Polygonic

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

Of babies and bathwater: how Harper might be undermining the monarchy

The Constitution? Unborn Queens? Fascinating stuff (do not insert a “said no one, ever” after that please). 

The scene unfolds thusly: Parliament recently approved a gender equity bill as regards which unelected English aristocrat may reign over us (such progressive times in which we live), that met little controversy or opposition – or even much reflection on what an independent country is doing suckling from the symbolic teat of a defunct empire.

The problem, according to a case presented out of Quebec by lawyer André Binette, is that passing a law abolishing primogeniture adds up to a Constitutional amendment, that requires provincial consents – and these processes were not followed.

The interesting point here to me (more than provincial relationships with the Crown, though that is of course a critical part of all this) is that the government’s argument seems to be that there are no changes to the nature of the “office of the Crown” proposed in this legislation – and Binette’s argument is that the person IS the office. You cannot change the process for nominating the person without proposing a change to the office.

I ain’t no constitutional lawyer (newsflash), but I think this makes things very interesting, and very problematic, for monarchists. If government gets its way, would it not set a precedent that, so long as the Office of the Crown retains its constitutional function, personnel changes within that office can be agreed within Parliament and without the provinces and without opening the Constitution? Could we not then decide in the HoC to effectively elect or appoint Canadian office holders to the position without a Constitutional amendment? Making our GGs our kings or queens, in one fell swoop?

If the answer to that is yes, then for once in my little old life, I’d like to see the government get its way on this.

Filed under: Politics, , , , , , ,

The case for an NPD-Q

A year, now, since Québec first crested the Big Orange Wave, and still, the NDP continue to thrive. It prompts a brand-new big idea: isn’t it time to build a provincial New Democratic Party in Québec?

Will six be enough for the thirsty masses?

There used to be one, though we’re forgiven to have forgotten. The federal party prompted a divorce from its wayward disciple (and forced a name change) years ago, as the provincial NDP-Q narrative became too nationalistic, its friends too unsavoury, and its aims too divergent from the English Canadian federal party.

Those conditions have changed. The NDP is no longer an English Canadian federal party. It’s a binational, bilingual, federal social democratic party that proves it can appeal directly to, and draw strength from, Quebecers. It’s the kind of party that many of us want the country to effectively be. And so?

And so, it’s a fool’s errand, some will say. Once you fracture the federalist vote between the provincial Liberals and a would-be high-profile NDP-Q, you give the Parti Québécois all the room in the world to dominate provincial politics for a generation and more. You virtually guarantee another referendum, and that’s just irresponsible.

Maybe. But I think that oversimplifies the complexities of Québec’s electoral landscape, and denies trends we’ve seen emerge in the sovereigntist camp itself, which is evolving towards several discrete left-right identities, manifest in distinct and new partisan agents. Can federalists be so bold?

Politics in three dimensions

Québec fascinates through its multidimensionality. You aren’t trapped within one of those false left-wing/right-wing 2D dichotomies, you’re also forced to consider your sovereigntist/federalist position. And your place in one spectrum need not have any bearing on your place in the other, creating all kinds of exotic creatures. Federalist socialists and separatist neoliberals might seem rare specimens, but they aren’t – they just don’t have their own parties.

This is changing, at least on the sovereigntists’ side. There are evolutions in how they self-identify. Québec federalists continue to organise as federalists, while the sovereigntists are beginning to organise as leftists, or rightists, or safe centrists. There’s no longer a sovereigntist coalition – hence, we witness the CAQ over there on your right, the PQ holding the fort left of centre, and QS on the chaise longue with the Karl Marx teddy bear.

Just a theory, but this partisan diversity may have emerged precisely because the Parti Quebecois stopped prioritising its sovereigntist identity, and started prioritising its identity as a broadly left/centre-left party. Something that could strip social democratic federalist votes away from the PLQ. It works – that happens. But the strategy will have angered Péquistes who wanted sovereignty front and centre – and it’s driven them to forge new parties, which can then only be organised and differentiated along distinctive left/right lines.

That Québec federalists continue to huddle together in uncomfortable left/right coalition might strike us as savvy and electorally advantageous. But it doesn’t appear to be working at the mo. The apparent fracturing of the sovereigntist vote isn’t hurting the PQ’s position – indeed, they are in safe majority territory. What can smart federalists do?

