The Québécois are racists

According to Statistics Canada, unemployment rates for immigrants living in Québec in 2006 were significantly higher than for immigrants in any other province. For very recent immigrants, the unemployment rate in Québec was an estimated 17.8%. This was nearly three times as large as the Canadian-born unemployment rate in Québec (6.3%). For recent immigrants, the unemployment rate was still more than double the Canadian-born rate in Québec (13.4% vs. 6.3%). Such hard evidence doesn't lie; the Québécois are racists. That's what some people want to believe and it's kind of hard to argue.

Still, my personal experience is that Québec's society is generally curious and welcoming for minorities. I mean... that's what those I've met in school, at work or in my leisure time have been telling me. Although I've seen some discontent, I've never experienced it up close. Of course, there's the occasional "maudit [fill in the blank]!" here and there, but most of the time, it's more along the lines of an aggravating "Fatso!" than a true racist slur. I think the average Jean-Guy is more exuberant than the average Doug.

The Bouchard-Taylor hearings?... xenophobic you say?... maybe. But the media mostly focused on the controversy and some testimonies were consistent with my personal observations. Most clashes presented at the hearings were religious based, not of the racial type or out of fear of the stranger. Having booted the Catholic Church stronghold out of the public place less than 50 years ago, the Québécois know exactly where religion, whichever one, can lead some people.

The Québécois are worried about the 'purity' of their lineage?.... not sure either. Most have Amerind blood running down their veins and don't seem to mind it. In 2006, the Québécois, with a smaller population, adopted a third more non-Caucasian babies than Ontarians.

Intolerant?... probably not. In 2006, five census metropolitan areas had police-reported rates of hate-motivated crime that were well above the national average of 3.1 per 100,000 population. Calgary led with a rate of 9.1 incidents for every 100,000 population, followed by Kingston (8.5), Ottawa (6.6), London (5.9) and Toronto (5.5). Provincial comparisons of hate crime were limited to Québec, Ontario and British Columbia. Ontario was highest at 4.1 incidents per 100,000 population, followed by British Columbia (2.5) and Québec (1.4).

Immigrant unemployment rates is hard evidence that the Québécois are racists?... perhaps, but that's not the only explanation. Signed in 1991, the Canada-Québec Accord came on the heels of the failure of the Meech Lake Accord and largely accomplished what would have taken place in the area of immigration had Meech Lake passed. Similar agreements followed for other provinces, but the Canada-Québec Accord gives the province the most latitude. Is it possible that federal civil services are doing a better job at finding immigrant skills for the market needs?


We love minority governments

According to a poll published in yesterday's La Presse [Google translation], 29.7% of Québec's residents have a positive appreciation of the work that has been done by the three consecutive minority governments we've had since 2004. Based on a national average of 18.5%, the corresponding average in other provinces is at 15.2%. Compared to the rest of the country, Québec's support for a minority government is almost double. This discrepancy could be explained by Québec voters' liking for a federal government having to cope with the Bloc's demands to carry on. This perspective is in sharp contrast to a Canadian Press report by Jennifer Ditchburn titled "Canadians grow weary of minority government" published by The Globe and Mail on July 13th, 2009.

Never, since the merging of the Progressive Conservative and Reform parties in 2003, has the Bloc's pertinence in Ottawa been so blatant to the Québécois. In the ten years that preceded that merger, Canada's natural governing party achieved majority simply because right-wing votes were divided.

The future is bleak for Canadians looking forward to a majority government. Some have already recognized the hurdle the Bloc has become and are juggling with ideas to limit its reach. In a column titled "Knock a chip off the old Bloc" published by The Globe and Mail on August 15th, 2009, Andrew Stark questions the party-allowance formula. He submits that the principle of federalism could take precedence over popular votes. In order to get an allowance, for example, a party could need to have elected representatives in a minimum number of provinces. Isn't ironic to think that the party-allowance formula, aimed at cleaning up political practices, was inspired from a Québec legislation introduced by René Lévesque himself?

Along with the sovereignty movement, the Bloc has been boasting the democratic path it has chosen. Many obviously don't agree with its purpose, but most have behaved as though they recognized its legitimacy since it was created in 1991. Now that the Bloc's presence in Ottawa has finally gotten some people scratching their heads, someone thinks that changing the rules, in lieu of addressing the root cause, would help federalism in Québec and Canadian unity? I think not.

What on Earth is wrong with Canadians? Don't they realize that the Québécois aren't satisfied with the federal status quo?... that the majority of those who voted "yes" in 1995 aren't bluenecks, but good citizens contemplating a democratic alternative to the status quo?... that the vast majority of Québécois would be interested in an alternative other than sovereignty?... that such an alternative can only come from Ottawa?... that they are the ones holding the key to the sovereignty movement's demise?... that the sovereignty movement is as legitimate as the thrust that made Canada into a sovereign state in 1867?... that they need to understand what motivates the Québécois in order to address it properly?... that they can't simply shove the whole idea by the way side?

