Macpherson: Quebec’s Fox News, only bigger

Of note, and the consequent implications:

For their shrill populism, the Québecor media have been called Quebec’s Fox News. But in terms of their influence on this province’s politics, they’re much bigger than that.

Last weekend, in the annual Quebec journalism awards, Québecor’s newspapers, television channels and digital media were shut out.

But its flagship daily Le Journal de Montréal boasted of survey results suggesting that on all platforms, the three Québecor dailies were read at least once a week by more than half of Quebecers over the age of 14.

And Québecor’s TVA network bragged that its newscasts and LCN all-news channel led the television ratings in their respective categories.

This market domination by the Québecor media, and their resulting influence on public opinion, help explain poll results published this week suggesting that Quebec is the only province where a majority supports legislation like Bill 21.

The Legault government’s proposed anti-hijab-and-kippah-and-turban bill is supposed to settle, after more than a decade, the issue of accommodating minority religions. As the Bouchard-Taylor provincial commission on the subject reported in 2008, that issue was largely created by sensationalist and often inaccurate reporting by Québecor. And it’s mainly Québecor that has kept the issue alive.

In December 2017, TVA reported that a Montreal mosque had female construction workers removed from a work site outside during Friday prayers. The report was quickly debunked, but it wasn’t until a year later that TVA grudgingly admitted it was false and apologized.

Instead of editorials, Québecor’s dailies have columnists who circulate among its “convergent” platforms defending the supremacy of what one of them, Mathieu Bock-Côté, calls Quebec’s “historic French-speaking majority” — that is, ethnic French-Canadians — against the province’s minorities and other enemies of the true people.

Last January, another Le Journal columnist, Denise Bombardier, called minorities who complain of their treatment in the province “enemies … of French-speaking Quebec.” And she issued a call to “extinguish these hotbeds of intolerance,” even though she acknowledged it might be used by the “hotheaded and violently prejudiced.”

Le Journal’s columnists have clout. The non-binding 2017 National Assembly motion against the public use of English, in the form of the bilingual “bonjour-hi” greeting in businesses, resulted from a campaign spearheaded by one of them, Sophie Durocher.

Another, Richard Martineau, is obsessed with “Islamism” and has been accused of Islamophobia, which he denies.

In 2017, TVA’s rival Radio-Canada reported that in the previous 10 years, Martineau had written about 700 columns directly or indirectly concerning Islam.

A UQAM sociologist, Rachad Antonius, told Radio-Canada he had concluded from a study of Le Journal’s news coverage and columns on Islam that their cumulative effect fostered distrust of Muslims.

But if “Islamists” are a Martineau dog whistle, they may not be his only one. A cheerleader for Bill 21, he predicted that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will come under pressure to challenge the legislation from “followers of multiculturalism who live in Hampstead or Côte-Saint-Luc,” Montreal suburbs widely identified with their Jewish residents.

Québecor’s domination of the marketplace puts pressure on other media to follow its lead, in both news coverage and opinion. And its position may get even stronger, as its competitors get weaker.

The same day that Le Journal boasted of its readership, its main competitor, La Presse, published another plea for reader donations.

From 250,000 paying subscribers when it was still charging for its journalism, the number of its financial supporters willing to donate money to keep reading La Presse has shrunk to a total of 23,500 donors for the past four months.

This was after Le Journal reported last week that La Presse and another of Québecor’s competitor, Quebec City’s daily Le Soleil, are in serious financial trouble, and have asked the Legault government for help.

It said the government is “particularly pessimistic” about the future of Capitales Médias, which owns Le Soleil and five small regional dailies. And it said that, despite La Presse’s campaign to raise $5 million in donations, it could be broke within a year.

Source: Macpherson: Quebec’s Fox News, only bigger

Don Macpherson: The Couillard government’s anti-niqab bill gets worse 

Good pointed commentary:

Batman will not sit in the Quebec National Assembly.

