Sunday, May 17, 2015

The PKP enigma in 11 points


"What do you think about Péladeau? "I think this question has been asked to me dozens and dozens of times in the past year. For some he's the great Sovereigntist Messiah with the stature of a head of state who will lead Quebec to independence, fist in the air. For others, he's the demon boss-man, the anti-union dictator in the pay of the 1%, the Berlusconi of Quebec.

He is neither the Messiah nor the devil.

I propose here to look at the PKP enigma in a few points, which are the questions that come up most often when people speak to me about the MNA of St-Jérôme and of the PQ leadership race.

1- The pro big oil candidate, who's in favor of the Energy East pipeline

"This Sunday, Mr.Péladeau unveiled his platform on the subject of energy in which he foresees Quebec's energy independence from oil by 2050. The candidate does not exclude the possibility of extracting the oil from Anticosti island or the oil off the shores of the Madeleine Islands. He's promising to consult the population in order to determine if this should or should not be used as part of Quebec's oil exit strategy. Mr.Péladeau spoke of Norway, where oil royalties have helped to establish a fund of $880 billion. Mr.Péladeau asserted, however, that the issues of environmental protection and social acceptability shall be taken into account when it's time to decide whether to go ahead with it. Still, Mr.Péladeau stressed the benefits of oil exploitation. "I consider it a major asset. It's a the major asset for Quebec sovereignty and we can't simply discard its enormous potential to make Québec a rich and prosperous country. "- Le Devoir, March 29, 2015

He doesn't seem to have sided with the TransCanada pipeline, he said that Quebecers should be consulted. But anyway, this is, for now, still a federal jurisdiction. So long as Quebec is stuck in the Canadian federation, it doesn't really need to be consulted. In any case, wanting to get out of oil is fine but it won't happen in a single day. In an independent Quebec, the production of oil could be considered, preferably in the context of nationalization or at least with the negotiation of generous royalties. So these revenues could then be used by the Quebec government to finance its energy transition towards clean energy and to reduce its dependence on oil. If we look at PKP's energy policy, this is pretty much what he is proposing with the example of the Norwegian Sovereign Fund, with his proposal about the  electrification of transportation, with his energy efficiency plan and his plan for the exit from oil:

"To achieve our energy transition, it is also important to reduce our oil consumption by all possible means. We need to consume less oil and consume our own energy when substitutes are possible. Everyone agrees that the oil produced in Western Canada is among the most polluting in the world and it  would be more  advantageous to rely on other sources  which would benefit Quebecers. Drawing on the best international practices, we want to develop an oil exit plan that would include a 40% reduction target in the transportation sector by 2030."

2- Tax Evasion

In his economic platform, Péladeau has seen fit to mention a plan to fight tax evasion. Meanwhile, Alain Deneault raised some important questions: "The conversion of Mr. Péladeau is nothing banal and raises legitimate questions. For example, Quebecor World had once created an entity called "Quebecor World Centro America SA" Panama, an opaque tax haven? " On this point, it must be said that some countries require the creation and registration of companies on their territory when it comes to doing business. Quebecor World, which in 2003 had just concluded a contract to print Reader's Digest Panama created Quebecor World Centro America S.A. in Panama. There's still the question of Delaware, where Quebecor defended wanting to evade its tax obligations, but Alain Deneault, who wrote the book "Offshore" about tax havens, is skeptical. It's likely that this story will be continued.

3- Lockouts

Some say that because of this past, PKP will have trouble getting the support of the unions. This is a legitimate concern. Yet what must be understood is that the greatest enemy of unionism is the federal government. Just look at Bills C-4, C-377 and C-525, as well as the way the federal government responded to the labor conflicts at Air Canada and Canadian Pacific. This is probably what motivated trade unionists to support Pierre Karl.

4- He doesn't answer questions and his plan for independence is unclear

This is not something that worries me and I will explain why in point 11. Anyway, since Parizeau left the PQ, we have seen some fine speakers with nice plans...on paper. Like for example, the popular initiative referendum with the 850,000 signatures threshold plan proposed by Bernard Drainville in 2012, which was never really implemented. The kind of plan that Alexandre Cloutier seems to be proposing but would, this time, require one million signatures.

