September 7, 2012
Below for your information are five news articles on the post-election situation in Quebec.
Premier-elect Pauline Marois has quickly announced she will cancel the proposed university tuition hike of the defeated Liberal government. She says she will stick to her plan to hold an education summit meeting within 100 days. There, she will reiterate her proposal for a tuition hike linked to the rate of inflation. She opposes the student demands to move the province to free, post-secondary education. (Tuition in the CEGEP system is free, but there are many administrative costs, eg textbooks.)
News reports have the Parti québécois government also abolishing Law 12. It’s not clear to this writer if she can and will do this by executive decree or if she will instead rely on a vote in the National Assembly (ie rely on the two, large opposition parties that legislated and/or voted for the law in the first place).
Marois has also announced her government will cancel the $58 million government loan that was going to permit the Jeffrey asbestos mine to reopen in Asbestos, Quebec. While her party had equivocated prior to the election on the future of asbestos, news reports say she is talking of banning its production and use, as is already the case in other Canadian provinces.
Business leaders are gearing up to lobby the government to leave the mining royalty system in place. Quebec has the lowest royalties in Canada and is the only province to base its royalties on company profits, not the value of mining production.
It’s not yet clear what opposition that business will also mount to the Parti québécois’ proposal to extend the legal requirement for French as the language of the workplace. Law 101 (which created the Charter of the French Language in 1977, shortly after the election of the first PQ government) presently requires this for companies of more than 50 employees. The PQ says it will lower this threshold to 11. (Law 101 does not apply to the workplaces of federal government institutions in Quebec; the federal NDP has introduced legislation to this effect.)
The participation rate in this election was up sharply from 2008. That year, the lowest rate in Quebec history was recorded, at 57%. This time it was 74%. (Note: the participation rate measures the proportion of registered voters that casts ballots, not that of the adult population as a whole.) According to student leader and newly elected PQ MNA Léo Bureau-Blouin, interviewed on Radio Canada, the participation rate of young (under 21) voters rose from 20% to nearly 60%. Some student leaders campaigned hard to register young voters and get them out to vote. Elections Québec authorities refused demands by student leaders that voting stations be established in post-secondary institutions.
All remaining student strikes in Quebec ended as of two days ago.
1. CLASSE student activist interviewed on Real News
Watch an informative, ten-minute interview on the The Real News Network with Jérémie Bédard-Wien of CLASSE : http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=8785
2. For Harper, PQ just fine
Thomas Walkom, Toronto Star, Sept 6, 2012
The election of a separatist minority government in Quebec promises few problems for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In the crucial area of which government does what, he and the sovereignists tend to agree.
Tom Mulcair’s New Democrats, on the other hand, may run into difficulties that they have so far deftly avoided. And Bob Rae’s federal Liberals? Maybe they have a new chance. Harper first.
Parti Québécois leader and premier-designate Pauline Marois campaigned on a promise to wrest more power from Ottawa, including control over employment insurance. If she were up against any other prime minister, that might cause friction. But Harper has long held that social programs like health and welfare should be handled by the provinces so as to let Ottawa focus on big issues — the overall economy, banking, war.
Harper didn’t complain when outgoing Quebec premier Jean Charest talked of introducing hospital user fees that would contravene Ottawa’s Canada Health Act. And he won’t complain if Marois does something similar. Constitutionally, employment insurance is an explicit federal responsibility. But I doubt that Harper’s Conservatives will object if Marois tries to assume the burden of funding the province’s jobless.
True, there will be battles over equalization, the federal program designed to shift money from rich to poorer provinces — including Quebec. But there would have been battles over equalization if Charest’s Liberals had been re-elected. Federal and provincial governments have squabbled over money since time began. A majority PQ government bent on separation might have caused serious headaches for Harper. But all that Marois’ minority government can do is call for a greater devolution of power. And in most cases, Harper is fine with that.
For the NDP, however, a Quebec-driven devolution agenda is more problematic. On the one hand, Tom Mulcair’s caucus is dominated by Quebec MPs, many of them sympathetic to sovereignist parties like the PQ or the more leftish Quebec Solidaire. On the other, New Democrats need votes outside of Quebec to win power. And among the non-Quebec voters that Mulcair needs, particularly in Ontario, strong national social programs remain an article of faith.
