Archive for December 2008
It is no secret, when it comes to the situation in the Middle East, sympathies in Québec are overwhelmingly on the side of the Palestinians.
Although it would be unfair to compare the two situations, there is something automatic, almost visceral, in the way people in Québec identify with the conquered people living in Occupied Territories. The images of the uneven war between a makeshift resistance armed with rocks and old soviet rockets and one of the world’s most modern armies echoes with something very profound about the way we see ourselves.
Until Jacques Parizeau asked them to leave in the mid-80’s, the Parti québécois invited representatives of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation at all its assemblies and members of the Front de Libération du Québec trained with the PLO in Jordan in the 1970s. To this day, members of Québec’s sovereignty movement like Gilles Duceppe, Amir Khadir and Pierre Falardeau are staples of any demonstration against israeli aggressions.
I used to feel the same way. Not anymore.
As much as I am horrified by much of Israel’s way of dealing with the Palestinians and as much as I am disgusted by the blatant racism and islamophobia of Israel’s apologists in much of the Canadian media like the National Post and Maclean’s, I have come to understand Israel’s position much better recently, and I did it by – if you will – putting Québec in Israel’s shoes.
Take a step back with me.
After a long and emotional campaign during which all of the past injustices suffered by the French-Canadians, from the deportation of the Acadians to the economic discrimination of the 20th century, have been dredged up, Québec has just become an independent country. At long last a free, independent and secure homeland for French-speakers in America.
The vote and it’s consequences causes fear and panic in English-speaking parts of Montreal. Many leave their homes and move in with family in the rest of Canada, at least temporarily. Quickly, resistance is organized in the West Island and the Pontiac. Heavily financed by Canadian nationalist and patriots in Ontario and Alberta unable to accept any form of independence for Québec, the Canadian Liberation Organisation makes plans for the complete and final reconquest of Québec.
After countless deaths and destruction caused by Canadian terrorists operating out of bases in DDO and Shawville, the Québec government is forced to impose an always tighter control on Anglo areas, including countless check points, curfews and even walls. Further complicating things, ultra-nationalist Québécois factions are building settlements in Pointe-Claire and the Ottawa Valley in the name of a divine right of the Québécois to occupy the whole territory of Québec. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Anglos who left Québec in the days following the referendum are now demanding the right to return and the restitution of their property.
Sympathies in the vast CNN watching North American public are overwhelmingly on the side of Québec Anglos whom they naturally identify with as they are of the same culture and speak the same language. Anglo leaders know this and use it to their advantage as a vast campaign of Québec-bashing is orchestrated and dutifully relayed by the American and Canadian media.
Anglo Resistance leaders also spend much time on American television explaining how they are just a peaceful people trying to establish a peaceful homeland for Anglo-Quebecers, conveniently overlooking the fact that just yesterday they vowed to destroy the State of Québec and drive every last French-speaker in the St.Lawrence River.
And so it drags on, for years and decades. Québec, with scarcely a friend (except for France, which doesn’t exactly help in North America) continues to protect its security and defend its citizens in the face of worldwide criticism. Meanwhile, Anglos in the West Island and the Ottawa Valley suffer indignities that are simultaneously the cause and consequence of their support for always more radical leaders.
Of course, all of this is political fiction and I certainly don’t believe there is any reason to think things could ever breakdown so badly in Québec. And I certainly don’t want to trivialize the pain and suffering of the people of the Middle East.
But I also think the people of Québec, and especially my friends in the sovereignty movement, should be careful before they throw their first stone at the State of Israel.
So who the hell is this Dr. Amir Khadir, you ask?
He is the immigrant-born, partly McGill-educated, leader of Québec’s newest sovereigntist party and now the first second Muslim ever elected to the National Assembly of Québec.
That’s quite a brainful for you, isn’t it, Canada?
Born in Teheran, Iran, Dr. Khadir immigrated to Québec with his parents at the age of 10. He is a practicing physician at Le Gardeur Hospital and the co-spokesperson of Québec Solidaire, a small progressive party born of the left wing of the Parti québécois, the lukewarm remains of the Québec NDP and the typical rainbow coalition of hippies, communists, university professors, vegans and failed artists who, in other countries, support Ralph Nader and Jack Layton.
Oh, and he might also be a slightly nutty conspiracy theorist and, according to columnist Pierre Foglia, the Northern Hemisphere’s most far left politician.
In other words, a protest vote, right? A freak disfunction of our British Parliamentary system, no doubt.
And yet… and yet…
Amir Khadir is all that, but he is also a genuinely well-liked man who’s been working very hard at the fringes of Québec’s political spectrum. In Québec, a province where all three leaders of the Liberals, the PQ and the ADQ are career politicians who have never had real jobs, someone like Dr. Khadir, who has lead Médecin du Monde missions in Iraq and the Palestinian occupied territories, and who went to work at his hospital on the morning after his election, commands sincere admiration and respect.
In fact, he just might be Québec’s most charismatic politician since René Lévesque. (Sorry, the Justin Trudeau thing isn’t working here…)
With Québec Solidaire’s co-leader Françoise David, Dr. Khadir has already performed a small miracle in uniting Québec’s far left into a coherent, if not plausible, progressive alternative.
