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A decade of upheaval in Quebec politics: Religion, corruption, the CAQ, activist youth – Montreal Gazette



The period was bookmarked by divisive debates over religious symbols. The political landscape was upturned as two historic parties crumbled and two upstarts rose. The first female premier was elected. And activist youth shook the province – twice.

The last decade was tumultuous in Quebec politics and there wasn’t even a referendum.

The period was bookmarked by divisive debates over religious symbols. The political landscape was upturned as two historic parties crumbled and two upstarts rose. The first female premier was elected. And activist youth shook the province — twice.

Here’s a portrait of an eventful decade in Quebec political history.

Dark clouds for Liberals, PQ

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Early in the decade, a Liberal — Jean Charest — was premier and the Parti Québécois was the official opposition under Pauline Marois. But in 2010, storm clouds were gathering for the two parties, which had alternated in power in Quebec for more than four decades. Liberal support was collapsing. Media were swirling with stories about corruption in government contracts and criminal control of the province’s construction industry. And voters were telling pollsters they didn’t think Charest would do anything about it. Over at the PQ, Marois’s leadership was under scrutiny. Polls showed francophone voters would happily abandon the party René Lévesque founded for one that didn’t even exist yet. They were intrigued by news that behind the scenes, former PQ minister and businessman François Legault was building a new right-of-centre party that would shelve sovereignty.

Corruption clamour

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For two years, just about everybody in Quebec was calling for an inquiry into corruption in Quebec. The key holdout: Charest. He finally relented in October 2011, launching a public inquiry to investigate 1) collusion and corruption in public construction contracts, 2) whether such crimes were linked to political party fundraising, and 3) the role organized crime played in the construction industry. With Justice France Charbonneau at the helm, its hearings were broadcast live and Quebecers were riveted to 261 days of public testimony. Civil servants were being paid off. Above-board contractors were being harassed. Construction and engineering firms were rigging bids. In some cases, the Mafia controlled which companies won contracts, how much they would charge, and got a percentage of the take. The machinations were producing substandard infrastructure and costing taxpayers untold millions. It took four years for the $45-million Charbonneau Commission to publish its final report, a period during which Quebec twice changed government, first turfing Charest in favour of Marois and then replacing Marois with Liberal Philippe Couillard. In its final report in 2015, the Charbonneau commission said corruption and collusion was “widespread and deeply rooted; it made 60 recommendations. A year later, most recommendations had not been implemented, an anticorruption monitoring group said at the time. And three-quarters of Quebecers surveyed said corruption under Couillard was as significant or more significant than under previous premiers.

Youth in the streets, take 1

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Quebec youth took to the streets en masse in 2012, demanding a university tuition freeze. They were up in arms against a Liberal government plan to hike tuition fees, among the lowest in Canada, by 75 per cent via annual $325 increases over five years. With small red squares of fabric safety-pinned to their clothes, tens of thousands of protesting CEGEP and university students boycotted classes, regularly paralyzing Montreal streets. Some demos turned violent, making international headlines. Dubbed the Maple Spring, the movement fizzled out in the summer. An election was in the offing and the protesters had an ally in Marois; the PQ leader had worn a red square in the National Assembly for months and at one point clanged pot lids together as she joined a demo. After she won power in September 2012, Marois cancelled the Liberal tuition hike. But she also slashed university funding by $124 million and later hiked tuition by three per cent, or about $70. That hike led to more demos in the spring of 2013, with some now calling for the abolition of tuition fee. Today, Quebec’s tuition is the second lowest in Canada, after Newfoundland and Labrador. In 2019-20, fees jumped by 3.7 per cent, almost twice the rate of inflation.

Historic election

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Quebec made history in 2012, electing its first female premier. But Marois’s election night celebration at PQ headquarters was marred by a burst of political violence, a rarity in Canada. The new PQ premier was whisked off the stage as she gave her victory speech. Richard Henry Bain had opened fire outside, killing stage technician Denis Blanchette. Bain later wrote to his psychiatrist that his plan was to kill “as many separatists as possible” and that he would have killed more people had his gun not jammed. Marois’s ascension to power came as another woman was soaring: Françoise David of the left-wing sovereignist Québec solidaire, one of Quebec’s most popular politicians at the time. David’s impressive performance in the leaders’ election debate helped her party siphon votes away from the PQ, depriving Marois of a majority. Marois’s reign was short-lived. After just 19 months, she was defeated by Couillard.

