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Globe editorial: How François Legault remade politics in Quebec, and Canada, in 2021 – The Globe and Mail



Quebec Premier François Legault speaks at a news conference, Sept. 23, 2021, at the legislature in Quebec City.Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

If you could sum up the year in Quebec politics in three items, it would be these: the provincial government’s plan to unilaterally amend the Canadian Constitution; an English-language election debate moderator asking a question on Bill 21 that was so ignorantly conceived and badly phrased that even Quebeckers opposed to the law were offended; and the Montreal Canadiens roster.

Each in their own way, these represent the new battleground in the province’s relations with the rest of Canada – and with itself. That battleground, in a word, is identity. And the man pushing it to the centre of everything is Premier François Legault.

His election in 2018 at the head of the relatively new Coalition Avenir Québec party marked the end of a half-century of power swings between the federalist Quebec Liberal Party and the separatist Parti Québécois. The CAQ is as nationalist as the PQ but opposes another referendum, just like the Liberals – and that magic formula has destroyed the long-standing Liberal-PQ dialectic.


The events of 2021 made it clear the degree to which Mr. Legault has reordered politics. A Leger poll in early October gave the CAQ 47-per-cent support, 27 points ahead of the second-place Liberals. The PQ, once the soul of the nationalist movement, was at 11 per cent.

Support for the CAQ, and for Mr. Legault himself, have remained high, despite the carnage in long-term care homes during the first wave of COVID-19, and the fact the province has had by far the highest death rate per capita in Canada.

The proof of systemic racism is in Quebec Premier François Legault’s own Bill 21

Politics brought Bill 21 into existence. Only politics can take it out

Mr. Legault’s apparent invulnerability comes from his constant focus on the protection of the French language, which most francophone voters see as fundamental to their identity, and which he plays up as being under threat.

That’s his justification for his plan to unilaterally insert two clauses into Canada’s Constitution – “Quebeckers form a nation”; and “French shall be the only official language of Quebec. It is also the common language of the Quebec nation” – through Bill 96, a proposed law to strengthen the province’s Charter of the French language, a.k.a. Bill 101.

It’s the reason why, also under Bill 96′s proposals, immigrants to Quebec will only be able to access government services in English for the first six months after arrival; why language inspectors will be able to enter workplaces without a warrant and seize documents and computer files; and why businesses will have to justify any requirement that a job candidate be bilingual.

It explains the existence of Bill 21, a 2019 law that bans police officers, judges, prosecutors and teachers from wearing religious dress, such as a hijab or a kippah, on the job.

It’s why Mr. Legault took it upon himself to criticize the Montreal Canadiens for playing a game in May with not one francophone in the lineup.

And it’s why Mr. Legault spun the clumsy words of debate moderator Shachi Kurl in September into what he called an attack on Quebec values. The episode, characterized within the province as just the latest outbreak of “Quebec bashing,” was a gift to Mr. Legault.

In June, out of fear of incurring the wrath of Quebec voters, all federal parties voted for a motion to “acknowledge the will of Quebec” to unilaterally add the two proposed clauses to the Constitution.

And during the 2021 federal election campaign, none of the party leaders dared criticize Bill 21. They only found their voice in December, after a teacher was removed from her job for wearing a hijab. But even then, they were at pains to be delicate in their criticism.

Ottawa’s stand goes further than acquiescing to Mr. Legault’s questionable policies. Bill C-32, a modernization of Canada’s official languages act that died when the election was called, but will almost certainly be revived, rethinks bilingualism as something primarily needed outside Quebec.

The Trudeau government now says protecting French in Quebec is “a fundamental premise of the federal official languages regime.” As such, Bill C-32 would make federally chartered companies in Quebec comply with Bill 101′s laws on the use of French in the workplace. It even says Supreme Court judges would have to be bilingual, a fraught proposal.

In 2021, Mr. Legault reinvented separatism. It’s no longer about Quebec leaving Canada. Now it’s about Canada leaving Quebec alone. And more than traditional sovereigntists ever did, he’s getting what he wants.

