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PAH: In Canada, Speaking Your Mind is a Crime

Last week’s Supreme Court ruling in Saskachetwan v. Whatcott shows that the country’s top court does not believe in free speech.

The Supreme Court ruling came from a challenge to section 14(1)(b) of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, which prohibits material “that exposes or tends to expose to hatred, ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity of any person or class of persons on the basis of a prohibited ground.”

Bill Whatcott challenged s.14(1)(b) as a violation of his right to freedom of both religion and expression under sections 2(a) and (b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In 2005, Whatcott was dragged in front of a human rights tribunal, investigated by police, and charged $17,500 for inciting hate through anti-gay pamphlets distributed in the Saskatoon area. Only four complaints were made against him, but those very few ‘hurt feelings’ were enough to censor Whatcott’s speech by labelling it as a human rights violation.

On February 27, the Supreme Court upheld Saskatchewan’s limitations on hate speech unanimously. While they acknowledged that it was a clear violation of section 2 of the Charter, they found the violations were justified for the greater good of society. The only modification was to remove “ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity” from the act, making it slightly less linguistically draconian.

There are similar heavy restraints on hate speech in British Columbia and Alberta, while section 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act prohibits the “communication of hate messages” – the House of Commons has passed a bill to remove this, yet it has stalled in the Senate. There’s also section 319(2) of the Criminal Code which outlaws the willful promotion of hatred “against an identifiable group,” and section 319(1) which bans any incitements that “lead to a breach of peace” (restrictions that are actually much stricter than most other provincial human rights legislation.) All this to say that government has erected a tall wall around freedom of expression when related to hate.

The Supreme Court has a long and complicated history with s.2(b) cases. In the Irwin Toy case of 1989, the Supreme Court finally defined freedom of expression as any and all activity that attempts to convey meaning, short of physical violence. To me, this is the proper definition of freedom of expression – words themselves are not weapons, and it is not up to the speaker to justify the use of his or her words. In theory, this is now protected under s.2(b) of the Constitution, yet the courts have the power to limit this expression under the “reasonable limits” clause of section 1. If the courts believe there is a justifiable reason to limit your rights, they will allow it under the Oakes Test (a four-part test used to determine whether a rights infringement is allowed under section 1.) The decline of freedom of expression can be seen in other court cases like Canada v. Taylor and R v. Keegstra in 1990, and now especially Whatcott.

In the Taylor case, which also upheld limitations on freedom of expression, the Supreme Court defined hate speech as an “unusually strong and deep-felt emotions of detestation, calumny and vilification.” This definition doesn’t really clarify much, as one cannot judge emotions objectively. People’s sensitivity also varies, from those who can ignore a hurtful comment to those who can find something offensive in everything. The definition of hate speech in Taylor was mentioned often in Whatcott, which is particularly surprising as it is the first ruling of the internet age. As the medium for expressing one’s opinion grows to an unlimited size, the courts still think it is possible to censor anything considered intolerant or not politically correct. One look at an internet chat room will convince you that Whatcott’s pamphlets were relatively mild.

The court’s assertion that “hate speech can also distort or limit the robust and free exchange of ideas by its tendency to silence the voice of its target group” is also completely false. It assumes that those targeted are defenseless and unable to deal with verbal attacks. No way is a single man bearing pamphlets able to silence the powerful gay-rights associations in Canada and the United States with their thousands of supporters. The courts assume Whatcott’s word has too much power. Freedom of speech encourages dialogue, not silence.

Is it also essential to point out that we live in an extremely tolerant society. The Canadian Human Rights Act was introduced in 1977 when this was not always the case. Courts are supposed to be a counter-majoritarian body that protects minority rights from the tyrannical majority. Today, the courts have aided the tyrannical majority in crushing the fading minority. Whatcott’s homophobic and deplorable messages have no audience; they only resonate with the fringes of society who already share his thoughts. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, but they don’t have a right to an audience. Those four complainers would have been more successful in their goals by chucking his propaganda in the trash. By bringing him to court and letting him defend his message in front of the whole country, they gave him more attention than he ever would have received on his own.

Canada has not become a more tolerant country because of laws making sure all speech is politically correct. As a comparison, the American legal system doesn’t differentiate as much between hate speech and any other kind of speech, yet they have still survived as a country and made a huge amount of progress since the 1970s. Any difference in tolerance between Canadians and Americans can be linked better with their cultural traditions, not laws. When a group like the hateful and bigoted Westboro Baptist Church pickets a soldier’s funeral and carries homophobic signs – a right that was directly upheld by the American Supreme Court – they’re not gaining any support, only demonstrating the danger of intolerance. People understand the difference between right and wrong. The only people who should sensor us is ourselves, and having a blatant display of hatred by groups like Westboro allows us to know where to draw the line in our own speech and practice self-restraint. The American Supreme Court treats citizens as rational adults who can make their own decisions, unlike in Canada where we’re regarded as defenseless children.

Like a cast that is used to strengthen and heal a broken arm, hate speech laws were more justifiable decades ago in order to protect victimized minority groups. And it has served its purpose. Yet now we live in a more tolerable country. Cases reaching human rights tribunals no longer have to do with protecting real fundamental rights, but rather to serve the self-righteous serial complainers who can’t stand the name of a beer (Albino Rhino is apparently too offensive), hearing O Canada sung a capella, or who find people praying in public so abhorrent that they feel the need to file a complaint about it. It has become a tool to bully anyone with an opposing opinion.

It is understandable when schools implement reasonable anti-bullying and anti-discrimination policies because children need to understand that tolerance is a virtue. They also need to be taught to recognize hate speech and learn to deal with it on an emotional level without letting it hurt them. Yet grownups should not require the same paternal protection from the government to deal with speech. Also, the groups that were once vulnerable to this hate now receive a majority of support. It is those who show distaste towards them that are the fringe minority, their voices easily outnumbered out by their opponents and their supporters.