5- His media

Many people wonder if PKP, who was the CEO and remains the owner of one of the largest media companies in Quebec, will benefit from a Quebecor Media bias. I see no evidence that this would be the case. Let's not forget that at the Journal de Montreal and the Journal de Québec, there are a lot of federalists columnists who take pleasure in denigrating the independence movement. Of course, the Journal de Montreal and the Journal de Québec can claim to be representing a plurality of views, but I am skeptical that these papers would help Pierre Karl in an election or a possible referendum. Never mind the airtime that TVA grants to Jean Lapierre during election campaigns. Add to that Sun News, which Quebecor recently got rid of... It did give me a good laugh to see the Sun News journalists have to defend themselves for working for a "separatist" after PKP made the jump to the PQ.

6- His lack of experience in politics

We often hear that after Pierre Karl says something, he often has to explain his comments or clarify his position. This happens precisely because he lacks experience and he has not yet mastered the famous vacuousness of political speech. In a sense, it can harm him because today more than ever the media can create a tempest in a teacup from a trivial statement. On the other hand, his straight talk, which can sometimes create the impression that he made a gaff, could probably help him. Remember that Jean Chrétien, who could outdo anyone in terms of gaffs, was three times prime minister of Canada.

Parenthesis: take the controversial statement of PKP on immigration. The statement is rather awkward and there is a chance that, come election time, they will try to corner him with it, just like Parizeau's statement, which is still used by federalists as a scarecrow, but it puts the finger on something real. PKP eventually retracted it, but it is in the details of Maka Kotto's comments that we find an interesting element: "There is a system that ensures you when you come from abroad, all the symbols that are forced upon you inculcate into you, subliminally I would say, a notion of belonging to Canada, not Quebec."

Two other things: Immigration is still a taboo subject here, everyone walks on eggshells for fear of being called a racist or of offending someone, and because of this we can never have a real debate of any kind on the subject. Furthermore, the independence movement should not single out the immigrants as the sole source of its misfortune. Instead of pointing the finger at immigrants and saying "immigrants vote no," the PQ must initiate a genuine dialogue with the various cultural communities and must convince them of the viability of Quebec independence and the contributions each of these communities can make.

Personally, I've been having this dialogue for years. It works when you take the time to discuss, ask questions and explain. I went to high school in St-Michel, so I rubbed shoulders with Quebecers of all origins. I have friends from Mali, Algeria, Morocco, Haiti, Argentina, France, Belgium, Chile, Vietnam, etc. And contrary to what we are led to believe, the independence option is relatively alive among the children of Bill 101, the sons and daughters of immigrants. End of parenthesis.

7- Is the PQ the right vehicle?

On this point, I tend to agree with the analysis of Jacques Parizeau, for several reasons. The secularism charter was a serious strategic error on the part of the Parti Quebecois and it will continue to feel the repercussions over it for a while. While human beings have been killing one another on religious grounds for a long time, the PQ decided to make religion an election issue. On the PQ and what it has become, I had questioned Jean-François Lisée at the time. I still think the same way. And that was not counting the endless debate on secularism and the electoral drubbing last year. The Parti Quebecois is not a very popular party among young people and among immigrants. The independence option is currently more popular than the party. There is certainly a lot of work to do on this front. As for those who are serious about independence, they no longer believe the empty promises of this party. How could anyone blame them. Personally, I'm sick of hearing the interchangeable heads of the PQ proclaiming loudly that they will do everything in their power to bring about the independence of Quebec once a year at the party convention. Then, 2 or 3 YouTube videos, a powerpoint, a hollow formula like "popular initiative referendum", the "tool box" or a "White Paper on sovereignty" and when election time comes around, they avoid the issue. So on this point, I'll wait and see.

8- The economy

PKP's economic prestige and his ambitious economic plan will surely allow him to get votes from the CAQ and give him a chance of convincing those who believe that a sovereign Quebec would not be economically viable. It could also help him convince people from the business world as well. In his platform, there are two points that I find particularly interesting, and that's not counting his regional development plan and his manufacturing policy. First, the strategy of buying locally, which he calls the concept of "préférence québécoise". Then his desire to create a Quebec Institute of Applied Research on independence. This institute will "analyze the economic dimensions of the national independence project".