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China, Russia face sanctions from US states now. That’s dangerous



Sanctions have become all the rage in international politics. The United States and its allies are imposing them on rivals with increasing frequency and severity. And those rivals are reciprocating where they can.

Now, American states, too, are increasingly getting in on the act. And that’s bad news — for the world, and for US foreign policy. A much-publicised episode of a Chinese balloon entering US airspace seems to have created new energy for such restrictions and has led to legislation being proposed in at least 11 states.

On Wednesday, the South Carolina State Senate passed a bill barring ownership of land in the state by citizens of US geopolitical adversaries Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and Cuba. The bill’s top sponsor even compared a planned purchase of South Carolina land by a Chinese biomedical firm with the Trojan Horse plot of Greek mythology.

Meanwhile, Texas State Senator Lois Kolkhorst has proposed a similar law that has drawn strong condemnation on human rights grounds but has been defended by Greg Abbott, the state’s Republican governor. A simple reading of the original version of this bill would lead one to conclude that any individual who holds citizenship from any of the mentioned countries, or any firms which they own, would be barred from owning property. This would have included American citizens who hold dual citizenship. Since then, the language has been softened to protect dual citizens and permanent residents but not citizens of those countries residing in Texas on a visa.


Implementation of such language would impose new and unusual due diligence requirements on common land transactions. Meanwhile, creating special restrictions on various immigrant communities to own property poses human rights concerns.

Existing sanctions laws and Treasury Department designations already block leaders from those American adversaries from transferring money into the US or owning property in the country. Meanwhile, recently introduced federal legislation aims to ban US adversaries from purchasing large swaths of farmland in the US.

So why would a state engage in what is essentially a foreign policy and national security matter?

Why sanction?

On the one hand, some scholars see sanctions as often being a product of domestic politics, aimed at portraying muscle to the electorate, at times influenced by pressure groups such as “ethnic lobbies”. Those in this camp of scholars are more inclined to believe that sanctions are not particularly effective. If sanctions are for the satisfaction of domestic onlookers, they will not be designed and implemented with an eye towards efficacy and the security context.

Other scholars, however, argue that sanctions are indeed imposed due to a meaningful effort to address national security concerns.

Like many in the national security decision-making scholarship community, I feel both of these binary constructions frequently fail when confronted with the history of economic sanctions. The truth is that foreign policy choices are a product of complex national security matrices that accommodate both foreign policy and domestic political considerations.

Who sanctions?

Yet irrespective of one’s overall view on the efficacy of sanctions more broadly, it is hard for anyone to deny that policies against foreign nationals adopted by state governments can have little explanation other than domestic and even local politics.

In the US, the executive branch has always been best suited to make foreign policy decisions due to its clear mandate and wherewithal in this field. Congress has a constitutional role in foreign policy matters but it’s far more likely to be influenced by domestic political pressures and national anxieties.

The executive branch largely controlled sanctions policy throughout the Cold War era. But after the fall of the Soviet Union, as major threats to the homeland faded, Congressional and sub-federal forces became increasingly involved in this field.

While Congress has largely ceded its war power authority in the modern era, it has become more active in sanctioning due to an impulse of members to be seen as projecting power against American adversaries even when it interferes with the president’s efforts to engage in strategic policy.

What about state legislators and governors? They have no real national security staff nor the relevant mandate, as their elections almost always lack any meaningful foreign policy discussion and are decided based on provincial issues, whether taxes or abortion rights.

Yet their meddling in foreign policy isn’t superfluous — it can actually be reckless, for global diplomacy and for US foreign policy. Here’s how.

The folly of state sanctions

As written, the mentioned measures are unlikely to meaningfully interfere with the federal government’s ability to carry out its foreign policy. But one can imagine a scenario in which sanctions imposed by states do just that.

New York state and California preside over major nodes of the global banking community and the international technology supply chain. Texas itself is a major player in global energy markets. Other states can wield a more narrow version of such powers as well.