Come on Canadians... aren't you tired of being politically strangled by a province? Apart from a few lows, support for sovereignty has remained above the 40% mark and has plagued federal politics for the last 30 years. It's an intrinsic part of the political landscape. It's not going to simply fade away! Is the great Canadian tolerance mere indifference? What are you waiting to give the sovereigntist's proposal a balanced democratic response that would steer voters away?

Canadian movies - Part 2

Having raked in more than $9M in less than two months, "De père en flic" (Father and Guns) is Québec's top blockbuster this year. The homegrown comedy beat "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" and other box office giants. Chances are it's going to keep the top spot for the whole year.

Canadians in other provinces aren't too keen on homegrown flicks and much prefer foreign movies. Homegrown productions account for approximately 1% at the English Canadian box office. The fact that "De père en flic" has remained four weeks in the Canadian top 10 (it's still in the top 20) without a mention in national media illustrates that trend rather well.

Ironically, according to La Presse [Google translation], the movie's success hasn't gone unnoticed in Hollywood and a producer has expressed interest in a remake. Well... it looks like Canadians in other province might enjoy the Québécois movie in the near future after all.


Sovereigntist tokenism

Maintaining a balance between the integration of immigrants and welcoming different cultures is a constant challenge for any society struggling with its demographic decline. Political parties of all stripes recognize the value of having immigrants among their ranks. Opponents sometimes question the good faith of their political adversaries when they succeed in recruiting candidates of foreign origins for office. Opponents sometimes accuse their political adversaries of tokenism, the inclusion of members of a minority group to create a false appearance of inclusive practices.

Achieving tokenism obviously calls for members of minority groups to be willing to take part of it, individuals who either don't have much of an opinion, who lack wits or who are simply dishonest. It also requires some sort of winning recipe that allows political parties to have these individuals elected. And finally, it needs the population to fall for it.

Societies with generally low levels of education and in which information to the public is controlled may be fertile ground for tokenism, but Canadians are among the privileged few when it comes to access and quality of education and information. Can Canadians be massively fooled by token characters with reduced capacity?... seriously? With our political system, an accusation of tokenism mostly sounds like an insult to the voters and the candidate they've elected.

When it comes to recruiting candidates of foreign origins, the sovereignty movement faces a challenge. Parizeau's faux pas in 1995 (see Parizeau is racist) has been cultivated as one of many demonstrations of intolerance (see Québec's ethnocentric nationalism - Part 2). Many Canadians are under the impression that the sovereignty movement doesn't accept anything but old-stock Québécois. In reality, it greets people of all origins and backgrounds.

Bernard Cleary (of Aboriginal descent), Marie Malavoy (born in Germany), Alexis Wawanoloath (of Aboriginal descent), Ève-Mary Thaï Thi Lac (born in Vietnam), Maria Mourani (of Lebanese origin), Joseph Facal (born in Uruguay), Vivian Barbot (born in Haiti) and Maka Kotto (born in Cameroun) have all been elected as Parti Québécois MNAs or Bloc MPs. The most outspoken individuals in this select club (Maria Mourani, Joseph Facal, Vivian Barbot and Maka Kotto, for example) can hardly be mistaken for token characters with reduced capacity.

Granted, the sovereignty movement will never appeal to immigrants at levels comparable to those found among old-stock Québécois. Several factors may explain this. Some of these new-stock Québécois are restricted to national media to forge their initial political opinions on the subject; most of these media lack the diversity of opinion available in Québec (see National media suffice). But mostly, many of these new-stock Québécois came to Canada fleeing unstable political states and simply couldn't care less for the confusion that may accompany Québec's transition to sovereignty.

Be they sitting in the House of Commons or driving a cab, members of a minority group who embrace the sovereignty movement have overcome several hurdles. I believe people should try listening to what they have to say before dismissing their contribution as tokenism.


Canadian movies

As usual, this summer's blockbusters in most of the country are international movies. Until last week, the buzz in Québec was a homegrown comedy.

Entering its sixth week, "De père en flic" (Father and Guns) has kept the top spot for most of its first five weeks. As of August 9, the movie gathered over $8.1M in a market of 7.7 million people, more than the faster declining "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince". The movie's success in the province is such that it remained in the top 10 movies in Canada during four weeks.

The Canadian box-office is a strange creature. In its 2007-2008 annual report, Telefilm Canada outlines that French-language feature films saw their share of the global market go from 17.1% to 16.2%; Canadian English-language films went from 1.7% to 0.9%. It's no wonder that Hollywood considers most of the country as its domestic market.

In 2006, it took a while for "Bon Cop, Bad Cop" to get some attention in national media. This summer's Québécois blockbuster is no different. In contrast, "Trailer Park Boys: The Movie" swiftly grabbed national media attention with less than half the entries of "De père en flic" on a similar run.

It's little things like this that trample my Canadian identity.


