Tag Archives: Maclean’s

What went right (or wrong) during the Quebec election

This is how Maclean’s saw it.

The smart political strategist would do the following: put Péladeau on a stage and make him talk strictly about how he transformed Videotron from a Podunk cable company beset by labour troubles into the province’s leading cable and wireless concern. In the vacuum of a month-long election campaign, Péladeau the businessman could easily hide the red-ink-stained legacy of the PQ’s 18 months in power.
Instead, we got Péladeau the Quebec separatist. On a chilly Monday morning three days into the campaign, Péladeau took the stage with Pauline Marois and, after a 13-minute speech vaunting his economic record and the beauty of his riding of St-Jérôme, he uttered 30 words that would overshadow his campaign and that of his newly adopted party. “Finally, I end by telling you that my membership in the Parti Québécois is in line with my most profound and intimate values,” he said in French. “That is to say, make Quebec a country!”
An outsider to Quebec politics would probably shrug at Péladeau’s words; one would expect a declared separatist to declare his desire for separation, after all. Péladeau, who according to a Parti Québécois source, wrote the speech himself, certainly seemed to think as much.
Yet with his fist-bumping cri de coeur, Péladeau fell into the long-widening chasm between the Parti Québécois and its would-be electors. Support for sovereignty has been stagnant for ages, while the desire to exercise the means to get there—a referendum—has regressed. Some 64 per cent of Quebecers don’t want another referendum, according to a recent poll by the CROP polling firm. Even diehard Péquistes thought Péladeau went too far.
“I think he wanted to show his loyalty to the Parti Québécois and be liked by its members and he pushed a little more than he really had to,” said Gilles Gaudrault, a PQ supporter who was at the Marois love-in.
In the immediate aftermath of Péladeau’s declaration, Marois mused that citizens of a separate Quebec would have their own Quebec passport; people and goods would flow freely over the open and undefended borders with Canada. Quebec would use the Canadian dollar, and lobby for a seat with the Bank of Canada. Her strategists quietly put an end to Marois’s flights of fancy within 48 hours, but the damage was already done. And it was irreversible.
In Quebec City, Péladeau’s candidacy should have hearkened a return of the PQ in what has been a bastion for the right-of-centre Action Démocratique du Quebec party and its successor, the CAQ, led by former PQ minister François Legault. Yet Péladeau seemingly did himself in with those 30 words in this surprisingly conservative and federalist region and beyond. “I’m so disappointed in the guy it’s ridiculous,” says Mario Roy, an insurance broker and sometimes radio DJ, who in 2010 worked on a campaign with Péladeau to bring an NHL team to Quebec City. “You want to go into politics to fix public finances and put things in order? Fine. But to pump your fist and say you want a country? Tabarnak.”
It says something about the peculiar state of the sovereignty movement in Quebec that its star attraction couldn’t talk about it without the entire cause suffering politically, yet apparently the message was received. At the Théâtre Telus event, where you’d think a sovereignist leader would speak freely to a room full of the faithful, Marois and the PQ candidates stayed largely clear of the issue of sovereignty. Perhaps it was the lingering sting of Péladeau’s words, or the line of television cameras in front of her as she spoke. Péladeau didn’t even mention the word that night; a vote for the PQ, he said, was “a vote for the economy and jobs.” PQ candidate and former student leader Martine Desjardin was only slightly more direct. “We’ll be there when it comes time to build a country,” she said.
Instead of sovereignty, the Parti Québécois sought to ban religious symbols from the heads, necks and lapels of Quebec’s public sector employees. Introduced by way of a strategic media leak to the populist tabloid Journal de Montréal late last summer, the Quebec values charter sought guarantee for “the secular nature of our institutions,” as PQ minister and charter architect Bernard Drainville said. As a piece of legislation, it was almost certainly doomed to be challenged and defeated in the court, according to the province’s law society and its human rights commission, among others.
As an electoral gambit, though, the charter was seemingly a masterstroke. It allowed the PQ to pitch itself as the defender of Quebec’s francophone majority without having to talk about sovereignty itself. Successive polls suggested the majority of francophone voters liked the idea of a secularism charter, and the PQ saw a bump in its poll numbers in the wake of its introduction.
No surprise, then, that in the second week of the campaign, as Péladeau’s sovereignty sortie had effectively halted the PQ’s campaign, Drainville was tapped to rework his charter magic for the election. No surprise, too, that Drainville himself trotted out a warhorse of his own, a person who could add to the charter issue what Péladeau was meant to bring to the PQ’s economic platform: pioneering Quebec feminist Janette Bertrand.
Drainville introduced Bertrand at the Marois love-in, and the 89-year-old dame of Quebec culture hobbled out on a clear Plexiglas cane, cast aside her prepared speech and gave a fiery five-minute plea for a PQ majority. Anything short, she said, “and we risk pushing the plight of women backwards” in Quebec. Soon after, Drainville sent out a selfie of himself and Bertrand to his roughly 35,000 Twitter followers—one of the nearly 130 pro-charter tweets Drainville published in just over a month.
It took only marginally longer than Péladeau for Bertrand to flame out as a PQ saviour—15 hours, to be exact. The morning after her speech, Bertrand attended a “secular brunch” in the Montreal suburb of Laval with Drainville and local PQ candidate Léo Bureau-Blouin, 22, a former student leader.
Surrounded by reporters, Bertrand again went off the cuff, saying “foreigners, rich McGill students” (nameless Muslim men, apparently) had overtaken the pool in her building because they couldn’t bear the sight of Bertrand and her female friend doing their weekly aqua gym class. “That is what is going to happen if there is no charter,” she said. Bureau-Blouin, in the background, bowed his head and flicked dejectedly at his iPad, looking like he wanted to be anywhere but here.
Hurtful and demonstrably false—the Montreal Gazette quoted the manager of Bertrand’s building calling her claims “completely fictional”—Bertrand’s comments underscored the level to which the debate around the charter had sunk by the campaign’s end.