A dream for sure, but a presentable dream. Something solid enough to receive the support of Claude Béland, the former president of Québec’s biggest financial institution, le Mouvement Desjardins, and of Julius Grey, the eminent lawyer who has punched more holes in Bill 101 than any other living person.
It takes quite a man to unite a banker and an Anglo-rights activist in a party dedicated to Québec’s political independence…
Such is the curious but exciting mix of Québec Solidaire, a scrappy coalition of dreamers, feminists and social activists, including a respectable share of Anglos and minorities, united behind the general idea of a progressive and independent Québec.
Kind of like the Party Québécois before it forgot WHY it wanted Québec to be an independent country.
Of course, with 4% of the province-wide vote and a single MNA, it doesn’t cost much to Support Québec Solidaire. Dr. Khadir might have convinced a dozen or so small left wing parties to temporarily put aside their differences over the interpretation of resolution 17.b of the IVth International Socialist Conference on proto-structural gender role-bias in a post-consumer society and unite under the single banner of Québec Solidaire for now, but we’ll see how long that coalition holds once he has to actually vote on legislation in the National Assembly.
Nor is he done explaining what he meant in 2006 when he said that he was not ready to ‘reject’ the various conspiracy theories claiming that the World Trade Center was an inside job.
Still, few people ever thought that Amir Khadir’s unlikely coalition would hold together as long as it it did in the first place. It will be interesting to see how well he will be able to use his increased visibility and credibility as an MNA.
One thing’s for sure, it’s been a while since anybody in Québec has been this enthousiastic about a politician. At least since Barack Obama…
Did you ever read the Canadian constitution? It’s a very curious document. It describes a political system that bears very little resemblance to the one we think we have.
An immigrant from Utar Pradesh reading the constitution of Canada would learn about a country ruled by an all powerful monarch counselled by a popular assembly of the common people. A country with a very primitive form of democracy and scarcely a check or balance.
Such is the British parliamentary system. A system that evolves slowly with time and with foundations made of traditions instead of words.
The idea that the leader of the party that wins the most votes in the election becomes Prime Minister and he forms a government out of elected members of his own party is not in the constitution. You can ctrl+f the constitution all you want, you won’t find the words “political party” in there.
Political parties were a sort of spontaneous formations – kind of like the alliances in the TV show Survivor – that were never intended by the designers of the game, but became a fundamental part of it nonetheless. The original intent was that any combination of elected (white males who owned land in the original version) members of parliament could get together to form, or support, a government.
That is the government’s only claim to legitimacy vis-à-vis the governor and the Queen: it has the support of a majority of the elected members of the House. According to the letter of the law – if you are to read the actual words of the constitution – the Governor General, and ultimately the Queen, can make her cat Minister of Finance.
In 1999 the British kicked the hereditary lords out of their own house, the House of Lords, ending the centuries old right of blue bloods to oversee the Empires affairs without so much as a vigorous debate. Such is the beauty of the British political system: it can turn revolutions into incredibly boring affairs.
Real power slowly but inevitably is transfered from the Throne, to the Parliament, to the democratically elected members of the House. Without any drama or bloodshed. That is how Britain can have one of the most democratic regimes in the world without having to get rid of it’s hereditary head of state. It is how it can have one of the oldest and most stable political systems in the world, without even having a written constitution.
Change is slow, but it moves in one direction: toward more democracy and accountability.
It works because all the players: the Queen, the governors, the MPs, the Senators, the Lords, the Judges, etc… agree on a few unwritten rules: the House of Commons and it’s elected members hold, not the ultimate legal power, but the only legitimate power and the government must have the support of the House.
Last week the Governor-General of Canada prorogued the session of Parliament to keep a government that it knew did not have the confidence of the majority of the elected members of the House of Commons from losing a vote.
The unelected representative of the Queen disregarded the opinion of the House.
Last week was awesome for Call-centre workers (i.e. Poli Sci majors) across Canada and Québec. We had excitement, drama and intrigue in Parliament. We saw our Head of State act like a Head of State and use her constitutional powers.
That, in our system, is not a good sign for democracy.
Gilles Duceppe was given a choice this week. He had to decide whether he was going to save Stephen Harper or Stéphane Dion’s ass.
No third option. Dion or Harper. Pick one.
Gilles Duceppe also lost the best gig in parliamentary politics this week: perpetual opposition. The right… – no, the constitutional duty – to rip the government and the other parties apart without ever having to offer a viable alternative.
Yesterday he agreed to keep a Liberal-NDP coalition in power for over a year. He signed away the Bloc’s right to oppose their budgets or any other major legislation. If the coalition ever forms the government the Bloc is going to be held accountable for what it does. The Bloc is going to have, ugh… a record.
And you think the Liberals and the NDP are going to have a hard time explaining to their constituents that they signed a deal with the separatists? Gilles Duceppe had to sign a deal with Stéphane Dion! Mister Clarity Act! Canada’s Separatist-Slayer in Chief!
All this for what? Nothing. Sweet fuck all. Gilles Duceppe candidly admitted at the coalition’s press conference that he did not obtain anything substantial for the Québec Nation in return for his support. Layton and Dion had him by the balls. Either he ran with them or he was to become the man who saved Stephen Harper.
And the English Canadian media will have you believe this is the Québec independence movement’s greatest coup in history…