Monday, August 27, 2012

Jean Charest's legacy

President Eisenhower's farewell address

Premier Jean Charest said that a new Liberal government would try to convince Ottawa into making French the workplace language for federal institutions and federally regulated businesses in the province.

If you're the type of person who gets off on French-first things, why would you vote Liberal when the PQ is offering the real deal? Who is Charest trying to coax into voting for him?

It's sad that the final days of the Charest government are spent following the herd instead of challenging the premise. Why not go out with a bang and do an Eisenhower-type farewell address? That is, why not warn Quebecers how an over-obsession on language has poisoned Quebec? How the French language is spoken as a first language by more than 80 percent of the population and has never been more secure? How there have never been more people speaking French whose first language is not French?

Why not let that be Charest's legacy?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Too good to be true

I argued yesterday that while the media emphasis has been on a citizen-initiated ballot initiative/referendum on the issue of Quebec secession, they don't all have to be sucky. For instance, opinion polls suggest that French-speaking Quebecers don't like the way the government has restricted their kids from the wrong kinds of public schools (read: English-language ones). Certainly a ballot-initiative on that topic would have widespread appeal and I could imagine such a restriction being voted down.

But not so fast, dear citizens. In an attempt to defuse the criticism that she would let hardcore separatists dictate the timing of a referendum on secession, Pauline Marois now says that the Quebec legislature would decide whether to accept a citizen-initiated ballot initiative.

You can now add arbitrary rule-making to the growing list of anti-liberal, anti-liberty and anti-democratic positions put forward by the Parti Québécois.

What's the point of a citizen-initiated vote if the legislature can arbitrarily quash it? The PQ is like an alcoholic father who drinks too much. The kids know it's wrong, but it's all they know. Quebecers are so used to the PQ's crazy ideas that when a new one is discovered, no one is shocked. What's worse, the candidate expressing the idea gets to carry on in the campaign as if nothing has happened.

Compare Marois' comments about giving a language test to people who want to run for office in Quebec to another crazy comment south of the border. US Senate candidate Todd Akin said that women could not get pregnant from "legitimate rape". For that, his party is throwing him under the bus and he will likely have to drop out of the election. Marois gets to continue her campaign.

How is it that the idea of barring citizens from running for public office made it all the way up to the leader of the party? No one at any of the meetings spoke up and said, "Dude, I think that's pretty f*cked up. Maybe we should scrap it"?

Why, in other words, do politicians in Quebec get away with expressing the kinds of crazy ideas that would destroy their political careers in any other jurisdiction in North America?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bring on the referendums

Ballot initiative
So far the debate over PQ leader Pauline Marois' suggestion to allow citizens to trigger a referendum on secession has been over whether it is wise to allow a small hard-core group of true believers force a referendum on us. But let's consider the overall benefits of citizen-initiated votes.

Yes, a referendum on secession will suck. Passions will be stirred. Whatever the outcome, people will be disappointed and angry. But a citizen-generated referendum on other topics could be what Quebec needs in 2012. Why not let the citizens decide on:

  • Removing restrictions on access to public schools, as French-speaking parents have been demanding, or allow English-speaking immigrants to attend English-language schools.
  • Allowing English-immersion programs in French-language schools, as French-speaking parents have been demanding.
  • Repealing the parts of the French language charter that even the French-speaking population think is overkill.
These are just a few language-related ideas. There is a whole range of finance-related ones that could help strip away some of the nanny-state or "gouvermaman" in French.

In the United States, 24 states allow citizen-initiated referendums. In fact, they distinguish between at least two types of measures:
  1. A ballot initiative is a proposal to change or create a law at a local or state level. Instead of relying on the legislature to make all of the laws, citizens can use the ballot initiative process to implement laws on their own. 
  2. A referendum places a law that has already been passed by the legislature to a popular vote.
Also, there are rules about the clarity of the question, which is not decided by the government but by a bipartisan committee. The timing of the vote coincides with the set election dates, not the day after an election as is the expressed desire of Marois.

In Quebec, we only ever talk about a referendum on one topic. But referendums and ballot initiatives don't have to be about just that. 

So, if the PQ wins, let's flood the government with non-secession ideas.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Parti Québécois has jumped the shark

Quebec has jumped the shark
In case you didn't feel that thud on your ass this morning, it was the terminus of the slippery slope that Quebecers have been gingerly moving towards for the last 40 years.

In today's newspapers, there are reports that the Parti Québécois is considering preventing citizens from running for public office--provincial and municipal--if they don't speak French sufficiently well.

