Quebec Politics

2014: Year in Preview

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Federal Politics, New Brunswick Politics, Ontario Politics, Quebec Politics, Toronto Municipal Politics | 7 Comments

We don’t know what will make headlines in 2014. After all, most political predictions are about as accurate as a Forum poll.

So I won’t try to guess how 2014 plays out, but here are a few things we can reasonably expect to see this year:

  • With the new electoral map coming into force, all parties will begin nominating candidates, as they gear up for the next election. And since the media loves election speculation, there will no doubt be more rumours of the 2015 election being moved up to 2014 – though I can’t imagine Harper would want to go to the polls before what figures to be a popular 2015 budget.
  • It’s likely that Robocon or the Senate Scandal will resurface at various points during the year. Moreover, senate reform could move to the forefront, especially if Harper decides to tack a referendum question onto the 2015 vote.
  • We know the Conservatives will introduce legislation on prostitution at some point this year, and you can be sure debate will continue to swirl around the Keystone pipeline.
  • We know there will be a by-election in Macleod, and we know the Conservatives will win it. More competitive will be Trinity Spadina, if and when Olivia Chow steps down to run for Mayor of Toronto.
  • Speaking of which, it seems likely that Rob Ford will continue to horrify and entertain us all right up to the October 27th municipal election. For one day at least, Torontonians will be right when they think the whole world is watching them.
  • New Brunswick has a fixed election date set for September 22nd. The Liberals, on the rise across the Maritimes and led by 31 year old Brian Gallant, are the favourites with a 2:1 edge over the ruling PCs in most polls.
  • Quebec and Ontario elections seem likely, and both should be hotly contested. Expect the PQ’s “Values Charter” to be a major election issue in Quebec, and transit funding to be front and centre in Ontario.
  • Charter Polling Misses Mark

    Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Polls, Quebec Politics | 9 Comments

    For those hoping Quebecers would abandon Marois over her utterly repugnant charter, this is an encouraging headline:

    Quebec Liberals jump to 7% lead over PQ as backlash grows over values charter

    A recent boost in support for the Quebec Liberals means the party could secure a “hair thin” majority in the province if an election were called today, suggests a new public opinion poll.

    The poll, conducted by Forum Research, found support for Liberals in the province has jumped to 42% — up more than 10 points since the 2012 election — in the wake of the proposed Quebec charter of values.

    Support for the Parti Quebecois sits at 35%, according to the poll. Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) came in third place with 12% support.

    “We know from our polling that the proposed Charter is very popular among PQ supporters,” Forum president Lorne Bozinoff said in a Saturday statement, “but it appears that the ire it has raised amongst everyone else has blunted its usefulness as an electoral tool.”

    An encouraging headline indeed. Sadly, that headline is about as far from reality as Marois herself.

    Let’s put aside the usual critiques of robo-polls, and Forum’s spotty track record in Quebec. The real questionable aspect of this poll is how it’s being reported.

    Yes, there has been a noticeable shift since the last election, but there’s no indication whatsoever that this is because of a “backlash” to the Charter. Forum is tracking changes from a year ago, oblivious to the fact that the world, and Quebec, have changed since then. I mean, who knew what “twerking” was a year ago?

    More relevantly, Marois has had to govern, she delivered a budget, there was a tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, and, most importantly, the Quebec Liberals replaced Jean Charest with Philippe Couillard. There’s nothing in the data to suggest this revirement is due to the Charter – especially considering every single poll since Couillard won the leadership has had the Liberals on top. CROP showed Couillard up by 13 points in April and 11 in August. Leger had Couillard up by 4 in March, 11 in June, and 4 in August. The fact that Forum now shows the gap at 7 doesn’t support Bozinoff’s narrative of public “ire” over the Charter.

    Indeed, a much more thorough poll on Friday by Angus Reid showed Quebecers are generally supportive of the Charter, and most specific elements of it.

    That’s not to say this support will translate to votes for Marois, or that it will last to Christmas (Christmas is still going ahead under the Charter, right?). This is going to be a heated debate. And with lightning rod policies, voters don’t always focus on the issue itself, but what proposing the policy says about a leader’s judgment. Think John Tory and separate schools.

    But that’s all speculation. At this stage, despite what the headlines say, there’s nothing in the polls to suggest the Charter is dragging Marois down.

