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[BRIEF NOTE] On the Québec general election yesterday

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The outcome of the Québec general election yesterday–a Liberal majority and a Parti Québécois route, incumbent premier Pauline Marois even losing her seat–came as a pleasant surprise to me. As noted by the Ottawa Citizen‘s Robert Sibley, the results were decisve.

Canada — the rest of it, that is — can relax. As voters resoundingly rejected the Parti Québécois and restored the Liberals to power with a majority government, the prospects of a third referendum on Quebec sovereignty in less than four decades has receded for the foreseeable future.

About six million Quebecers were eligible to vote in Monday’s elections, and within half an hour of the polls closing at 8 p.m. it was clear that Philippe Couillard’s Liberals were heading toward a solid majority. It was a surprising, if not stunning, turn of events for a party that only 19 months ago was ignominiously turfed from office amid the Quebec construction industry scandals and replaced by the minority government of Premier Pauline Marois. This go-round, it was Marois’s turn for ignominious defeat.

[. . .]

By 10:30 p.m. Monday, the Liberals had won 71 of the 125 seats available in the provincial legislature — ensuring that soon-to-be premier Couillard would be able to for a majority government. The Parti Québécois was a distance second with 29 seats, while the right-of-centre Coalition Avenir Quebec, which is nationalist but not sovereigntist, held 22. The left-of-centre Québéc Solidaire, with its staunch pro-separatist agenda, appeared to be confined to two seats.

[. . .]

When Marois dissolved the Quebec legislature in early March to call the election — less than two years after taking power — the PQ held 54 seats, the Liberals 49, the Coalition for Quebec’s Future 18, and Québéc Solidaire two.

The results may well reflect a prediction Couillard made during the campaign. “The Parti Québécois eclipse is over,” he said. “Political uncertainty has been lifted.”

Paul Wells argued in MacLean’s that the Parti Québécois and Québec separatism general face severe structural problems.

Its share of the popular vote, as I write this, is solidly below the 28% the party won in 2007 when André Boisclair was its leader. This is, in fact, the PQ’s worst election result, in share of popular vote, in 44 years. The only time it ever did worse was in 1970, the first campaign the party ever fought.

[. . .] It is now 15 years since the party won more than 40% of the popular vote; the Liberals did so in 2008 and again tonight. This is because the PQ sits on a policy it cannot sell: secession from Canada. But now it has added a second unsellable policy to its kit bag: a plan to fire librarians and emergency-room physicians if it is possible to tell by looking at them which religious faith they practice.

It would be all right if the PQ could simply abandon its Charter of Values, perhaps in favour of a milder policy of more limited punishments for departure from the state religion of atheism, or of a simple rhetorical preference that provincial employees dress without kippahs and hijabs. But it is not that easy. I hope soon to link to the weekend poll I saw that showed which issues were important to supporters of which party. The Charter was not top-of-mind for supporters of any party — except the PQ. The PQ’s shrunken voter base now encompasses just about every Quebecer who insists the full force of provincial coercion intervene if he cannot spot a clerk’s ears at the license bureau.

We can, in fact, add a third policy lemon to the PQ’s pantry: frozen university tuition. The two young PQ candidates who ran on nostalgia for 2012′s summer-long tuition protests were defeated tonight too. So PQ supporters will not give up on tuition freezes, but the broader population supports the notion that students should contribute to the increased cost of their ever-more-expensive educations.

On all three policies — secession, coercive state atheism, and university tuition — the PQ is stuck between an electorate that doesn’t agree, and a party base that will not retreat. Compounding the near-guarantee of further PQ grief still further is its insufferable belief in its own infallible mind meld with the Québécois collective conscience. The PQ knows better than anyone on sovereignty, secularism and higher education. Or so its members tell themselves. So it will not abandon policies the broader Quebec population, including much of the francophone majority, finds risible.