Anyone wanting to run for public office in a Quebec led by Pauline Marois will have to prove they can speak French first, the Parti Québécois leader said as she announced her latest language-related campaign promise Tuesday. The PQ leader said anglophones, allophones and aboriginal people will be forbidden from seeking municipal or provincial office unless they have an appropriate knowledge of French. 
Source: Globe and Mail

From 1974 onward, successive Quebec governments have enacted laws, slowly making the use of English abnormal. Like smoking and drunk driving. Always couched in the language of preservation of the French language, the effect of the laws was to limit the use of English in ever-decreasing areas.

The goal was to change the language reality of Quebec. The idea is that by pretending that English wasn't a common language, and passing laws to stop it from being so, the fairy tale would become true, in time.  Parents were prohibited from choosing their preferred school for their kids based on a law that discriminated against people who had the wrong grandparents. Merchants were prevented from communicating on signs with their customers in a language other than French (later amended to allow some English, provided it knew its subordinate place). All outdoor billboards and public transit ads were censored to allow only French words (with the exception of radio and tv stations and other cultural institutions).

At every point, the English-speaking community believed that the new restrictions were stinky, but more-or-less went along with it to humour the French-speaking majority who had been convinced into believing that the language of 82 percent of the population was in danger.

Today, August 22, 2012, in the middle of a Quebec election campaign, the party leading in the opinion polls is recommending---in all seriousness--to thwart the democratic process by barring the wrong kinds of people from seeking political office. Instead of letting voters decide, the PQ thinks it should decide.

It must be said that this is consistent with their policies about prohibiting college-age students from picking a CEGEP or parents from picking a school for their kids. It is consistent with legislating the use of French on commercial signs instead of letting the market penalize merchants who don't offer good services. It is consistent with the sick and unhealthy political society where the freedom of the individual is made subordinate to the dictates of illiberal government.

In Quebec, the government decides for you.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Legault as leader of the No side?

If the PQ wins and the CAQ finishes second, does Legault get to be leader of the No side in the eventual referendum campaign? And at what point does he decide what he really believes?

Monday, August 06, 2012

Election slogans

Uninspired slogan, 2012 edition
I'd like for a political party to be honest with voters and use a slogan that doesn't sound like it was written by a committee of very bored eighth graders in a mandatory civics class.

My preference is for something like: "No slogan. Just good government." Or maybe: "Just Google us."

Instead, the new Quebec election campaign has given us:
  • Pour le Québec (For Québec)
  • C'est assez, faut que ca change! (It's enough, it must change!)
  • A nous de choisir (For us to choose)
  • Debout (Stand up)
The first slogan seems superfluous. Does the Quebec Liberal Party believe it is the only Quebec provincial party not secretly working on behalf of, say, the Nova Scotia government? "Enough with Halifax's long hand in our affairs! We are for Quebec, not Nova Scotia!"

The second slogan was brought to you by the political party that chose as its acronym CAQ. So, I'm not expecting great copywriting, and they didn't disappoint. About exclamation points, they must only be used to announce victory after a five year struggle against Nazi Germany or after landing a person on the surface of the moon. Otherwise, be judicious. Exclamation points sound like shouting in the same way as those all-caps e-mails from the older people in your life/Nigerian scam artists.

The third slogan, like the first, is meaningless. Who else will choose but voters anyway? Is the Parti Québécois inferring that the elections are rigged? Or is the emphasis on the word "us", as in old stock French Quebecers? We'll decide! Not you weirdo Montrealers with your weird foreign languages and strange foods.

The Quebec Solidaire slogan, "Debout" doesn't have an exclamation point, but feels like it should. It also seems like something from a Communist Party manifesto. Oh, yeah, Québec Solidaire is a communist party--literally--following the merger over several years of several other loser commie parties. Which just goes to prove that if you change your name often enough, eventually you'll trick people into voting for you. (You can read the details here.) Or just read Comerade Khadir's comments in today's Gazette in which he defended himself against Gilles Duceppe, who was also a communist in his youth, but apparently more secessionist than communist nowadays: “I invite him to concentrate on the real adversaries in our society. I invite him to unite his voice with Québec solidaire, the only party with the courage to stand up to the elite, the one per cent ... that want to dictate the behaviour of our society.” 

Jeeze. Do you get the feeling little Amir was always picked last in dodge ball?

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Deconstructing a Quebec Liberal Party ad aimed at the English-speaking community

All political ads are more-or-less bullshit, but the new Quebec Liberal Party ad in today's Suburban seemed insincere.

My focus is on the words in bold on the ad, but let's start with the photo in black and white of a father with a phony smile (no smile lines around the eyes, notice) holding a newborn child. At first, I thought the man was stealing candy from the baby, which sums up the relationship between the Quebec Liberal Party who, every four or five years during an election, scare the leaderless English-speaking community with stories about monsters. Then after the election, the QLP ignore calls for, say, milk and an occasional bedtime hug.

Now, on to the words. Let's compare Quebec Liberal Party claims with things I believe to be true.

Deconstructing a Quebec Library Party ad