    UPDATE: And now Forum is contending that Trudeau has received a boost from his opposition to the Charter, with Forum President Lorne Bozinoff claiming the Charter debate has “moved a lot of support from other parties into the Liberal column, both federally and provincially”. Indeed, the Trudeau Liberals now lead at 36% in the province.

    Mercifully, unlike the provincial poll, Forum hasn’t tracked these results against the last election. Actually, they haven’t tracked them at all, and it’s no wonder why. A quick google search shows that their most recent poll had the Liberals at 38% in Quebec.

    So, to recap, Trudeau has surged from 38% to 36% on this issue.

    I recognize the need to create a fresh story and narrative out of every poll. That’s why relatively insignificant changes in August were spun as Trudeau “surging” on the marijuana issue. But is it asking too much for polling companies and the media who print these stories to take a quick glance at their own numbers to make sure they don’t contradict what is being printed?

    Chopping Bloc

    Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Quebec Politics | 14 Comments

    The good news for the Bloc is that there’s now a bit more elbow room in the back of the caucus car:

    Maria Mourani, Member of Parliament for the federal riding of Ahuntsic, has been kicked out of the Bloc Quebecois caucus over her opposition to the controversial “charter of values” proposed by the Quebec government of Pauline Marois.

    “The member for Ahuntsic, Ms. Maria Mourani, has made comments that don’t reflect the position of the Bloc Québécois,” Bloc party leader Daniel Paillé said in a statement Thursday.

    He said the charter is “a necessary and fundamental approach for the Quebecois nation.”

    It’s a bold move for Paille who, just a few days ago, expressed concerns over Marois’ bill. I also tend to think it’s one he will regret.

    Nos Valeurs

    Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Quebec Politics | 16 Comments
    It's unclear if Habs jerseys count as religious symbols or not.

    It’s unclear if Habs jerseys count as religious symbols or not.

    This is going to be a hot topic for the foreseable future in Quebec, and since hot topics in Quebec have a way of becoming hot topics outside Quebec, expect to hear a lot about the PQ’s “Values Charter”. Even Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi raised the issue again on his Facebook page today.

    I’m hopeful federal politicians will look beyond this charter’s apparent popularity in Quebec, and speak out strongly against it.


    UPDATE…

    That didn’t take long. We already knew Justin Trudeau was against Marois’ plan, but the Tories and NDP have also lept into the debate with harsh words. Even the Bloc isn’t ready to support it. Mon dieu!

    Poutinesque

    Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Quebec Politics | 3 Comments

    With their raison-d’etre of separatism neutralized, one would have hoped the PQ would set to work trying to turn around Quebec’s economy. Instead…this:

    Quebec is heading into another fierce debate over the future of religious freedom in the province with the Parti Québécois government set to release a Charter of Quebec Values that could ban religious headwear everywhere from daycares to hospitals.

    On Tuesday, a news report suggested that the minority government of Premier Pauline Marois wants to prohibit public employees from wearing items such as hijabs, turbans and kippas, in a broad ban that could extend from elementary and university teachers to nurses and child-care workers.

    […]

    But the PQ’s supposed remedy to such cases, as outlined in the Journal de Montréal, suggests that the Marois government can expect significant blowback on the issue. Critics called the reported proposals divisive, draconian, and even reminiscent of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

    Human-rights lawyer Julius Grey, who has fought numerous constitutional cases, says the rules would likely fail a challenge under freedom-of-religion provisions in the Canadian Charter of Rights. Because Quebec’s new rules would reportedly exempt private schools, the proposals risk driving minorities into separate, religious-based schools, he said.

    Beau Risque

    Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Quebec Politics | 6 Comments
    Couillard will try to make history by becoming Quebec's first bearded Premier in over 100 years.

    Couillard will try to make history by becoming Quebec’s first bearded Premier in over 100 years.

    The Quebec Liberal leadership race drew few headlines outside the province, but everyone is paying attention to newly elected leader Philippe Couillard now:

    Quebec Liberal leader Couillard sets sights on Constitution signing

    After a convincing victory on Sunday as new Quebec Liberal party leader, Philippe Couillard has his sights set on becoming premier and steer the province into signing the Canadian Constitution.

