Polygonic

That weren't no DJ, that was hazy cosmic jive

Québec’s NDP revolution: the new normal, or a BQ holiday?

Québec doesn’t do things by halves, does it? Some of us have begged and implored the NDP to focus its energies on Québec: to play to its social democratic credentials, and to take the Bloc to task as arrogant, single-minded, comfortable and lazy, and prone to taking its voters for granted.

The idea being that this could kickstart a nice slow burn towards NDP relevance in the province. Win a couple of seats in Montréal in 2011, and a couple more the time after, maybe in the Gatineau region or the Townships. This was meant to be a process!

But no – when something catches in La Belle Province, it really catches – there are few things more stunning to me than to look at the Québec electoral map this morning, and to revel in its orangocity. This is not a handful of ridings – the province is basically a solid orange mass, ridings upon ridings upon ridings, from the U.S. border to the shores of Ungava Bay. It’s nothing short of breathtaking.

I’m thrilled about it, but one must keep one’s powder dry in moments like this, mustn’t one? It suits us on the left to be excited, but the right was just as excited when the ADQ leapfrogged the Parti Québécois two provincial elections ago, to form the Official Opposition in the National Assembly in Québec City. The Adéquiste surge surprised everyone at the time – this was, too, a radical redrawing of the political map, and many suspected that it could indeed be a permanent new order. It, too, was the bloodiest of noses for the cause of separatism. It led to a Péquiste crisis of revolving leaders, deep questions about the viability of their project, and an assumption that Mario Dumont’s team was perhaps just one election win away from taking power.

But, we remember: it fell apart. Dumont’s tsunami was not so much due to pure enchantment with his policies or his verve on the campaign trail. It was largely the result of a Québec electorate that is remarkably capable of turning the world on its head and tripping up the conventional establishment, almost for kicks, only to revert to type in future elections once the “changemaker” has both become a “new establishment,” and has also exposed certain incompetencies along the way. Dumont today is gone, and his party is tiny – Québec’s found other interesting new players to consider on the provincial scene. Québec Solidaire, and even the ethereal concept of a new party called Force Québec – a new conservative option that doesn’t even exist, yet has polled well.

Could the Bloc resurge in 2015, wiping out NDP gains? Almost certainly. Not only because Quebecers are comfortable to swing wildly from election to election, but also because the NDP tide in Québec was based on a clear premise, and a premise I’ve always supported: change things around. The Bloc are little more than symbolic in Ottawa, and they do nothing to moderate the Conservative government. Elect a social democratic party in huge numbers, and watch them use our minority parliament as a force for good.

It was the right approach, clearly! Trouble is, Quebecers are waking up, like the rest of us, to a Conservative majority. Many will feel their NDP vote would have, could have, might have worked to shackle a CPC minority, but with the Opposition hereby muted for the next four years, it’s going to cause real angst as to whether this was the right Opposition to elect. More so in Québec than anywhere else, if for nothing else but the scale of what’s happened.

I sound down, but it’s all got to be a central part of how the New Democrats plan to entrench themselves in Québec from here on in. With half their caucus coming from Québec, it’s going to compel a complete reorientation of the party to advocate for an asymmetrical federalism that is more clearly pro-Québec than either the CPC or LPC would dare. And that’s a real revolution.

It’s extraordinary and it’s uplifting to see that Québec has found an anti-establishment voice through the vehicle of a federalist party. The very hard work, though, begins now.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , ,

Julian Fantino’s surprising day

Conservative heavyweight superstar Julian Fantino today expresses his surprise and offense at the fact the Bloc Québécois don’t sing O Canada in the House of Commons.

