For 50 contentious years, the defining split in Quebec politics was between sovereigntists and federalists. “Should Quebec remain in Canada?” was the ideological question par excellence.
But last week, when Premier François Legault exchanged barbed words with the rising opposition star Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois in the Salon bleu of the National Assembly, a new political axis was born. Call it “les wokes” vs. “les Duplessistes.”
This divide isn’t about economics or independence so much as issues of race and religion, whose primal importance in Quebec was once again borne out by this year’s federal election. And although the divide stems from a pair of insults hurled across the floor of the provincial legislature, it reveals a deeper realignment in Quebec’s political class that is being mirrored around the democratic world, away from traditional standards of left and right and toward a preoccupation with identity.
The fracas began on Sept. 15, when Mr. Nadeau-Dubois, a leader of the “Maple Spring” student protests in 2012 and now parliamentary leader of the left-wing Québec Solidaire, rose in the Assembly to accuse Mr. Legault of imitating Maurice Duplessis. It was meant as a bitter reproach: “The Boss” ruled Quebec for most of the period between 1936 and his death in 1959 with a mixture of Catholic piety, anti-Communism and Quebec nationalism, while openly persecuting religious minorities such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and suppressing dissent. His time in power is still often called The Great Darkness.
The current Premier, Mr. Nadeau-Dubois argued, was channeling his notorious predecessor in part by conflating support for Bill 21, a contentious piece of provincial legislation that bans the wearing of visible religious symbols by certain public servants, with membership in “the Quebec nation.”
Visibly angry, Mr. Legault shot back that a majority of Quebeckers support the religious-symbols law. Duplessis, he said, had “many faults, but he defended his nation. He wasn’t un woke like the leader of Québec Solidaire.”
A surprised wave of laughter went up in the Blue Room; the Quebec media has been tittering about Mr. Legault’s choice of epithet ever since. Why was the Premier of North America’s only majority francophone jurisdiction wielding a term popularized by Black activists to describe vigilance about social injustice? Why was he using it as a put-down, not to mention a noun?
Asked to define “un woke” the following day, Mr. Legault offered an original contribution to the Quebec vernacular, saying that to him it meant someone “who wants to make us feel guilty about defending the Quebec nation [and] defending its values.” Google searches for the word exploded in Quebec.
But if the Premier’s particular gloss on the term was novel, its use by conservatives in the province was not. In the past couple of years, columnists for the influential Quebecor media conglomerate have become particularly enamoured of using “woke,” in English, as a slur for liberals and leftists who are highly sensitive about race and gender, a trend on the American right as well. Benoît Melançon, a literature professor at the University of Montreal, searched a media database to find that, since the beginning of last year, the word has appeared in francophone outlets more than 2,000 times.
The word entered Quebec’s political bloodstream purely as a pejorative; virtually no one in the province owns up to the label. While a French politician running to be the Green Party’s presidential candidate recently embraced being “woke,” Prof. Melançon noted, “that’s never done in Quebec.” Likewise, although some historians and journalists have recently begun rehabilitating Maurice Duplessis’s reputation – and Mr. Legault himself jokingly compared his party to Duplessis’s as recently as 2019 – his name remains a popular shorthand for reactionary authoritarianism.
Both political camps have begun life, then, with no self-professed members – but that does not mean they lack weight. In an unsuccessful attempt to steal back some thunder from two rival parties and reassert the importance of his political project, Parti Québécois leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon tweeted a photo of himself this week wearing a shirt that said, “Neither woke, nor duplessiste. Indépendantiste.” The provincial Liberals, meanwhile, traditional standard-bearers of the federalist cause, have stayed out of the fray altogether. Their only slight involvement in the squabble came when Mr. Legault sneeringly referred to them as one of two “multiculturalist” parties in the National Assembly.
The lower profile of Quebec’s once-dominant parties, and the issue that animated them for decades, is the result of a sea change that has sidelined the traditional debate about sovereignty in favour of lower-stakes skirmishes about immigration and ethnic diversity. The shift dates to around 2007, according to Frédéric Bérard, a political commentator, doctor at law and course instructor at the University of Montreal’s law school. It was then, he said, that the question of “reasonable accommodation” of religious minorities came to the forefront of political life in the province.
