Sacrificing principled Conservative leadership for vain hopes in Quebec
The Conservatives took only 10 seats in Quebec in the 2019 election, one less than in 2015. Some of these were safe seats. The Conservatives beat a second-place Bloc Quebecois by over 17,000 votes in one riding and by over 10,000 votes in 4 more ridings. In two others, they beat the second-place Bloc by 6,306 and 4,813. The only really close CPC win was in Chicoutimi-Le Fjord, by 614 votes. The CPC also beat Maxime Bernier, People’s Party of Canada leader, by over 6000 votes. The CPC’s average victory was over 10,000 votes in the 10 Quebec ridings they won.
Elsewhere in Quebec, the Conservatives did terribly. They rarely placed second and, even where they did, were still, in most cases, way behind the winner. Meanwhile, in Ontario, the Liberals swept all 25 of Toronto’s seats, and 24 out of 29 seats in the surrounding suburbs. That’s 49 Liberals to 5 Conservatives in the GTA. In 2011, by comparison, the Liberals and NDP each won only 7 Toronto seats and the Conservatives swept the GTA. How many Quebec seats in that 2011 Conservative majority? Five.
A survey, titled “Sous ta façade” taken by almost 24,000 Quebec university students from 16 universities found a frightening figure, one in five Quebec university students have symptoms of depression that require urgent professional help.
The survey also found that close to 60 percent of university students have a heightened level of psychological distress when compared to the rest of the province. The survey also found that students are three times as likely to have suicidal thoughts compared to the general population and twice as likely to have attempted suicide. The survey also revealed that certain groups are more at risk to face mental health problems, namely those with disabilities, first-generation university students and those in the LGBTQ community.
The survey was conducted by Leger on behalf of the Union étudiante de Québec (UEQ). The president of the UEQ, Philip Lebel, called the results very worrying saying “I find that catastrophic. There is something to be done, not just in terms of treatment, but also in prevention ” (Translation provided by Google) as reported by Le Journal de Québec.
The president of the UEQ went on to call for the implementation of strategies to reduce loneliness, improve peer support structure and reduce inter-peer competition. Mr. Lebel also said that measures should be taken to help students in precarious financial situations and to encourage healthy lifestyles on campus. He also urged Jean-Francois Roberge, Quebec’s Minister of Education to implement educational policies that will improve Quebec students ailing mental health.
Indigenous TMX interests sidelined as premiers, opposition leaders posture in minority government lead-up
As opposition leaders and provincial premiers postured last week over meetings with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, lost in the chatter was the power indigenous people wield–arguably quite a bit in this minority government the Liberals find themselves attempting to manage.
Like Parliament, and the rest of our divided country–Wexiteers, Quebec separatists and everyone else somewhere in between–indigenous interests are a scatter-shot amalgam of pro- and anti-development camps, or like Assembly of First Nations Grand Chief Perry Bellegarde, who plays it right down the middle on matters like Trans Mountain.
And the elephant in the room is TMX, a twinning of an existing bitumen pipeline from Edmonton to Vancouver; a project that Trudeau nationalized in 2018, then earlier this year offered to sell lock-stock-and-barrel to indigenous people.
Since Trudeau’s offer, three buyers have emerged: Western Indigenous Pipeline Group, Project Reconciliation and Alberta Iron Coalition. As well, a fourth Métis concern from provincial settlements in Alberta who are already affected by the oil patch and say they are being left out of future development decisions.
Given this overlooked dynamic, it’s rich to hear Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-Blanchet stridently remark that he would love to help Alberta, just not its “petrol-state” ambitions, while his province aims to use and export Alberta’s cleanest “petrol-product” (i.e. natural gas).
This of course, while the province’s biggest liquid natural gas pipeline and along with Énergie Saguenay’s export terminal, will run Environment Minister Catherine McKenna’s all new, C-69 regulatory gauntlet.
New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh’s threat of voting no-confidence his first crack after the Throne speech–in early December after the House of Commons reconvenes December 5 and a Speaker is elected–is as unlikely as it is dubious.
The NDP began #elxn43 with a significantly smaller campaign war chest than its frontline competition, and would putter on fumes through a winter, snap election that most everyone in Canada would resent.
But Trudeau only needs one of the runner-ups to keep his minority government alive, and could end up leaning on Blanchet as much or more than Singh.
And this Wednesday, Trudeau will unveil his new cabinet that speculative coverage indicates could be larger than his previous gender-balanced executive.
With finishing TMX an apparent priority, according to Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau, Amerjeet Sohi’s now-vacant Industry portfolio, will be one appointment to watch.
And without any Grit MPs in Saskatchewan or Alberta there has been much speculation about who Trudeau could tap for cabinet representation for either province, whose premiers have serious issues with Trudeau.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney continues to use TMX in limbo as a cudgel, while Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, whose province is challenging the federal carbon tax’s constitutionality, said Trudeau was uncompromising on the tax.