I sympathize with Fantino. I do. Why, just the other day I started my new job at a supermarket. I was very surprised to see they sell *meat* in the supermarket. Meat! I was frankly offended and surprised. I wish I’d been in a supermarket at some point in my life before – I might have expected it. At least someone might have warned me what supermarkets were like before I got the job there. I’m not used to knowing about what’s in supermarkets. It was very surprising.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , ,

Battle Royale, Twitter style

I smile when people call this the Twitter Election. It has the air of revolution about it, doesn’t it? As though the normal political condition of the Canadian citizen is ashen-minded apathy – but now, with Twitter, we will magically become transformed into eager and fearless critics of an oppressive double-helix state-media establishment! Just like in Egypt!

Perhaps a blogger should watch his trap when it comes to balking at citizen-generated comment. But, at least for me, it seems difficult to use 140 characters to say anything more useful than “Here’s a link to something much longer and more interesting.”

I can’t guarantee this is more interesting, but it certainly is longer. I’ve decided to draw up a second instalment of an experiment last week, with 140-word reviews of each party’s performance to date. It’s like Twitter, but Mega.

Conservatives: I honestly wonder how often senior Conservatives look each other in the eye, shrug, laugh, and admit: “I have absolutely no idea how we’re staying ahead.” Indeed, enjoying a 14% lead, according to Nanos? It absolutely beggars belief. Harper does himself no favours. Antagonising the press with “five-questions-a-day” is needless and feeds into the control-freak narrative. Criminals in the employ of the PMO should be a scandal: that Harper shrugs it off is just a scandal further. They’ve been reactive and uninspired, trotting out old chestnuts on gun freedom, and dispensing with billions in dubious spending promises. Ontarians seem especially enthusiastic, which may be a consequence of the departure of Day and Strahl, and the pronounced Mike-Harrisification of Harper’s senior team? I’d like to threaten to leave the country if Harper wins a majority, but, dang it, I’m already gone.

Bloc: Duceppe’s biggest problem (if there is such a thing as a problem for the Bloc, who certainly enjoy milking our broken electoral system for every last drop) is deciding how to define the threshold of his outrage. He can turn red and scream bloody murder about Lower Churchill. He can rage that Ottawa is an anti-Quebec, imperialist, nefarious hell-spawned engine of neverending betrayal that shackles the potential of all Quebeckers. But he can not go so far as to get deep into sovereignty talk anymore. That just alienates his soft base. How do you escalate the outrage far enough to suck in wavering federalists, without scaring off wavering nationalists? He doesn’t really know. And maybe he doesn’t care. He could spend the whole campaign peeing in the road and shoplifting from corner shops, and still vacuum up 50-odd seats. Sigh.

Liberals: Still super impressed with the performance, but slightly anxious they’ve peaked too soon. Releasing the platform early is good, but it kind of gets lost in the noise of the fact they had a surprisingly solid week previous, and had introduced the heaviest-hitting policy points already. I’m sensing one of two things: either Canada is drunk, or pollsters are drunk. Why aren’t the Liberals winning? The LPC have reached dizzying highs of 32% but, as a natural consequence of their left-leaning strategy, none of this has hurt the Conservatives. There isn’t much more of the soft-left vote for them to poach, which is where LPC emphasising ethical scandal is important. They need to say “Fraud and contempt are not conservative values. Conservative voters, like all Canadians, need to punish Harper for abusing our trust and taking the country for granted.”

Greens: The biggest coverage the Greens have had so far has been through the Debate Debate, which, however bad the news is for them, it’s been an opportunity for them to feature in a fair amount of press. It’s a great shame that they’re excluded, and also that a broadcast consortium has such power to determine the format of the debate (not that any of the HoC leaders protested very hard). It’s an arbitrary logic – the GPC have no seats in the HoC, but then, the Bloc don’t have any candidates anywhere in the RoC, and have zero capacity to produce a new Prime Minister. The Greens have an opportunity to use this to their advantage. Turn the campaign into one of “the status quo,” implicating every other party as complicit in an Establishment Massive, versus the suppressed, undervalued, solitary change-makers.