What’s more, the return of a PQ government to power in Quebec City will refocus unwelcome attention on the NDP’s approach to secession. Under the NDP’s 2005 Sherbrooke declaration, former party leader Jack Layton committed his party to accepting — as the basis for breaking up the country — a simple majority vote in any Quebec referendum. It’s a position that’s widely accepted in Quebec. But it puts the NDP at odds with both the federal clarity act of 2000 (which the party voted for) and the Supreme Court. It’s also not universally popular in Canada outside Quebec.
As long as separation was a theoretical proposition, the NDP’s delicately phrased and internally contradictory position on secession didn’t much matter. Now, with a PQ government again talking of separation, it has the potential to matter more.
Finally, the federal Liberals. For decades, the party of Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chrétien proudly presented itself as the party of federalism. When national unity was an issue, the Liberals had a reason for being. When the possibility of secession retreated, Liberal fortunes fell. Now, thanks to Marois, national unity is back on the table. Quebec’s new government may not be rushing to the barricades. But it will be at least talking about sovereignty. In the past, when that happened, Canadians outside of Quebec gravitated to the party they thought could hold the country together. The desperate federal Liberals may have a future yet.
3. NDP put on defensive over Quebec policy
By Gloria Galloway, Globe and Mail, Sept 7, 2012
The federal New Democrats, who head back to Parliament promising to act like a government-in-waiting, could find themselves on the defensive over the conditions they would establish for the breakup of Canada. Members of the 100-person caucus confirmed at a meeting in St. John’s this week that they remain committed to party policy that states Quebec could separate if sovereigntist forces muster 50 per cent plus one vote in a future referendum.
That formula is spelled out in the NDP’s 2005 Sherbrooke Declaration, a policy drafted under former leader Jack Layton at a time when the New Democrats were little more than a fringe party in Quebec – and well before they picked up nearly 60 seats there in the 2011 federal election. NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair, who attended a meeting of his caucus in the Newfoundland and Labrador capital this week, told reporters he was not merely at ease with the wording of the declaration, he was “proud” of it.
But the document would seem to run counter to the federal Clarity Act, which was passed into law in 2000. It says negotiations leading to the secession of Quebec from Canada could take place only after a referendum result with a “clear majority,” as determined by the House of Commons.
Other New Democrat MPs found themselves defending their declaration’s provisions after an anonymous Liberal was quoted in a Quebec newspaper as saying his party might introduce a motion this fall reaffirming support for the Clarity Act. “I think it is a very solid piece of work, it represents who we are as a party, our position on Quebec, and I think people feel very comfortable with it,” said party veteran Libby Davies, an MP from British Columbia.
The possibility of a vote on Quebec sovereignty being called any time soon was significantly reduced on Tuesday when Pauline Marois’s Parti Québécois was elected with only a narrow majority. But the Liberals and the Conservatives could use the Sherbrooke Declaration, as well as the fact that several Quebec members of the NDP caucus have old ties to separatist elements, to suggest that the New Democrats are soft on federalism – an accusation that could weaken the party’s support in the rest of Canada.
The Liberal threat to introduce a motion forcing a show of support for the act would be political mischief from a party that was supplanted as the Official Opposition by the NDP. But it would also prompt much discussion about where the New Democrats actually stand on sovereignty and whether 50 per cent plus one can be construed as a “clear” indication of Quebeckers’ will.
When cornered by reporters in St. John’s, NDP MP Charlie Angus said 51 per cent of the popular vote is considered to be a staggering endorsement of a member of Parliament, and should be good enough to express the democratic will of Quebeckers. “The people of Quebec realize the New Democrats have faith in the Quebec people and we treat them with respect,” Mr. Angus said, “and we believe, by showing a positive federalist alternative, they will continue to work with the rest of Canada and we don’t have to threaten or blackmail or hold them to any standard other than respect.”
4. Quebec referendum unlikely, Mulcair says
Says NDP is ready to be a strong federalist voice
By Joanna Smith, Toronto Star, Sept 6, 2012
ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — New Democrat Leader Thomas Mulcair said the fact that the PQ formed a minority government means it is unlikely there will be another referendum on Quebec sovereignty anytime soon. “It’s a very short minority and I don’t think anybody is going to be rattling that one,” Mulcair told reporters at a news conference in St. John’s on Wednesday, where the NDP is holding its summer caucus strategy session.“I think Ms. Marois will need to concentrate on her work governing Quebec.”
