Alberta’s politics have inevitably become more diverse: Hébert

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On the eve of the Alberta election, the national media finally notices that Alberta has changed.

The above charts from my forthcoming book, Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote, highlight this change from a diversity angle, with Alberta having overtaken Quebec as Canada’s third most diverse province, with strong visible minority representation in healthcare, social services, universities, and provincial government public administration.

Chantal Hébert on the change:

As Alberta goes provincially on Tuesday, it will not automatically go federally. The dynamics of the two back-to-back campaigns are strikingly different.

But over the longer term it would be unwise for the federal Conservatives to bet that their virtual monopoly on Canada’s fourth largest province is immune to the tectonic shift that may see the NDP in power in Edmonton after next week.

In the big picture, it was actually only a matter of time before Alberta’s politics became more diverse.

Sooner or later, the changing demographics of the province were bound to impact on its voting patterns.

Its population has been growing faster than the Canadian average. Its median age (37) is the lowest of the four big provinces.

There is not a poll that does not show that the younger the electorate the better the NDP, the Liberals and the Greens fare versus the Conservatives.

The emergence of the NDP as the leading candidate for provincial government is the biggest crack to date in the monolithic facade of Alberta, but it is not the first one.

That was preceded in 2010 by the election in Calgary in 2010 of Naheed Nenshi, a mayoral candidate who was an outsider to the city’s power circles.

Then there was the taking of an Edmonton riding a year later by NDP MP Linda Duncan with more than 50 per cent of the vote cast and, a year after that, the rise to a close second place of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in a 2012 Calgary byelection. (In that vote the Green Party came a respectable third with 25 per cent support.)

Even more recently the Trudeau Liberals won 35 per cent of the vote in Fort McMurray — the riding that current Wildrose Leader Brian Jean used to hold during his eight years as a Harper MP.

To predict that Alberta will increasingly take on shades other than blue is not to predict the demise of the federal Conservative party but it is to foresee an ultimately healthier federal political environment.

A more diverse Alberta voice at the national level would be a positive development both for the province and for Canada’s political life.

Alberta’s politics have inevitably become more diverse: Hébert | Toronto Star.

Supreme Court rules against prayer at city council meetings and selected commentary

Lot’s of coverage of the SCC decision on regarding prayer city council meetings, starting with the basics:

In 2008, city officials initially changed the prayer to one it deemed more neutral and delayed the opening of council by two minutes to allow citizens a window to return follow the reciting.

The Supreme Court said Canadian society has evolved and given rise to a “concept of neutrality according to which the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs.”

“The state must instead remain neutral in this regard,” the judgment said.

“This neutrality requires that the state neither favour nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non-belief. It requires that the state abstain from taking any position and thus avoid adhering to a particular belief.

“When all is said and done, the state’s duty to protect every person’s freedom of conscience and religion means that it may not use its powers in such a way as to promote the participation of certain believers or non-believers in public life to the detriment of others.”

The City of Ottawa quickly reacts with a sensible approach: a minute of silence and reflection:

In Ottawa, Mayor Jim Watson replaced the prayer with a moment of silence — even though he said the prayer councillors have been reciting for years was non-denominational.

“I always thought that our prayer was very respectful of all religions and cultures. But the court has ruled and we’ll take the ruling seriously. The alternative I believe would make some sense is to offer, as we did today, a moment of personal reflection and people can pray themselves personally and privately,” Watson said.

Supreme Court rules against prayer at city council meetings – Montreal – CBC News.

Best commentary seen to date:

The Court didn’t bite. It lacked evidence of the circumstances and purpose of the Commons prayer, Justice Gascon argued, and besides, it might be covered by parliamentary privilege. That might save it from the judiciary; it shouldn’t save it from Canadians’ scrutiny. While Maurice Duplessis’ crucifix still looms over the speaker’s chair in Quebec City, the National Assembly abandoned its introductory prayer nearly 40 years ago in favour of a moment of reflection — one in which members and others can gather courage and inspiration from whichever sources, earthly or otherwise, they choose. That’s an idea worth reflecting on.

National Post Editorial: The separation of prayer and council

But perhaps the part of the judgment that will be read most carefully by justice officials and their political masters is the section that spells out that a neutral public space is not one that obliterates religious diversity.

In paragraph 74 of the judgment, and almost as an aside from its core narrative, Justice Clément Gascon writes: “I note that a neutral public space does not mean the homogenization of private players in that space. Neutrality is required of institutions and the state, not individuals.”