There are already examples of when New York State has targeted European firms for their perceived violation of sanctions, ignoring objections at the federal level. States can, as the federal government has often done, impose restrictions on firms operating in their jurisdiction in a way that has extraterritorial consequences.

This in turn sets up a precarious dynamic. The federal government might have to mollify or negotiate with state governments led by ambitious politicians responding to special interests or catering to local constituencies.

Equally, state governments of the party in opposition can actively undercut diplomatic efforts of the federal government using such sanctions. For example, a federal effort to ease sanctions on Cuba could create political momentum for state sanctions in Florida, where families of those who fled communist rule are a powerful lobby.

Ultimately, sanctions are a tool of foreign policy and the capacity to modulate or even repeal them is critical to accomplishing the political goals behind sanctions campaigns. For the president or Congress to have to lobby with state governments, each representing a fraction of the overall population, to alter America’s sanctions against a country would represent a bizarre new obstacle to the federal government’s ability to carry out its foreign policy obligations.

The proposed Texas and South Carolina laws are textbook examples of sanctions as political grandstanding meant for domestic consumption. They are also a reminder of the jingoistic zeal that can be nurtured and exploited by foreign policy amateurs at the state level.

As we embark upon what scholar Peter A G van Bergeijk calls the “second wave” of global sanctions, states will likely look further to getting in on the act with human rights and global affairs.

Washington’s basic ability to carry out a coherent foreign policy hangs in the balance.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.


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Beijing denies meddling after MP Han Dong’s resignation from Liberal caucus



OTTAWA — Beijing says it has nothing to say about ongoing allegations that China has meddled in Canadian affairs, including those regarding a member of Parliament who has left the Liberal caucus.

Han Dong is now sitting as an Independent as the Liberal government has a rapporteur investigate claims of Chinese interference, including allegations the Toronto MP willingly received electoral support through Chinese officials.

Dong resigned from the Liberal caucus Wednesday night after Global News, citing unnamed security sources, published a report alleging that he spoke about Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig with a Chinese diplomat in Toronto in February 2021.

The MP says he met with the diplomat but disputes any suggestion that he urged China to delay releasing the two Canadian men, who by that point had been detained for more than two years.


Dong told the House of Commons he would defend himself “against these absolutely untrue claims” and that he did nothing to cause Spavor and Kovrig any harm.

Asked about Dong’s resignation at a press conference today in Beijing, a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry says “the Canadian side may be in a better position” to comment, and that “China opposes interference in other countries’ internal affairs.”

He adds that this applies to broader allegations about Chinese interference.

“We have no interest in and will not interfere in Canada’s internal affairs,” Wang Wenbin said in the official English transcript. “There should be no irresponsible comments on this.”

China’s detention of the men who became known around the world as the “two Michaels” occurred in apparent retaliation for the December 2018 arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on a U.S. extradition warrant.

Beijing has insisted the cases are not linked, despite a close alignment in the timing of each being detained and then released the same day in September 2021.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2023.


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Pierre Poilievre to get face time with U.S. President Joe Biden in Ottawa



OTTAWA — Official Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre is expected to meet U.S. President Joe Biden when he visits Canada this week.

Senior U.S. administration officials confirmed Wednesday in a briefing given on the condition they not be named that Biden plans to have what is known as a “pull-aside” conversation with Poilievre.

They say the president, who is scheduled to arrive in Ottawa with first lady Jill Biden on Thursday, also plans to exchange pleasantries with other party leaders.

Earlier Wednesday, Poilievre said Conservatives want to see the White House end its “Buy American” policies, which industry leaders in Canada say risk hurting workers and the economy.


Poilievre has also called for a closure of the unofficial border crossing at Roxham Road in Quebec, and for action on the Safe Third Country agreement with the U.S.

The two-day visit to Ottawa is Biden’s first since he took office in 2021.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2023.


The Canadian Press

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