The utilitarian belief that individual rights to speak freely are somehow less important than the right of others to not be offended is ludicrous in so many ways. For the top court of the country to support it brings many questions of its legitimacy and effectiveness in protecting the fundamental freedoms that we supposedly enjoy. We have developed better ways of dealing with hate than government censorship. We ignore, we protest, and we seek to inform others about what is right. Words themselves cannot hurt, and the best way to deal with hate messages is to just let them go, or drown them out with more speech.

More from this columnist | @TomK0tt

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PAH: The OQLF’s Problems go Beyond Pasta

The Office québécois de la langue française (OQLF) has put itself on an inevitable journey to self-destruction in the last two weeks. The enormous list of absurd judgements from the province’s language police that have come to light are a sign that the Office has gone off the deep end with power. The resulting social media outcry has put the OQLF on an irreversible and unintended path to its own demise. While they have acknowledged that perhaps they went too far in some cases, the damage has already been done and any legitimate authority the OQLF ever had has now vanished.

And why wouldn’t it? “Pastagate” started when a Montreal Italian restaurant was told that the term pasta violated the Quebec Charter of the French Language as it was not a proper French term. The reasoning is that French should be the normal everyday language of Quebec, and the Italian term pasta is not understood by everyone in the province. Apparently, Quebecers are too stupid to understand what an internationally recognized dish eaten for nearly a millennia means on a menu. The first news of this was indeed shocking. Every subsequent new allegations since pasta broke the ice has been treated as a farce. Most notably, a Plateau-area bike shop owner who was told to modify a number of decorative pieces because they contained foreign languages on them protested the agency’s ruling by covering each sign with a note saying: “Warning. Non-French poster or sign underneath. Read at your own discretion.” A brilliant tactic for turning the tables on the OQLF and showing the stupidity of such a ruling (one of the offending pieces appears to be a child’s drawing.) And while this has not yet been an issue, my own research has found that every movie theatre in Quebec is at risk of a language complaint: popcorn is not allowed, only the terms maïs soufflé and maïs éclaté are approved by the government for use.

The office was created in 1961 to protect the French language and ensure than French is used predominantly in the province.  And while I’m a proud bilingual Canadian, I recognize the need for French predominance in many aspects of public life in Quebec, yet that shouldn’t come at the destruction and harassment of other languages, particularly when the offending words have such little consequences to society. Instead of pursuing its original goal of making sure every Quebecer can get services in French, they have taken to bullying businesses for the most insignificant uses of languages other than ‘the chosen language.’ On/off labels on switches are no longer acceptable, even handwritten lists used only by chefs in a kitchen – away from the public’s eyes – can only be in French as well. These cases themselves are violations of French Charter, which assures a “spirit of fairness and open-mindedness, respectful of the institutions of the English-speaking community of Québec, and respectful of the ethnic minorities, whose valuable contribution to the development of Québec it readily acknowledges.” This government agency has no room for open-mindedness. Why else would they seek to find an alternative name for Quebec City’s vélo boulevard only because it’s a literal translation of the English term ‘bicycle boulevard’? Everything is a threat to them, and only an iron fist can cure it.

I have a theory as to why these benign fears over language are flourishing in Montreal. Montreal has come to a point where language barriers for Francophones are no longer a major issue. The city has come a long way from the 1960s where the minority Anglophone community controlled much of the commerce. Most Anglophone business owners today have come to accept the provision of Bill 101, such as having French signage and speaking French to customers. As they should. Yet, the fewer legitimate claims of language violations the OQLF receives, the more they have to pursue weak cases and go digging through restaurant menus. The OQLF must investigate the most absurd cases they receive if they want to keep receiving their yearly $19 million budget and keep their 248 jobs. Creating new divisions among Quebecers is a profitable business for them.

Their eventual demise comes from the fact that the OQLF has increasingly received harsh media criticism, from both Francophone and Anglophone news sources. With the media and people on social networks forcing the agency to admit their inspectors were “overzealous”, by backtracking on their opposition to the term ‘pasta’, and the continuous growth of foolish infractions, the agency has lost their legitimacy and authority. These cases have looks bad for them, and the more this happens, the less business owners will take them seriously. Also, as the number of legitimate claims of language violations fall, there is no longer a need for the government to intervene in language cases. If people are truly upset about a language issue, they can take it upon themselves to boycott the offenders or write a petition. That is how normal societies operate.

This is also a message to the ruling PQ minority that Quebecers are fed up with these pesky language issues. On the heels of new anger over the proposed Bill 14, which will strengthen language laws in Quebec and give the OQLF new powers, the OQLF has created a backlash that could affect support for the PQ. While the PQ and OQLF are not the same entity, they have ideologically similar goals and the PQ’s rhetoric may have inspired the OQLF to go beyond their mandate in the past, creating this whole mess in the first place. The OQLF’s actions will make it harder for Pauline Marois to legitimize giving them new powers under the proposed law.

The OQLF is on the wrong side of reality. Despite the rhetoric of the PQ and other sovereignist groups, the status of French in Quebec is secure. A study by the OQLF themselves found that 97% of Montreal businesses can provide service in French to customers, while an astonishing 93% can do the same in the most Anglophone part of the city. In the rest of the province, the number likely hovers over 99%. Wouldn’t the OQLF’s budget be better put towards French-language education? Something that would actually increase the use of French in the province?

The OQLF is no longer needed in Quebec. The 1960s goal of francization has been mostly achieved, and any remaining non-assimilated aspects of society are a sign of our multiculturalism, not a threat to the French language. Any more ridiculous citations given out by dictionary-yielding government bureaucrats will only threaten minorities in Quebec.

In consideration of all the media attention it has received lately, the OQLF has announced that they will review their complaints procedures to improve the quality of their services. In an ideal world, this would mean they’ll dismantle themselves completely.

 

More from this columnist | @TomK0tt

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PAH: North Korea: The World’s Ticking Time Bomb

Any hope that the succession of Kim Jong-un – the twenty-something year old dictator of North Korea – would be a change for the better from his father in the Stalinist nation of North Korea have been crushed.

