Tag Archives: Canada

Public consultation can’t replace vision

If it weren’t for the fact that it’s apparently a great excuse for a lot of infrastructure spending, would anyone really care about the 375th anniversary of the founding of Ville Marie, which will coincide with the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017? Are these dates important to us for any other reason than that politicians can use them as focal points?

There’s interest in renovating and redeveloping Montreal’s Old Port as part of this anniversary, and to that end the city has authorized renovation projects both for Place Vauquelin and Place Jacques Cartier. There was a public consultation at the Montreal Science Centre held on Thursday of last week that was apparently well-attended, and the intention is that a master plan will be completed by next year.

Note: the plan is only expected to be completed by 2017, there’s no word on any specific projects or what, if anything, might actually be improved/renovated by then. Moreover, it’s not entirely clear either what precisely needs to be done in the first place.

Dawn Quay - Montreal, Summer 2015

Also worth noting, though this CBC article seems to have missed the point, is that the Old Port does not actually belong to the City of Montreal, but to Canada Lands Corporation through the Old Port of Montreal Corporation. Ergo, while Montreal may be interested in developing the Old Port, the Fed is still ultimately responsible and they have no interest in ceding ownership of the land to the city. Mayor Coderre has argued that it’s vital for Montreal to take ownership of the Old Port in order to fully realize it’s revitalization.

As far as renovating the Old Port is concerned, the last time there was a significant investment was 24 years ago when Montreal was celebrating its 350th anniversary.

Since 2012 the operating agency has spent $14 million on new installations and activities, though the general manager of this same agency called the Old Port ‘tattered’ in a Montreal Gazette interview from a few days ago. An investment of $125 million back in the early 1990s gave the Old Port its modern form after the area spent much of the 1980s as a bit of a no-man’s land.

City from the Harbour - Summer 2015

Just to be clear on what we’re talking about, the Old Port is a very specific part of Montreal. It essentially consists of the long linear park running immediately south of Rue de la Commune, as well as Windmill Point and the four principle quays. Everything north of de la Commune is Old Montreal, and as things go in this city, despite the intimate relationship between these two sectors they administratively have nothing to do with one-another.

Why the Old Port needs to be ‘renovated, rejuvenated and revitalized’ doesn’t seem to be clear either. For the six million or so tourists who visit it every year, there doesn’t seem to be much complaining: it’s a park with various attractions next to the city’s premier tourist destination; what’s not to like? And either way last week’s public consultation wasn’t about what tourists want, it was about what we want.

Clock Tower Quay - Montreal, Summer 2015

I had registered to go and say something but then decided not to when I realized the crux of my argument – as a Montrealer – was that the last thing the Old Port needs more of is tourists or tourist-attractions. It seemed counter-intuitive to me as I can’t imagine this is what the operating agency wants to hear. They want to make money, point finale.

I’d argue strongly the investments made in the last few years – notably the beach you can’t swim at, the zip-line, haunted house and pirate-themed jungle gym – are all terrible and not worth the money spent on them. Moreover, I’m fairly certain these ‘attractions’ were only brought in after public consultations and/or market research indicated the Old Port was lacking in things to do. They all feel like the terrible ideas only a group of otherwise unemployable market research study participants can come up with.

Silo No. 5 - Montreal, Spring 2015

From a completely historical point of view, even calling it the Old Port seems misleading: the new attractions have absolutely nothing to do with the area’s history and the entire space has a decidedly modern feel to it. Jacques Cartier did not zip-line his way into Montreal in 1534, we’ve never had a serious pirate problem and, if we do have a haunted house in Montreal, my guess is that it’s probably one of the places where CIA-funded mind control experiments were conducted, and not an assembly of brightly coloured former shipping containers.

If the Old Port has a serious problem, it’s that it’s trying way too hard to be all things to all people, again, another problem stemming from public consultations.

I’m generally indifferent to all the Old Port’s crap because I know I’ll never be involved with it. I’m never going to buy any of the overpriced tchotchkes, knock-off handbags or t-shirts that say ‘Federal Breast Inspector’ on them from the spaced-out teenagers sitting in the nifty new container kiosks. Nor will I ever dine in the Old Port, given the food is overpriced and of low quality; this is a gourmand’s city, something which is not reflected in the Old Port or much of Old Montreal for that matter. I think I’ve been in the Old Port well over a hundred times in the last decade and I don’t think I’ve spent more than $20 in that entire time.

Attractions, Old & New - Montreal, Summer 2015

I also don’t think I’m alone. As far as I can tell, most Montrealers in the know know better than to waste their money in our city’s various tourist traps. And the Old Port is the biggest tourist trap we have.

Now all that said, I still thoroughly enjoy going to the Old Port, and will continue to do so regardless of whatever the city or Canada Lands Corporation comes up with. It’s a big space, there’s only so much damage they can do. The best parts of the Old Port, at least in my opinion, are either technically off limits or otherwise far from its central and most touristy part. There’s a look-out at the end of Alexandra Quay that offers amazing views of the city an the river, not to mention the grounds around Silo No. 5, which actually look like there was once a park located there that’s been since closed off to the public.