    By the time Canada celebrates the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017, Mr. Couillard believes he can persuade the rest of Canada to embark on a new round of constitutional talks that would accept Quebec’s “distinct” or “specific” character within Canada.

    I’m not sure this is the battle cry I’d be sounding if I was just elected opposition leader in a province which is literally falling apart, but Couillard’s words bear attention. After all, there’s a reasonable chance he’ll be sitting in the Premier’s chair come 2015, in which case this will likely be an election issue. If he’s not Premier, then there’s a pretty good chance a referendum will be looming, in which case this will definitely be an election issue.

    The real question is whether Couillard can find a federal dance partner for his constitutional tango.

    Justin Trudeau has been categorically opposed to re-opening the constitution, getting into a heated argument with Jean Lapierre on this topic in December (It’s amazing how many substantive positions one winds up taking even while being accused of running a “photo op” campaign). Although some Quebec Liberals will be uncomfortable at the prospect of a Couillard-Trudeau sparing match, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen the federal and Quebec Liberal leaders in anything resembling an electoral alliance so this wouldn’t be a new dynamic.

    The real question is whether Harper or Mulcair line up with Couillard. An all-beard alliance between former Cabinet colleagues Mulcair and Couillard makes a certain amount of sense. On the 30th anniversary of the Charter last year, Mulcair promised “to work to ensure that one day [the charter] becomes part of a Constitution that includes us all“. The one stumbling block may be Mulcair’s plans to start a provincial NDP in Quebec, but that was always a bit of a hair brained idea, and I’m sure it’s one he would gladly let die if he can count on the PLQ’s machinery next campaign.

    Harper has been less eager to re-open the constitution, but if his support sags in Ontario, he will need to win new seats in Quebec to preserve his majority – and he may see this beau risque as a means to that end. Moreover, 2015 could be his last election, and Harper is still a Prime Minister without a legacy. It’s not like they name airports after you for cutting the GST 2 points. It would only be natural for him to want to accomplish what Trudeau and Mulroney could not, knowing he can always exit stage right if he fails. Moreover, a new round of constitutional talks would allow Harper to follow through on his long-stated desire for an elected senate and a more decentralized federation. If he truly wants to reshape the country, what better way to do so than a new constitution?

    That said, the man hasn’t exactly been inviting the Premiers over to 24 Sussex for homemade lasagna on a regular basis, so it seems unlikely he’d want to subject himself to weeks or months of debate and negotiation. Harper has always been a cautious politician, and a new round of constitutional talks borders on foolhardy. Although success would become his legacy, so would failure, and that’s the far more probable outcome. Exiting politics as the man who put the country through another round of constitutional strife and re-ignited the separatist movement would likely not help the hockey book sales in retirement.

    So when Couillard is looking for dance partners in 2015, he’d be best to extend his hand to Mulcair.

    The Name Game – Part Deux

    Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Federal Politics, Quebec Politics | 1 Comment

    Don’t believe every piece of quantitative evidence ever produced! Quebecers HATE this man!

    I’ve read a dozen opinion pieces by Quebec columnists over the past few months like this one from Lysianne Gagnon:

    Is Justin Trudeau really the Liberals’ best option?

    If the Toronto Liberal intelligentsia believe that Justin Trudeau, being a Trudeau and a Quebecker, can revive their party’s fortunes in Quebec, they are mightily wrong. (One might also wonder if anybody can save the Liberal Party of Canada now that the NDP occupies the centre-left, but this is another question.)

    Justin’s surname is as much a liability in French-speaking Quebec as it is in Alberta. Personally, I find this hostility regrettable and irrational to boot, but the reality is that more than anybody else, Trudeau Senior remains the nemesis not only of the sovereigntists but of all of Quebec’s “soft” nationalists.


    As I argued at the time, every shred of evidence we have before us suggests the Trudeau name is more of an asset than a liability – even in Quebec and Alberta. And here’s some more:

    Sondage: Trudeau doublerait Mulcair au Québec

    (Ottawa, Ontario) L’effet Trudeau se fait maintenant sentir au Québec. Le Parti libéral du Canada (PLC) prendrait la tête dans les intentions de vote dans la Belle Province s’il était dirigé par Justin Trudeau.