This would be the effect of one of the amendments to the Couillard government’s proposed anti-niqab legislation announced this week. Bill 62, targeting Muslim women who wear facial veils, would ban giving or receiving public services with the face concealed. The amendment would extend the ban to MNAs, municipal councillors and school commissioners.

That Quebecers would choose a masked candidate to represent them is almost as hypothetical as the fictional cowled crusader leaving Gotham City for this province, acquiring citizenship, and running for office here on his record as a crimefighter. But then so was the possibility of a niqabi seeking employment in a public service.

Still, one can’t be too careful. That appears to be the thinking of the “bare-face” bill’s sponsor, Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée, to the extent she has thought about the bill at all.

Another of her proposed amendments would extend the original ban from the provincial public services to municipal ones, and to public transit. When a reporter asked Vallée the reasonable question of whether this would stop a woman wearing a veil from taking the bus, the minister was unwilling, or perhaps unable, to answer.

Her amendments would make what was already a bad bill even worse.

Bill 62 stigmatizes the tiny number of Muslim women in Quebec who wear facial veils. It encourages their persecution, like the harassment of women wearing Muslim head scarves during the debate on the former Parti Québécois government’s ill-fated “charter of values.”

It would enshrine in legislation the hypocrisy of Quebec’s “Catho-laïcité,” or Catho-secularism. One of Vallée’s amendments pretends that Quebec’s public institutions are founded on the separation of church and state, while the bill would preserve the crucifix placed in the Assembly to symbolize an alliance between the two.

The government pretends that the ban on face coverings in general does not discriminate on religious grounds. But its intent is given away by the fact that the ban is contained in a bill to restrict religious accommodations.

And the bill is useless, not only because it addresses imaginary problems, but also because its guidelines for handling accommodation requests are so general.

Not only is the bill bad policy, it’s bad politics, another demonstration of the sheer political stupidity of the Couillard Liberals.

It won’t achieve its political objective of settling the accommodations issue once and for all before the general election due by October 2018. The Liberals’ relatively feeble entry in the competition to defend the majority against the undesirables in their midst doesn’t go nearly far enough to satisfy the nationalist opposition parties.

It is nevertheless useful to them. Since it was presented by Quebec’s most diverse and least nationalist party, it gives political legitimacy to the restriction of minority rights.

Bill 62 is the Couillard government’s version of Bill 22, adopted in 1974 by Robert Bourassa’s Liberal government. As the first Quebec legislation restricting minority language rights, Bill 22 enabled the succeeding PQ government’s more draconian Bill 101.

Originally, Premier Philippe Couillard intended to get the accommodations debate over with at the beginning of his term. Instead, his government squandered its time, and begins the pre-election year fighting on ground favouring its adversaries.

Couillard continues to entrust that fight to a minister who has already shown she’s not up to it. Listening to Vallée’s poorly prepared news conference on her amendments this week was like watching somebody juggling blindfolded with running chainsaws.

The PQ and the Coalition Avenir Québec party, vying for position as the leading alternative to the Liberals in the election, can be expected to prolong the debate on the bill in the Assembly as much as possible.

And on his other side, Couillard was forced to back Vallée against Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, who indicated the province’s metropolis will defy her legislation.

Source: Don Macpherson: The Couillard government’s anti-niqab bill gets worse | Montreal Gazette

Don Macpherson: Tweeting a revival of identity politics in Quebec


It’s become apparent in the PQ leadership campaign. When the PQ is not in a position to achieve its founding objective of Quebec independence, it usually falls back on its strongest issue, the defence of the identity of French-speaking Quebecers.

In the PQ campaign, Jean-François Lisée moved quickly to lay claim to that issue by proposing policies on identity and official secularism.

The former promotes a one-way “cultural concordance” requiring newcomers to adapt to the French-speaking majority, while the latter would allow public bodies to discriminate in hiring new employees against job-seekers wearing religious symbols such as the Muslim hijab.