Abandoned Park - Montreal, Spring 2015

Assuming the majority of Montrealers do indeed agree the Old Port is ‘in tatters’ then why not just do the simple thing and fix it up? Fresh paint, new uni-stone, update the landscaping, improve the lighting. Whenever I go to the Old Port, this is typically what I notice first and foremost.

I feel there’s a prevalent belief in this city that we need to reinvent the wheel all the time, and that we won’t be truly happy with our city until it’s completely unrecognizable but teaming with tourists.

Obviously this isn’t what we want. If the powers that be want to best represent the interests of the citizenry, perhaps they should consider how Montrealers typically use the most successful of our public spaces (on top of what makes them so successful in the first place). Consider: the tam-tams are completely spontaneous and the city isn’t involved one iota. Most of Mount Royal Park is attraction-less and most Montrealers seem to be able to enjoy the mountain without having to spend much money. The lookouts are free, the trails are free, lying in the sun is free (etc.)

Windmill Point - Spring 2015

Rather than occupying public space in the Old Port with activities and attractions, why not just leave it open and accessible and let people figure it out for themselves?

On a closing note, I really hope they don’t do anything with Silo No. 5 – it’s a monument in its own right, and fascinating to explore. My main concern at this point is that CLC through the Old Port of Montreal Corporation will either try to redevelop the site into condos or some kind of half-assed attraction (like that virtual-reality thingamajig that was up and running for a few years on Sainte Catherine Street near McGill College… I think it’s a watch store or a Five Guys now).

Second closing point: though it’s outside the realm of the Old Port, I’d argue the single best thing the city could possibly do is to convert Bonsecours Market back into a public market (à la Atwater or Maisonneuve markets) and – by extension – use the market as a transiting point between Old Montreal and the Old Port. I think this would entail ‘opening up’ the Rue de la Commune side of the Bonsecours, such as with vendor stalls and additional doorways (etc.), but the point is if we want these tourist-driven parts of the city to still be attractive to locals, we need to offer a little more of what makes Montreal such an exquisite city in the first place. I’m sure the 3,000 or so citizens who live in the area would certainly appreciate access to a proper market, and the tourists would have better dining options (at least) as a result.

This is Getting Ridiculous – Israel is no Friend of Canada

Hat’s off to the Beaverton for nailing it with this headline:

“Israeli Prime Minister Stephen Harper returns after long visit in Canada”

…and to the Gazette’s Terry Mosher, for much the same reason (*Note the comments and replace the Star of David over the PM’s mouth with a Fleur-de-lys over Pauline Marois’ mouth. Would that be as shocking? Would that be Quebec bashing? How would these illustrious minds of the modern age have responded to such a caricature I ask you? With equal apparent offence? I should think not…)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few days, the Prime Minister and avowed ‘friend of Israel’ has been touring the country like an invited rock star, along with an entourage including businesspeople, MPs, cabinet ministers and religious leaders, a group of about 200 in total. The entire trip is being paid for out of Canada’s general taxation revenue, meaning poor saps like you or I are subsidizing this ‘love fest’ in the Levant.

Now you’re probably thinking, well, this is what Prime Ministers do, they go to other countries and sign lucrative trade deals, don’t they?

But there’s no trade deal being signed, and we don’t buy much from the Israelis in the first place because they don’t build much of anything we could use.

So why is Harper dropping a significant amount of coin for a ‘Tories-only’ trip to the Holy Land?

Is it to improve relations between the two countries? Hardly. Only Tories were allowed on this trip, no representatives from any other major political party in Canada was allowed to go. And as to the private business types who were allowed, well, they’re all major Tory financial supporters. If anything this entire affair seems to be little more than a carefully crafted media circus dreamed up in advance of the 2015 election.

Don’t believe me? Then watch the above video, wherein you can hear Tory MP Mark Adler whining like a little child that he won’t get an opportunity to get in on a photo-op near Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall, something the MP describes as the ‘million dollar shot’.

This is the kind of trash we’ve elected to parliament. What an unfortunate joke.

It’s painfully clear the Tories embarked on this trip for purely political purposes. Fellating the State of Israel is good for the Tories not only because it secures the apparently strategic old-fogey Conservative Zionist vote, but further seeks to remind the Canadian people that Harper’s talking points re: Israel sound to be just about the same as the American President’s or the British Prime Minister’s. And this in turn makes Harper look like he’s a ‘player’ on the world stage.

Mulroney would do the same thing back in the 1980s, ensuring that at every big NATO meeting he had his mug photographed next to Reagan and Thatcher almost as if he needed to prove he was one of the big boys of his day.

Politics is ultimately all about image; some things never change.

Then there’s Israel.

I understand why Tories blindly support Israel. It’s not because all Tories are committed Zionists, far from it (in fact, the old Reform Party, from which the current incarnation of the Tories emerged, used to have a bit of problem signing up Holocaust deniers and other assorted racist scum to run in federal elections, but hey, who the fuck remembers what happened twenty years ago?); Tories support Israel because the Yanks and the Brits do, and Tories have never had the confidence to pursue a Canadian-made foreign policy.