Religious symbols, take 1

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Quebecers had spent part of the previous decade arguing over “reasonable accommodation” — the relaxing of rules in favour of people threatened with discrimination. In 2013, Marois tried to exploit resentment among some Quebecers by proposing a Charter of Quebec Values under which public workers — including teachers, professors, civil servants and doctors — would be prohibited from wearing “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols such as burkas, hijabs, kippahs, turbans and “large” crosses at work. The proposal, complete with diagrams to show what could and could not be worn, was highly controversial, with some institutions saying they would defy the law. But the PQ’s charter failed to become law after Marois called an election and was defeated by Couillard. Some attribute her 2014 loss in part to the backlash over her proposed charter.

Rise and fall of PKP

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Pierre Karl Péladeau, head of the Quebecor business empire launched by his father, entered politics with a bang in 2014. Standing next to Marois, who had recruited him as a star PQ candidate, Péladeau passionately pumped his fist in the air, saying his main goal was to make Quebec a country. The candidacy of the rich, powerful businessman sent shock waves through Canada; one national magazine ran a photo of a determined-looking Péladeau on its cover, asking: “Is this the man who will break up Canada?” It didn’t work out that way. The fist pump became an enduring image of the ensuing election campaign. That put sovereignty on the forefront, to Marois’s detriment, as many Quebecers were not keen on another referendum. After Marois’s government fell, Péladeau took over as party leader in May 2015. But his tenure was short: he quit just under a year later as leader and MNA. In the midst of a difficult divorce from TV personality Julie Snyder, he cited family reasons. But Péladeau remains a key figure in politics. Quebecor is a print, broadcasting and online juggernaut that is dominated by nationalist voices. And Péladeau is still personally present: he stole the show at a Bloc Québécois rally in August, and he’s not afraid to publicly castigate the Legault government.

The CAQ era begins

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Beginning in 1976, two parties dominated Quebec politics, but over the course of the last three elections the Liberals and PQ saw their fortunes sink as Quebecers increasingly looked for fresh ideas. Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec, a centre-right, nationalist party that brought together federalists and sovereignists, won a decisive majority in 2018. More than a year later, the honeymoon continues. The CAQ easily won a byelection in December and Legault is the most popular premier in Canada. Another relatively new party is also on the upswing. In the 2018 election, Québec solidaire attracted left-wing sovereignists and environmentally-conscious voters away from the PQ. Québec solidaire, born in 2006, has 10 seats in the National Assembly, one more than the fourth-place PQ. The Liberals, for their part, came second in 2018, but that result belies its dire situation. Polls show francophones, who make up the majority in the vast majority of Quebec ridings, want nothing to do with the Liberals. Today, the party, which traces its roots back to 1867, has no MNAs east of its Montreal bastion. Rudderless, the PQ and the Liberals both end the decade desperately looking for a leader who can breathe new life into them.

Religious symbols, take 2

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When it comes to religious symbols, the CAQ succeeded where the PQ failed. Buoyed by a rise in nationalism, one of Legault’s first acts as premier was to introduce Bill 21, a law that prohibits government workers deemed to be in positions of authority — including teachers, police, judges — from wearing symbols such as the hijab and the kippah at work. Opposed by many among religious and linguistic minorities, the law, which came into force in June, is popular among the majority, largely Catholic population. The government invoked the notwithstanding clause, which prevents citizens from challenging a law for violating parts of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. However, lawsuits contending the bill is discriminatory were launched. In December, Quebec’s Court of Appeal rejected a motion to suspend the law while the Superior Court examines whether the law itself is unconstitutional. That court is expected to start hearing the case in the fall of 2020.

Students in the streets, take 2

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Seven years after the red-square protests, a new youth movement arose in the dying days of the decade. Inspired by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, Quebec young people again took massively to the streets in 2019, this time to demand action on climate change. They held weekly Friday rallies, often skipping school, culminating in what was described as the biggest rally in Quebec history. Led by Thunberg herself, an estimated crowd of 500,000 dominated by young people took over Montreal streets in September. The youth-led demand for action helped make the environment a major issue in the federal election, held three weeks after the rally. And after largely ignoring climate change during its rise to power, Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec government also took notice. Criticized for sitting out this year’s United Nations climate summit, Legault now says he’ll be there next year.

Where were they then?

A decade ago, some of today’s political leaders were not on the front lines.

  • Legault quit politics in 2009, lamenting that “Quebec is going into a quiet decline.” He launched the CAQ two years later.
  • Interim Liberal leader Pierre Arcand, a former broadcasting executive recently arrived in politics, was Quebec’s environment minister in 2010.
  • Manon Massé, co-spokesperson for Québec solidaire, worked for the Centre des Femmes de Laval, while her co-spokesperson, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, was a prominent student activist.
  • Pascal Berube, now the PQ’s interim leader, was an obscure opposition critic focusing on tourism, wildlife and fisheries.