When his father, Kim Jong-Il, died in December 2011, there were speculations that his young successor, who had lived and attended school in the West, would have an interest in modernizing and bringing capitalism to the impoverished nation.

But it was not to be so.

It may be argued that Kim Jong-un is more dangerous to the world than his father had ever been.

The new downfall began about 3 weeks ago when the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning North Korea for ballistic missile tests back in December and imposed new sanctions on the Hermit Kingdom. The UNSC also demanded North Korea halt any further missile testing and asked the UN to monitor the nation more extensively. While China usually sides with North Korea on many issues, it is most likely that they will support the sanctions.

It didn’t take long before North Korea reacted.

Ignoring the resolution, North Korea announced they would continue with plans for a third nuclear test and test rockets capable of reaching the United States – though their current technology is far from capable of achieving this. Nevertheless, a North Korean propaganda video has been released showing nuclear weapons striking an American city. It is also reported that Kim Jong-un has placed the country under martial law and called for North Korean troops to “prepare for war.”

Not to be outdone, the United States and South Korea are preparing for new military and naval drills aimed at defending themselves against North Korea.

This is a dire and serious situation that deserves the attention of the world. Underlying all this of course is the unimaginable poverty and famine of its 24 million people and a continuing human rights crisis at the hands of an authoritarian dictator with no consideration for human life. The reports of starvation and cannibalism should not come as a surprise to readers of Blain Harden’s bestseller Escape from Camp 14, a book chronicling the life of Shin Dong-hyuk who was born and raised in the notorious Korean gulag and one of the few who ever managed to escape. The young man recalls the difficult years of his life where he could not live off the food supplied by his camp guards and had to rely on eating rats, where his finger was deliberately cut off as punishment after dropping a sewing machine in one of the camp’s factories, and where he was brutally tortured by camp officials, including by being roasted over an open fire for not giving them the information they wanted. There are an estimated 200,000 people living in these camps.

And while the west has known about several prison camps in North Korea, a possible new one has just been discovered as well.

It is safe to say that North Korea could never win in a military battle against South Korea, Japan, and the United States. Diplomacy relating to North Korea has been difficult because of China’s reluctance to side with the West in favour of their communist neighbours. However, as North Korea continues to threaten action and increase their provocations, it may be harder and harder for China to side with them. After all, North Korea is showing signs of spiraling out of control.

If North Korea fires the first shots in a second round of the Korean War, they may not be able to rely on China’s help as they have no interests right now in a war with the United States, one of their largest trade partners.

A declaration of war against the West might be North Korea’s final undoing, liberating millions of people from their deprived lives under a brutal regime.

While peace is always the better option, the cards are currently in North Korea’s hands.

 

More from this columnist | @TomK0tt

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PAH: A conversation with Adrien Pouliot: leadership candidate for the Québec Conservatives

On January 14, Adrien Pouliot announced he would be running for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Quebec (PCQ). Mr. Pouliot has an impressive track record. He started his career as a lawyer for one of the large Canadian law firm, then joined CFCF inc. as the President’s assistant in 1984 – and helped create the new television network TQS, now called V – and became President and CEO himself in 1992. He helped launch the Montreal Economic Institute and served as its Chairman, worked as President of the Board of the Taxpayers League of Quebec, and became Vice-President of the ADQ’s policy commission. He is now the President and CEO of Draco Capital, and a member of The Prince Arthur Herald’s Board of Governors. He joined me for his first English-language interview since throwing his hat into the PCQ leadership race.


You’re at a good point in your career in the private sector. Why run for the leadership of a party that placed seventh in the last provincial election and won no seats?

I’m running because I’m passionate about Quebec, and I’m saddened to see the direction that this province has taken over the last thirty years or so. It’s always more state intervention; a slow but steady decline of the province because the government has become inefficient and bureaucratic and costly. It just breaks my heart.

The second reason is that I’m passionate about public policy. I was the co-founder of the Montreal Economic Institute and I was on the board there for twelve years and we had the opportunity to criticize and analyze and suggest avenues of solutions to our public policy problems in Quebec, but at the end of the day, it’s all very nice to criticize from the sidelines but I thought it was now time to get off the bench and get on the ice.

I had the opportunity to become independently wealthy so I don’t need the job, and frankly, there’s a lot of negatives and disadvantages of going into politics. Becoming a politician is not necessarily something that will raise your self-esteem that you have vis-à-vis others. It probably ranks below being a lawyer or businessman. That being said, I decided that I had to do something.

Now, which party to join? I did think of going into the race for the provincial Liberals, but frankly the rules that they’ve put in place for the leadership race are slanted towards those who are already insiders. The reason I was looking at the Liberals is I was thinking maybe I could move them right-of-centre. That would have been a big job, but the advantage is that they’re big and they have money and an organization. But they don’t have the right ideas so you have to change their political philosophy.

On the other hand, the issue with starting my own party or joining the PCQ is that there’s no money and no organization, but they already have the right ideas. At the end of the day I decided to go ahead with the Conservative Party because I think there’s a brand to the name. Some people don’t like the brand but there is a ten or fifteen percent support in Quebec for the federal Conservatives. It’s a name that means something to most people.

 

Do you think Quebecers are ready to have a federalist right-wing party in Quebec?

Well, I don’t know. We’ll find out, won’t we? If I look from a political standpoint at other parties, everybody seems to be left-of-centre. The Liberals and the PQ for me are exactly the same except their constitutional option. For them, government is always the answer to all our problems. As for François Legault, when you actually look at his policies, he’s simply shifting money from left to right. It’s not real change.

There’s no right-of-centre party. Is there a big clientele for it? There have been a lot of political orphans since the merger of the ADQ with the CAQ. I think there’s a courant bleu – the old blue Union Nationale crowd – that’s still around that are pinching their nose and voting for the Liberals because the only alternative was to go with the PQ, but they’re not separatists. I also think eventually a lot of voters who thought François Legault was the saviour and would fix all our problems will realize that he’s offering the same Liberal-Péquiste solutions that we’ve had for the last thirty years.