The PQ is in clear danger of becoming Quebec’s Tea Party: a fringe movement in thrall to esoteric mail-order theorists and proud of it, ensuring continued defeat and resistant to any attempts to fix it. I won’t be predicting the death of separatism; that’s a cliché. But I do predict an extended purgatory for a PQ that will wonder, for a very long time to come, why everyone points and giggles when its leaders proclaim the things they believe most profoundly.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 9, 2014 at 3:32 am

[BLOG] Some Saturday links

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  • At Antipope, Charlie Stross wonders why we need to work so long when productivity and per capita wealth have skyrocketed.
  • At the Broadside Blog, Caitlin Kelly describes a week in her life as a writer.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper suggesting that ancient Population III stars could, in theory, have rocky planets.
  • The Dragon’s Tales warns that the Japanese economy is about to tank.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that young conservative Ben Shapiro is now boycotting Mozilla after Brandon Eich’s departure.
  • Savage Minds has an essay by anthropologist Elizabeth Chin suggesting that Lamilly, a new anatomically-correct doll, won’t take off because issues with beauty are much more deeply embedded in the culture than the designers believe.
  • The Signal examines the proliferation of E-mail storage formats.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy’s Jonathan Adler doesn’t like the pressure applied to Brandon Eich.
  • Window on Eurasia has two posts warning that Crimea’s annexation to Russia will destabilize the Russian Federation, one arguing that ethnic minorities and their republics will be put in a state of flux, the other arguing that Russian nationalists will be upset by the concession of so many rights to Crimean Tatars.

[BRIEF NOTE] Is Marc Nadon Canada’s Harriet Miers?

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Marc Nadon was nominated to the Supreme Court of Canada as one of three judges from Québec of the total of nine serving on the court. His nomination was rejected on the grounds that, among other things, he hadn’t served as a lawyer in Québec for long enough.

Carissima Mathen at the Ottawa Citizen noted the background.

Nadon’s appointment was made under section 6 of the Supreme Court Act, which reserves three of the Court’s nine seats for Quebec (which, unlike other Canadian provinces, has a civil law tradition). Candidates must be either judges on Quebec courts, or members of its bar with 10 years standing. At the time of his appointment, Nadon was neither: he sat on the Federal Court of Appeal, and had not been a member of the bar for years.

The federal government insisted that Nadon was nonetheless eligible. It pointed out that previous Supreme Court justices have been appointed from the Federal Court; and it argued that there is no meaningful difference between past and present bar membership. It had in hand an opinion from a former justice, Ian Binnie, giving it the “all clear.” It even, brazenly, attached two clauses to the Budget Implementation Bill to “declare” that the Supreme Court Act should be interpreted to permit Nadon’s appointment.

Nadon’s stalled candidacy created headaches for the Court, which has been operating without its full judicial complement for months now. It faced considerable pressure to resolve the issue.

Remarkably, none of that seemed to matter. In a 6 to 1 ruling, the Court confirmed what Professor Michael Plaxton and I argued in a 2013 article: section 6 exists not just to ensure technical expertise in civil law, but to maintain Quebec’s confidence in the Court. To hold otherwise would be to “rewrite history.” The Court emphasized that past bar membership is sufficient for the non-Quebec seats (thereby confirming the validity of past Federal Court appointees). But it isn’t enough for Quebec; and it wasn’t enough for Nadon.

This was welcomed in Québec. It was also welcomed by the opposition, as CBC noted.

In a six-to-one decision, Canada’s highest court deemed Nadon to be unqualified to sit among them as a Quebec member, and that the changes the government made to the Supreme Court Act (which would have allowed him to sit) were actually unconstitutional.

New Democrat justice critic Françoise Boivin said she was happy with the court’s ruling and took aim at the fact that the government passed those changes to the law through an omnibus budget bill. She said she still hasn’t digested that two little articles were passed that had the capacity to review historical positions in naming judges.

“Honestly, it’s insulting,” she said.

“I’m not just saying for Quebec. It’s insulting for lawyers, it’s insulting for the justice and it’s especially insulting for that great institution that is the Supreme Court of Canada,” she said.

The matter of constitutionality is a sticking point for retired judge John Gomery, who said the appointment was bad in the first place because Nadon doesn’t have the expertise to serve on the court.

“It must be a profound embarrassment for the government,” he said in an interview on CBC Radio’s The House. “They made what has turned out to be a bad and illegal and unconstitutional appointment and it has sort of exploded in their face.”

This occurs in the background of the recent departure of Jim Flaherty as finance minister.

Is anyone reminded of the Harriet Miers in the United States, centering on a White House lawyer nominated by Bush to the United States Supreme Court in 2005 despite lacking key qualifications who was eventually rejected?