When Alexandre Cloutier, believed to be the front-runner in the PQ race, tweeted best wishes to Quebec Muslims at the end of the Ramadan fast, Lisée saw an opportunity to portray Cloutier as soft on secularism and, by extension, identity.

Lisée responded with a tweet of his own, criticizing Cloutier for marking a religious holiday. When Cloutier pointed out that Lisée himself has tweeted Christmas and Easter wishes, the latter replied that those are statutory holidays. But that’s because they were originally religious holidays of the majority.

And Lisée followed up with a blog post linking Cloutier with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his “multiculturalism,” both of which are anathema to PQ members.

Halfway through the PQ leadership campaign, which concludes Oct. 7, Lisée appears to have outflanked the other four candidates on identity, and his efforts to establish himself as the “identity candidate” may be paying off.

Lisée is willing to “take on the identity questions,” well-known nationalist historian Éric Bédard, a promoter of the “charter of values,” told La Presse.

And while PQ leadership candidates tweetfight over the identity issue, yet another tweet signals that the Coalition Avenir Québec party is competing for it with the PQ.

Tweeted by a pro-CAQ account, it drew attention to a newspaper report on a campaign-like summer tour of key ridings by Coalition leader François Legault, which began this week.

The theme of the tour is “Debout pour le Québec”—Standing Up for Quebec. Legault said identity will be a major issue in the tour. And he said that when the National Assembly resumes sitting next month, the CAQ will press the governing Liberals to keep their election promise to pass legislation limiting religious accommodations.

This follows Legault’s announcement last November of a new strategy of competing with the PQ for nationalist votes on issues including language and immigration.

“With what’s been happening in recent years in Quebec,” Legault told L’actualité magazine this year, “immigration has become an issue almost as important as language.”

It’s not only in Quebec. The Brexit vote in Great Britain and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in the United States show the potential power of the immigration issue.

And in Quebec, with two years remaining until the next general election is due, the competition among politicians over identity has time to escalate.

Source: Don Macpherson: Tweeting a revival of identity politics in Quebec | Montreal Gazette

Quebecers can thank comics for the demise of ‘hate speech’ measures: Macpherson

Don Macpherson on the reasons for the demise of the hate speech provisions of Bill 59:

To begin with, the hate-speech provisions were unnecessary. “Hate propaganda” is already an offence under the federal Criminal Code.

Nevertheless, legislating for the sake of legislating, Bill 59 would have created a new offence of hate speech. And it would have turned the Quebec human-rights commission, which is supposed to protect fundamental freedoms, into a “speech police.”

Anyone it charged with hate speech would have been liable, if found guilty by the province’s human-rights tribunal, to a fine of up to $10,000 for a first offence.

But while a conviction under the Criminal Code requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, Bill 59 contained no such standard.

And while much has been said about how Bill 59 could have had a chilling effect on criticism of religions in Quebec, what has received less attention is that it could have had a similar effect on political debate.

For unlike the Criminal Code, Bill 59 would have specifically defended political groups against so-called hate speech.

This would have been a boon to the Quebec nationalists who have complained that any but the mildest criticism of them and their movement, especially by English-language commentators, amounts to “francophobia.”

Bill 59 would have armed them with a weapon with which to harass their critics by constantly filing new complaints, the way Bill 101 hobbyists do for petty violations of obscure rules on the language of restaurant menus.

Not much public attention was paid to Bill 59, however, until the comics’ protest on a televised comedy awards show two weeks ago.

The protesters didn’t mention Bill 59. And while they pretended to be court jesters using humour to speak truth to power, their actual, somewhat less noble cause was their own freedom to continue to cruelly mock a physically deformed adolescent.

But the protest did make freedom of expression suddenly fashionable in Quebec.

Amid the uproar over the protest, a timely oped article in Quebec newspapers on the more serious issue of Bill 59 led to a re-discovery of it by editorialists and columnists. An editorial in Le Devoir expressed fear that “religious and minority groups” could use the legislation to “muzzle” journalists as well as comics.