Quebec by the numbers: Then and now

2010: 7.9 million
2018: 8.4 million

Number of people 100 years old or older
2010: 1,773
2018: 2,340

Mother tongue, Montreal Island
French: 48.7%
English: 16.8%
Other: 31.8%
Multiple: 2.7%

French: 46.1%
English: 16.1%
Other: 33.2%
Multiple: 4.6%

Average single-family house value, city of Montreal
2010: $398,000
2019: $601,000

Minimum wage
2009: $9
2019: $12.50

Per capita greenhouse gas emissions
2010: 10.4 tonnes
2018: 9.6 tonnes

Top source of immigrants
2007-2011: France
2012-2016: China

2010: 8 per cent
2018: 5.5 per cent

Support for sovereignty
2010: 42 per cent
2018: 31 per cent

Sources: Institut de la statistique du Québec, Statistics Canada, City of Montreal, —Léger Marketing , Ipsos

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Two Religion Reporters Cover Where Faith and Politics Meet – The New York Times



Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.

The discourse surrounding the background of the Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett and the support of white evangelicals for President Trump has deepened political divisions in the country, and the conversations are two examples of why it’s important to understand conservative Christians and their impact. For our religion reporters, Ruth Graham and Elizabeth Dias, covering more political stories as the election draws nearer has become inevitable. We asked them a few questions about digging into the facts on the faith beat.

What challenges do you face covering religion in the United States?

RUTH GRAHAM One challenge in this particular moment is that the pandemic has made reporting so much harder. That’s true on every beat, of course, but religious observance in particular has so many sensory elements that really have to be experienced in person: music, prayers, food, décor, incense, emotion. Calling people up on the phone and asking direct questions about their beliefs will never capture it all.

ELIZABETH DIAS The polarized political climate has made reporters’ jobs harder all around. I’ve found conservatives are increasingly wary of talking with us no matter what the story is, from sexual abuse in evangelical churches to Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination. That means these important stories often take longer to do because access to accurate information is harder to get.

Religion and politics seem inseparable these days. Has that always been the case, or has something shifted?

GRAHAM I think they seem inseparable partly because it’s election season, and as journalists we tend to view things through that lens ourselves. For ordinary believers, the connection is not always so clear. Some people clearly draw a connection between their faith and their views on national politics; others definitely don’t. I try to keep that in mind as a reporter and not force every story into a political frame.

DIAS Religion and politics both reflect shared, larger questions. They are both about power. They are both about people. They are both about how people structure life together. For centuries religion was politics, and it still is today in many parts of the world — the Vatican is a city state. Each generation works out its own relationship to these bigger questions and to history, and the election is just one way we are seeing that play out now in the United States.

Credit…Rozette Rago/The New York Times

How is covering religion during the 2020 election different than in 2016?

DIAS So much was revealed in 2016: the political influence of prosperity gospel preachers, who connect faith with financial wealth; the complete marriage of white evangelicals to President Trump; the depth of the racial divides within Christianity. Four years later these themes are all present, but that does not necessarily mean the election outcome will be the same. When the votes are tallied we will learn how the president’s religious coalition has and hasn’t changed after four years.

Would QAnon ever cross into your beat? What would that look like?

GRAHAM Yes, I’m actually starting to work on a Q-adjacent story right now. It’s a movement that has really taken off among Christian conservatives, and some have argued that QAnon itself is best understood as a homegrown religious movement. So there’s a lot of natural overlap on the religion beat.

What considerations do you take when reporting on religious groups that feel distrust toward the media?

GRAHAM The rising distrust of the media among a lot of conservative religious people is a major challenge, and one that is not going away. My starting assumption these days is always that I will have to work to convince conservative believers to talk with me. I do my best to acknowledge their wariness and explain why I want to include their voice in the story. All I can do is try to build trust by continuing to produce work that takes religion and faith seriously.

DIAS Trust grows over time, so I try to build long-term relationships with people I interview and to think of the body of work I’m building, versus only one specific story. Deep listening happens slowly, and requires appropriate empathy. I also spend a lot of time talking with people off the record, even though it means I may need to do more interviews, because I want to learn from them however I can.

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To Do Politics or Not Do Politics? Tech Start-Ups Are Divided – The New York Times



Rob Rhinehart, a co-founder of nutritional drink start-up Soylent, declared in a blog post last week that he was supporting Kanye West for president.

“I am so sick of politics,” Mr. Rhinehart wrote. “Politics are suddenly everywhere. I cannot avoid them.”