So yes there is room, whether it’s 5%, 15%, 25%, I don’t know. You have to remember that the ADQ in 2007 had 1.2 million votes. Basically the Conservative Party will have about the same policies as the ADQ, so I think there would be support.

 

You already mentioned you were against the ADQ-CAQ merger in 2012. Is there anything you think the PCQ right now has more to offer than the ADQ did before?

The ADQ was formed initially as a breakout from the Liberal Party. Mario Dumont broke out with Jean Allaire because of the constitutional issue, which was the focus. I suppose they then did what I did and looked at the other leftist parties and chose to create a right-of-centre party. But it wasn’t an approach that was deeply rooted. The conservative compass was not very strong. They kind of went left and right. They had good policies, but also contradictory policies. When Mario Dumont almost got elected in 2007, he just frankly dropped the ball. He backed off on a number of his free market, smaller government policies.

My sense is that the Conservative Party will have a much stronger ideology with stronger roots and a much better aligned political compass which will always show the True North. The True North is basically individual rights and freedoms, individual responsibility, a smaller state with a well-defined role, and a strong federalist Quebec that exercises all of its rights and powers under the Constitution, but that can also be very successful under a united and democratic Canada.

As a leader, I’m not looking to change my ideas to get votes. My style of leadership is not leadership by polls, it’s a leadership by conviction. We’re not going to look at polls to decide where we’re going. That’s the difference between the ADQ and the Conservative Party.

I spoke to the PCQ’s former leader, Luc Harvey, back in August 2012. He explained that his goal for the September 2012 election was to get their message and name out, but that the real chance for electoral victory would come in the next election. Do you believe the PCQ has the proper framework in place for winning a number of seats in the next Quebec election?

No. I have modest goals. We must first build the foundation. The goal for me is to build the bases of the party with well understood and strong values and a consistent program, then go out there and spread the news. I think there’s a big educational process to put those ideas forward and explain them. I’m not naïve. This is a marathon, not a sprint. I think it’s a question of time and I’m not there to win the next election – I don’t need money, I have the time, I have the passion, and the timing right now is good for me personally.

 

Do you have expectations to win any seats at all in the next election?

Well you know frankly I would like to have at least one seat. Having the presence of one MNA at the National Assembly gives you exposure. But I think just putting the option out there and talking about our policies will have an influence on the existing parties. Maybe Mr. Legault will be forced to move to the right and if he does that, to me it’s a great success. I’m there to advance the cause for individual rights and freedoms and a smaller government.  If my presence forces the other parties into that direction, then I’ll be very happy.

 

If you win the leadership of your party and win a seat in the National Assembly, would you ever consider having a coalition with other parties to prevent another PQ minority government?

You know I haven’t thought about that, it’s a good question. I don’t think it should be ruled out. I thought Mr. Legault’s decision to turn down the idea during the last election without really thinking it through was a bad one. If the Liberals and the Coalition were to get together, they could overthrow the PQ and go to the Lieutenant Governor to form the next government without calling an election. As long as we can agree on the basic values of individual rights and freedoms and smaller government and lower taxes, yeah sure, I would think about it.

 

What type of issues should Quebec be focusing on right now? How has the PQ failed and how have they succeeded in this respect?

One thing I was surprised about with the PQ, and I’ll give them good points there, is that they’re saying they’ll keep a balanced budget. I don’t think they’ll make it happen, but they’re still saying that it’s their ultimate goal for 2013-2014. The priority at this point in Quebec is the economy, and instead of saying that the government is the answer and should be doing this or that, there should be a bigger focus on the market economy and the private sector.

Certainly the PQ is an interventionist government, and to me that’s the wrong direction. If we want to bring back foreign investments in this province, we have to be more welcoming. Increasing taxes on the rich will not raise more money and will simply makes people want to leave the province. All the other parties are talking about more grants and more tax credits and more involvement of the government in the economy. My approach is to get the government out of the way, and let’s create incentives for the private sector to invest and create jobs.

The other thing I thought was amazing with the PQ’s first months in power was that it was amateur hour, considering all the mistakes they made. For a party that’s been around since the 1970s, you would think that they would be more disciplined. But it was just a disaster. There’s so many things that they screwed up. But it’s much easier to talk about the good things they did.

 

There’s been a lot of criticism of Stephen Harper in Quebec. Do you think he’s handled issues with the province well?

If you look at the policies that he’s put in place for Canada, and Quebec is in Canada, in general it’s more positive than negative. And he’s done a lot for Quebec. He fixed the fiscal imbalance which has been a problem the Quebec government has been complaining about for a long time. He passed the ‘Québécois as a distinct nation’ motion, and now we have some say at UNESCO. He also just sent us $2.2 billion to compensate for the ‘so-called’ shortfall from the GST/QST. He’s doing a lot of things and really he’s not getting anything in return. Even for the crime legislation that strengthens the Criminal Code on some penalties, polling in Quebec shows that most people are in favour of what he was proposing. I don’t know why he’s not getting more popular support in Quebec. I think it’s more a marketing issue. The media, especially the leftist media in Quebec, is always banging on him and not giving him a chance. He deserves much more support than he’s getting.

 

You said at a recent PCQ meeting that in Quebec, “we’re only in a free country once you get a permit.” What did you mean by that and what steps do you want to take to increase rights and freedoms in the province?

I’m for individual rights and freedoms and a lot of people will say “well it’s a free country,” you can have a political meeting; you can make speeches and so on. But in reality it’s different. Today I had to go to the SAAQ to renew my driver’s license. I’ve been driving for 482 months. I haven’t lost one single demerit point in the last two year period. Why don’t they give permits that last five or ten years? Maybe they could take them away if you lose all your points, but no. Why? Because they want to collect their $100. There are nine million permits and authorizations issued every year in Quebec for various things. It’s incredible when you think about it. If you have a permit, then you’re free to drive. If you have a permit, then you’re free to fish for trout. But you need a permit for everything.