9- Federal control over vital sectors

I must say that I'm glad to finally hear someone make this point. Shipping, rail, air transport, the CRTC, etc. Economically speaking, the Quebec Institute of Applied Research on independence should demonstrate how these "federal jurisdictions slow or disadvantage Quebec." Furthermore, I would also suggest that this Institute focus on the ideological control of the federal government on thought and culture through what Heritage Canada funds; Telefilm Canada, the CRTC, the Canada Council, Museums and Parks Canada, CBC Radio and Television, the NFB, in addition to some other areas such as university research or amateur sport.

10- The glamour

Glamour
This is obviously not something that reaches me personally but it's still significant that PKP and Julie Snyder form a glamorous couple. Besides, Julie Snyder is a brilliant woman, with an ability to rally people to her. I see her political involvement in a favorable light. And if in addition, it can attract the sympathy of the people who watch La Voix or Star Académie, and convinces them to vote "Yes", then I'm all for it.


11- Has Pierre Karl Peladeau really entered politics for Quebec independence?

This is the crucial question. First, it must be said that never before has a businessman of his importance taken a stand in this way. The Canadian establishment will never forgive him for it. Yes, in Quebec Quebecor is big, but if you look at the largest companies in Canada, Quebecor Media ranks 94th, and Quebecor Inc. ranks at 96th place. Its media competitors, that is to say Power Corporation, Bell and Rogers, rank respectively in the 3rd, 17th and 33rd places.

In addition, by placing his company in a blind trust he is placing himself in a very risky position. Not only will the Canadian establishment do everything, including all of the low blows unimaginable to weaken his business, he will be a victim of media persecution by the competitors especially at election time. When we look at the recent history of Quebec, particularly in regard to the political struggle against the independence of Quebec, the federal government and the Canadian establishment spared no means to get their way. The Brinks job, Operation Ham, the Samson Case, and the underhanded methods used during the 1995 referendum (see for example the book by Robin Philpot "Le Référendum volé").

Why take that risk? I believe Pierre Karl knows what he is exposing himself to and how it exposes the company he inherited from his father. Being aware of these risks, he must succeed in a certain sense. It's all or nothing, really. He's taking a calculated risk because, firstly he must really want Quebec to achieve its independence and, I believe, he also wants to make history. He wants to be the one who will create this country. He wants to be what René Lévesque and Jacques Parizeau could not be. And he is not afraid. This, I believe, can only do good to the PQ of recent years.

I have often complained about people who refuse to take a stand, Pierre Karl has, he is putting his company at risk and doing it fearlessly. I won't spit on that. So, I choose to support him. There, it's said. However, in regards to the PQ as a whole, I still remain skeptical. I'll wait and see how things change. Substance. Audacity. Vision...

Well, there it is. It's a decision long reflected on. A rational and thoughtful decision. And for those who will to see in this support an inconsistency with my usual positions, I say this: I'm still leftist, I'm the same dirty red square leftist who mourned Hugo Chavez, who was in the streets in 2012, the same leftist who supports the striking students and the same one who writes columns on the growing the police state we live in. But I'm an independentist first. I, therefore, only see consistency in supporting PKP. I do not accept any nonsense under the pretext that it is leftist, just as I do not reject any idea on the grounds that it is from the right. I analyze and evaluate ideas according to my first objective; the independence of Quebec. And I recognize, more than ever, the urgency. We must exit Canada quickly. Because meanwhile, a police state is being built up around us and our social gains are being eroded. La Caisse de dépôt is being hijacked and our natural resources are slowly being plundered for a song and without any long term vision. Quietly our Crown corporations such as Hydro-Québec and the SAQ will be privatized...

Quebec independence is not an end. It's a start. It is the first step towards liberty.

"It is very difficult to start a revolution. It is even more difficult to continue it. The most difficult of all is to win it. And it is only there that the real difficulties begin"- Larbi Ben M'hidi from the film The Battle of Algiers


By Jules Falardeau, film and documentary director, April 22, 2015


Thursday, May 14, 2015

The blind spot in our history

The 175th anniversary of the Act of Union


John George Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham
Federalist propaganda is preparing us for the celebration in 2017 of the 150th anniversary of the founding of Canada. In 1867, an Act of the British Parliament, the British North America Act, replaced the 1840 Legislative Union of Upper Canada and Lower Canada and its single parliament with a broader federal union of four colonies. The birth of this new country is presented to us as harmonious and in the interest of the "two founding peoples" by underlining the alliance of conservatives Macdonald and Cartier. They forget that the first Union was brutally imposed by London in July 1840 after the harsh military repression demanded by the British merchants of Montreal. And it's this first union that made the union of 1867 possible.