David Barrett, the chief executive of Expensify, a business software start-up, went in another direction. In an email to his company’s 10 million customers last week, he implored them to embrace politics by choosing the Democratic presidential nominee, Joseph R. Biden Jr.

“Anything less than a vote for Biden is a vote against democracy,” Mr. Barrett proclaimed.

With days to go before the election on Tuesday, Mr. Rhinehart and Mr. Barrett represent the twin poles of a start-up culture war that has openly erupted in Silicon Valley. Start-ups such as the cryptocurrency company Coinbase and the audio app Clubhouse have become embroiled in a debate over how much politics should be part of the workplace. And venture capitalists and other tech executives have weighed in on social media with their own views.

“I have never seen another instance like this in my career,” said Bradley Tusk, a venture capitalist and political consultant. “There’s no real separation anymore, in the current political climate, between politics and everything else. It has permeated absolutely everything.”

Silicon Valley tech workers have long been regarded as liberal but not politically overactive. After President Trump’s victory in 2016, however, workers at large tech companies such as Google and Amazon began agitating more on issues like the ethics of artificial intelligence, immigration and climate change.

Now many start-up workers, who have been sold on a mission of changing the world, expect their employers to support their social and political causes, entrepreneurs and investors said. This summer’s protests against police violence prompted many tech companies to re-examine their own issues with race. And the pressure to make political moves before the election has only intensified.

The shift has grown partly out of a realization that no tech platform is completely neutral, said Katie Jacobs Stanton, who invests in start-ups through her venture capital firm, Moxxie Ventures. Founders who build companies with millions of users “really have an obligation to have a point of view and make sure their products are being used for good,” Ms. Stanton said.

“It’s disingenuous and it’s also the luxury of the privileged to say, ‘We don’t have a point of view,’” she added.

But others said they feared becoming a lightning rod or inflaming tensions at a hypersensitive moment during the coronavirus pandemic. Some worried that their companies could be sued by employees who might say they were discriminated against because of their political beliefs. Others said any move could be attacked by those who found the actions inauthentic or not enough.

Those tensions exploded in public last month when Brian Armstrong, the chief executive of Coinbase, penned a 2,000-word blog post to “clarify” his company’s culture. Mr. Armstrong wrote that he wanted Coinbase to generally avoid engaging with broader social issues and workplace conversations about politics. He said it was a way to minimize distraction and focus on the start-up’s mission of creating “an open financial system for the world.”

Credit…Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Two months earlier, dozens of Coinbase employees had staged a walkout after executives were slow to express solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters and minority employees, several workers said. In his post, Mr. Armstrong said employees who disagreed with his “no politics” stance could leave.

His position immediately created waves across Silicon Valley. Some praised the move, with one Coinbase investor comparing Mr. Armstrong to Michael “Jordan in his prime.” Others said opting out of politics was itself a political statement.

Dick Costolo, a former chief executive of Twitter, tweeted that “me-first capitalists who think you can separate society from business” would be shot in “the revolution.” He deleted the post after, he said, it set off violent threats and harassment.

In an interview, Mr. Costolo said it was impossible for companies to separate their mission from their impact on the world. “If you try to separate the social contract from the economic contract, don’t be surprised when there’s an uprising, because they’re linked,” he said.

Some Coinbase workers disagreed with Mr. Armstrong. “I’m just so mystified by the apparent lack of awareness in the blog post,” Ryan King, a Coinbase engineer, wrote on the company’s internal Slack messaging system. The message was reviewed by The New York Times. “A declaration that we’re not going to touch ‘broader societal issues’ fails to acknowledge that we’re a part of society,”

About 60 Coinbase employees, or 5 percent of the work force, have resigned, the company said. A spokeswoman declined further comment.

Fred Wilson, an investor at Union Square Ventures and a Coinbase board member, said in an interview that there were no easy answers for start-up leaders. “Many, many C.E.O.s have told me privately that they would like to have done what Brian did but don’t want to take the heat that he has taken,” he said.

On Monday, Mr. Wilson wrote a blog post about removing start-up chief executives who have “failed to manage numerous important challenges.” The post prompted speculation that he was referring to Mr. Armstrong, but Mr. Wilson said it was a metaphor for President Trump.

The political debates among Silicon Valley start-ups have ramped up since the Coinbase episode. Last week, Soylent’s Mr. Rhinehart published his post supporting Mr. West’s presidential bid. Mr. Rhinehart, who is on the board but not involved in the company’s day-to-day operations, also attacked the political system and the media, writing that “politics has always been based on jokes.”