Quebec has since been roiled by successive controversies around that theme, from the question of whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear the niqab at citizenship ceremonies to the outrage that greeted a debate moderator’s question during the recent federal election campaign about Quebec’s “discriminatory” religious-symbols law.
These issues have emerged, not coincidentally, amidst the long-term decline of the Parti Québécois. Sensing the withering of its traditional goal of an independent Quebec state, the PQ embraced a program of aggressive secularism and the integration of immigrants into the francophone mainstream as an alternative form of national self-assertion, Mr. Bérard said. “It’s less trouble to ban a veil than to have a referendum on independence.”
Although Quebec’s identitarian shift had local causes, it also happened in parallel with a move away from traditional definitions of left and right worldwide. Culture and identity have replaced economics as the main vectors of politics in much of the West, said Mark Fortier, a sociologist and publisher (as well as the author of a book about reading the work of Mathieu Bock-Côté, one of the main exponents of anti-wokeism in the mass-market Journal de Montréal newspaper).
If “les wokes” vs. “les Duplessistes” seems like a tempest in a Québécois teapot, then, it may be part of something bigger. Consider Brexit in the U.K. and the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S., Mr. Fortier said.
“It’s not just in Quebec … It’s the Quebec version of a phenomenon that traverses all liberal democracies.”
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(CNN)Let me tell you a little story. Nine years ago, Barack Obama won a second term in office, and there was talk of an emerging Democratic majority in presidential elections. Then came Donald Trump, the least liked major party nominee of all time, who won the 2016 election — albeit without winning the popular vote.
Now, there is talk of Democrats potentially being locked out of a Senate majority for a time to come because of trends in the electorate.
I am skeptical of this — at least over the long term. History tells us that parties adjust messaging and tend to find the best pathway to a majority, leaving this to be a 50/50 country on average.
Political scientist David Hopkins articulates the idea of this nation being a 50/50 one well. He notes that since the 1980 elections, Democrats and Republicans have won control of the House, Senate and presidency about the same number of times. They have controlled all three for about the same time, including for the Democrats at this point.
This shouldn’t be surprising. As political analyst Sean Trende posited in the book “The Lost Majority,” history is filled with examples of majorities falling apart and the parties coming in and out of power. The book was published before the 2012 elections and has held up quite well.
Obama won a second term with a decent economy in 2012. Despite Trump being unpopular as he was, we saw the presidency change hands after 2016 as it often does when one party has been in the White House for more than a term. Then we saw a president lose in 2020 with a weak, though not terrible, economy and a pandemic unlike anything the country had experienced in more than a century.
All of these election results were predicted to a fairly accurate degree by fundamentals based political science models.
So why would the future be any different when it comes to the Senate? Well it comes down to two pretty simple points.
First, Democratic power is more concentrated than Republican power in terms of geography. You can see this in the 2020 results with now-President Joe Biden reaching a clear majority in the Electoral College and popular vote, but only winning 25 states. Trump, on the other hand, took 30 states in 2016, despite losing the popular vote and winning with a similar number of electoral votes.
Second, and this is key, presidential and Senate voting patterns are more closely aligned than at any point in recent history. Just one state (Maine in 2020) voted differently in the Senate and presidential races that were on the ballot in the last two presidential elections.
And since each state has an equal number of senators, a nation that votes 50/50 in the popular vote on the presidential level will have more Republican senators over the long-term because that translates into winning more states.
To be clear, the idea of Republicans having a structural advantage in the Senate isn’t a new one. It’s one I made in 2013 when I was trying to rebuff the talk of an emerging Democratic majority, which is why I take the point so seriously.
But I’m not sure I was correct eight years ago. The thing I didn’t take into account is that this hasn’t been a 50/50 nation in the presidential popular vote over the last three decades.
Democrats have earned more votes nationwide in seven of the previous eight presidential races. That’s the most popular vote wins in eight presidential elections for either party since the Democratic Party was founded in the first half of the 19th century.
Republicans, of course, have still managed to win three of the last eight presidential elections. Recently, the party has adjusted to win elections with fewer votes by having their votes are concentrated in the right places. This is something some Republicans note openly.
Indeed, the nomination of Trump was a tacit acknowledgment of that strategy. You put someone on the presidential ticket whose support comes disproportionately from White voters without a college degree, which is a group that has a disproportionate amount of power in the Electoral College (in large part because of the Great Lake battleground states). In doing so, you’re losing more voters overall, but allowing you to win with fewer votes because they’re in the right places.