Nay, Tories have never had the balls to try and develop our own foreign policy. The Tory mentality is that whatever is locally produced must be deficient. This is why Deifenbaker cancelled the Avro Arrow, why Mulroney sold us out on free trade – Tories live to cut the legs out from under you and the whole of this nation. For the Conservative Party of Canada, this country only exists as long as other, bigger, more powerful countries count us as one of their friends.

Given this spectacle, it seems as though the PM earnestly believes Israel is indeed bigger and powerful than us.

And this in turn leads to Harper bromancing Benjamin Netanyahu. Why on Earth would Canada care what Israel thinks of us? Why do we need to court Israeli public opinion? Israel isn’t even in the same league as a nation as great as Canada, so why do we give a flying Philadelphia fuck what their current government thinks of us? Why does Stephen Harper need to make a big show of how Israel is our ally?

As friends go, Israel is a really shitty friend.

For one it’s highly likely, though unconfirmed, that Mossad assassinated one of this country’s greatest engineers and ballistics experts in 1990. Yes, Gerald Bull was a maverick who worked for some of the worst military dictatorships of the late 20th century and certainly shouldn’t have been developing super weapons like Project Babylon or improved SCUD missiles for the Iraqis (who were, to one degree or another, the West’s ally in the Gulf and bulwark against the theocracy which had overtaken Iran throughout the 1980s. It should also be pointed out that Israel sold Iran weapons during the Iran-Iraq War). But to kill a man who had done nothing to threaten Israel because some people thought he might? What the hell happened to the rule of law? Either way, if Mossad was concerned about Dr. Bull’s activities, they should have worked out an agreement with us first – he could’ve been designing artillery pieces for our own military from the comfort of the Kingston pen. Israel had no right to assassinate him and have never officially apologized for their actions.

Then there’s the issue of Mossad agents using Canadian passports to freely travel the world assassinating other people the State of Israel finds disagreeable. Yes, Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda apparently do the exact same thing – but isn’t this the point? I expect our enemies would do such things, but I’d also expect our friends to respect us more than that. Let’s not forget – a Canadian passport has always been a symbol of our nation’s international respect. Mossad’s use of our passports to assist in their efforts to go kill people doesn’t do us any good at all – it just means that the Canadian passport is worth scrutinizing even closer and is no longer the international symbol of openness and humanism it once was.

As Toronto Star columnist Tony Burman wrote recently, it’s time for Canada and Israel to stop living in a fantasy land. Israel’s lack of self-awareness, self-criticality and near total disregard of how the state appears from an outsider’s perspective would make the Parti Québécois blush. In fact, I’ve often been surprised Likud and the Parti Québécois aren’t closer, what with the common hatred of local minority groups and the insistence that only the majority’s religion is inoffensive, and that international laws and conventions don’t apply blah blah blah.

Peas in a pod…

This buddy-buddy relationship with Israel truly does nothing for us, though it does remind relatively intelligent people elsewhere that, when we’re governed by the more conservative elements of our society, we suddenly become very myopic in terms of foreign policy.

How can a nation such as Canada support one theocracy with secret, unmonitored, uncontrolled nuclear weapons (Israel) while supporting sanctions and eliminating diplomatic relations with another theocracy for their unconfirmed, apparent desire to produce a nuclear weapon (Iran)?

Shouldn’t the message be the same for all theocracies with nukes (i.e. get rid of your nukes, stand-down your military and then we can talk)? What difference does it make if Israel is a quasi-representative democracy, they have nuclear weapons and their deterrence strategy is to launch simultaneous nuclear strikes on any and all enemies if ‘overwhelmed’ by outside aggression, something which they came very close to doing during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. The Samson Option could include the use of as many as 400 nuclear weapons, many of which are of the thermonuclear variety with a one-megaton yield (fifty times more powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki). They can be launched by ballistic missiles with an 11,000 kilometre range, from cruise-missile armed submarines, from jet fighters or even delivered via suitcases.

The very existence of Israel’s massive nuclear stockpile is in itself a destabilizing factor in the entirety of the Middle East. The way we turn a blind eye towards Israel’s countless foreign invasions (Suez Canal, 1956; all of its neighbours, 1967, all of its neighbours for a second time in 1973, Lebanon in 1982, Lebanon again in 2006, and all this aside from regular military action on Palestinian territory), and the intolerance and racism of the Likud Party and it’s allies is astonishing. What does this say about our own government?

For a truly disturbing mini-doc on contemporary anti-African racism in Israel, see the video posted below.

Harper wasted an opportunity to excoriate the current Israeli government for its human rights abuses, weapons of mass destruction and the not-so-subtle anti-African sentiment that has resulted in more than one instance of sitting members of the Knesset demanding African immigrants be rounded up and put in concentration camps; a law recently passed by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party will see undocumented African immigrants held for up to a year without trial. Instead of criticizing these laws, Harper said that anti-Zionism is the same as anti-Semitism.