Demir Vangelov, Soylent’s chief executive, said Mr. Rhinehart’s post did not represent the company. Soylent’s focus is on bringing “the best complete nutrition to everyone,” he said, and it does not take political stances.

At Expensify, based in Portland, Ore., Mr. Barrett took a different position. After spending more than a decade in Silicon Valley, where he found a “uniform view” that politics was not good for business, he moved to Portland four years ago. Now, he said, “choosing not to participate is also a choice — it’s a choice to defend the status quo.”

So when Expensify employees drafted an email to tell customers to vote for Mr. Biden, after concluding in an internal discussion that re-electing Mr. Trump would be a threat to democracy, Mr. Barrett favored sending it out. While roughly a third of Expensify’s top management opposed sending the email because it could alienate customers, the majority ruled, Mr. Barrett said.

Last Thursday, Expensify blasted its message to its 10 million users. “Not many expense reports get filed during a civil war,” Mr. Barrett wrote.

The email instantly drew criticism and praise on social media. Job applications, web traffic and customer sign-ups have since spiked, Mr. Barrett said. But he also received death threats, prompting him to hire private security. No customers have quit, potentially because Expensify’s system takes months to switch out of, he said.

Tayo Oviosu, chief executive of Paga, a payments start-up in Lagos, Nigeria, said Expensify’s email had crossed a line. Mr. Oviosu isn’t opposed to companies’ speaking up on social justice issues, “but that is very different than leveraging the fact that you used my personal information to tell me I have to vote in a certain way,” he said. “That is wrong.”

Mr. Oviosu, who was using a trial version of Expensify and was considering adopting the paid version, said he now planned to look at alternatives. “I think they lost me completely on this,” he said.

The start-up culture wars are also evident on Clubhouse, where people join rooms and chat with one another. The app has been a popular place for investors such as Marc Andreessen and other techies to hang out in the pandemic. (Mr. Andreessen’s venture firm, Andreessen Horowitz, has invested in Clubhouse, Coinbase and Soylent.)

On Oct. 6, Mr. Andreessen started a Clubhouse room called “Holding Space for Karens,” which describes having empathy for “Karens,” a slang term for a pushy privileged woman. Another group, “Holding Space for Marc Andreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeessen,” soon popped up. There, people discussed their disappointment with the Karen discussion and other instances when, they said, Clubhouse was hostile to people of color.

Mr. Andreessen and others later started a Clubhouse room called “Silence,” where no one spoke. Andreessen Horowitz declined to comment.

At a “town hall” inside the app on Sunday, Clubhouse’s founders, Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, were asked about Coinbase’s and Expensify’s political statements and where Clubhouse stood. They said the company was still deciding how Clubhouse would publicly back social causes and felt the platform should allow for multiple points of view, a spokeswoman said. She declined to comment further.

Yet even those wishing to stay out of politics are finding it hard to avoid. On Saturday, Mr. Armstrong shared Mr. Rhinehart’s blog post endorsing Mr. West on Twitter. “Epic,” tweeted Mr. Armstrong.

Several users pointed out the hypocrisy in Mr. Armstrong’s sharing something political after telling employees to abstain. One of his employees, Jesse Pollak, wrote that Mr. Armstrong had shared something with “a large number of inaccuracies, conspiracy theories, and misplaced assumptions.”

Soon after, Mr. Pollak and Mr. Armstrong deleted their tweets.

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SMITH: Removing big money from politics – Toronto Sun



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While I disagreed with many things about Canada’s Liberal government under Prime Minister Jean Chretien, I have to concede that his legislation to put limits on election spending was possibly one of the best things ever done for our nation.

I’ve run local campaigns for federal candidates in Canada; we get to spend roughly $1 per voter during the writ period. You need to be wildly creative and heavily volunteer-dependent to run a campaign on $90,000 – especially given the fact that we have at least one riding the size of Germany (that would be Kenora).

The money spent on U.S. elections is appalling – some reports say Hillary Clinton spent $1 billion on her 2016 campaign. The American Super PAC system is insane; it appears that it was designed to help cheaters cheat. It has spawned a massive election industry with a voracious appetite for uncontrolled spending. It has become a self-perpetuating machine of manipulation and, I think, corruption.

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In America, elections professionals can earn an excellent living selling their services in an endless loop of voting cycles with virtually no limit on spending. Candidates are allowed to raise millions of dollars which they can then spend on friends, family members and loved ones for elections activities which are questionable at best.

Minnesota representative Ilhan Omar has reportedly funneled $2.7 million to her husband’s company, 70% of her campaign spending in this cycle. That’s a nice living, and then some, for both of them.

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