NDP: I’m feeling for the NDP. Their policy points have underwhelmed, and it seems the Liberals’ collective verve has taken wind out of their sails. Jack Layton has responded as well as he could to a range of questions, but he’s stuck watching the perennial NDP nightmare unfold – Liberals campaigning like the NDP, but with the added barb of “No one can stop Conservatives but Liberals.” It happens every election, but as Harper is a particularly nasty form of Conservative, perhaps the ABC vote is a bigger factor than normal – and, in more cases, it’s gravitating to the Liberals. Ridings where NDP have been second to CPC, Layton’s employing Liberal approaches: “Only NDP can beat Harper here.” O.K. But it muddles their overall message of “strategic voting is for dupes. Vote with your heart for the Canada you want.” Oh dear.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,

Ottawa: the healthy scratch

So Québec, along with Ville du Québec, are able to go ahead with a new Colisée on their own after all. Whether Gary Bettman cares or not is a whole other matter!

Who’s offside in this whole mini-drama? Who scores the biggest? Has Harper incurred a 2-minute minor for delay of game? Will Duceppe get his own 2-minute minor for (attempted) too many men on the ice? Are there any other bad hockey-politics metaphors we can use?

On balance, it’s probably a minor loss for the Tories – they’ll win some relief in the West, where Ottawa faced “Québec-pandering” allegations should they have ponied up muiltimillions for a new arena (one with only the most speculative of potential uses) in La Belle Province. But, in a way, so what? Harper can (and does) pretty much anything he wants, and it doesn’t send Western Conservatives running to other parties with new affections.

But of course, it may hurt the CPC around Québec City, where they’ve only been holding onto seats by their toe-picks, and the BQ will salivate at the prospect of retrieving those seats now.

This doesn’t make it a clear win for the Bloc more broadly, though. Duceppe’s front-and-centre rationale for his party is to leverage more fiscal goodness out of Ottawa, or else “referendum-times-are-here-again.” There are vulnerabilities to such a platform. On the arena front, he’s failed in this game, and has consequently laid bare the fact that two levels of government (municipal and provincial) were, all along, enough to finance the proposed arena. Putting Ottawa on the hotseat for this was just guffery and bluffery. Will souvereigntistes lose face?

It was always ironic that the Bloc could, in the very same breath, profess both the viability of Québec’s national independence, while also insisting that Ottawa’s help was absolutely indispensable in building so much as an ice rink. Now, Duceppe might be better able to quell that irony and spin this as: “You see? Who needs Ottawa? Not us!”

So, it appears the CPC and the Bloc both wobble and gain in minor amounts here. It might all have been quite different if the Liberals had been bolder and clearer earlier. Imagine if the Liberals had made a clear case from the start, saying “it would be fiscal madness for the government to start building NHL rinks, especially for cities with no prospect of getting NHL teams.” Today, they’d be in the position of saying “They’re building it on their own, that’s great, good luck to them. It’s all working out the way we would have hoped, and we didn’t spend six-months dithering over mixed messages like the Harperites did.”

Oh well. Perhaps there is still room for Ignatieff to use this whole story in an accusatory narrative whereby the government is suffering from policy drift, suffering from acute shruggery, and not knowing what it’s going to do next, or how. Harper as Darryl Sutter, if you like? (is that unsportsmanlike?)

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , , ,

Motion to nowhere

Surprised as I was that Ignatieff said he’d welcome a motion on the new Afghan “behind the wire” deployment, so long as his party didn’t do the actual proposing, I was more surprised that 1) the NDP didn’t take up the gauntlet, and that 2) the Bloc did and did it meekly.

It’s kind of Voltaire in reverse. Instead of “I disagree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it,” we get from the BQ “I disagree with how you say it, but as for what you say, well, I have no strong opinion.”

POGGE has already suggested (with the aptly titled article – Is that all there is?) that the BQ motion is tepid at best. The BQ motion treats the government position a fait d’accompli – no attempt to counteract it, but instead, simply to say the HoC should condemn the fact the decision was made without a vote.