Mulcair said the NDP is ready to be a strong federalist voice in the face of demands from the newly elected pro-sovereignty government in Quebec.“The NDP is a very strong federalist voice. We have always understood that you don’t just pay lip service to the differences. You work on them constructively,” Mulcair said, adding the surprising results of the 2011 federal election means there is a “pan-Canadian, federalist” party that holds the majority of seats in Quebec for the first time since the early 1990s.
Mulcair said that approach is recognized in the Sherbrooke Declaration, the policy paper that spells out the NDP position on asymmetrical federalism and what happens after a referendum on sovereignty. “It is a clear expression of the understanding that we can have asymmetrical federalism that takes into account the differences between the regions and the very specific differences between Quebec and the rest of Canada in terms of its civil law, its majority French language, its cultural differences, these are all things that can be worked on,” Mulcair said.
“There is nothing divisive about that unless somebody wants to play politics with it and make it divisive. Where the NDP comes in, is we’re all about building bridges. We will let the other parties blow up those bridges,” Mulcair continued. The document also says the NDP would recognize a “majority decision” — mentioned as 50 per cent plus one — “of the Quebec people in the event of a referendum on the political status of Quebec,” adding it would be up to the federal government to figure out the process “in the spirit” of the 1998 Supreme Court reference on secession.
“It’s not a question of being at ease with it. I am proud of it,” Mulcair said when asked if he remained comfortable with the Sherbrooke Declaration.
5. PQ waver on freeze could lead to student action
Militant CLASSE group says promise not enough, it also wants bursary boost promised by Liberals
By Karen Seidman, The Gazette, Sept 7, 2012
Students aren’t throwing away their red squares just yet. The Coalition large de l’association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante said on Thursday that students must remain vigilant to ensure a real tuition freeze is brought in by the Parti Québécois.
CLASSE, along with the other main student associations, says it is opposed to tuition being indexed to the cost of living, which is what the PQ had pledged during the campaign. What’s more, CLASSE wants something beyond the tuition freeze promised by the PQ. It wants the boost to the loans and bursaries system promised by the Liberals, as well.
So, despite a pledge from PQ Leader Pauline Marois on Wednesday to cancel the tuition increase and repeal Law 12 by decree, the seventh consecutive student demonstration on the 22nd of the month is still planned for September, and students say they’re not going to abandon their mobilization so quickly.
“We want to meet with the PQ to make sure their promises will be kept,” a CLASSE spokesman, Jérémie Bédard-Wien, said. “We won’t back down if indexation is proposed. We are very cautious of the PQ’s election.”
The Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec also opposes any kind of indexation. “When there’s indexation, students lose buying power,” said FEUQ president Martine Desjardins. The difference this time, she said, is that the PQ has promised a higher education summit and that’s where issues like that will be debated. “There’s a real change of tone with this government,” Desjardins said.
But the honeymoon might come to an abrupt halt if the PQ does try to index tuition. Also, a CLASSE spokeswoman, Jeanne Reynolds, said, it’s still not known whether the PQ only intends to freeze tuition until the summit takes place. “We need to meet with the government to understand their intentions,” she said.
There are also rifts starting to show in the solidarity of the student movement. While CLASSE said students expect the improvements to loans and bursaries promised by the Liberals to go ahead even if there’s no tuition increase, Desjardins said that position surprised her because students had fought most of those changes since they would only boost student debt.
Other than a plan to provide more bursaries to students from the lowest income families, she said, most of the Liberal plan relied on boosting loans to students. “It could triple the debt of students,” she said. “We don’t want the PQ to keep those changes.”
During the course of the tuition dispute, the Liberals had promised to boost the loans and bursaries system by about $39 million to compensate for the increased fees of $254 a year for seven years.
While students welcomed Liberal Leader Jean Charest’s resignation, they said their battle was always against ideas — never individuals. But Desjardins did admit she was pleased when the subject of Charest arose. “We are so happy,” she said, explaining that students had targeted Charest’s Sherbrooke riding and went door-to-door there three times to get out their message to vote.
While Bédard-Wien said CLASSE was also pleased about Charest’s resignation, he said the real victory of the past six months wasn’t defeating the Liberals or ousting Charest, but creating the largest student movement in Quebec’s history. “This movement has awakened a generation,” he said. “That is our greatest victory.”