He adds for good measure: “. . . a secular state does not — and cannot — interfere with the beliefs or practices of a religious group unless they conflict with or harm overriding public interests.”

That amounts to a red light flashing in the face of any government contemplating — as Quebec recently did — the imposition of a secular dress code on its public sector employees.

It also suggests that the federal government, should it want the court to give its ban on face-covering niqabs at citizenship oath ceremonies a green light, may have to come up with a pretty compelling demonstration of the “overriding public interest” served by such a measure.

Canadian legislators will have to pay attention to Supreme Court’s prayer ruling: Hébert

Pierre Karl Péladeau fait volte-face et s’excuse

Once the cat is out of the bag…

Les mots ont un sens. Les mots ont un poids. Le favori de la course à la direction du Parti québécois, Pierre Karl Péladeau, a reconnu jeudi soir avoir eu tort de présenter l’immigration comme un obstacle sur le chemin du pays du Québec.

Le PQ doit « rassembler le plus large possible », a fait valoir M. Péladeau lors d’une causerie entre les cinq prétendants à la succession de Pauline Marois et des militants péquistes de la région du Centre-du-Québec.

En route vers le motel Blanchet à Drummondville, le député de Saint-Jérôme a mis en ligne sur sa page Facebook un message intitulé « Mes excuses ». « Ça m’apparaissait important de chasser l’ambiguïté parce qu’il faut que ce soit clair, net et précis : […] ceux et celles qui ont décidé de venir s’installer ici au Québec, c’est une richesse pour le Québec », a-t-il répété une fois arrivé à destination.

… Les propos tenus par M. Péladeau mercredi soir attestent de la « déviation claire vers le nationalisme ethnique » prise par le PQ, estime le premier ministre Philippe Couillard. « Depuis la charte, il y a une dérive très malheureuse. Il n’y a plus d’arguments financiers [et] économiques pour la séparation du Québec. Alors, on essaie de s’accrocher à n’importe quoi », a déclaré le chef du gouvernement à l’entrée du caucus libéral. « D’après moi [cela] doit faire frémir ceux qui ont fondé ce parti-là. »

De son côté, le ministre Gaétan Barrette a reproché au PQ d’importer l’idéologie du Front national, parti d’extrême droite français, en sol québécois. « Le Parti québécois est en train de montrer son vrai visage. C’est un parti sectaire », a-t-il lancé.

Pierre Karl Péladeau fait volte-face et s’excuse | Le Devoir.

And Chantal Hébert’s commentary on the PQ leadership campaign:

PQ blind spot keeps Pierre Karl Péladeau the party favourite: Hébert

Parti québécois : l’aveuglement volontaire – Hébert

Chantal Hébert on the PQ remaining in denial mode:

Pendant que les ténors du PQ s’entêtaient — sur deux décennies — à vouloir prendre un non pour un peut-être, la majorité des Québécois sont passés à autre chose. Les résultats de l’élection en témoignent : l’écart entre le désir des uns et la réalité des autres est sans précédent.

Depuis le 7 avril, bien des militants souverainistes se consolent en se souvenant que la situation semblait aussi désespérée au moment de la signature de l’accord du lac Meech, en 1987. À l’époque, l’avenir de la souveraineté semblait compromis à tout jamais par la négociation d’un projet de réconciliation constitutionnelle entre le Québec et le Canada. De plus, le gouvernement fédéral de l’époque était dirigé par un Québécois, le progressiste-conservateur Brian Mulroney, disposé à favoriser le retour de sa province dans le giron fédéraliste en faisant une large place à ses compatriotes nationalistes dans la direction des affaires à Ottawa. Trois ans plus tard, l’échec spectaculaire de Meech avait plutôt donné un souffle inespéré à l’option souverainiste.

Les circonstances sont radicalement différentes aujourd’hui. Au bout du vote fédéraliste du 7 avril, il n’y avait aucune carotte constitutionnelle. Pendant la campagne électorale, personne à Ottawa — pas même les rares Québécois qui sont dans les coulisses conservatrices du pouvoir — n’a fait miroiter de grandes perspectives de changement. Le gouvernement libéral majoritaire de Philippe Couillard a été élu sans l’obligation d’obtenir des résultats sur le front des relations Québec-Canada.

Cette fois-ci, le reste du Canada ne viendra pas à la rescousse du Parti québécois.