I should remind the Prime Minister, and anyone else dumb enough to buy that nonsense, that these are two very different things, but neither apply to this article nor any of a torrent of articles recently published about this trip or about Israel broadly speaking. Harper is so loathe to criticize Israel the Tories had the Department of National Defence quietly removed any online traces of a report that a Canadian peacekeeper on a UN deployment was killed by an Israeli artillery strike in 2006. What’s particularly damning is that the IDF was either obscenely careless or bombed the UN outpost deliberately, as it was clearly marked on maps and familiar to IDF personnel operating in the region.

What’s particularly mortifying is that the Prime Minister has confused hatred of a religious group and hatred of nation, but has also posited hatred of a nation/religious group as what underlies criticism of Israel and it’s policies.

Again, I can’t help but draw the parallel to Québec. Criticize the PQ or the charter of values? That’s Quebec-bashing. Criticize the PLQ, CAQ, QS, ON etc. and that’s just politics.

Why is Stephen Harper telling me criticizing Israel’s current government is equal to hating Jews? Is he as dumb as those who endorse him, like world-class idiot Sarah Palin?

It isn’t and never was. Nor is criticizing the PQ and attack on all Québécois. Nor is criticizing the origins of the First World War an attack on any of the soldiers who fought in it.

But this is modern politics, and as long as people would rather react first and think second, Stephen Harper can make statements like this, and embark on taxpayer-financed trips such as this, without any repercussions. Similarly, Rob Ford can smoke crack right back into the mayor’s office and Pauline Marois may very well win a majority government by institutionalizing racism.

Disturbing, repugnant, ridiculous. But back to the issue at hand…

What kind of friend is Israel? And why must we support them at their worst? It’s obscene that the Prime Minister can score political points in Canada by sycophantically and uncritically praising the current conservative Israeli government, and by extension support the vilest elements of contemporary Israeli society who conveniently ignore the lessons of the Holocaust and marginalize minorities in their own apparently liberal democratic nation. That members of Likud would use the same rhetoric in attacking Arabs or Africans today as fascists used against Jews throughout Europe and North America in the early 20th century is appalling to say the very least

Stephen Harper does not speak for Canada. Any pretence he might have to this effect should come to an end well before the next regularly scheduled election. The Conservative Party of Canada is leading this nation down a road I’m quite uncomfortable with, and this campaign stop in the ‘Holy Land’ is just another fantastic reminder why the Tories are wholly unfit to govern.

Feeding Poor Children: Not a Tory Priority

This man doesn't care about your starving child.
This man doesn’t care about your starving child.

Straight from the horse ass’ mouth, Tory industry minister James Moore says it’s not his responsibility to feed his neighbour’s child, this in reference to the fact that child poverty is an area of provincial jurisdiction, not federal.

The minister, who represents Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam (a part of Metro Vancouver) in parliament, reminded us that the Tories are doing an excellent job keeping ‘kids’ bellies full’ by cutting taxes and apparently creating jobs, even though unemployment rose last month in British Columbia, and that province further has one of the higher rates of childhood poverty. One in seven Canadian children live in poverty, and despite a unanimous motion passed in the House of Commons in 1989 to eliminate childhood poverty in Canada by the year 2000, nothing was done (other than, somewhat absurdly, renewing the motion nine years after the initially-projected date of completion). Minister Moore argued that the Fed can’t be responsible for making sure kids get a breakfast, and that he wouldn’t support an ‘intrusion’ of the federal government into realms of provincial control.

Moore was emphatic: “We’ve never been wealthier as a country than we are right now. Never been wealthier.”


1. Today the average Canadian is burdened with the highest individual and household debt rates in our nation’s recorded history.

2. Our real estate market is the most overvalued in the world and an entire generation of Canadians lack sufficient means to own their own home.

3. Our currency is projected to lose about a dime’s worth of value in the next year.

4. Wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of our local ‘top one percent’.

5. By some estimates we have one of the world’s most over-educated workforces with far too few jobs requiring that level of skill, which in turn results in stagnant salaries for people with increasingly expensive tertiary educations and an influx of highly-skilled workers into job categories normally filled by people with lesser skill levels. The cascading effect has arguably pushed about 2.5 million Canadians into a near-permanent underclass of unemployed people.

6. Our economy is less well-balanced than it once was, as manufacturing has declined significantly our wealth is now almost exclusively generated by environmentally and economically unsustainable primary resource extraction.

7. The middle class has had its economic foundation as well as the social safety net steadily dismantled over the course of the last thirty years, though the process has picked up of late. First went the industrial jobs, then many of the white collar jobs too. Jobs that brought pride to the worker and bought a home, a car, a retirement, vacations and educations were replaced by service-sector jobs that lack in both pay and benefits. Our economy isn’t driven by production anymore, but rather by consumption. Across the country a plethora of communities have lost the means of production and have seen big-box stores, casinos and call centres becomes the primary local economic drivers. Now, the middle class faces new challenges, namely in terms of retirement planning, since the Tories are insistent the Canada Pension Plan not be extended.


No, we’re not wealthy.

Not when three-quarters of Canadians can’t make any RRSP contributions in a given year. We can’t possibly be a wealthy country if the Tories believe, as they insist is gospel, that 50,000 jobs will be lost if individual contributions to the Canada Pension Plan are increased.