    Un sondage CROP réalisé pour le compte de La Presse démontre que les électeurs québécois, à l’instar de bon nombre d’électeurs canadiens, sont loin d’être indifférents à l’entrée en scène de Justin Trudeau dans la course à la direction du PLC.

    Avec le jeune député de Papineau comme chef, les libéraux obtiendraient 36% des intentions de vote au Québec, contre 30% au Nouveau Parti démocratique (NPD), 19% au Bloc québécois et un maigre 11% au Parti conservateur.


    Now, I don’t think anyone should get caught up in these hypothetical polls, which come down to little more than superficial perceptions. Attitudes will quickly change once Canadians get to know Justin, attack ads air, and voters consider him as a Prime Minister rather than a celebrity. Right now, the polls don’t mean a lot, except that people like his hair…and his name.

    Which, once again, shows how ridiculous it is to argue the Trudeau name is toxic. It’s clearly an asset, even in Quebec – regardless of what the “Quebec intelligentsia” claim.

    Charest’s Loss May Be Harper’s Gain

    Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Federal Politics, Quebec Politics | 5 Comments

    It was hard for Harper to say no to “the most federalist Premier in my lifetime”…and the one man who laughed at his jokes.

    Although the federal leaders executed Cirque Du Soleil worthy backflips to stay out of the Quebec election, the repercussions of this vote will be far reaching. Having a separatist attack dog in Quebec City – even one on a minority government leash – undeniably changes the dynamic in Ottawa.

    So who benefits?


    The Liberals

    Traditionally, Canadians have tended to trust the Liberal Party on the national unity file, and this is an area where the Trudeau brand remains strong. While I’m sure Justin doesn’t want to become a shadow of his father, people will listen when he speaks out about national unity, so it’s an issue he could use to define himself.

    Assuming of course, he manages to win the leadership. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. But at the very least, another Liberal leader could still press the issue by sending Trudeau before the cameras or having Stephane Dion write an open letter to Pauline Marois. Hell, I think we know Stephane will be doing that, regardless of whatever the next Liberal leader wants.

    And yes, no one seriously expects there to be a referendum call during Marois’ term as Premier. But what if she tries to forge ahead with some of her controversial religious and linguistic policies? That sounds to me like a great opportunity for a party looking to reclaim its position as the defender of minority rights to take a firm stand – even if it means alienating a few xenophobic pequistes.


    The Conservatives

    There was a time when Stephen Harper would shower Jean Charest with compliments at every press conference, but the love has faded from their relationship in recent years. Indeed, it’s not hard to imagine Stephen Harper secretly rooting for a PQ victory last week. A Marois minority was likely his best-case outcome, politically speaking.

    After all, it’s not like Stephen Harper has made a name for himself building consensus between the federal government and the provinces. For a man who is rarely seen smiling with the Premiers, a good enemy is more valuable than a shaky ally. And what a foil Marois is! This isn’t a “charming separatist” in the mould of Lucien Bouchard or Gilles Duceppe – outside Quebec, she is seen as destructive, closed-minded, and hateful. It’s a lot easier to say “non” to Pauline Marois than to “Captain Canada”, Jean Charest.

    Conflict with a PQ government is inevitable, and Harper can score points outside Quebec by standing up to Marois. However, unlike Trudeau or Chretien, the threat of a referendum does not hang over Harper’s head, minimizing the risk of a tough position.

    And it’s not like Harper has a lot to lose. Unlike…


    The NDP

    Thomas Mulcair is in a delicate position. Many of the people who elected his Quebec MPs justed voted in Pauline Marois – but the people who elected his other MPs are not fans of hers. Don’t expect Mulcair to be rushing to the microphones the next time Marois says something controversial.

    Further muddying the waters are Mulcair’s musings about starting a provincial NDP in Quebec. While this might help the NDP organizationally, it could box them into positions they’d rather not take. It’s one thing to go by Thomas in Quebec and Tom elsewhere – on policy, Mulcair is going to get burned on any inconsistencies.

    The Liberals rightly recognize that national unity is an area where they can score points vis-a-vis the Dippers. They’ve already tried to smoke the NDP out by musing about a motion re-affirming support for the Clarity Act. Expect more of that as Marois pushes national unity front and centre. The NDP may have gotten a free ride on the Sherbrooke Declaration when Jean Charest was Premier and they were the third party in the house, but the level of scrutiny will be higher for a government-in-waiting, with the separatists in power.