Parti québécois : l’aveuglement volontaire – L’actualité.

Quebec Election – Initial Reactions

Quite an evening last night, watching the QC election results. Apart from the famous Peladeau raised fist for independence miscalculation, this election hopefully marks the end of divisive identity politics as exemplified in the QC Charter of Values. The gambit clearly did not work in combination with the referendum uncertainty and even Premier Marois’ overall gracious concession speech still played to les Québécois de souche, rather than the more inclusive messages of Couillard and Legault.

Clearly, the PQ needs a period of serious internal reflection and introspection. The leading candidates to replace former Premier Marois will need to get over their Kubler-Ross denial phase quickly (Drainville, Lisée and Peladeau were awful last night preaching to the shrunken PQ base) and it will be interesting to see the how the relative positions of the PQ and the CAQ evolved over the next few years.

I would not go so far as Andrew Coyne or Chantal Hébert as saying the PQ’s raison d’être of independence is completely dead, but it certainly would appear to be on life support.

From Le Devoir, a few articles on the magnitude of the PQ defeat:

À son premier test électoral, le chef libéral a fait des gains dans presque toutes les régions du Québec. Il a peint en rouge toute la ville de Laval et a arraché deux circonscriptions au PQ sur l’île de Montréal, en plus de remporter des sièges dans le Centre-du-Québec et dans la région de Québec, notamment. Le Dr Gaétan Barrette, candidat vedette parachuté contre l’indépendante Fatima Houda-Pepin, a facilement remporté la circonscription de La Pinière, sur la Rive-Sud.

Philippe Couillard met le PQ K.-O.

Avant même que ne commence le dévoilement des votes dans les circonscriptions, plusieurs membres du personnel péquiste concédaient la victoire au Parti libéral. Un consensus se dégageait : la campagne menée par Pauline Marois avait été désastreuse et on se promettait un bilan aussi exhaustif que sévère. Une majorité d’entre eux espéraient à tout le moins une défaite honorable, mais jamais les stratèges, appuyés par des sondages quotidiens faits selon les règles de l’art, n’avaient prévu pareille dégelée.

Catastrophe au Parti québécois

More commentary on the significance of the elections will come in the next few days but for some of the initial commentary:

Au Parti québécois, cette défaite provoquera de douloureux questionnements. La formation fondée par René Lévesque devra remettre en question le virage identitaire pris au cours des dernières années, virage qui, pour des raisons strictement partisanes, a fait un tort considérable au Québec.

Encore plus difficile sera la réflexion sur la raison d’être du PQ, l’indépendance. Quel que soit l’aboutissement de cette introspection, les résultats d’hier devraient inciter les péquistes à abandonner la stratégie de l’équivoque au profit de celle de la clarté.

Les Québécois ont dit NON (André Pratte, La Presse)

And finally, who leads this decimated party? Because the knives are already out. Drainville, Lisée and Péladeau prefixed Marois’s farewell speech with what amounted to stump speeches. This pack of restless egos all come with their own baggage: Péladeau is a capitalist boogeyman who derailed the whole campaign by declaring his sovereignist credentials. Drainville designed and executed the whole charter gambit, then thoroughly bellyflopped. Lisée went along with both, because he thought Péladeau and the charter was the one-two punch that, to paraphrase the title of his own book, would deliver a K.O. to the opposition.

Macleans. (Martin Patriquin)

It is impossible to overstate what a watershed this is. For thirty years after the Quiet Revolution, Quebecers were told the choice before them was either special status, under whatever name, or separation. At times the two were so blurred in definition that each could be made out to be the other. But what was clear was that they weren’t the status quo. They were better, in all sorts of fantastic ways….

But in the years since then, and in particular since the Secession Reference and the Clarity Act, it has slowly been dawning on Quebecers: neither of these choices is actually available. The choice is the status quo or the status quo. The rest of Canada is simply unwilling to make any more constitutional concessions, and wouldn’t be able to deliver them if it did, so tied up in knots has the constitutional amending formula become. Ditto separation: even if the rest of Canada tried to be helpful, the negotiations would go nowhere.

And as that realization has begun to sunk in, another, equally startling, has begun to take hold: The status quo is not so bad. We are not oppressed. We are not impoverished. We are not miserable. As Mr. Couillard said during the campaign, “we are happy in Canada.” What a revelation!