A better Canada without Québec

Scowen, Reed, Time to Say Goodbye: Building a Better Canada Without Québec, McClelland & Stewart, 2007, ISBN 978-0-7710-7981-8.

As its title so clearly suggests, this book explains why Canada would be better off parting with Québec. In a few words, Québec's and the country's political values are incompatible. Canadians should firmly reaffirm who they are and make a proposal for Québec to accept or to go its own way. And time is running short; the province is impoverishing itself and it may soon be economically too late.

The author, Reed Scowen [Google translation], knows Québec very well; he was a member of the National Assembly from 1978 to 1987. To support the book's intent, Mr. Scowen submits a definition of Canada without Québec and puts forward that the province's nationalism is ethnically motivated.

One would expect a (former?) staunch federalist to come up with an inspiring vision of the country; he doesn't. His vision, or definition, is disappointing. Mr. Scowen roughly defines Canada as an administrative arrangement, almost as if the Canadian nation were exclusively a geo-political invention... I trust Canadians have more to say.

One would also expect a seasoned politician to come up with a strong argumentation on the province's so-called ethnically motivated nationalism; he doesn't. Most of his rationale rehashes anecdotal situations that are commonly expressed by English federalist circles (see Québec's ethnocentric nationalism - Part 2). Of course, there is an ethnic motivation to it for some people, but so does any patriotic movement. I believe that Québec's nationalism has more to do with language and culture than ethnicity (see Québec's ethnocentric nationalism).

However, one thing that particularly stands out in this book is the tale it refers to, the gains of the French language from an Anglo-Québécois perspective. Québec's culture is obviously worthwhile and calls for suitable legislation, much like CanCon does for Canadian culture, but reading about it in this book is an eye-opening experience. It helped me better understand the emotional response I sometimes observed at the simple mention of Jacques Parizeau's name when exchanging with an Anglo friends. This book should be mandatory reading for all sovereigntists.

Still, the most puzzling aspect of the book is how the author specifies that he would remain in a sovereign Québec. By simply pointing out that this is the place where he was born and grew up, by stating that it's as much his province as any other Québécois, he doesn't give much explanation. I wish he had elaborated, even if it isn't the book's topic.


Flirting with the enemy

When Michael Sabia took helm at the Caisse de depôt et placement du Québec on March 13 of this year, his swift nomination sparked controversy. Several questioned the lack of transparency of the process; some questioned his credentials; a few questioned his commitment to the growth of Québec's economy and to the Caisse's role in it. Comments about his origins made many people uneasy and it's rather simple to understand why this calling into question was denounced. Still, Mr. Sabia isn't the first person to face discriminatory criticism when arriving into office.

On May 1st, 1998, the appointment of David Levine as Chief Executive Officer of the new Ottawa Hospital was announced. He began his duties on June 15 following six weeks of tumultuous public outcry led by the media and a select group of individuals discontented with his politics. Like the Caisse, Ottawa Hospital was facing enormous challenges. But unlike Mr. Sabia, Mr. Levine's origins (Jewish and Anglophone) weren't contributing to the outcry; his political affiliations were. He was a sovereigntist.

As if these affiliations had any connection with the tasks at hands, public demonstrations took place. Even Mike Harris, then Ontario's Premier, suggested that the board would have done better to select a "non-Canadian who believes in Canada and keeping Canada together" than someone of Levine's background. Much to his credit, David Levine downplayed the furor. When talking to reporters, he attributed the anger to frustrations with hospital restructuring and suggested that he was just "the lightning rod."

In contrast, Michael Sabia used the media to portray his opponents as bigots and silence them. The Globe and Mail exploited that angle in a report titled "New Caisse boss defends Quebec roots", published on May 5th, 2009. Of course, some of the reluctances expressed toward the Caisse's new CEO did reek discrimination. But in his haste to end the debate, Mr. Sabia fostered the erroneous idea that any questioning was out of place and dodged valid interrogations.

In recent months, Louise Harel has been subjected to heated attacks from members of Montréal's Anglo milieus. She's running for the mayoralty this coming November, but, for some, she mostly is a sovereignist associated with Bill 101, sovereignty referendums and the forced municipal mergers.

Renown Canadian lawyer Julius Grey works as an election adviser to Harel. He recently had a glimpse of what such an association entails. On July 7th, Hampstead town council passed a motion to terminate Mr. Grey's status as legal adviser to the town. Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg vetoed the vote. In Mr. Grey's own words, "it is wrong to demonize another person because of their opinion on one issue." His support for Harel reflects his recognition that he has a common interest with her on social-justice issues. I share Mr. Grey's wisdom and salute Mr. Steinberg's leadership.

Meanwhile, Michael Sabia has been working on the Caisse's risk management policies. After having put the largest pension fund in Canada on creditwatch negative earlier this year, Standard & Poor's announced it maintained its AAA grade this week [Google translation].

Louise Harel has a good shot at Montréal's top job this coming fall. Perhaps, those who currently doubt the legitimacy of her candidacy will have the opportunity to change their minds.