Real wealth doesn’t work that way; wealth is derived from saving money, even if it is mandatory. Yet Canadians are making less than they were a generation ago. Costs keep rising and salaries haven’t kept pace with the value of what we produce. This is fully untenable.

And while I concur that minister Moore is correct in his assertion that combating child poverty is tactically the responsibility of the provincial governments, it is of strategic federal concern.

The federal government provides regulations and guidelines for food inspection, education standards and hospital operations, so why not extend this to guaranteeing no child goes hungry as well, and providing provinces with the means to address this particularly onerous and shameful problem?

The federal government has a responsibility to all Canadians, and childhood poverty is of concern to all. And yet all this government does is hack away at the social fabric, the safety net and the people’s ability to maintain a proud and powerful middle class.

Ending childhood poverty is exactly the kind of major problem only the federal government has the means to properly, and expeditiously, address. There’s nothing stopping the Fed from leading the provinces in a combined effort to eradicate this problem, aside from a complete and total lack of will.

And there you have it, the Tory MO.

It’s not in their interest to bring this country together. It’s not in their interest to make the state work for the people, because all this does is remove new realms of profit for the ruthlessly expedient among our business class. It’s not in the Tories’ interest to make Canada Post work, nor to keep the CPP well-funded, because their strength and their power comes from dismantling and privatizing as much of this as is possible.

If we continue down this path, what next? Will we privatize our prisons? Will we privatize healthcare? Will we privatize the army too?

In any event I’m off point. I read this article and felt sick to my stomach – this is the kind of sleaze we’ve allowed into government. He has been trained only to repeat the talking points about cutting taxes and the apparent link to the creation of jobs, even though time and time again it has proven such is almost never the case. Lowering taxes on the already wealthy only makes them wealthier, it never enriches the people nor the state.

So when this industry minister tells you just how wealthy we are, remember always that the we he is referring to isn’t you, or I for that matter. He is referring to those who are already wealthy, to the small clique of elites who’ve parked their support behind the most regressive and stubborn political elements in our country and far too many of our allies. This is a man who knows nothing of his people, has no vision for their collective future, and has no qualms whatsoever about his disinterest in dealing with childhood poverty.

In a normally functioning democracy, such callous disregard for the lives of Canadian children would require an enhanced RCMP personal security detail for the minister. It is a profoundly sad irony this is the same party that argues anyone supporting the legalization of marijuana is, in effect, looking to personally sell drugs to minors (and a more specious argument I’ve never heard in my entire life. What’s worse, it betrays the general lack of knowledge Tories have about how economy works – do they honestly think children have much money for drugs?)

How to Lose Friends & Alienate People


If you’ve been following the news of late, you may be asking yourself just how the PQ got elected back in September. I honestly don’t know with certainty why, but I’m fairly convinced the PQ’s victory is a direct consequence with popular displeasure with the PLQ under Jean Charest. The printemps érable didn’t help Charest either, as police brutality by the SPVM was viewed by the public at large as an extension of a dictatorial and aggressive state. Moreover, sticking his neck out and forming UPAC and the Charbonneau Commission, while ostensibly the right thing to do (and I should point out, Charest is not implicated in the slightest), was political suicide because, frankly, people are so goddamned stupid these days they equate the person calling for an investigation with the person complicit in the crime.

Unless I missed something, Charest hasn’t been implicated, indicted, or in any way involved in the on-going corruption scandals plaguing Montreal’s construction industry, yet was popularly believed to be exceptionally corrupt.

Curious that.

And now, not quite six months after Charest was unceremoniously booted from office by the slimmest of margins, the PQ under Premier Marois isn’t doing much of a better job. In fact I’d argue it’s doing a worse job.

But what’s truly amazing is just how well the PQ is destroying its own credibility. Or at least it seems rather impressive to me.

What preoccupies me is whether the PQ will undermine itself quick enough to provoke a strong public reaction against them, or whether they’ll so masterfully weave bullshit into a cohesive nation-building myth they actually manage to secure enough interest to actually call a referendum on Québec sovereignty (which as you might imagine, could mean just about whatever the fuck you want it to – every single Canadian citizen is 100% sovereign – our Constitution and Charter clearly define our rights and responsibilities, a proper social contract; without handing you bags of money I can’t imagine how much more the PQ plans on making you, me, or any of us for that matter).

So all that said, let’s take a quick gander at how the PQ is undermining itself. If nothing else, hopefully a series of outright idiotic incidents will make the collapse of the separatist movement in Québec a comic affair we’ll all share in laughing about later on.

Oh, and for the record, I’m exceptionally proud of the socially-progressive identity that has been crafted in Québec, particularly over the last fifty years. I believe the elusive Canadian identity can at least in part be found in the culture and society of my home province, whether the SSJB and PQ like it or not.

I’m also seriously thinking about joining both these organizations. The SSJB was once far more ‘federalist’ in political orientation (or at least Canadien Supremacist, if I may coin such a term).