Moe had asked for a pause on the carbon levy and told reporters he wanted more pipelines to tidewater than just TMX–following the meeting, Moe more or less described a recalcitrant Trudeau and said that Canada could “expect more of the same”.
Which makes TMX so vital for Trudeau and the Liberals. It’s supposed to be their grand compromise with the oil patch and western tidewater shots, even grandfathered past C-69, sweeping new environmental legislation that Kenney and other detractors call the “no more pipelines bill”.
Gazoduc, which includes a 782 km pipeline, is but one of several projects undergoing C-69’s new assessment process and will test Kenney’s and other bill detractors’ no-pipeline claims.
But TMX is far from a done deal and short of building it by fiat; an option available but never wielded by Trudeau or his predecessor Stephen Harper, during an era of indigenous reconciliation, a pending Federal Court of Appeal’s decision hangs over the entire affair.
Six First Nations were granted leave to appeal cabinet’s second approval of the project–one these groups successfully made against National Energy Board’s first permitting–and their latest case remains before the court.
On the other side of this indigenous TMX equation are literally dozens of groups looking to buy a stake in the project with the possibility to create division within the pro-development indigenous set.
Bloc Quebecois leader Yves-François Blanchet has attacked Alberta Premier Kenney by saying that he needs to “start explaining things with truth.” Blanchet went on to say that Kenney had been spreading “false information” about the province’s equalization payments, according to Global News.
An indignant Blanchet told The West Block that Canada “does not send a cheque to Quebec … I would be glad if he started explaining things with truth instead of some false information as we see.”
When Blanchet was asked about the Wexit movement he stated that he understood “that some people in western Canada don’t feel comfortable in the presence of this country … but the desire to do whatever they want with their oil might not be a sufficient reason to fuel a desire to become a country.”
Blanchet’s comments is the latest escalation in the war of words between the Quebec and Alberta premiers. Last week, after leaving a meeting with Prime Minister Trudeau, Blanchet told a scrum of reporters that he would not indulge western Canada’s desire to build an “oil state”.
Due to Kenney making a point of criticizing equalization payments, even going as far as to threaten a referendum, Blanchet’s position will further antagonize an already disenfranchised western Canada
Since 1960, Alberta has paid $600 billion in equalization payments to Ottawa, much of which has then relocated to Quebec. Over the last few years, Alberta’s economy has begun to slow down, even falling into a light recession this year. Despite this, they still have had to pay $23 billion each year for the past five years.
Blanchet’s comments, then, add additional salt to Alberta’s wound, especially as Quebec posted a $4 billion surplus.
In the recent elections, Trudeau’s Liberals and Scheer’s Conservatives aggressively clashed in an effort to win over Canadian voters.
They got about a third of the popular vote each, with the Liberals forming a minority government. Conservatives went into an uproar, some calling for the removal of Scheer as party leader and others calling for the separation of western Canada into its own sovereignty.
Despite this perceived clash of parties who apparently represent two sides of a political spectrum, when you look at the actual politics of the two parties, there is much more in common than there is difference.
The difference is in rhetoric, not in substance.
Under the hood, the Liberals and the Conservatives are fundamentally the same. Where they differ is in the values they performatively signal to voters–Liberals portray themselves as social justice progressives while Conservatives prefer to espouse more traditional values.
Unfortunately for voters and for our democracy, these differences are merely surface level. When Canadians vote, they are mostly voting against something rather than for something. They tend not to vote for policies but rather against Trudeau or against Scheer. In this way, politics gets reduced to a spectacle worthy only of reality television, not of civil discourse.
On actual important political issues, the two parties are essentially the same–they both serve the rich and the corporate class while throwing bones to the rest of us.
Let’s take a look at the policies. I’ll start with what is perceived to be one of the big differences between the two parties–the carbon tax. Both parties agree that climate change is an issue, but the Liberals are in favour of a carbon tax while the Conservatives are not.
But what do the Conservatives want instead? Their recent platform promises investments in companies pursuing green technologies and it calls for new environmental standards, with fines for businesses that don’t meet them.
So, essentially, Conservatives want to use public money to subsidize private industries that they deem “green” and they want to fine businesses that are not “green.” This subsidization of government-approved businesses opens the door to corruption and backroom deals, while the fines only serve to hurt small businesses who can’t afford them rather than going after heavy polluters, who will be more than happy to pay the paltry fines.
The Conservatives have criticized the Liberals for their corporate welfare, but their “green” subsidization plans call for more of the same.
And this is not to defend the Liberal’s carbon tax, which is also a poor policy. The carbon tax will mostly affect poorer folks and small businesses who can’t afford additional expenses. The big businesses that do most of the polluting can easily afford to pay the tax and benefit from their smaller competitors going out of business.
Both parties’ policies strengthen big business while hurting small businesses and doing little for the average Canadian. While Conservatives want to repeal the carbon tax, their environmental fines would work in much the same way.