Play the Péquistes at their own game, and recognise that you can fight for soft nationalists and soft federalists at once. That’s what the Orange Wave was.

A New Democrat Backdraft

A provincial NDP could go to the student protests and say “We’re with you. You don’t have to go to Québec Solidaire to voice dissent against neoliberal policy, you can do it with us.” It could go to the provincial Liberals and say “most of you are more progressive than you let on. Come on, all you Mulcairs, come on in.” It could pull soft federalist social democrats back from the PQ as well as pulling support from the Liberals – something QS and CAQ aren’t in reach of doing. Besides, the very novelty of a provincial NDP could win it quick and early rewards from a public that’s in a very up-for-anything, disestablishment-minded mood. The trick, from there, is to hold such rewards – but the federal NDP are doing it pretty impressively.

Coalitions such as the Parti liberal du Québec are sustainable only insofar as there is a coherent opposite threat – look at the B.C. Liberals! That motley crew of Socreds, Tories and federal Liberals sought nothing more complex out of life than to suppress the B.C. NDP. But that coalition looks set to dissolve into incoherence, merely because an upstart actual Conservative party has entered the provincial scene.

A Whole New Mosaic

B.C.’s Liberals are a mosaic made with cheap glue, and if social democrats in Québec are bold enough, they’ll find that Charest’s Liberals are in a similar condition. His internal coalition could be just as easily usurped by a challenger that is able to establish a different kind of coalition – one that’s more coherent, and involves Québec’s mass of federalist/soft nationalist social democrat orphans in a meaningful way.

An NDP-Q would be risky, would ruffle feathers, and would rumble the status quo. Sounds like a goer.

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

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, , , , ,

Québec ain’t that dumb

Just a query here: I missed Jeffrey Simpson’s online Q&A about Québec separatism, but I read some of his thoughts. One of his key hypothetical ways for a federalist party to eat into Bloc support seems to be to adopt a Québécois/e as its leader. Because they like that.

[A] federalist party needs to have a Quebec leader, since throughout the province’s entire history, francophones have never failed to vote for one of their own as leader when confronted with a choice of that person and a leader from elsewhere.

What’s this about? Stephen Harper’s CPC only came within two points of Stéphane Dion’s Liberals in Québec in 2008. An Albertan leading the Cons to their best Québec result since the rise of the Bloc doesn’t read to me like “Québec-nepotism-trumping-all-logic.”

There’s a nationalist logic in Québec, but it is hardly embodied in every native son who steps on the federal stage. Both Dion and Chrétien had huge problems in the province due to the “sell-out” albatross that neither could effectively shake.

We don’t have to like or “forgive” Québec nationalism, but countering it is not as simple as francofying federal leadership contests. Quebecers, like the rest of us, can rage at their political progeny as well as the rest of us.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , ,

Québec discovering its options

Sure, I actively try to shut my eyes to polls these days. What progressive dude wouldn’t, in a world where the HarperCons continue to defy gravity despite their overflowing ballast of rancid bullcrap?

That’s right, bullcrap.

But there is a spark of amazing news. The NDP currently appearing top of the federalist pops in Québec.

It’s one poll. And we’ve had the NDP topping the Tories in Québec in past polls, only to plummet to the 13% range they are used to there. So, it’s far too early for them to celebrate.

But to be in the position where it’s even conceivable that the New Democrats can place second to the BQ is remarkable. It’s the kind of example that Layton should (and does, to be fair) trumpet whenever he can. It was once unthinkable they’d ever win a single seat in Alberta, or in Québec, but then they did it. Then it was unthinkable they could ever top the Liberals and Cons in Québec to become a premier federalist option, but they’re now at that stage. What unthinkables are left? That they could ever become the Official Opposition, or even take government?

Why not, they should say. New Democrats eat unthinkables for breakfast.

The trick for Dippers in Québec for years now is that they’ve been torn two ways. People who identify principally as social democrats have tended to side with the Bloc, as that makes strategic sense in most ridings. People who identify principally as federalists have tended to side with one of the big two federalist parties, as it makes strategic sense for them. Québec’s federalist social democrats have, ironically, rarely turned to the NDP – Canada’s federalist social democratic party.

But when people like Thomas Mulcair talk like this, it helps their cause enormously:

Mr. Mulcair added that unlike the Bloc, the NDP not only expresses its opposition to the oil industry in the West, but can do something about it with MPs all over the country.