Written by Randy McDonald

April 2, 2014 at 4:01 am

[BLOG] Some Sunday links

  • BlogTO links to an interesting app-enabled map showing where people run in Toronto (or, at least, where people run in Toronto using apps to chronicle their routes).
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes a paper examining the role of dust in protoplanetary disks.
  • Geocurrents’ Martin Lewis wonders why the Circassians, displaced a century and a half ago from the Caucasian territory where Russia is no holding the Olympics, haven’t gotten any media coverage of their cause.
  • Language Hat comments upon a video recording of a student’s recital of Cantonese poetry that has gone viral.
  • Language Log’s Victor Mair wonders what official status Cantonese has in Hong Kong, facing challenges from Putonghua as well as from a writing system that doesn’t record the city’s main spoken language.
  • The casual racism faced by players of college sports in the United States is discussed at Lawyers, Guns and Money.
  • Marginal Revolution argues that emerging markets facing economic issues should look at their own domestic scenes and not blame global turbulence.
  • At Personal Reflections, Jim Belshaw writing about his Australian region of New England makes the point that local histories should also include their global origins.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer argues that the New York accent is mostly dead.
  • At Savage Minds, Jane Eva Baxter talks about the ways in which prehistoric artifacts–like the ancient footprints recently discovered in Britain–are used, and misused, in ways that reflect our biases. (Seeing groups of footprints as product of family migrations, for instance.)
  • Supernova Condensate marvels at the superb imaging of Luhman 16B.
  • Window on Eurasia notes one man’s arguments that authentic federalism would suit Ukraine well.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell notes in passing how Siberia changed from being exciting frontier to grim prison-camp in the popular imagination.

[LINK] “Chris Alexander scolds Ontario over health care to refugees”

CBC’s Susana Mas reports on an interesting conflict in federalism in Canada: Ontario is taking care of the health needs that the Canadian federal government has abandoned.

Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander publicly scolded the Ontario government today for defying the federal government’s decision to reduce the level of health care available to refugee claimants.

Ontario introduced a new program, effective Jan. 1, that will provide refugee claimants with access to primary care and urgent hospital services as well as medication coverage regardless of their refugee status, following cuts to a federal program that administers temporary health-care benefits to refugee claimants.

“I’ve expressed our government’s disappointment with the Ontario government’s recent decision to reinstate health-care benefits to all asylum seekers and even rejected refugee claimants,” Alexander said.

[. . .]

The federal government’s reforms for the asylum system introduced in December 2012 include, among other things, a list of 37 countries that “do not normally produce refugees, but do respect human rights and offer state protection.”

Claimants from this Designated Country of Origin (DCO) list, which includes the U.S. and most countries from the European Union, now have their refugee claims heard faster.

The goal of the policy, the minister said, is to ensure that people who are in real need of asylum get the protection they are seeking fast, while those with unfounded claims are sent home more quickly.

Alexander said the number of asylum claims from countries that are generally considered safe but used to produce a high number of unfounded claims has dropped 87 per cent.

“I want to make this point very clear, because it seems some people still don’t understand the great benefit to genuine refugees that flow from our reforms. The beneficiaries of these reforms are yes, Canadian taxpayers, but mostly and overwhelmingly genuine refugees.”

The immigration minister said Ontario was compromising the integrity of the system by putting “bogus” asylum seekers and “failed” refugee claimants ahead of Canadians who are seeking health-care services and refugees who are in need of real protection.

It’s worth noting that the changes would, for instance, not cover Roma fleeing central Europe. For starters.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 25, 2014 at 4:13 am

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • Crooked Timber considers the BMI.
  • Daniel Drezner wonders if Barack Obama’s apparent lack of intimate relationships with other world leaders might be a problem.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes that the symbiosis that started off photosynthesis took off only 900 million years ago.
  • Eastern Approaches notes the terribly high death toll on Polish roads.
  • A Fistful of Euros’ Edward Hugh examines the Greek economy. Grexit might be possible.
  • At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Erik Loomis celebrates the 150th anniversary of the state of West Virginia.
  • Marginal Revolution woners if, in the aftermath of the ERT television fiasco, Greece might be about to snap.
  • A Registan essay suggests Central Asia may still be important if only because the Chinese are interested in it.
  • Savage Minds considers the problems of anthropology. Why aren’t anthropologists trying to make their field more relevant? The answers aren’t flattering.
  • Towleroad covers ex-gay movement Exodus’ dissolution and an apology by its leader. That’s something, surely, but is it enough?
  • Window on Eurasia notes that a lack of trust in Russian society might explain popular sympathies towards authoritarianism and xenophobia.