It’s how a lot of outside of Quebec saw it too.

What I Read

I get asked all of the time what I read and I thought I would toss it into a blog post.

For news, the first site of the day I check on National Newswatch.  If you aren’t checking it out everyday, you are doing your news all wrong.  I then check out the links of The Morning News and browse Metafilter.  I have had an account for years but rarely log in.  I check out the National Post, Macleans, and The Globe and Mail.  Once I get the national news I check out The Toronto Star and Calgary Herald.  While not daily reads, I do read everything that is posted to the Hill Times.

The two sites that I explore the most are Yahoo! Sports and ProFootballTalk.  I check Yahoo! Sports about 10 times a day and ProFootballTalk in the morning and then again in the evening.  It is America’s Cup season which means that I spend a lot of time on YouTube.  I generally watch the 20 minute race recap and if I have time, I watch the whole race on my TV via the PS3 app.  YouTube on your television will forever change the way you watch TV.  It is amazing.

I also follow Doug Smith’s Sports Blog where he lives and mostly dies with the Raptors.  I read it because he is a great source of Raptors news but also because he has a unique blogging style that I really like.  Once I am there, I generally find myself in The Star’s sports section where the goal is to avoid the Toronto Maple Leafs coverage.  Then it is to check out the National Post sports but more or less I am just there to see if I missed anything that Bruce Arthur wrote and I missed his tweet to it.

Sportsnet.ca is my next sports stop and that is see what Michael Grange is writing about.  Much of Sportsnet is written by television personalities and it shows but Grange is a sportswriter.

I don’t blog a lot about military technology and affairs but I do read Wired’s Danger Room daily and Tom Rick’s The Best Defence Blog.   For urban discussions I follow a lot of people on Twitter but I also check out the Direct Transfer, Streets Blog, and The Atlantic Cities.

I subscribe to The StarPhoenix and pick up a copy of Metro News.  I also read Planet S. Saskatoon Express, and Verb weekly, mostly because I know some of their writers and I respect what they do.  

For magazines, I subscribe to Spacing, The Atlantic Monthly, the New Yorker, and Foreign Policy. 

For blogs like most of the free world, I read Kottke.org daily and check out Gordon Price‘s blog weekly.  I would read City Hall Notebook more but The StarPhoenix kind of let it die, although it seems to be coming back to life lately.