    Mulcair is going to have to defend positions that may not be popular in the rest of Canada. Bonne chance!

    Jean Charest Exits on Top

    Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Quebec Politics | 15 Comments

    The headlines haven’t been kind to the outgoing Premier this morning: Jean Charest’s luck finally runs out, Charest’s Gamble Costs Liberals, Charest Has Only Himself To Blame For Quebec Election Defeat. I suspect many of these post-mortems were written before the votes rolled in last night, because the end result tells a far different tale – the Liberals finished within 1 percentage point and 4 seats of the PQ.

    This wasn’t simply a case of “sauver les meubles” – a few votes here and there, and the Liberals could have pulled it off. Had Charest held his own riding, we’d be speculating about him trying to cut a deal with the CAQ to stay on as Premier. That he came so close is remarkable, and not just because most polls and seat projections had the Liberals going down in flames.

    The reality is, few governments are given a fourth term – especially governments at the center of a public inquiry into corruption. The conditions were ripe for a crushing PQ victory, or for the CAQ to relegate the Liberals to third party status. Instead, Charest has left his party well positioned for a return to power in a few years, should be PQ flounder. Admitedly, the Charbonneau inquiry could taint the Liberals, but by punishing Charest yesterday, the electorate might be more willing to give his successor a clean slate.

    I won’t pretend Charest’s record as Premier is spotless. On most issues, he’s been a disappointment, and he leaves the province in a financial mess. However, he was drafted as PLQ leader with a mission statement to “save Canada” and, on that score, he fullfilled his mandate. The proof of this is that the PQ victory that swept him out of office has been met not with the usual national panic, but with a giant shrug. A CROP poll last week showed support for separation at 28%, and Marois doesn’t have the votes in the House or in the streets to call a referendum.

    While Charest lost the election and lost his seat last night, he still exits a winner, having secured his legacy.

    Quebec Votes

    Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Quebec Politics | 4 Comments

    Pauline Marois, perhaps Quebec’s first female Premier, tells a young girl that she too could one day run for office…assuming she speaks French, of course.

    The polls have closed across the Nation of Quebec.

    The campaign started as a truly unpredictable three-way race. It wasn’t hard to imagine a scenario where Jean Charest ran against the students and won. Francois Legault offered a real alternative to Quebecers who were sick of the traditional parties who have offered Quebecers nothing but referendums, corruption, and bad government for as long as many can remember.

    In the end, Pauline Marois appears set to stumble over the finish line. Most projections have the PQ on the brink of a majority, so it’s possible a few hundred votes could decide whether or not Marois has carte blanche to implement the most extreme elements of her platform and call another referendum…or if she’ll be punted in favour of a CAQ-Liberal coalition. Hell, with some polls showing her lead at a mere 4-5 points, the spectre of another “Alberta Surprise” should not be discounted.

    I’ll be providing updates below throughout the evening.


    8:21 pm: PQ lead with 20 seats, followed by the Liberals at 14 and the CAQ at 9. But the popular vote is close for all three parties, and only one of those 20 PQ seats is in a riding they didn’t win last time.

    8:28 pm: And the Liberals pull ahead 26-21, with Charest up by 2 votes. I think we can all agree this is the David Bertschi bump!

    8:41 pm: Neck and neck – safe to say, we’re heading for a minority…potentially one where the PQ win the most seats, but lose the popular vote. It might be up to Legault to play kingmaker.

    9:02 pm: PQ will take it, as Marois becomes the first female Premier in Quebec history. The Charest Liberals become the first incumbent government in Canada to be defeated since the Shawn Graham Liberals went down two years ago.

    9:44 pm: Looking at the west end of Montreal, it’s abundantly clear the anglos stayed loyal to the Liberals.

    10:09 pm: There are still a few ridings left to call, but the PQ + QS total will be less than a majority, which means Marois’ more extreme policies are off the table. That may actually be good news for her, the same way a minority government let Harper placate his far right base. Charest appears to be heading to defeat in Sherbrooke, but he leaves his party in far better shape than most projected. I’ll follow up with a full post-game analysis tomorrow morning, but the good news is the disaster scenario has been averted.

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