There’s a huge bureaucracy around everything you do. I gave fifteen bucks to the PCQ for an event last year, and I had a bureaucrat call at home to ask if I really went to the event. His papers said I went to the event, but on the electoral list, the name is Adrieu Pouliot – there was a typo, a u instead of an n. So it said I gave the money but only people on the electoral list have the right to give money. There’s a bunch of bureaucrats somewhere checking where these fifteen bucks are coming from.

I’m not saying we should dismantle the state, I’m not saying we should put the security or health of people at risk. The first thing the leftists will say if you talk about reducing the size of government is you’ll cut the size of the police and the firemen and that we’re going to cut health care and the meat inspectors and everybody’s going to die, but that’s not my point. I can’t accept that in a $70 billion a year operation, we can’t trim off 3% or 4% of the fat. Things need to change.

 

Would you dismantle l’Office québécoise de la langue française and language restrictions in Quebec?

 It’s a delicate issue. My approach is that we should have a French Quebec but bilingual Quebecers. In that framework, I’m totally against restricting Francophones from going to Anglophone CEGEPs. From an economic standpoint I’m quite concerned about the fact that if you want to have an American or European investor in Quebec, when he gets here, he has to send his kids to French schools. I think there are some serious impediments in the Charter of the French Language in terms of the economy. It’s a difficult and emotional problem and I’m not sure that it would be my first priority. The question is, how can we get more people to come voluntarily and speak French voluntarily? If you reduce income taxes, you’ll get more people to come here. You have to find incentives for people to adopt the French culture.

 

You hear a lot of businesspeople say that Bill 101 does affect their business. As a businessman, do you hold that idea too?

If you are in the recruitment business and you’re trying to recruit a top end executive in Quebec from outside, it’s very difficult. You can get extremely qualified people from outside, but because they can’t speak French, it causes a big hoopla. In a small business I was looking at, the owners wanted to get their certificat de francisation in order to bid for a contract given by the Quebec government. Well it cost them $70,000 because they had to change their signs and they had to change their software and their computers, this and that. The owner was a Francophone and there was no issue there about the French language, so it was $70,000 down the drain. It does hamper businesses. To what extent, I don’t know.

 

If you become the party’s leader during the next election, will you lobby to get a podium at the debates?

I would be surprised. I will certainly try, and I would be very happy to debate with the other leaders but I don’t know if that would be possible. There are twenty registered parties in Quebec and they can’t have everybody there. In the last election, the Conservative Party had less than 1% of the votes and we don’t have anybody in the National Assembly as an MNA, so I think it’s going to be very difficult, unfortunately.

You can read more about Adrien Pouliot and the Conservative Party of Quebec by clicking here

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PAH: Justin Bieber: A Wolf in Moose Clothing

Everyone has a different idea of what it means to be Canadian. For some it’s our shared history, our environment, our diverse culture. For some the sight of a maple leaf is enough to stir patriotic sentiments. For others, being from the Great White North is about picking up a hockey stick, or buying a cup of Tim Horton’s coffee on a cold winter’s morning. For Justin Bieber, being Canadian is none of the above.

The young pop star is Canadian in name only.

Colin Horgan has already blogged about this topic quite well for Maclean’s back in November, calling Bieber out on his “fabricated nationalism” which I will summarize here. Being Canadian for the eighteen year old from Stratford, Ontario is not about pride in one’s country, standing for a particular set of values, or any sort of substantive reasoning. Rather, being Canadian is a marketing tool. Sometimes it doesn’t even have to make sense. Bieber told TMZ that “in Canada, we like to have spaghetti and milk” as if the combination was a national culinary staple. Whatever happened to maple syrup and poutine? I would be interested in knowing where he got that idea. Bieber also seems to be confused about Canadian domestic policy and status of Aboriginals in his home country – not to mention confusion about his own self-identity. He told Rolling Stone that he’s “part Indian. I think Inuit or something?” which, according to him, gives him the privilege of receiving free gasoline. He should have stopped after Inuit.

Colin’s scrutiny does not go far enough. In all fairness, Bieber doesn’t seem to know anything at all about Canada or its history. Maybe it’s from being on the road too much and away from a Canadian classroom. If he wants to use his country as a marketing tool, he should learn something about it first. In his mind, Canada is not a real entity with an entrenched culture, but an image that can be thrown into whatever he’s saying to make a point. Or use it as a shield.

Case in point – when Bieber went on a British television show and didn’t quite understand the host’s humour regarding the Queen, he irrelevantly responded by saying “I don’t really get, like, I’m from Canada, I don’t really know what’s, I like, this, all this humour.” Right. His Canadianess prevented him from understanding a joke.

While it all seems funny, the world is taking notice.

When Justin Bieber went on the Late Show in June and was told by David Letterman not to get so many tattoos that he would look like the Sistine Chapel, he answered by talking about the sixteenth chapel. The crowd chuckled and applauded the mistake, which turned to roaring laughter when Letterman made the snide comment “Canadian high school.” Bieber just stared into the abyss, the last one to understand the joke – ahem, himself.

That’s the price of his fake identity. People expect him to represent the country, and when he fails, the country suffers. Of course, we don’t expect Bieber to have a PhD in Canadian Studies, but why can’t he add a little substance to his nationalist claims? Or the flip side, if he’s going to continue spouting ignorant comments about Canada, is it too much to ask that he stop? Many others have been successful on the international scene without having to milk their Canadian identity: Jim Carrey, Seth Rogen, Ryan Reynolds, and countless others. Some have even done well being Canadian internationally. Who could forget Jay Baruchel’s many roles in both Canadian and American films – and his glorious maple leaf tattoo, shown proudly in the film Knocked Up?