Without further delay…

Step 1: Keep beating a dead horse. Even though support for Québec independence is low and the PQ has a minority government by the slimmest of margins, Premier Marois insists that “just as soon as we have the winning conditions” a referendum (presumably on the future of constitutional relations in Canada, but really, who the fuck knows) will be called and (apparently) Québecois will unanimously support the move for an independent Québec. The more she pushes the illusion of the necessity of Québec independence, the more she defines herself as a one-trick poney, something most Québecois may not approve of – after all, assuming she ever got her way, she hasn’t demonstrated she could lead an independent nation. This is largely because of…

Step 2: Alienating your support base. Such as the once-cohesive student protest movement that actually forced last fall’s election. Cutting $124 million from the post-secondary education budget while also not finding a viable solution to post-secondary education costs to the student is indeed a terrible situation, far worse given that it seemed the Charest administration brought in the tuition hike specifically to avoid the cuts. And what’s really puzzling here is that one would assume a liberal, if not to say progressive political party like the PQ would be in favour of more Keynesian economic theories, including managed deficit spending, as a necessary evil so as to maintain open access to high-quality universities. But no, not only are there cuts, now it seems as though there isn’t even a guarantee of possible future re-investment in education. If there’s anything a society should go into debt for, it’s without question the education of the next generations.

Which brings us back to alienating the base – it doesn’t help Marois much when Parizeau gets on her case for poor economic judgement. Remember, Parizeau is the economist who was supposed to have all the answers to the numerous questions about how Québec’s economy would work if we were independent. For the over 40 crowd, he may be seen as more ‘with it’ than the current administration, which is kind of all over the map. This can be illustrated by…

Step 3: Public demonstrations of disinterest, disengagement or flat-out pandering. Too much to list here, but I’m suspicious when cabinet ministers suddenly find money – $46 million to be precise – despite announced cuts and active cuts in related sectors, in this case education and healthcare.

Then there are the overt displays the PQ quite simply isn’t serious about governing. There’s no excuse for sleeping through Question Period. If you’re too sauced to pay attention, don’t bother showing up, but let’s be real, if you can’t manage to stay awake during what typically amounts to be a combative, argumentative session of political theatrics, you might not be cut out for the job. If Daniel Breton has trouble sleeping (as I and countless hundreds of thousands of other Canadians do), then he should see a doctor, take sleeping pills at night and coffee during the day.

There’s really no excuse for ‘being confused’ about simple government procedure and knowing how you want to vote on a given issue, yet somehow the PQ managed to vote against its own interests and support the opposition party’s motion which heavily criticized the PQ’s planned mega cuts to education. Being on the verge of tears in front of the TV cameras didn’t boost my confidence in our elected officials much either.

And then of course there was the ill-conceived trip to Scotland and, worse still, the failure to adequately prepare to be interviewed by the British Press. As you might expect, what Ms. Marois wanted to say and what was not the same thing, and though some logical or rhetorical incongruities may happen from time to time when discussing or debating large complex issues, the simple fact remains that Ms. Marois did not explain herself properly in either language – and if she had chosen to answer in French, for clarity’s sake, I’m certain the BBC could scare up a translator. Or perhaps Ms. Marois is so caught up in PQ rhetoric she actually believes Anglophones are insulted by French.

Québec independence is a joke – is it any wonder Alex Salmond tried to keep his distance, and opted for closed door meetings?

She’d be wise to watch out for strange bedfellows. Though the Scotland trip was poorly received and French Socialist President (and Malian saviour) François Hollande has already stated he doesn’t want to get involved, there are plenty of rightwing and far-right nationalist parties throughout Europe who share, at least on paper, a desire for greater independence for their ‘oppressed and marginalized peoples’. In Flanders, a right-wing party that seeks to break up Belgium once and for all. Elsewhere in Europe, nationalism has far more sinister tones and implications.

I suppose I’ve made some kind of a point, but I need to end on this:

How much is this actually costing us? Not just in terms of tax revenue wasted pursuing this pie-in-the-sky ‘goal’, but in terms of lost morale, population decline (whether as a result of putting off starting a family because of politics or losing your progeny to an unstable and stifling socio-political climate), diminishing investor confidence?

We’ve been dealing with this go-nowhere issue for more than 30 years (it’s been at least that long since anything of consequence actually happened, and there I would point to repatriation of the Constitution, the Federalist victory in 1980, Bill 101 and the dual Charters of rights, liberties etc as the major successes to come out of that era. We’ve ben waiting for the other shoe to drop for a long time.

And it’s gotten us nothing and brought us nowhere. Contemporary PQ politicians don’t even bother laying out a plan, presenting their transition procedure, or even philosophize about how we’d carve out our academic and intellectual sovereignty in a world that’s getting smaller with every great technological leap forward.

To paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, we’re driving towards the future, but our leaders (if you can call them that) keep their gaze uniquely focused on the rear-view mirror.

Do we let this go in the name of political correctness, or as a result of catastrophic laziness, until we don’t recognize you we are nor what we’ve made of ourselves?

Does a nation have to grow up?

My Country Isn’t An Accident

I wrote this a couple weeks ago for Forget the Box, an excellent local blog you should definitely check out.