A consensus against the bill quickly emerged, isolating the Liberal government. The PQ, citing the “censorship” of the comics, called for the bill’s withdrawal.

Unwilling to use closure to cut off debate and force the adoption of what had suddenly become an unpopular bill, the justice minister withdrew the provisions on hate speech, in a tacit admission that they were unnecessary in the first place.

The PQ claimed a victory. But it really belonged to the comics.

Source: Quebecers can thank comics for the demise of ‘hate speech’ measures | Montreal Gazette

Don Macpherson: Quebec’s unfunny comics have no right to an audience 


This year’s Oliviers awards show wasn’t the usual televised celebration of what some critics say is the overall mediocrity of Quebec humour. It was a protest rally against “censorship.”

There were stirring speeches by award presenters and winners. At one point, several comics dramatically mounted the stage, the lower half of their faces covered by dust masks with Xs in red tape on them, and stood in silence.

Were they demonstrating against the imprisonment and barbaric flogging by Saudi authorities of blogger Raif Badawi, whose wife and three children have settled in Sherbrooke? Or in support of the brave comics in other countries who risk imprisonment by using humour to criticize repressive regimes?

Neither. They were defending their own claim to a right to a television audience for jokes like this:

“Do you know why Jews give gold IUDs to their wives? Because they love to get into their money.”

That’s one of the jokes in an early version of the script, published in Le Journal de Montréal, for a presentation of an award during the Oliviers by star comics Mike Ward and Guy Nantel.

The theme of the script was freedom of expression, and that joke was an example of the ones about minorities, unattractive people and other underdogs in society that supposedly are no longer allowed on television.

The video opening of the show made it clear who was to blame for this situation: humourless pressure groups, including minorities.

Ward and Nantel didn’t perform their number in the show. They pulled out after failing in several attempts to rewrite their script to satisfy a lawyer for the company insuring the show’s broadcaster, Radio-Canada, and its producer, the Quebec comedy industry professionals’ association, against the cost of possible legal action.

(Yes, comedy is an industry in Quebec, supplied by a publicly supported “national comedy school,” of which Ward and Nantel are graduates.)

So what the comics were protesting against was that somebody else refused to put their money where the comics’ mouths were.

And while asserting their own freedom of expression, the comics in the audience applauded when one award winner, Louis Morissette, demanded immunity for them from criticism. The thin-skinned Morissette lectured the public that it must shut up and tolerate offensive humour, or change the channel.

Amid the adolescent tantrum, a rare dissenting voice was that of another winner, Martin Matte. “Artists or communications people who drape themselves in freedom of expression to get away with low nastiness or words that incite hatred make me uncomfortable,” he said in accepting his award. “I don’t support that.”

Adults know that freedom of expression isn’t absolute. And there is no fundamental right to a television audience or, for that matter, a newspaper column (I know, I’ve checked all the charters).

In my business, we have an expression: “lawyering.” It means to have a lawyer for the people who pay the bills go over an article before it’s published to suggest how to avoid legal action afterward.

Anyway, the advent of the Internet has made censorship futile in societies that don’t block their citizens’ Internet access, as Ward and Nantel themselves proceeded to demonstrate.

Source: Don Macpherson: Quebec’s unfunny comics have no right to an audience | National Post

Quebec reopens its identity can of worms – Gagnon

Appropriately cutting commentary by Lysiane Gagnon:

What’s the link between an Islamist terrorist and a daycare worker who wears the hijab? Any sensible person would find the question utterly silly, but not Quebec’s radical secularists – and they’re at it again.

Here they are, shamelessly exploiting the terrorist attacks in Paris that left 12 dead three weeks ago, calling for a ban on religious symbols – as if such a ban was some sort of guarantee against potential terrorist attacks. (If it were, France wouldn’t have been targeted so often by home-grown terrorists, since it has the most stringent secular policies by far in the Western world.)