2015 marks the 175th anniversary the abolishment by the British government of the Legislative Assembly of Lower Canada, our separate Parliament which had existed since 1791 and the establishment of a new political entity, the Province of Canada. This Union laid the foundations of the British nation of North America, known today as Canada. The union of the two colonies had been called for as early 1810 by the British merchants of Montreal. Quebec historians need to remind people of 1840, this fundamental date of our too often forgotten history. For 1840 is the real political conquest of French Canada following the British military conquest in 1760, it is the blind spot in our history, even paradoxically for some Sovereignists.

We must remember that, in 1839, Lord Durham, who was sent to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Lower Canada Rebellion, wrote in his report that he initially envisioned a federal union as a permanent solution to the crisis. But he was finally convinced that only a legislative union without provincial parliaments was possible. For Durham, the urgent priority was to first make French Canadians a minority in a union Parliament of Upper and Lower Canada. He believed that a parliament made up of a French majority would only slow down the economic development of British North America. In his view, the liberal solution of responsible government could not apply to the separate Lower Canada. He clearly stated the need to promote English immigration and to entrust the administration to a legislature dominated by the English. The legislative union was therefore required and it was done in the interests of English colonization.

He concluded that a federal union was not possible at that time, as the British merchants of Montreal would never submit to an Assembly, even a provincial one, which was dominated by a French majority. Moreover, he believed that a legislature granted to a provincialized Lower Canada as part of a federal union would use the limited power it possessed to paralyze the central government.

Instead, Lord Durham proposed:

  1. to Unite Upper and Lower Canada into a single province in order to reduce to dominant position of French-Canadians and render them increasingly politically powerless.
  2. to institute responsible government so as to remove a major source of friction that had existed between the government and elected officials prior to 1837.
  3. to assimilate the French-Canadians.

It was evident that one of the purposes of the Act of Union was to remove from French-Canadians the little amount of self-government, of control over their political institutions, that they had had between 1791 and 1837. It was also evident that various clauses in the Act aimed at assimilating French-Canadians or introduced a threat to their survival in the future. Especially objectionable to Quebec were the following clauses:

  • The debts of Upper Canada and Lower Canada were now merged into one. Upper Canada had a large debt when Lower Canada had an accumulated surplus.
  • The Union Act provided for equal representation of the two parts of the new province in the new House of Assembly when in fact Lower Canada contained 60% of the population and Upper Canada had only 40%. This had been done to ensure an English majority in the House of Assembly right from the start of the Union.
  • The financial requirements to vote in elections, or to be elected, had been raised making it more difficult for the poor to exercise their franchise. As francophones tended to be poorer than anglophones, more of them were adversely affected by this.
  • There was no requirements for French to be used in the laws and by the government of the Province. French could be used in the debates of the House but was slated to disappear within 15 years.

The Act of Union sealed, for more than a century, the destiny of the French-speaking nation, reducing it to minority status in a manner that shaped its national consciousness. French-Canadians henceforth conceived of themselves as a national minority, developing complexes about disadvantages and the economic and political leadership set over them, to the extent that they became afraid to make claims for themselves. The governing elite pronounced them to be inferior, and French-Canadians adapted to a world in which their exclusion from certain circles and executive positions was almost a given, to the point of interiorizing some of these complexes. This inferiority complex had not yet crystallized before the failure of the Rebellions and the ensuing annexation of 1840, which may therefore be regarded as a turning point.

We must reread the work of the historian Maurice Séguin to understand the beginnings of the political annexation of French-Canada. According to him, the Fathers of Confederation were, despite their speeches, the implementers of Lord Durhams project, who saw in the history of Louisiana a good example of the way a majority can erase the national distinctions of a people and realize its smooth assimilation.


Based on  a text by historian Robert Comeau, February 7, 2015