There are always a couple of books on the go.  I own a Kindle but don’t use it much.  Mostly because I prefer to browse Indigo and McNally Robinson.  For all of the wonderful things that Amazon.com does, browsing books is the domain of the bookstore.

What am I missing?  Suggestions?

How the ‘Control Freak’ lost control

How Harper lost control of the government and his party

So how’s the mood in the party? “It’s s–tty,” one long-time Conservative political staffer, now recycled in the private sector, said the other day. “I’m a Conservative, and I don’t know what the government stands for.”

The mood this Conservative described—on condition of anonymity, like other party members who spoke for this story—was a long way from despair. “The grassroots of the party is overwhelmingly behind the PM. I don’t think that will ever wear off.” But the five-alarm gong show around Wright, Duffy, Wallin and the rest has made a lot of Conservatives angry and nervous. “If your whole message is that you’re competent people,” this former staffer said, “it is harmful to seem incompetent.”

For several days after Harper accepted Wright’s resignation on May 19, the government could offer no coherent explanation for what had happened. Right up to the end of May the government seemed unsure how to handle the mess.

The chaos led at least one old PMO hand to offer his assistance. Several Conservative sources say that at the beginning of June, Dimitri Soudas, a former PMO communications director who now works for the Canadian Olympic Committee, telephoned the PMO to offer communications advice. Whatever Soudas told his former colleagues would have been mixed in with all the other signals a government receives from its members and supporters, but by last week the Conservatives were offering a more unapologetic defence of Harper’s behaviour, coupled with sharp digs at the opposition parties. The implied message was: If we’re going to be in trouble, we won’t be the only party in trouble.

The news of the day fades from memory. Between the 2008 and 2011 elections Harper endured a steady stream of allegations and missteps, including the controversy over proroguing Parliament, the allegations about abuse of Afghan prisoners, and former minister Bev Oda’s clumsy doctoring (“NOT”) of a memo from her department. Very little of it mattered on election day in 2011, and the Conservatives won a majority of seats in the Commons for the first time.

But Conservatives know the Harper government isn’t eternal, and they have begun to wonder what it will feel like when Harper loses his grip on power for good. They hope the feeling they’ve had this spring isn’t it. “You’re associated with a certain quality, like good government, for a long time and it holds up under wear and tear,” the former Conservative staffer said. “And then one day it tips over. And once it tips, you’ve just lost it and you can’t get it back. You’ve just lost that characteristic.”

Those earlier uproars from 2008-11 often shared common features: they were of interest mostly only to people who work in Ottawa, and they tended to anger people who had never voted Conservative anyway. Conservatives were pretty sure a sitting prime minister should be allowed to ring up the governor general and shut down Parliament now and then, as indeed Jean Chrétien did on more than one occasion. It was no skin off their nose if Harper exercised the same prerogative.

But this business with Wright, Duffy, and a Prime Minister who seemed oblivious and has since seemed deeply rattled is different, another former Hill staffer said. This one described getting an earful about the Senate and about Harper’s associates during a trip through rural British Columbia. The people complaining “were our demographic, in our geography,” this source said. “More than anything else it’s our people who are upset. It kind of comes across as a feeling of betrayal.”

Canada’s Productivity Puzzle in Maclean’s Magazine

If you spend any time reading about the Canadian economy, you have inevitably come across the Great Canadian Productivity Puzzle. Canada’s productivity is much lower than that of other countries, and we don’t really know why. Neither do we seem to be able to fix the problem. Policymakers have used every trick in the book to try to boost productivity, but the results have disappointed. Productivity growth matters because it drives up our purchasing power: if it lags, so will our standard of living. And yet—here’s where things get interesting—Canadians are far better off than one would tell looking at our dismal productivity performance over the past 20 years. How did we do it? In this six-part special report, Maclean’s in-house economist Stephen Gordon investigates the mystery.

  1. Intro to productivity (that thing Canadians are apparently so bad at)
  2. Technical progress in Canada’s business sector: stuck in 1971?
  3. A Canadian magic trick: wages that rise even if productivity doesn’t
  4. Don’t blame Canada’s productivity woes on the commodity boom
  5. Canada’s productivity crisis: misdiagnosed
  6. Canada’s productivity measurement deserves a serious second look