Over the long term this has come out to being close to a wash in states won. Since 1992, Democrats have won 25.5 states in the median election. Republicans have won 24.5. On average, Democrats have won 25 states to Republicans 25.
In the last three presidential elections, Democrats have won 25 states in the median election and 24 on average. I point out the last three because the strong correlation between presidential and Senate results really only started in the 2010s.
If you play out these Senate elections over and over again, you’d probably end up with pretty equal power in the Senate between Democrats and Republicans assuming straight ticket voting between Senate and presidential voting.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean that Republicans won’t end up winning the Senate more times than Democrats. If voters are prone to balancing power (which they usually do), Republicans will do well in midterms and that could carry over to more wins overall because only one-third of the Senate is up for election every presidential cycle. Republicans could easily take back control of the Senate in 2022, which I think is the most likely outcome.
It’s that the default isn’t as pro-Republican as one might assume.
I’ll end by saying we have no idea if the current degree of straight ticket voting will stay the same, pick up or even shrink in years to come. We don’t know what the coalitions will look like. Just like Trump came on the scene and exacerbated the educational divide, another candidate may change the electoral calculus in the future. Parties and their messages aren’t stagnant.
Just this past election, Biden actually performed better by a few points among White voters without a college degree than Hillary Clinton. At the same time, the gap between Whites and people of color (which used to be growing) shrunk, something I don’t think most thought would happen given Trump’s rhetoric.
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British MP Sir David Amess was brutally stabbed to death Friday during a meeting with constituents in a Methodist church east of London . This is the second time in five years that a British MP has been murdered while in office, which surprisingly makes the current era one of the most dangerous in which to be a British parliamentarian . In 2016, Labour MP Jo Cox was shot and stabbed in a West Yorkshire street by a far-right extremist. For context, in the 108 years from 1882 to 1990, only six U.K. MPs were killed by political violence – and every single one was due to targeting by Irish nationalists.
Don’t be surprised if the murder of Amess has a chilling effect on public life all across the G7. After a terrorist gunman attempted to storm Parliament Hill in 2014, the result was an immediate ramp-up of parliamentary security everywhere from Australia to the U.K. In the U.K., the Conservative Party has already ordered a stop to all campaigning until a security review can be completed. Here in Canada, news of the murder has been particularly haunting for MPs who just wrapped up an election campaign that was particularly heavy on threats and security worries. “This last campaign, for me, I have never felt so unsafe,” Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner told CBC .
You can add “laughter” to the list of things that the Royal Canadian Navy isn’t good at . Last year, the second-in-command of HMCS Calgary was dismissed for disabling the warship’s smoke detectors so he could have a cigarette. In response, some anonymous navy wag wrote up a parody song about the incident entitled Smoking in the Wardroom, based on the 1973 hit Smokin’ in the Boys Room. While sailors across Canada had a good laugh at a performance uploaded to YouTube, navy brass absolutely lost their minds and initiated a nationwide manhunt to root out the satirist . According to Postmedia’s David Pugliese, the singer – identified by some fans as an “ Esquimalt legend ” – remains undiscovered.
Meanwhile, the military arguably has much bigger problems to address. Earlier this year, the Canadian Armed Forces’ chief of military personnel was placed on leave while he was investigated regarding an allegation of sexual misconduct. And now his replacement is also under police investigation for sexual misconduct. This happened in the same week that the incoming commander of the Canadian Army also became subject to a police investigation involving an allegation of sexual misconduct.
It looks like Doug Ford might remain premier of Ontario for another term . The province is required to hold a vote by at least June of 2022, but as we all know, Canadian parliaments have a habit lately of getting dissolved early. Although Ford is one of the most unpopular premiers in Canada, polls show that he’s apparently still the best Ontario has. A new Leger survey has the Progressive Conservatives polling at 35 per cent, more than five points ahead of the second-place Liberals.