Bieber’s latest prop – or victim – in his imaginary-fairy-tale-land of Canada is the Prime Minister himself. In November Stephen Harper presented Justin Bieber with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal, a medal given to those who “have made a significant contribution to a particular province, territory, region or community within Canada, or an achievement abroad that brings credit to Canada.” Of the 60,000 recipients many were veterans, volunteers, and generally people who have sacrificed their time and efforts for their fellow country mates. People take pride and receiving this award because it is a real honour. However for Bieber, it was just another publicity stunt. He met the PM wearing unbuttoned overalls –overhauls, as he calls them – a backwards baseball cap, and an oversized white t-shirt. When Bieber tweeted the photo, he added in an lol for good cheer. Granted, the ceremony took place right before he performed a concert and he claims it would have been “crazy” to get changed, but how long does it take to put a proper suit on? Five minutes? Maybe thirty seconds less if you get a clip-on tie. Suffice it to say, receiving the honour meant nothing to the ‘white trash prince’, an honorary title granted to him by the Daily Mail. But the backdrop of Canadian flags provided a good image boost for his made up narrative. Again, no one expects him to be a complete patriot, but a little respect would be nice.

Justin Bieber is about as representative of Canada as those Jersey Shore characters are of Italy. The things that Bieber believes makes him Canadian – a lie about free gasoline, eating pasta with milk, and a reaction of oblivion upon hearing a joke – are not real Canadian traits. No one would associate these with Canada. Yet his insistence of spreading falsehoods around the world is corrupting his main, impressionable group of fans: young teenagers, especially Canadian ones, who may not know much about their own country and take on Bieber’s delusional nationalism as their own. While his music isn’t exactly my style, he’s talented enough as a singer that he shouldn’t have to supplement his act with this false nationalist shtick.

Who knows, maybe spaghetti and milk will one day become a trend. But it is not the Canada that I know.

 

More from this columnist | @TomK0tt

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PAH: Don’t Call a Horse Gay – Even in Canada

On December 12, Lord Dear introduced a motion to remove section 5 from the Public Order Act 1986 in the British House of Lords. Section 5 says that a person is guilty of an offense in Britain if he “uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.” Essentially, it makes it illegal to insult anyone. 

Reform Section 5, a campaign dedicated to scrapping this law, has gotten a lot of attention in Britain with their slogan “Feel Free to Insult Me.” They launched their mission after a man was arrested for asking a police officer, “do you realize your horse is gay?” A horse. While the officer himself admitted to not being insulted, he stated that the comment could have insulted anyone in the vicinity who heard it. Makes sense, right? A teenager was later arrested for growling and woofing at two Labrador dogs in public, a café owner was investigated for showing biblical passages on a TV screen, and an LGBT group was arrested under section 5 for protesting anti-gay persecution in the Middle East. While one would hope such a law would only be used in extraordinary circumstances, it’s actually very common. Between 2001 and 2003, 51,285 people were found guilty in court of having violated section 5, including 8,489 minors ranging from 10 to 17 years of age. Can you imagine a ten year old boy facing a judge having to explain why he broke the law and called his teacher stupid? Kids don’t know the consequences of their actions and don’t always think before they speak. Should they really be held to the same standards as adults?

Getting rid of this ludicrous legislation has attracted a lot of support, most notably from actor Rowan Atkinson. In a beautifully worded speech better heard than paraphrased, he describes the damage such a restriction of freedom of speech does to a society. He rightfully states that the solution to insults is not more legislation, but more insults. It’s the only way to distinguish between truly hurtful acts and mere empty words. “If we want a robust society, we need more robust dialogue and that must include the right to insult or to offend. Because, as someone once said, the freedom to be inoffensive is no freedom at all.”

That got me thinking: this would never happen in Canada, right?

Well it could.

Section 1 of the Constitution Act 1982 gives Canadians the right to free speech, but with “reasonable limits.” This ensures that almost anything one says can be considered unconstitutional and subject to legal prosecution. You have a right to speak your mind, but be careful of what you say.

Then there’s section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. This prohibits the “communication of hate messages.” Human Rights courts all over the country are littered with cases that are best characterized by an insane hypersensitivity to what other people have to say. Section 319.2 of the Criminal Code outlaws the willful promotion of hatred “against an identifiable group,” and section 319.1 bans any incitements that “lead to a breach of peace.”

All these terms – reasonable limits, hate messages, breach of peace – are subjective terms that are utilized by those who feel it is their duty to enforce political correctness and prosecute anyone who offends them. Yet we have to be careful about legislating offensiveness. Nothing anyone says in inherently offensive. It is not an objective matter. Rather, if someone is offended by anything, it is their own fault. The values they hold, the standards they live by, or the beliefs they hold dearly have been violated, but it was not necessarily the intention of the speaker and they are not necessarily communal values. What insults one person might not even be noticed by another.

Laws in a twenty-first century democratic nation are not meant to set a moral standard. We cannot allow the government to decide what subjective comments are acceptable and which should land you in prison. Laws are there to protect society by outlawing physical violence and crimes that leave long-term damage on the victims. An offensive word does not qualify by this standard. We might not like what we hear, but we can’t censor the world based on quality and hurt feelings.

This societal need to prosecute potty mouths and anything deemed offensive has become a popular trend in Canada. Most recently this has been transcended into anti-bullying laws introduced in legislatures all over the country. Bullying, as most people can remember from high school, has always been around. Yet we are much more sensitive to it today. And while we can acknowledge that lawmakers have their hearts in the right place when they come up with these laws, we must be extremely vigilant of its effects. Under new zero-tolerance anti-bullying laws, children could get expelled from school for saying something negative to one of their peers. Alberta’s proposed Education Act will give schools the power to stalk students on Facebook for any comments that could be deemed a form of bullying, leading to suspensions and expulsion. They are instilling new laws that actively seek to find reasons to punish children instead of focusing on truly bad behaviour that leads to physical or psychological damage in a school’s immediate jurisdiction. Instead, good behaviour should be enforced, encouraged, and kids should be taught how to be indifferent to verbal bullying and how to stand up to bad behaviour.

