Polygonic

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

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.

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Billions overboard in the Arctic

Canadians care about Arctic sovereignty. But I’m wondering: how many world-class Arctic research stations could we build across Nunavut and the NWT for $35 billion? Because $35 billion is a lot of bread for some flashy new military hardware, and I’m not convinced that’s where Ottawa’s weakest on the Arctic sovereignty question.

Some simple maths. The Cambridge Bay research station announced last year, a top-flight facility that will do some important work in climatology, will cost $200 million over ten years. Cambridge Bay wasn’t the only choice for a location – Resolute Bay wanted a station, as did Pond Inlet, and they would have been able to do different kinds of work in studying glacial retreat and other cryological studies. Given that the entire Arctic sovereignty question has emerged because ice cover is disappearing, there is clearly lots of Arctic science to be done – and plus, if a prime goal is to consolidate claims on sovereignty, what better way to do it (while also bolstering our research and innovation capacity) by investing in the place, and not just in the boats to guard it.

Given the new Cambridge Bay station costs, my (grossly simplified but maybe entirely correct) calculations suggest that we could fund not only Resolute Bay and Pond Inlet as well as Cambridge Bay, but a further one-hundred similarly incredible, world-class research centres across the Arctic archipelago for the next ten years, and still have money left over to replace 75 of them in ten years’ time. All for the price tag of Harper’s boats.

Not that boats aren’t important, it’s good to be on patrol. But Ottawa’s got a very basic idea about what Arctic sovereignty entails. Is it just boats and planes? All the time? Or maybe we should be doing things up there? Developing our understanding of what we assert to be our own backyard? Making a clear case against exploiting the region as a new international shipping freeway or playground for BP to explore? Being present in the Arctic – not just with warships which will frankly never fire a single torpedo in anger, but being present as people: learning, working, and maybe even contributing something useful to the universe.

We have thousands of Canadian citizens in the Arctic, and they rely on climate patterns that are changing right under our noses. Being incapable and disinterested in even understanding how this is so is, to me, actually a pretty serious blow against a case for Canadian sovereignty up there.

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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.

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Scientalific evidamence

Panicked into embarrassment over Arctic inaction, I suppose? Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon today announces he has something he calls “scientific evidence” that supports Canada’s claim over the Lomonosov Ridge.

Scientific evidence! Wow. That sounds quite fancy. Real scientists, getting real evidence. Wearing lab coats, adjusting spectacles, nodding at maps… acting all sciency.

I wonder if Cannon could give us a teaser as to what new evidence he’s excited about? Or is he possibly just trying to appear to be doing something, anything constructive in the Arctic the day after Russia and Norway resolve a border dispute?

I remember John McCain during the Presidential debates:

“I’ll get Osama bin Laden, my friends. I’ll get him. I know how to get him. I’ll get him no matter what, and I know how to do it.”

Like Lawrence Cannon, if he had a real clue, you think he’d have shared it.

With the Russia-Norway deal demonstrating what progress looks like, Ottawa needed to ratchet up the tone and appear to be “progressing” on its own Arctic file. As so often, getting this tone right trumps getting the actual scientific evidence. Just ask Munir Sheikh.

Filed under: Canada, Politics, , , ,

Twiddling in the Arctic

Norway and Russia have resolved an Arctic maritime border dispute through negotiation, while Canada buys multi-billion dollar stealth fighter jets. Which do you think is the more effective route to asserting Arctic sovereignty?

So, much to Harper’s chagrin, racing around on an ATV in Tuktoyaktuk and getting your photo taken atop a submarine is not enough to assert Arctic sovereignty. Nor are multi-billion dollar stealth jet fighters that are primarily designed to blow up bridges and villages.

Unfortunately for Harper, negotiating a settlement is how these things work. You can’t prorogue it away, you can’t lie about it or spin it off the front pages. You can’t just tell the process that “you think you make the rules.” You just have to bite your lip, go into that negotiating room, and work.

Not that the discourse of Arctic territorialism is something I’m very happy with. There is of course a dark irony in seeking to exploit the effects of climate change to drill for even more oil and create a freeway system of cargo boats to churn through one of the world’s most environmentally sensitive areas.