To condemn the voteless nature of the decision is one thing. To disagree with the decision itself is meatier stuff. It shouldn’t be hard. Here’s a motion for you:

Canada should transition to a purely civilian mission from 2011, considering that its Armed Forces has done plenty of good stuff as regards the ISAF mission over the past decade, and a decade is plenty long. In this new decade, we are best able to support the democratic government over there through disabling any *ahem* “potential” dependence it may develop *ahem* “in the future” on NATO. Kabul wants sovereignty, and we think that’s great. The best place to start is by us getting out. Afghan soldiers don’t need training in how to fight, clearly, so our efforts will be directed towards literacy and entrepreneurialism. The Armed Forces will be coming home.

O.K., so that’s a bit of a shitty motion. I’m not actually an MP.

But I’d have expected the NDP (or, I suppose, even the Bloc), to craft a smarter version of the same sentiment. Instead, we get meek criticism of the process of Harper’s/Rae’s decision. Nothing of the decision itself.

Does Parliament really agree in its assembled majority that sleepwalking through three more years in Afghanistan is fine, and that “training soldiers how to shoot” is the best thing Canada can offer?

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , ,

Gilles’ secret world tour

Trying to find evidence that Duceppe’s been on a sovereigntist publicity drive in Europe isn’t easy. Unless Google is broken, not a single British source has covered his visit to Scotland this week, excepting 1) an announcement from the University of Edinburgh, where he gave his actual speech, and 2) well, Polygonic. Which is a British source, after all. 🙂

Google searches for “gilles duceppe barcelona” and “gilles duceppe scotland” reveal nothing other than Canuckistani media covering his trip.

In their solitude, the Globe and NP seem quaint through the high drama with which they introduced Duceppe’s international tour. But it’s maybe a typically Canadian anguish. Outside the Ottawa conversation, no one has noticed a thing. Is that good, or bad?

More than complaining that Duceppe is using the Canadian taxpayer’s dime to trumpet separation, perhaps the concern should be that he’s using the taxpayer’s dime and hasn’t managed to provoke a single peep of interest in the condition of Canadian unity.

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, UK, , , , , ,

The atom that wouldn’t split

Gilles Duceppe is courting European powers in support for his fantasy republic. Not sure that visiting Catalunya and Scotland with an independence drum to beat is going to especially endear the Spanish and British overall, but hey, solidarity has a price.

Duceppe points to one of his key principles here: “the indivisibility of the province.”

Sorry to split hairs, but if you can split Canada, you can certainly split Québec. You could even split Montréal. You could go on and split Outremont and Côte-St-Luc and Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

I used to live in a block of flats on Boul. Décarie that I thought would make a stunning republic. A lovely garden to grow our veg, and a gym in the basement we could rig up to generate human-powered energy. And my national anthem would be the greatest song that ever took to air: the theme song from Star Trek Voyager (tell me that would not sound wicked after taking Olympic gold).

The “indivisibility” assertion is not uncommon among aspirant dividers. The moment that the Kosovar microstate split from Serbia, it unfurled a flag depicting a map of the new territory. The message being: these precise borders outline the very shape of our national heart. We will defy the merest snip with all kinds of merciless fury.

Lending sympathy to internal minorities doesn’t seem to be a major attribute of the great patriots. Goose and ganders, you guys. Goose and ganders.

Conversely, interesting news from Scandinavia. CO2-Art blog recently turned up this news:

When asked what they thought of the idea of creating a common Nordic state, 11 percent said they were “very favourable” and 31 percent said they were “favourable,” according to a poll conducted by the Oxford Research institute on behalf of the Nordic Council.

Over 40% support to unify five states with five languages? That’s incredible. They say that unity would allow for a better resourced social democratic system, and a better capacity to support the high quality of life they enjoy. Surely sentiments like that, if nothing else, put the sovereigntists to shame.

Filed under: Canada, International, Politics, UK, , , , , , , , , ,

Lipstick on the electoral pig

The Globe’s Jane Taber is weighing in on electoral boundary reform today, arguing that adding new seats to provinces with growing populations – Ontario, B.C. and Alberta – will be the only solution to escaping the minority government deadlock.