Only days after the release of the two Michaels from Chinese detention, B.C.’s Minister of State for Trade George Chow was a VIP guest at a Huawei-sponsored event in Vancouver celebrating the Chinese Communist Party. He even waved a tiny five-starred Chinese flag. Lest his appearance be seen as an official B.C. endorsement of Beijing, however, Chow’s spokespeople helpfully cleared up the matter this week. He wasn’t wearing his cabinet minister hat while at the pro-Beijing event , his office told Glacier Media . Rather, he was just attending the event as a regular civilian who may or may not have a senior position in the provincial government that directly deals with China on a regular basis.
This week, Alberta’s top doctor announced that a 14-year-old had become one of the province’s latest COVID-19 fatalities. There’s just one problem: The 14-year-old did not die of COVID-19. After the announcement, family members of the deceased teen took to social media to say that the 14-year-old actually died of brain cancer. Although he had an 11 th hour COVID-19 diagnosis, it was ultimately immaterial to his demise . Health Canada stats show that since the pandemic began, COVID-19 has contributed to the deaths of only 17 Canadians under the age of 19 , far less than the same number who were killed by drowning.
In a pandemic that has seen an awful lot of politicized decisions from public health officials, there is one group that has consistently hewn very close to the evidence, even when it’s unpopular. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) was the one who recommended taking Pfizer instead of AstraZeneca – even as the entire political establishment yelled at them . And now, the National Post’s Sharon Kirkey notes that NACI has gone curiously dark : No press briefings and no interviews, even as Canada gears up for a mass-vaccination of children.
Setting aside the fact that people vote differently in elections held under proportional representation , if Election 44 had been conducted under a European-style PR system, it would have resulted in a dead tie between the Liberals and Conservatives , both of whom would have gone to Parliament with 109 MPs each (the locked-out People’s Party of Canada, meanwhile, would have scored a caucus of 21). According to a new Angus Reid Institute poll, 61 per cent of Canadians would have preferred the PR outcome .
The average price of a Canadian home rose by an incredible 21.4 per cent over the last 12 months , according to the latest Royal LePage House Price Survey . It’s a surge way beyond anything else seen in the G7. The only thing that comes close was a wacky few months in 1989 Italy when housing prices briefly spiked at a faster rate. As to why this is happening, Royal LePage has a very simple answer: Canada isn’t building nearly enough homes .
Ken Boessenkool is among the handful of former Stephen Harper hacks who can say whatever they want now that they’re out of politics. Writing for The Line , this former Reform Party stalwart had a piece of extremely controversial advice for the Conservative Party: Embrace a carbon tax or die . Of course, Boessenkool’s Tory carbon tax would be counted as a 100 per cent credit against the income tax, rather than its current role of being a convenient new revenue stream.
In the wake of Chinese-Canadians running screaming from the Tories last election , Rupa Subramanya noted that it’s not unprecedented for Canadian diaspora communities to decide elections based on foreign policy issues that are virtually invisible to the rest of the electorate. She pointed to the example of 1998, when thousands of Indo-Canadians lost favour with the Liberal government of Jean Chretien after he criticized a series of recent Indian government nuclear tests. “Most Indo-Canadians were supportive of India’s nuclear ambitions … for most other Canadians, however, it was a non-issue,” she wrote .
In recent months, several international outlets have begun referring to Vancouver as the North American epicentre of anti-Asian hate crime . Vancouver Sun columnist Douglas Todd isn’t so sure . The moniker is based entirely on the fact that reported incidents of anti-Asian hate crime rose from 12 to 98 in 2020, but Todd highlights a few holes in the data – as well as some not tremendously ingenuous actors who are highly invested in the image of Vancouver as a racist backwater.
We bring this up a lot in this newsletter, but the Liberals remain hell-bent on a plan to usher in the most censorious internet in the free world . Chris Selley writes in a recent column that if the Conservatives can’t rally Canadians against a draconian crackdown on freedom of speech, it would be a pretty big black eye both for them and the country at large.
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated from its original version to correct the description of the nature of the investigation into the recent appointee to the Canadian Forces’ chief of military personnel.
The United Nations Special Envoy said on Sunday that the government and opposition co-chairs of the Syrian Constitutional Committee agreed to start a drafting process for constitutional reform in the country.
Geir Pedersen, speaking to reporters in Geneva after meeting the Syrian co-chairs ahead of week-long talks, said they had agreed to “prepare and start drafting constitutional reform.”
The talks will be the sixth round in two years and the first since January.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by John Stonestreet)
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