Quebecers have not only just said no to separation, but yes to the 1982 Constitution (Andrew Coyne)

Over the past month, that self-imposed tone-deafness has led to a campaign of false notes, from the second-coming atmosphere that attended the recruitment of media mogul Pierre Karl Péladeau as a star candidate, to Marois’s end-of-campaign mea culpa that she spent too much time entertaining the twin notions of sovereignty and a winning referendum.

One of the PQ’s worst fears has long been that it would turn out to be the party of a single generation.

Over their short time in office, Marois and her team have done much to turn that fear into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It has long been apparent that the so-called secularism charter that has been the signature initiative of the outgoing government repelled more young Quebecers than it attracted to the secessionist cause.

For the first time in its history, the PQ is more popular among older voters aged 55 and over than among any other age group.

Parti Québécois could be party of a single generation:  Chantal Hébert

Expect Pauline Marois to seek sovereignty diversion: Hébert | Toronto Star

While Hébert’s assessment may change somewhat after the leader debates, a good assessment of the PQ’s electoral strategy:

And so the word is that Marois will seek salvation in a diversion.

Over the remaining two weeks of the campaign, the PQ is expected to go harder on its plan for a secularism charter. The project is as polarizing as the notion of a referendum but in a positive sense for the sovereigntist party.

It remains to be seen whether enough voters will decide that their support for the charter outweighs their opposition to another referendum to reverse the momentum of the campaign in the PQ’s favour.

According to CROP, the charter is a priority for only a fraction of its supporters. And fatigue with that debate is even more prevalent among Quebecers than fatigue with the referendum issue. Still, from the PQ’s electoral perspective, a tired horse is better than a lame horse.

Expect Pauline Marois to seek sovereignty diversion: Hébert | Toronto Star.

Further illustration of charter strategy seen in Minister Drainville’s most recent comments,  and making the plea for majority government:

Only way to save charter is through majority government: PQ

Drainville is also playing on the fears of the niqab/burka, and extending the Charter to include students, not just teachers and professors, relying on anecdotes of a few students at Concordia  (the exchange with the reporter is worth reading). I do find the niqab/burka in Western countries symbolizes rejection of integration, in contrast to kippas, turbans, hijabs, crucifixes etc.:

Ban the burka for students, Parti Québécois says

Quebec Values Charter and Elections

More catching up, starting with the polling numbers:

http://www.lapresse.ca/actualites/dossiers/charte-de-la-laicite/201403/03/01-4744020-lappui-a-la-charte-est-maintenant-majoritaire.php

Continuing with running on the Charter, confirming identity politics rather than substance:

http://www.lapresse.ca/actualites/politique/politique-quebecoise/201403/04/01-4744656-marois-veut-une-majorite-pour-adopter-la-charte.php

No surprise that allophones and anglophones see the Charter primarily targeting Muslim women:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/most-anglos-allophones-say-secular-values-charter-targets-muslim-women-1.2558409?cmp=rss

A rare declaration of principle from the a senior staffer in Jean-Francois Lisée’s office:

http://www.lapresse.ca/actualites/politique/politique-quebecoise/201403/04/01-4744694-lisee-perd-sa-directrice-de-cabinet-adjointe-a-cause-de-la-charte.php

A wide range of commentary on the elections, and have selected only a few. From the Globe, Antonia Maioni’s fatalistic prediction, The PQ’s appeal is locked in, a more nuanced assessment by Chantal Hébert, Quebec election not a foregone conclusion, and Daniel Weinstock’s longer-term perspective, Québec at a Crossroads

Following the announcement of Pierre Karl Peladeau, the owner of Quebecor, Quebec’s media conglomerate, that he will run as a PQ candidate, lot’s of commentary and speculation what this means in the short and long-term. Summary by Chris Selley in the National Post provides a good sense of reactions, Full Pundit: Will Péladeaumania cure Marois malaise? Makes it clear sovereignty is on the agenda despite Maurois’s calculated ambiguity.

Lastly, a reminder that the election call meant the end of Parliamentary hearings on the proposed Charter, including this good brief from the Montreal Holocaust Centre, which has done good work in engaging the diverse communities in Montreal on Holocaust and intolerance issues:

http://www.montrealgazette.com/touch/story.html?id=9593693

PQ hits rough patch in secularism charter debate: Hébert and other commentary

Chantal Hébert on the Charter, and the impact of the brief by the Quebec Bar shredding the bill:

By all indications the PQ’s instinct is to continue to dismiss out of hand warnings that it is leading Quebec into a rights quagmire. But the evidence is that those warnings will not go away. The risk to the government is that as the debate drags on they may reverse the pro-charter momentum.