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Crooked Timber’s Maria Farrell writes about Ireland’s Magdalen Laundries, institutions she sees as product of Irish misogyny and Roman Catholicism.
  • Daniel Drezner took note of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and argues that the main people arguing about a currency war are (among others) developing countries and a Bundesbank that doesn’t want to lose power to the European Central Bank.
  • Eastern Approaches points out that cohabitation in Georgia between President Saakashvili and the governing opposition is not going well.
  • Far Outliers’ Joel points out that the dialect of African-Americans in the Japanese translation of Gone With The Wind is that of the marginalized Tohoku region in northern Honshu, visited two years by disaster.
  • Geocurrents maps the results of a referendum on conscription in Austria, noting that the largely rural state of Burgenland–once part of Hungary, and still a frontier region–voted strongly in favour.
  • At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Dave Brockington notes that the American states with the longest voting lines tend to have Republican governments and relatively large African-American and Latino populations.
  • Progressived Download’s John Farrell points out that private labs offering adult stem cell treatments very often inflict terrible, novel illnesses on their clients.
  • Registan’s Mitchell Polman points out that Central Asia is hardly likely to prosper if foreign influence is seen as a zero-sum game. All kinds of powers need to take part.
  • Window on Eurasia quotes from a Russian Eurasianist thinker, Rustem Vakhitov, who argues that separatist tendencies in Russia overall are strongest in Russian regions. Why single out the ethnic republics and risk triggering something?
  • Zero Geography’s Mark Graham maps Twitter usage in different African cities.

[LINK] Two links on the Senate of Canada

First is by Tim Naumetz of the Hill Times of Ottawa, “40 per cent of Canadians want a reformed Senate, 31 per cent want it abolished: Forum Research poll”.

In the wake of the latest controversies involving allegations of wrongdoing by Senators, including two appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a new poll shows Canadians who want an elected Senate outnumber those who want it abolished it entirely.

But, even though only 14 per cent of respondents said the Senate should be left as it is, the Forum Research survey suggests if Mr. Harper (Calgary Southwest, Alta.) succeeds in his Supreme Court of Canada quest to take incremental steps toward an elected Senate, the political turmoil could be significant.

The survey of 1,091 voting age Canadians on Feb. 7, found 40 per cent of respondents favoured an elected Senate, with an outright majority only in Alberta, where 55 per cent said they supported the idea.

A full 31 per cent across Canada said they want the Senate to be abolished, a longstanding NDP position that—depending on the result of Mr. Harper’s request last week for an opinion on constitutional questions about Senate reform from the Supreme Court—could be impossible.

[. . .]

The Forum Research poll, an interactive voice response telephone survey with a margin of error of plus or minus three per cent 19 times out of 20, found opinion about the Senate had not changed even one percentage point from an identical poll Forum Research conducted in January, 2012.

“While the appetite for Senate reform is not overwhelming, it exceeds the interest in abolition, so we may have the Red Chamber to kick around for a while longer,” Forum Research president Lorne Bozinoff told The Hill Times.

Second is a Canadian Press article published in the Charlottetown Guardian, “Tories, Liberals unite in bid to salvage Senate’s tarnished reputation”.

Conservative and Liberal leaders in the much-maligned Senate are joining forces to salvage the upper chamber’s tarnished reputation.

They are demanding a swift — and public — resolution to allegations that some senators are abusing a housing allowance meant to compensate those who keep a secondary residence in Ottawa.

The Senate’s internal economy committee has been investigating the allegations and last week called in an outside auditor to scrutinize three cases — involving Conservatives Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau and Liberal Mac Harb.

In a rare show of bi-partisanship, government Senate leader Marjory LeBreton and Liberal Senate leader James Cowan have written the committee urging it to interview senators who have claimed the allowance in order to confirm their claims.

LeBreton and Cowan say that if a claim is found to be invalid, the senator in question should be required to immediately repay the money, with interest.