I was asked to write a piece on the significance of Pauline Marois’ decision to remove the Canadian flag from her cabinet’s swearing-in ceremony. I see no significance in the decision, other than something I’ve grown accustomed to seeing in this province for all the many years I’ve lived here, for all the epochs and eras of our collective history I’ve studied.

What significance? It’s posturing. It’s theatre. It’s about as much as the péquistes can do at the moment to distance themselves from Canada. That may be significant in itself, but I can’t help but feel it’s little more than noise.

We forget that this was not a permanent move (apparently the flag was returned the next day), it’s been done before by other péquiste governments in the past, and they still had to swear allegiance to the Queen with hand set upon the Bible.

It’s these last two that struck me as odd, as somewhat scandal-worthy.

Haven’t we evolved past this? What was 1982 all about if the apparently secular and sovereign Premier of Québec still has to swear allegiance to an old woman in a foreign country, by placing her hand on an at best incomplete and heavily politicized book of history and moral judgments mixed in with outright nonsense?

I’m a federalist to the core and I wouldn’t do either. But I wouldn’t do either because I’m a federalist to the core. The Constitution and Charter of Canada and the political theory that led to their creation grant me greater freedoms than any other political theory developed in this country’s history, and the fault of those other theories lay chiefly in their incompatibility with the profoundly Canadian values of restraint, complexity and individual sovereignty.

A federalist has no need for a foreign monarch, let alone one for whom allegiance must be sworn. I have nothing in common with royalty, and as a Canadian I have the individual sovereignty necessary to reject allegiance to anyone, especially foreign monarchs. Why? Because Canada is a collection of sovereign individuals entered into a social contract that seeks to support and sustain our collective sovereignty. That’s what 1982 was all about…

Moreover, my Charter Rights protect my right to exist in a default secular society, where government is the great equalizer because it refrains from any particular religious orientation. I refuse to acknowledge any deity as proof of my ability to govern and conduct myself appropriately. This ability lies within me. Official state secularism is the only way to go. Québec was once leading the pack in this respect, but in this neo-evangelical era of ours, we too have fallen victim of tying culture too closely to an absurd notion of ‘oppressed Christianity’. In a superhuman effort of logical gymnastics, the new saviour of Québec’s culture endeavours to create a secular state not by promoting the advantages of atheism, but once again by lashing out at minority groups in such a manner so as to prevent better societal integration. How many orthodox Jews or Muslims do you see working at the SAQ, SAAQ or the Revenue Québec office? Do you think they’ll feel more or less welcome to apply for such jobs when an ‘officially secular’ province decides a yarmulke or hijab is an affront to our collective values?

But an illuminated Roman-era torture device atop a mountain in our country’s second-to-none city that can be programmed to flash bleu, blanc et rouge during the playoffs? Well – that’s just a part of our heritage…

The symbols of the most oppressive and destructive forces in our province, nation and country’s history – British Imperialism and the Catholic Church – are the very emblems that Pauline Marois still feels obliged to supplicate herself before. They are, apparently, those with which we cannot do without.

I can do without them, and so can you.

Let’s not forget who else in Canada has been pushing an antiquated and historically inaccurate vision of our collective heritage. The Tories have been taking down great oeuvres of Canadian folk art and replacing them with photographs of the Queen throughout our federal buildings for some time. We close down embassies and consulates in places where they’re needed most, but re-decorate those in the upscale neighbourhoods of our richest allies with the symbols of an empire that no longer exists in any tangible sense. We adorn our foreign service with the symbols of something we’re not; as if to prove our legitimacy by resurrecting the notion we’re an extension of Old Europe. And recent news is out that Canada and the United Kingdom will have joint embassies, ostensibly to save money. Are we soon to share a common military and foreign policy? This is federal sovereignty? Moreover, Stephen Harper hasn’t delivered on a single major military acquisition promised during various election campaigns, but he made damn sure to resurrect the royal prefix of our armed services! And while we continue scratching our heads over the legitimacy and effectiveness of the Libyan Mission, Harper and his crew of Bay Street marketing gurus shamelessly over-embellish the significance of the War of 1812 in a thoroughly misguided effort to establish Canada’s ‘warrior-society’ street cred.

Its all so manipulative and cynical, inappropriately Republican-esque, an awful homage to the most profane depths of American populist politics. Marois and Harper, unlikely peas in a pod, both taking lessons from the Tea Party in an albeit slightly more nuanced fashion. Both pushers of a twisted and delusional pop-nationalism where societal sovereignty is tied to imported notions of legitimacy. How pathetically unpatriotic.

I refuse to believe, for even a fraction of a second, that my country is an accident. That our society and culture are mere imports of something broken from beyond. That we must supplicate ourselves before foreign and antiquated means of social and economic control that appeal to our basest instincts as a society. We forget that monarchy and religion are intimately associated, that nobility is demagoguery, and that though both played a role in our creation, we also decided to reject them. Our rejection of that which created us, in favour of homegrown solutions, marked the first step in our evolution.