What kind of values are these new laws creating? It tells kids that any comment that one should normally brush off becomes a bullet, a hurtful statement that requires years of therapy to overcome. Kids will be so afraid to joke around with one another like normal children do that when someone does say something offensive, they’ll have no social mechanism to deal with it. Instead of targeting real bullies, the new laws would put even the best of children who make occasional comportment mistakes on the defensive. If every child in school becomes responsible for every bad little word they’ve ever said, our schools would be empty.

Anti-bullying measures are popular now, but its true danger will be exposed the day you read Timmy with the straight A’s was expelled from his elementary school for a single snide comment on the playground. Human Rights courts sound like a good idea in theory, until you hear the story of the mother who tried to ban acorns from her daughter’s school because it “violated” her human rights. Or the prisoners convicted for murder and rape who sued the government because their human rights were violated – proper barber services were not provided in their prison cells. People like taking laws too far, anti-bullying measures will be no different.

The lesson here is that legislation doesn’t solve all our problems. In fact, policies that target freedom of speech and offensive comments are some of the most problematic because they don’t differentiate between things that are truly offensive – anti-Semitic rhetoric by neo-Nazis – and harmless jokes that could be misunderstood – teenagers calling a horse gay. Instead of trying to child-proof the world, we should be more focused on world-proofing our children as New York author Lenore Skenazy has cleverly stated. We should teach them how to survive in this world instead of preventing every little event that could cause a chip in their shoulder. A bad word is only as powerful as you make it out to be. It’s not by limiting freedom or letting the government decide what is acceptable behaviour that we evolve as a society. We progress by learning from our mistakes, standing up to those who want to push us down, and building confidence from the struggles we’ve faced. We don’t hide behind shields and cower in fear.

To quote Rowan Atkinson one last time, “Underlying prejudices, injustices or resentments are not addressed by arresting people: they are addressed by the issues being aired, argued and dealt with preferably outside the legislative process. For me, the best way to increase society’s resistance to insulting or offensive speech is to allow a lot more of it. As with childhood diseases, you can better resist those germs to which you have been exposed.”

Britain is taking steps to restore absolute freedom of speech, so should Canada.

 

More from this columnist | @TomK0tt

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PAH: Here We Speak French

It doesn’t take someone born in the 1950s to understand how dangerous the 1970 October Crisis was. For those who need a history refresher, the separatist terrorist group Front de libération du Québec kidnapped British diplomat James Cross on October 5 1970 and Quebec minister Pierre Laporte – who was later murdered – on October 10. In response to the crisis, the federal government passed the War Measures Act establishing martial law which flooded the city of Montreal with armed forces. At issue was the independence of Quebec and supremacy of the French language. However, the FLQ didn’t start off by kidnapping diplomats and politicians; they began with more modest – yet still as extremist – means.

The FLQ formed in 1963 – around the same time as the Quiet Revolution and a rise in nationalism – and spared no time pushing their radical vision of an independent Quebec. They began planting bombs in the mailboxes of wealthy Anglophones in the Westmount area. They also took to helping striking workers, building on their socialist vision for the province. By 1968, they were using more powerful bombs and targeted English institutions like McGill University, the Montreal Stock Exchange, and several federal buildings. The mayor of Montreal Jean Drapeau was also targeted by the group. By 1970, they had planted over 200 bombs and created a very frantic anglophone community.

 It took them ten years to go from small-scale bombings to full-blown crisis. With the help of the War Measures Act, the FLQ was effectively shut down in 1971. FLQ members were sentenced to prison for their role in the kidnappings and the murder of Pierre Laporte, but the damage had already been done. A harder crackdown on the FLQ prior to 1970 would have spared Montreal an unnecessary crisis.

As the cliché goes, history repeats itself. No one has yet been bombed, but anglophones have nevertheless been targeted by those who feel it is their personal duty to enforce French supremacy. As the FLQ was a product of the Quiet Revolution, recent attacks seemed to have been sparked by the Parti Québécois’ electoral victory on September 4, 2012.

The first attack came less than a week after the PQ victory. Alex Montreuil was ordering a sandwich in English at the Montreal Jewish General Hospital, emphasising his allergy to a chemical in tomatoes and asking for special care in his food’s preparation. A woman came up to Mr. Montreuil, telling him “Here in Quebec, we speak French, not English.” Quick to defend himself, Mr. Montreuil told her that he can speak whatever language he wants in his country. After leaving furiously, the woman came back, armed with a tuna and tomato sandwich which she deliberately threw at him. He suffered a serious allergic reaction turning red and swelling all over his body. Luckily for him, he was already at a hospital and received care immediately, but it could have been deadly had it happened anywhere else. The woman was charged for assault with a deadly weapon.

Two weeks later, a 17 year old boy in St. Leonard was attacked by a 20 year old man after speaking English on the streets with his cousins. The older man was alleged to have yelled out – just like the Sandwich Attacker – that in Quebec “you have to speak French” and other racist slurs before pummeling the young Italian man’s face.

Then, a month later a truly disgusting incident threatened to end the life of a two year old suffering from a seizure. When Mark Bergeron called 911 after his daughter suffered convulsions caused by high fever, the operator opened up a language debate with him and refused to speak to him in English. An ambulance did finally arrive and the girl was brought to a hospital. However, the thought that an anglophone could suffer medical mistreatment because of their language is deeply concerning. Any dispatcher or first responder who is willing to put politics before help should be fired, no matter the issue at hand. They are there to serve all citizens, not the ones of their choosing. It is especially ridiculous in a field where mere seconds can make the difference between life and death.

Finally, another Anglophone suffered the wrath of an angry French woman on October 29. While the Société de transport de Montréal had received criticism earlier in the month after an employee posted a sign that read “In Quebec, we operate in French” at his ticket booth, another employee managed to outdo her colleague. After having difficulty with the STM’s metro fare machine, commuter Mina Barak faced a ticket booth clerk who, while refusing to speak in English to her and telling her to “go back to your country”, was less than sympathetic to Ms. Barak’s problems. Obviously insulted by the clerk’s behaviour, she filled a complaint with the STM in front of the clerk, who responded by giving her the middle finger. When the call was over, the clerk stepped out of the booth, put Ms. Barak in a headlock and started punching her. Thankfully for Ms. Barak, others came to her defence and she was taken to a local hospital.

