context and structure.

The book also made me realize I share a common experience with some 347,000 other Canadians. Canadians who were also educated in French Immersion but are often too embarrassed to speak it because they feel their French is inadequate (something I’ve begun to overcome) and/or who went on to learn a third language. Indeed, the only part of his discussion of immersion experience that didn’t ring true to me was his description of French Immersion as an Anglo education and culture, translated into French. I remember reading L’Etranger by Camus and other “French” books (not French translations of English books as he asserts). I also distinctly remember the strong Quebecois nationalists’ slant of my Grade 10 history text – a perspective that was almost disorienting when read from a classroom in Vancouver.

The books strongest and weakest moment is reserved for its analysis of present day language policy. Graham’s thesis appears to be that bilingualism has been, more or less, a success. Its detractors, and Canadians more generally, have simply misunderstood its intended goal. Bilingualism, according to Graham, was never about getting every Canadian to learn the other official language but to enable the public service, and the government services they provide, to function in both official languages. In this regard the chapter on the impact of bilingualism on the public service is excellent while the chapter on bilingualism in politics – which essential discusses how bilingualism is a prerequisite for political leadership – is somewhat wanting. Indeed, throughout the book you are left wanting for more. It almost felt like Graham constantly leads you up to the finish line, but then chooses to end the chapter, failing to provide you with the analytical conclusion you thought he was going to provide. My real fear is that he is much more pessimistic then he lets on and didn’t have the heart to plunge the dagger too deeply into policies and a subject matter he clearly feels passionate about.

If you are a Frimm, a public servant, or someone concerned with either language politics or national unity – this is definitely a book for you. It’s an easy, enjoyable to read and, if you’re like me, humbling. Given how much of our collective energy language seems to have occupied over the past two decades I remain struck by how little I knew (and still know) about Canadian language policy. It’s a great primer, and if you’ve got the time, worth reading.

[tags]book review, bilingualism, public policy, canadian politics, graham fraser[/tags]

A Nation Alone

Barring some dramatic change of heart by one of the main parties it appears the House will pass a resolution acknowledging Quebec as a nation within a nation. Obviously, the news commentary has focused on what this means for the country and its politics. This is clearly a departure from Trudeau’s vision of Canada, but beyond that, it is unclear if anyone understands the implications of this vote. As my friends know, I work as a negotiation consultant, and despite all the discussion surrounding the resolution, from a negotiation perspective, I feel one issue has gone unmentioned.

For many Quebecers this resolution is likely not an affirmation, but a reaffirmation. For declaring Quebec a nation within a nation reaffirms the ‘two’ founding nations vision of Canada. And therein lies the problem. Nationalist Quebecers don’t need Canada to recognize or affirm it as a nation – it already knows it is. The challenge for Quebec nationalists is that they need the rest of Canada to perceive itself as an (English) nation. And yet, most Canadians outside Quebec don’t see themselves as part of any (particularly English) nation. I’m not sure ‘English Canada’ shares a common sense of heritage, destiny, collective identity or any of the other ingredients of nationhood… independent of Quebec. (Sidenote: Some Ontarians who see themselves as part of a nation, might disagree, but I can inform you that Nova Scotians and BCers don’t feel part of the Ontario nation). While this could change, as it stands today ‘English’ Canada appears to possess a largely post-nationalist view of itself. They see their country as composed of 10 provinces and 3 territories that are more or less equal. Shaking them from this view will be neither easy, nor pleasant. Which brings us back to that serious dilemma confronting Quebec nationalists. Specifically, what is the value of being the sole nation in what is supposed to be a bi-national federation? If who you perceive as ‘the other’ doesn’t share this bi-national vision – who do you negotiate with?

Consequently, this resolution doesn’t get to the heart of the matter. It does not reconcile the two competing conceptions of the country (10 equal provinces vs. two founding nations). Instead, the resolution is premised on the assumption that enough soft-nationalist Quebecers will be satisfied with a theoretical reaffirmation of the two founding nation thesis to counterbalance harder nationalist who either want out of the federal structure altogether, or who wish it operationalized and/or re-institutionalized their bi-national view of Canada.

That assumption may be correct – I genuinely don’t know. But is seems to me that, nation or no nation, resolution or no resolution, the real question, and answer, to the issue of Canadian unity remains unchanged: Are ‘English Canadians’ willing to re-cast the federal structure along bi-national lines or do Quebecers believe their national aspirations can be achieved as one of ten provinces within a federated Canada?

[tags]canadian politics, quebec, negotiation[/tags]