We are a Métis society. We are the integration of the Americas, Imperial Europe and the shared socio-democratic value that is openness to immigration that has characterized the nation since its inception. Our country has Founding Fathers, and many of their ideas, their values, form the backbone of Canadian social-liberalism today. Our nation has been evolving for one hundred forty-five years, and neither Pauline Marois nor Stephen Harper wishes to acknowledge it. They both fear the socio-political identity that developed out of the ashes of the Rebellions of 1837 and led quite directly to Confederation, and then for another hundred thirty-five or so years after that. They turn their back on our own symbols of strength through unity for the preference of symbols of dominion-from-afar and spiritual bondage.

It seems as though the evolution of my people, my nation, has been on hiatus ever since Stephen Harper took office. He, much like Pauline Marois, is blind to the truth that is Canada, to the greatness we could achieve as a more unified nation. Each wants to further decentralize and marginalize the legacy of Canadian federalism, and each are going about it in their own way. Harper hacks away at the budgets and scope of the census, scientific and ecological research and the national archives, while Marois proceeds to govern by decree without any debate. Neither care much for Canadian democracy, they view it as an inconvenience to accomplishing their own myopic goals.

And we let them get away with it, because we falsely believe we are nothing but an accident.

What is a Nation Without Goals?

Maybe it’s me, but he’s always struck me as a somewhat lethargic individual…

This article was originally posted to the blog of the Association for Canadian Studies, and can be accessed back there where you see the hyperlink.


When will Canada build a bullet-train network?

Will the first sesquicentenarian be Canadian?

Will Canada solve global warming?

Will Canada prevent the next genocide?

Isn’t Canada a more suitable nation to host the UN General Assembly than the United States?

When will Canada develop its own independent space launch capability?

When will we finally fully ratify the Constitution?

And when will we finally get down to business and enter into negotiations for the acquisition (or voluntary integration) of the Turks & Caicos?

None of these have to be national goals, there just examples of things we’ve pondered, issues we’re concerned about and various initiatives that we’re once considered but in which there’s been no follow through. We’re remarkably good at dreaming, but of late haven’t been great at creating. One without the other is rather pointless isn’t it? But really, would it kill us to start thinking, sincerely, about who we’re going to be and we’ll be doing twenty, forty, sixty years from now?

We have no goals, and I sincerely feel this may be our ultimate undoing. A nation without any definable goals is a listless one, and this is inherently unstable.

To say we have no goals doesn’t mean we haven’t been working – all of us, as individuals, have certainly been diligently performing our duties. Our economy is strong, our resource sector is booming, as is the value of our dollar. Canadian banks and corporations are doing well despite myriad potential threats to their stability. All in all, though there is a high level of popular discontent amongst certain key demographics (namely youth, creative & intellectual capitalists and primary cultural minorities), the vast majority of Canadians are still relatively content and appropriately compensated. None of us are overwhelmingly rich, and, for the moment, too few of us are sufficiently poor so as to effect broad societal change.

That being the case, why not utilize the general social stability to further stabilize the economy of the future? Why not secure a booming resource-based economy with a new foundation of major infrastructure projects to further unite the nation? Why not capitalize on security by thinking big and implementing long-term nation-building projects?

It’s what we’ve done historically, and we know that it works.

From the construction of the Canadian Pacific in 1885 to the construction of the Saint Lawrence Seaway in the 1950s, Canada has always been a nation of great national projects. The Canadarm, the Arrow, Alouette I, Medicare, Peacekeeping, the Charter – we have done so many great things it’s ridiculous to try and list them in a single blog post – the point is ultimately that national aspirations are a worthwhile endeavour, as it gives all of us, in no uncertain terms, something which we know we all can work towards, regardless of whatever function we happen to have. It’s the dream which pulls you out from your specific task and insists that you are actively contributing to a project greater than every individual, simply by going above and beyond every day. in order to produce a hyper effective, efficient workforce, we need dreams with just this much reach.

Without a driving force, we’ll invariably wind up circling the drain. Nothing exists uniquely in stasis – we must have social propulsion, drive, movement.

Today there is discontent in Canada – it’s palpable. Yet we also have security and, perhaps for the first time, real immediate wealth. We can’t afford to squander it. Let us find balance between these poles and seek to define what we want for the future and how we can better utilize our relative current riches into multi-generational, self-perpetuating wealth. We need to craft a wish-list to determine exactly what kind of future nation we want, now. And if we can go a step further, and identify key investments we wish to characterize as having a particular Canadian accent, then we can position ourselves to be, conceptually, the nation at the state of its respective arts. Whether it’s the best transportation network, the highest quality of life, the finest schools or global leadership in terms of eradicating poverty, disease, war or exploring outer space, whatever we choose as our national dreams, let it ultimately reflect who we wish to become.

The single greatest tool for economic stability and real growth is a society committed to achieving national goals for the greater good. As long as there’s a national dream that is driven by the wants and needs of the people themselves, and the people understand that these goals go to benefit the whole inasmuch as the individual, they’ll work harder, work better and save to live peacefully in the future ideal they wish to create.

And the best thing about living in the 21st century? Not only is this doable, but we have the communications technologies and media techniques to keep everyone focused on whatever goals we come up with. Heck, we could turn it into a very real, very addictive, game. Hard work can be infectiously enjoyable.