According to a Léger Marketing poll published by the Gazette this week, even as a majority of francophones support the PQ initiative, 54 per cent of them would like to have its constitutionality tested. And that was before the bar association came out swinging.

The pre-election walk in the park that the government hoped for when it launched a winter of charter debate is off to a rocky start.

PQ hits rough patch in secularism charter debate: Hébert | Toronto Star.

Don MacPherson of The Gazette on the PQ strategy:

Some voters might grow impatient with a party that seems preoccupied with a measure that they like, but which is not among their priorities.

They might conclude that the PQ is disconnected from them, and even that it is deliberately trying to distract them from other, more important issues.

No political strategy is risk-free, however, and the ban remains the PQ’s strongest plank for the next election. So the last thing it wants is for the CAQ to do what Drainville said he wants it to do.

www.montrealgazette.com/touch/story.html?id=9400570

Alain Dubuc in La Presse notes the difference between Francophone support for the Charter en principe, and the practical implementation implications (letting go government employees who do not comply with the Charter):

Sans vouloir caricaturer les partisans de cette charte, on a pu noter qu’on y retrouve un grand nombre de Québécois francophones vivant hors des grands centres urbains, encore attachés au catholicisme, qui manifestent une certaine crainte de l’immigration, encore plus quand elle est musulmane. C’est cette clientèle qui transforme ce débat en enjeu électoral. Le Parti québécois a misé, avec succès, sur un trait de caractère de la société québécoise francophone, minoritaire et très sensible à ce qu’elle perçoit comme des menaces à son identité.

Mais dans ce débat, il faut tenir compte d’un autre trait de l’âme canadienne-française: une société conviviale, peu violente, qui privilégie l’harmonie collective et la gentillesse dans les rapports interpersonnels. Il y a ici extrêmement peu de manifestations de racisme violent, pas de Ernst Zundel, pas de Front national, pas de Dieudonné, pas de Tea Party.

Ce trait de caractère, le dernier sondage Léger Marketing le mesure bien en demandant si un employé du public refusant de retirer un symbole religieux devrait perdre son emploi. À peine 35% des Québécois croient que oui et 51% s’y opposent. Chez les francophones, 40% sont faveur du congédiement et 49% sont contre.

L’arme de la gentillesse

Quebec government embraces Stephen Harper’s approach to governance: Hébert | Toronto Star

A good post by Chantal Hébert, in The Toronto Star, picking up on how the bad habits and practices of the Conservative government have been picked up by Ontario, BC, and now QC governments. A government version of Gresham’s Law (“bad money drives out good”). Some of the same themes as in my book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism.

Quebec government embraces Stephen Harper’s approach to governance: Hébert | Toronto Star.

Quebec Values Charter – Some Articles

Best commentary and analysis of the day from Chantal Hébert of The Star, trying to understand why Premier Marois engaged in such a risky strategy:

Moreover, the premier’s contributions to the debate so far — starting with the clumsy suggestion that multiculturalism is at the root cause of domestic terrorism in the United Kingdom, and the ill-informed assertion that France’s rigid secular system is a great model — suggest that her views on a diverse society may be shaped by impressions rather than evidence-based knowledge.

For the record, that view — as it is put forward — is strikingly less cosmopolitan than those of better-travelled predecessors such as René Lévesque, Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard.

At the end of the day, the motivations that drove Marois to lead the PQ across a Rubicon that distances it from the civic nationalism that it has always promoted in the past probably involves a mix of calculation, conviction and willful ignorance. But the combination, under any of its variations, does not add up to a compelling portrait.

Hébert: What motivated Pauline Marois to take such a risk?

First comment by Prime Minister Harper on the Quebec proposed Charter. Focus is on likelihood, rather than principles, compared to other federal leaders (but Minister Kenney has been dealing with those).

Quebec’s charter of values will fail, PM Harper predicts – Politics – CBC News.

Margaret Wente makes her usual generalizations but I think captures the political dynamic well in:

 Ms. Marois lays an egg 

And Warren Kinsella in The Sun provides credit to the federal politicians who have spoken out forcefully on the proposed Charter, where all three major parties have been consistent and clear:

The best of Canada, the worst of the PQ