The only solution – I suppose it is, if you take it as gospel that our electoral system is the fairest we could possibly have. That’s where she’s, sadly, missed the boat.

Une excerpt:

The key impediment to a majority is the Bloc’s strength in Quebec. Gilles Duceppe just celebrated 20 years as an MP and, were an election held today, would likely lead his party to a majority of seats in the province for the seventh straight time.

Mr. Wright is awaiting a bill introduced in the Commons in April that would create 30 new ridings, giving 18 seats to Ontario, seven to British Columbia and five to Alberta. What makes the legislation controversial is that no new seats will go to Quebec, which already has 75 in the House.

Controversial, in the sense that Québec is not advantaging by something that other provinces are. That’s not the direction our federation is supposed to tilt, is it?

But there is a point in what makes this a controversy: for example, Prince Edward Island is guaranteed four electoral ridings in the Constitution, despite the fact that all four of them combined barely have the same number of voters as an urban Toronto or Vancouver riding. That makes the Islanders four times more powerful at election-time than me.

Equally, if one were a strict egalitarian about these things, the federal ridings of Nunavut and the Western Arctic could be merged into a single, massive bi-territorial riding – it would be fairer in terms of population, as each riding as it is is pretty sparsely populated.

So, the federation isn’t allergic to “special cases.” In creating electoral districts, there’s this tacit balance between 1) districts of equal population, and 2) allowing some remote or “special” areas to retain territorial integrity, rather than be lumped into adjacent ridings like add-ons. Of course in the UK right now, the Coalition is pursuing boundary reform, and equally, remote areas of Scotland will likely retain their district sizes, despite it meaning they’ll be even more greatly over-represented.

The question in Quebec is, how shall the balance tilt? Is population equity trumping cultural and territorial specialness, and should it? Shouldn’t Quebec votes count for more, the Bloquistes are likely to argue, because we’re really rather special?

This Quebec specialness, of course, already manifests itself in taking full advantage of the electoral system to give the BQ a huge overrepresentation in the House. The FPTP electoral system is what really generates unrepresentative Parliaments, much more than untweaked riding boundaries.

You could give B.C. 50 more seats if you wanted – it wouldn’t go anywhere towards representing the popular vote any better. The Green Party will still come in third or fourth in every riding, which will still mean the same millions of supporters, but will also still mean the same zero representation in the House of Commons.

The Bloc will continue to poll well below the NDP and Greens nationally, yet will still scoop an obscenely disproportionately high number of seats. Tilting the balance of ridings westwards may, in the end, benefit the Liberals or Conservatives in their seemingly endless quests for majority government – but it won’t make Parliament more representative. I think if you’re going to risk the wrath of the Bloquistes and other advocates of Quebec rights-supremacy, which this reform inevitably will, then there should be a greater return than just polishing up our discredited electoral system.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , ,

Duceppe and the Bloc: 20 years and counting

Gilles Duceppe today celebrates 20 years as a Bloc Quebecois MP, as the party itself enjoys its 20th year in federal life. The Globe today provides a short biography of the man, full of respect for his style and perseverance. It’s a testament to the staying power of the party and the longevity of Quebec nationalism.

The Bloc is such a marvel. Its goal is the creation of an ethnic state, but it speaks the language of civic values. Its founding principles are based in a rejection of pluralism, but it appeals to immigrant Montrealers as much as to pur-laine white Quebecers in Lac-St-Jean. It exists to give Quebec nationalism a voice in Ottawa, and does so by divorcing Quebec nationalists from the actual levers of federal power.

Duceppe’s longevity and continued support, despite the ever distant realization of his goals, is fascinating. In the same surreal vein, I suspect his downfall would really come in actually achieving his goals, as the nationalist dreams would become hard-headed and uncomfortable realities. Instead, it’s his (and his cause’s) perpetual underdoggism and perpetual struggle that generates and renews the nationalist appeal, and I suppose will do forever.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , , ,

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