The blood of the Paris victims wasn’t even dry when Quebec’s radical secularists, led by the Parti Québécois opposition, began campaigning for some sort of revival of the secular charter that died when former premier Pauline Marois’s government was defeated after months of divisive and emotional debate.

The PQ, knowing full well that Premier Philippe Couillard is uncomfortable with identity politics, is pushing the government to pass legislation his Liberals promised, unwisely, before the election. The legislation, a much milder version of the PQ charter, would forbid public-sector employees to cover their faces (a non-existent problem) and set rules for “reasonable accommodations” between institutions and religious customers or employees (a problem that’s already been solved by local administrations).

Quebec reopens its identity can of worms – The Globe and Mail.

And Don Macpherson of the Gazette, on some of the internal PQ politics following Jean-François Lisée’s decision to pull out of the leadership race:

On sovereignty, Lisée said, the PQ had to “look the situation in the face.” It had to win the support of young people, who have “turned their backs on us,” and minorities, which “do not recognize themselves in us.” It had to accept the possibility that even with hard work, it might not win a mandate in the 2018 general election to hold a referendum.

The party had to “re-examine the contours of our project,” with a referendum process negotiated with the rest of Canada and “real independence,” with a Quebec currency as well as a Quebec citizenship. It had to end its “ambiguity on its identity” and show clearly that it is left-of-centre, environmentalist and humanist. It could no longer be against climate change and for developing shale oil.

And while the PQ continued to fight against the decline of French and for secularism, it had to have “a more open attitude” toward the English-speaking community and “a more active one” on the integration of immigrants.

But, Lisée said, there was no point in his going on; the election in May had already been decided, and Pierre Karl Péladeau had won. Lisée spoke with resignation and a trace of bitterness about the PQ wanting to “live its Pierre Karl Péladeau moment right to the end.” It was as if the PQ was infatuated with his rival for its affections, a passion against which Lisée was helpless and hopeless.

Don Macpherson: The PQ is determined to have its PK Peladeau moment

Les jeunes et la souveraineté: la génération «Non»

Pretty amazing poll regarding Quebec youth and lack of support for sovereignty. Sobering for the PQ and Bloc, and seems to confirm their fears that sovereignty is a dream of an older generation:

La firme CROP a sondé 500 personnes âgées de 18 à 24 ans pour le compte de La Presse. Le parti le plus populaire auprès de la jeune génération est le Parti libéral, à 34%. Québec solidaire et la Coalition avenir Québec arrivent ex aequo au deuxième rang, à 22% et 23%. Le PQ ferme la marche avec un maigre 16%.

De même, 69% des répondants auraient voté Non à un référendum sur la souveraineté. À 31%, le Oui «a atteint un plancher», commente Youri Rivest, de la firme CROP. «Quand la souveraineté se situe à moins de 30%, cest très faible.»

Le débat sur lavenir du Québec est «dépassé», croient 65% des jeunes. La même proportion pense que le Québec ne deviendra jamais un pays souverain. Pourtant, 44% des jeunes estiment que le projet est réaliste et 42% trouvent quil suscite l’enthousiasme.

Pas surprenant que les jeunes soient contre la souveraineté, puisquils semblent très attachés au Canada. Les deux tiers des répondants jugent en effet que le fédéralisme canadien comporte plus davantages que dinconvénients pour le Québec. La même proportion croit que les Québécois ont des valeurs communes avec les autres Canadiens. Et 68% affirment quêtre canadien «fait partie» de leur identité.

Les jeunes et la souveraineté: la génération «Non» | Katia Gagnon | Politique québécoise.

Xavier Dolan, the young QC director, also reflected this view, just prior to winning at Cannes:

“Should we win anything at all, I mean I’m from Quebec and Quebec is in Canada … Whatever my political views are or standpoints, I feel like my movie is very Québécois. But it would certainly be an international victory.”…

“For me, it’s not about a country or a province or old dilemmas or wars — that, my generation doesn’t associate with or relate with anymore.”

Don Macpherson: Xavier Dolan gets it right about young Quebecers’ politics

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.

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