“The Bloc can only talk about the tar sands in Quebec,” Mr. Mulcair said, comparing that party to a hockey team made up entirely of defencemen. “That’s the difference with the NDP, which is a social-democratic, pan-Canadian party, with a strong track record that is attracting more and more people in Quebec.”

Mulcair’s already helped to “normalise” the idea of the NPD* in the province, but he helps more when he draws the political landscape in this way. If you want a social democratic federal system with real muscle, you’re going to need to look beyond the Bloc.

Combine that smart message with Layton’s perennial magnetism, and what seems to me to be a general appetite for anti-incumbency (growth of Québec Solidaire as an example), and there is big space for the NDP to move. Downsides, of course, are that seat translations are always going to be very tricky. It’s reasonable to suspect that much of the new (and old, for that matter) NDP support is trapped in safe, stalwart BQ ridings – we just don’t know.

To have steady popular support, at least, is encouraging. I’ve hoped this might come about for a long while – to sustain it, Jack best have Lac-St-Jean and Gaspésie on his travel itinerary.

I just might keep my beady, squinted eye on the polls after all.

* Québec friends, a dumb question for you. Is there any French nickname for New Democrats (ones that aren’t rude, of course) that play off the acronym? Enpédistes, maybe, in the vein of Péquistes? And, if there isn’t, can we start?

Recommend this post atProgressive Bloggers

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, , , , , ,

Hockey Canada’s own goal

Following on from the unity theme, a good article here on a head-shaking development. Doesn’t a separate Team Québec kind of ruin hockey’s great, all-inclusive, unifying power?

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, , , , , ,

Identity and patriotism

I was thinking something fun today about identity and patriotism, as the title suggests.

I’m a British Columbian who spent a good few years living in Quebec before moving to the UK for work at an international development agency (which shall remain undisclosed). We know what Stephen Harper (and, frankly, Stompin’ Tom Connors) thinks of dirty rotten expatriates, but of course I’ve never thought of myself as an expatriate. I avoid London’s Canadian ex-pats generally, considering they are, in the main, Leafs’ fans. In any case, as this blog maybe reflects, I still stay pretty engaged with what’s going on back home.

Thus the big question of home and identity. Do I call myself a British-Canadian? Or the inverse? I don’t like nationalising identity at the best of times, but these terms ring hollower than other hyphenated demonyms like “African-American.” That’s a term that links an ethnic identity and a civic identity, keeping each intact and enforcing two different concepts of identity. For me, though, I consider both Britishness and Canadianness alike to be civic identities. I have no time for ethnic identities, I’m afraid (and anyway, who wants to shoot the breeze with someone who fancies himself an Irish-Welsh-Anglo-Scots-Canadian-Brit?).

But sometimes these questions are thrust upon you. I remember at university in Montreal, talking to a Québécois friend about terms of origin. “Someone from Ontario is an Ontarian, someone from Alberta is an Albertan, and in English at least, someone from Quebec is a Quebecer,” I said, profoundly.

“Yes,” he agreed.

“What’s the term in French for a British Columbian? Is is Colombie-Brittaniquois? Colombien-Bretagne?”

He paused and smiled. He wasn’t sure.

It seemed a fascinating point to me because, I realised in my often-difficult battle to acquire the French language, I had no demonym for “who I was.” I could say where I was from – “je suis de Colombie-Brittanique.” But saying where you are from is quite different from saying who you are.

I realised that I didn’t mind, I was just curious. I wasn’t lost at sea without being able to incorporate my homeland into the very fabric of my being since, as is the case with all of us, our identities and our common communities are now as geographically dispersed and ethnically variant as to render point of origin quaint. When your parents have retired to another town besides the one you’re familiar with, when your old friends and exes live in different countries, when your favourite music, film, and literature is global in origin, the best you can say is that you retain a strong affection for where you’re from – not that it continues to ultimately shape you. Unless of course, you’re a total momma’s boy, or an ethnocentric nazi.

I’ve since learned that the term for British Columbian is Brittano-Colombien, which I admit I quite like. But again, it’s strange. What’s “British” (or “Britanno-“) about your average British Columbian? What association do they have with the Columbia River, or further back, with Christopher Columbus of boating fame? Is it implying that I’m a follower of Chris Columbus, and that I have predominantly British blood? And which part of Britain does the blood come from? Even in 2010, that’s still a ridiculously fraught question.