Staying on the topic of climate, both parties have committed to the Paris Climate Agreement and both acknowledge that climate change is a reality. They both want to use public money to subsidize private industries pursuing clean energy. And, most strikingly of all, they are both champions of the Trans Mountain Pipeline, although the Conservatives wave their flag a little higher. On environmental issues, the choice between the Liberals and the Conservatives can be decided with a coin flip.
When it comes to the deficit, the Liberals have shifted their goal to balance the budget from 2019 to 2040. The Conservatives vowed to erase the deficit by cutting $1.5 billion in “corporate welfare” and by selling federally owned buildings. However, judging by their pledge to give handouts to clean energy companies, it is unclear if the cuts to corporate welfare would be actual cuts or more of a redirection to other private industries. It is also important to note that, historically, the Conservatives have contributed to debt rather than alleviating it.
As for the Conservative’s plan to sell federally owned buildings to private owners, this is a potentially disastrous act of privatization that seeks a short-term gain in exchange for long-term prosperity. Real estate is a great asset to have and selling it off for what are likely to be garage sale prices to private hands could prove extremely costly in the long run. Not to mention the huge risk of corruption involved in privatization.
And sure, Trudeau’s deficit spending has gotten out of control, but redirecting corporate handouts, cutting public services, and selling federally owned real estate to private companies is not the answer. And judging by the Conservative’s history of debt accumulation, it is hard to believe that they would reverse the trend on the deficit.
On other issues like childcare, education, Indigenous rights, and housing, neither party really distinguishes itself from the other. Both parties are severely lacking on Indigenous issues, both support the Canada Child Benefit–which does little to alleviate the soaring costs of childcare in big cities, neither party offers any solutions to student debt, and both parties offer meagre home buyer benefits while doing nothing to help renters.
On healthcare, Liberals plan to take “next steps” towards pharmacare while effectively doing nothing to pursue those next steps. The Conservatives are a little more honest and dismiss pharmacare entirely. Both parties want to increase spending on mental health through health transfer payments, a meagre solution for a growing problem. Again, more of the same from the allegedly vastly different parties.
With regards to immigration, both parties want to increase the number of immigrants to 350,000 by 2021, with most of those being economic immigrants, and both want to crack down on “asylum shopping” and illegal border crossings. If immigration is your issue, Scheer and Trudeau are interchangeable.
Another big issue for a lot of Conservative voters is taxes. Both parties promise to lower taxes for the middle class, but they do this within Trojan horse policies that overwhelmingly benefit the rich. The Liberals are reducing taxes through an extension of the Basic Personal Amount (BPA) exemption while the Conservatives propose a universal tax cut. Let’s look at the numbers:
For those of us making less than six figures annually, the Liberal plan provides a slight advantage in savings. But for those lucky few making more, both parties plan to fill your pockets, with the Conservatives being a little more generous towards the rich. It’s no wonder that wealthy donors often choose to max out donations to both parties.
Andrew Scheer and Justin Trudeau lead parties that serve the interests of the rich and of Canada’s corporate oligarchy. While they paint themselves as different–Trudeau, in the past, opting to literally paint himself–they are depressingly similar. Both are dishonest in their messaging and try to win over average Canadians while pushing policies that overwhelmingly benefit the rich and powerful. But since Trudeau is actually running the country, he deserves more criticism.
Trudeau is a perfect con artist, depicting himself as a progressive champion of the people in speeches and then turning around and going back on his word behind closed doors. This was never more perfectly displayed than in the climate march where Trudeau took to the streets to march against the actions of his own government.
Trudeau has turned his back on our Indigenous population, he turned his back on electoral reform, and he expanded the oil and gas sector after running on a promise to transition to clean energy. From 2015-19, he could’ve easily upheld his promises with a majority government and NDP support for his progressive proposals. He chose not to.
Instead, he did mass infrastructure privatization, he weakened Canada’s access-to-information system and muzzled journalists and scientists in the process, he sold arms to Saudi Arabia who then used them to commit genocide in Yemen, and he signed the CETA, giving foreign companies the right to sue our government for introducing laws that might cut into their future profits.
Trudeau positions himself as the “woke” candidate, but the fact of the matter is if you’re running the government for the benefit of the rich, Canadians could care less if you have a diverse cabinet. When it comes to corruption, it doesn’t matter if it’s being done by an ethnically diverse and gender-balanced cabinet or a cabinet full of white men–the results are the same.
However, as I’ve laid out here, Scheer and the Conservatives are no better for the average Canadian. When political campaigns are run on empty rhetoric, performative wokeness, divisive attacks, and fear-mongering, voters don’t get to engage with actual policy proposals and the end up voting emotionally rather than logically.
When we vote against a character like Trudeau or Scheer instead of voting for popular policy proposals being pushed by other parties, we end up going back and forth between two parties who both serve the interests of the elite and the ruling class.
It’s time to dump our two-party system, which is, in reality, a one-party oligarchy.