I have a quaint (but still passionate!) plan for the Arctic myself, though this falls in the category of ultranaive internationalism. So. Everything north of 75 degrees ought to fall under the authority of an international Arctic Treaty system – something not as far-reaching as the Antarctic Treaty, but nevertheless a treaty regime that would forbid all military activity, resource exploitation, and shipping, forever and ever.

Of course this would have implications for Santa Claus, but it’s for the greater good.

Filed under: Canada, International, 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.

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Québec: Factor Orange

It’s St-Jean Baptiste Day! So, vive le Québec, vive le Canada…… and while we’re at it, vive le Brasserie Unibroue!

I can think of no better occasion to pore through a new EKOS poll of Canadians’ voting intentions (bottle of Maudite may be required), however sad it seems. But there’s an interesting feature in Québec, so I think it’s perfectly justified.

Overall, it’s a well-worn tale. Tories on 31%, Liberals on 27.7%. NDP on 16.5%, Green on 13% (again, if the NDP-GPC could get together and consolidate their demographic, would we not have a real fighting progressive party that’s statistically tied with the ruling Tories?). And the Bloc down on 9%.

So far, so uninteresting. But EKOS finds something that I (at least) would love to explore a lot more – page 5 of the survey report, regarding voters’ second choices.

There appears to be some predictable love between LPC and NDP supporters, as well as between NDP-Green. But while 38.7% of NDP supporters would back the Liberals as their second choice (unsurprising), a full 34.5% of NDP supporters would back the Bloc as their second choice. I thought this was quite wowwy.

This is good and bad news for the NDP, though, depending who’s doing the spinning. 🙂

Harper-For-Life types will love this news as it draws a link between “socialists and separatists.” Who could trust Jack Layton to babysit your kids, when 35% of his fans are also fans of Gilles Duceppe?

But NDP supporters have to be happy to learn that this means they’ve got a verifiable surge in Québec, and in the nationalist community as well. What seems quite astonishing is that the survey seems to suggest that, if a third of NDP supporters back the Bloc as a second choice, than at least a third of NDP supporters are living in Québec. No longer is La Belle Province the exclusive bastion of the Liberals and Tories when it comes to federalist support.

But there are problems for the NDP in these numbers too. The Liberals and Conservatives can fight over anglo federalist Montréal and the banlieues, but the NDP is charting new territory in nationalist areas. It’s good news in many ways, but this support must remain locked in the deep freeze of stalwart Bloquiste ridings that don’t appear likely to turn federalist soon. Or could they?

We first have to ask how the NDP, a party that errs on the side of a more centralised Canadian federation, are managing such support in the francophone Québec nationalist community.

Layton’s personal appeal in Québec is a big part of this, but we can’t forget the fact that a good number of Bloc voters are not actually anti-Canada “separatists” – they are just French-speaking, left-of-centre social democrats who like the Bloquistes’ daycare plans and like their policies on public investment in health and education.

And if they don’t believe a referendum is winnable or on the table anyway (CROP in April concurs – only 14% of Quebecers believe an independent state is on the cards), then this only empowers francophone progressives in Québec to “safely” give voice to the Bloc based on their social democratic credentials, and nothing else. I think that’s the logic in a lot of Québec.

So, after all, it may be the case that the NDP aren’t winning over Québec nationalists – they’re winning over social democrats (and soft nationalists at best) who just don’t fully identify with “distant” federal parties. So the question for the NDP is, how they convince francophone progressives that their natural home should be Team Orange, not Team Bleu?

Hard to do when identity is such a major feature of Québec voting trends. But if the NDP presents a respectable, federal, social democratic face to Québec, this has got to be good for unity. It says that there’s at least one well-regarded federal alternative in Québec amongst the soft-nationalist community, and that the federalist option isn’t necessarily the “stuffy, squareheaded” option.

Jack Layton should spend some serious time in Lac-St-Jean and the Townships this summer. Unless he’s there already for the Fête-Nationale?

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