Michael Ignatieff would call people who ask these questions “cosmopolitans,” which seems to suggest I like drinking them, and only at very specific temperatures darling. I’d prefer to think that this supposed cosmopolitanism should be natural state of anyone in the 21st Century, and if only in selected places, then certainly in Canada. There has never been an “ethnic Canadian” (some might consider aboriginal peoples as ethnically Canadian, but they draw their ethnicity to something outside the nation-state of Canada in the first place, so I don’t think that applies). There’s always been a (kind of contradictory) pride in how little pride we brandish in front of others, and how much internal difference (and even discord) we celebrate. Almost as though Canadian citizenship were a generous licence to rights and freedoms, rather than a rigid code of conduct or legitimisation of a particular ancestry, or indeed, a recipe for identity.

That is the way I like it. I’m more of a Charter fan than I am a teary-eyed patriot. Nevertheless, it still makes for longer-than-necessary introductions when, instead of asserting a single demonym to people, I just list the places I’ve lived and loved.

Filed under: Canada, International, Travel, UK, Uncategorized, , , ,

A good week for the NDP

I like what’s going on with the NDP right now, and not only gun registry wise. During tricky and trying circumstances, they’re nonetheless showing a verve and confidence that I was not expecting.

First, Saskatchewan. Jack Layton’s convened his caucus in Regina, which some might consider very hostile territory. But they’ve done well to remind everyone that the party has Farmer-Labour roots, was born in the Prairies, and that Saint Tommy Douglas belonged to both Saskatchewan and the NDP. New Democrats aren’t exclusively urbane smart-asses, they’re a worker’s party that belongs in the Prairies. And why not? They are polling ahead of the Liberals in Saskitoba, after all.

This Saskatchewan-themed week seems to suggest 1) the New Democrats may be looking to a genuine 308 strategy, and won’t write off any corner of the country as infertile ground, and 2) they know the long gun registry has been a tightrope through a windstorm for them, and they are going to have to reach out to rural voters in more ways now. Even unwhipped support for the gun registry could hurt the NDP in rural Canada, so they need to look for other ways to engage them. The caucus meeting, and the Tommy Douglas statue business are at least an early declaration of intent.

Second, the long gun registry itself. Jack seems to have done the impossible: convinced enough of his members to vote to save the registry which is a huge turnaround from NDP free votes on first reading. If this sticks, it is a massive success for Jack Layton. He knew he couldn’t whip his caucus like the Liberals and CPC could, as a lot of NDP support in northern B.C. and rural Manitoba is soft and volatile.

Giving caucus a free vote inflamed some NDP supporters (for a time, me too) as a limp sort of non-strategy. An abdication of real leadership, and timidity in the face of hard decision. But that isn’t the way the approach has panned out – Layton’s been able to articulate a principle higher than simply “should long guns be registered” – he’s articulated a grassroots democratic principle of empowering constituent MPs to consider policy implications as well as local opinion. It was a risky decision, as it could have drawn the NDP as disunited and impotent in advancing its interests. But Jack’s power to persuade, rather than whip, is an asset to his leadership, and the party looks more considered and more democratic as a result. It contrasts nicely against the authoritarianism of the big parties.

Some argue that, by saving the long gun registry, the NDP (and Liberals) would suffer a pyrrhic victory, handing the Cons a hot-button issue, and allowing Harper to enjoy whipping up anti-registry “gun freedom” rhetoric long into a future election campaign. That doesn’t worry me – such rhetoric is not going to convert centrists and lefty folks, it’s not going to get women or any of the cities on his side, and it won’t assist in any quest for a Reform Party majority government. Canada is not Tea Party Land.

Finally, they’re polling at 16% in Québec. That’s just one point behind another well-known federalist party, the Conservatives. I’m going on about the 308 strategy thing, but if we saw the NDP really hammering on this and working seriously for Québec gains, that would be thrilling. Naive? Maybe. But I see room for them to draw the Bloc as arrogant luddites who wrongly assume Quebecers aspirations are no more complex than the sovereignty question. The NDP are real social democrats who believe you get a fair and prosperous society by having a big society….. anyway, I’d like to see them nurture these growing numbers in QC.

I’ll be accused of weirdness to be so impressed by recent New Democrat movements when, overall, they’re not enjoying any polling surge, and have indeed bled support to the establishment as the gun registry debate’s taken its toll. But I think they’ve weathered the storm well, and should reap dividends before too long.

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

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