They say the Senate’s reputation is at stake, so it’s “vital” that the matter be resolved quickly and transparently.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 12, 2013 at 3:03 am

Posted in Canada, Politics

Tagged with , , , ,

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • Burgh Diaspora notes that Spanish workers are moving to Mexico and the Germany isn’t doing so well thanks to regulatory and language barriers.
  • The Dragon’s Tales points to a recent study suggesting that the Neanderthals of the Iberian peninsula died out before the arrival of Homo sapiens.
  • Eastern Approaches observes, after the failure of a civil union law to make it through the Polish parliament, the problems of facing GLBT rights in Poland.
  • Could we have had a moonbase instead of the International Space Station? At False Steps, Paul Drye suggests that might have been a possibility.
  • The Global Sociology Blog observes the global rise of the cosmetic surgery industry and points out that Saudi Arabia is a terrible place to live if you’re a woman or a child.
  • GNXP’s Razib Khan points to a German study suggesting that only 1% of children, not 10%, have biological fathers other than the people identified as such.
  • Language Hat notes the substantial immigration of Circassian-speaking Armenian Christians to the Russian North Caucasus in the 18th century.
  • At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Scott Lemieux doesn’t think much of Alan Dershowitz’s many intellectual contortions, on the matter of the Brooklyn College’s conference and on other things.
  • Window on Eurasia links to speculation in a Russian regional paper as to the prospects for the amalgamation of different federal units. Could there be a Middle Volga unit dominated by Kazan’ (and Tatarstan)?

[BRIEF NOTE] On the risks of British departure from the European Union

British Prime Minister David Cameron has done it.

Prime Minister David Cameron said Wednesday he will offer British citizens a vote on whether to leave the European Union if his party wins the next election, a move which could trigger alarm among fellow member states.

He acknowledged that public disillusionment with the EU is “at an all-time high,” using a long-awaited speech in central London to say that the terms of Britain’s membership in the bloc should be revised and the country’s citizens should have a say.

Cameron proposed Wednesday that his Conservative Party renegotiate the U.K.’s relationship with the European Union if it wins the next general election, expected in 2015.

“Once that new settlement has been negotiated, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice to stay in the EU on these new terms. Or come out altogether,” Cameron said. “It will be an in-out referendum.”

[. . .] Cameron stressed that his first priority is renegotiating the EU treaty — not leaving the bloc.

“I say to our European partners, frustrated as some of them no doubt are by Britain’s attitude: work with us on this,” he said.

Much of the criticism directed at Cameron has accused him of trying an “a la carte” approach to membership in the bloc and seeking to play by some but not all of its rules.

Speaking as a Canadian familiar with Québec’s intermittent flirtation with the idea of separatism, I’ve a few things to point out.

  • Much of British history towards political Europe is ill-informed. One thing that frequently comes up in Euroskeptic discourse is a hostility towards the European Court of Human Rights, a supranational legal institution associated not with the European Union but with the entirely separate Council of Europe. Too much critical detail goes unnoticed, or unknown.
  • Much like Québec separatists who confidently assume that after a “Oui” majority in a referendum the province could negotiate whatever arrangement it would like with a rump Canada, even a nominally pro-European Union politician like David Cameron seems to be making the mistake of assuming that a threat of separation will lead Britain’s European partners to make whatever changes the British government might want. I’m very skeptical of this. Perhaps more likely is a complete breakdown of the federation–in their own ways, the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia came apart when this brinkmanship occurred.
  • Many British Euroskeptics also seem to believe that, if the United Kingdom left the European Union, not only the United States but the entire Commonwealth would welcome the erstwhile founder of the Anglo-Saxon world. I can speak only for Canada, but there is no body of radically pro-Commonwealth sentiment in Canada. Canadian identity is no longer bound up with the Commonwealth in the way it was a half-century ago. If anything, British departure from the European Union would make the United Kingdom a less desirable partner relative to other European countries of a similar size.
  • British departure from the European Union would be a catastrophe for the country. Unless a non-EU United Kingdom follows the lead of Switzerland and Norway in accepting European Union regulations while lacking any voice in formulating them, the United Kingdom will be outside of the various markets. What will happen to, among other things, Britain’s financial sector? (Frankfurt and Dublin will do nicely.)
  • I can’t help but wonder what the consequences for Scotland might be if Britain departed. Could we get a Scottish separatism invigorated by the desire to remain in, or return to, the European Union?



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