These are deliberate attacks targeting English speakers, and they must stop.

These assaults, along with dangerous PQ rhetoric, reinforce the image that English is somehow inherently evil and that its only purpose is to destroy the French language. Hardline nationalists are now seeing it as their mission to take the law in their own hands and punish English speakers wherever they encounter them. While random attacks on the streets are disconcerting, it is appalling coming from those in the service sector. Anglophones must now constantly worry about full Nelsons and biological attacks wherever they go, whether it’s on the metro or in a hospital, or wherever else the next attack might take place.

While the PQ’s anglophobic and xenophobic policies do not help the current situation, they are not solely to blame. If this trend is to stop soon, those who have engaged in targeted violence towards linguistic groups must be made an example of and suffer the full extent of the law. By showing that physically assaulting people and denying services based on language is not acceptable behaviour in our society, we can discourage future offenders. The FLQ went too long without burdening the cost of their actions and it took the Canadian Armed Forces to stop them.

One incident is a coincidence, four is a pattern. We cannot let this trend get out of hand.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Prince Arthur Herald.

Want to respond to this article? Send a letter to the Editor (letters@princearthurherald.com).

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PAH: Stifling diversity of thought: an ugly Canadian value

Canada: the True North Strong and Free… or are we?

A considerable number of attacks on freedom of speech and freedom of thought suggest that we are a much weaker country than we believe ourselves to be. We no longer value diversity but prefer assimilation. If you disagree with the consensus, you will suffer the wrath of the despotic majority.

Take for example the recent motion in Parliament to study when life begins. When Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth announced he was putting forward M312, a fiery rainstorm of hate and opposition rained down on the Conservative Caucus. A grand conspiracy was immediately formulated, accusing Prime Minister Stephen Harper of masterminding a scheme to reopen the abortion debate, even as he himself stated he would vote against the motion. In the minds of the opposition, the media, and the public, Harper wanted to end women’s rights and effectively send us back to the nineteenth century. If the debate was reopened, the world as we know it would end.

Some Canadians were so quick to strike down any challenge to the consensus that they resorted to bullying and insulting anyone who was not completely against M312. Pro-choice rallies were held all over the country, Canadians were glued to their keyboards spreading their deepest thoughts on this horribly unconstitutional motion online, and as I can imagine, many MPs were busy reading angry letters from their constituents, including Minister for Status of Women Rona Ambrose. She, among a handful of dissenting Cabinet Ministers, voted in favour of the motion. People were outraged that a minister responsible for the Status of Women would actively campaign against women’s rights. Feminists around the country, including NDP MP Niki Ashton called her a disgrace and called for her to resign.

But what did M312 actually entail? Passing the motion would not have passed any laws, nor taken any considerable steps towards limiting abortions – which would itself be a mess in the courts. The motion was only a suggestion that – had it passed – the House of Commons would have a discussion about the definition of when life begins. The House of Commons struck down a motion to discuss. Discussing is its job.

Currently, a child only becomes a person at the moment of complete birth in the eyes of the law. A child has no rights and no status as a human being until the moment it sees sunlight. While this allows for the possibility of abortions at any moment throughout a woman’s pregnancy in Canada, it has much deeper implications that every pro-choicer should consider.

After the vote on M312, which failed to pass on September 26, Rona Ambrose tweeted “I have repeatedly raised concerns about discrimination of girls by sex selection abortion: no law needed, but we need awareness!” She highlights an important issue any of her committed detractors were too stubborn to consider. A Canadian Medical Association Journal study suggests that “multiparous women born in India were significantly more likely than multiparous women born in Canada to have a male infant.” The CMAJ data shows that Indian women in Canada have a 1.36 ratio of boys relative to girls, an unnaturally low number of females. Abortions advocates cite a woman’s right to choose when she is to have a baby as the main defense for their cause, but most say nothing about abortions solely for the control of sex. There is no settled consensus on whether this is an ethically permitted practice in Canada, and it is an issue that could certainly benefit from debate.

The lack of abortion laws can also lead to a fetus being abused without repercussion. If a fetus is not a human being, then it does not have human rights. Anyone with a functional brain would find it outrageous that a man inflicting violence on a woman that results in a miscarriage would suffer no more penalty than if she was without child. Similarly, anyone would be horrified at the sight of a pregnant woman drinking or smoking heavily, horrid behaviour which the law protects. Women should indeed have the right to choose, but there should still be some legal consideration for the worth of a fetus.

Both these issues, and a number of others not mentioned, show a weaknesses in the current laws. While many have argued against M312 on the basis that the abortion issue is settled, it clearly isn’t. Legislation may or may not be the answer. But elected representatives need to have public discussions that bring these issues to light in a civilized manner; not to yell, ridicule, and call for others to resign because we don’t like what they have to say. We can’t solve problems by ignoring them.

The Canadian tendency to refuse to listen to anyone with a different opinion is not new. It was alive and well when Ann Coulter was prohibited from speaking at University of Ottawa in 2008 for making a racially charged comment, when Koran-burning pastor Terry Jones was refused entry into Canada this month, and when some expressed outrage that Canada would not ban the Innocence of Muslims movie that was blamed for fatal protests in the Middle East. We may not like what they all have to say, but we are mature enough to handle it. If anything, the repulsive presence of Terry Jones in Canada would only highlight the ugliness of Islamophobia and teach tolerance by example. The beauty of a democracy is that we don’t always agree, but that disagreement doesn’t give us ground to silence each other. Our country will not grow by limiting diversity of thought.

We are better than this, Canada. Our nation is recognized for its ability to compromise.  We know that there are two sides to the same coin and that no issue is completely black or white – especially the issue of life. We don’t shut down debates, we embrace them and strive for civilized discussion. We seek to understand how our opponents think in order to see the whole situation clearly, not discredit them because they have a different opinion. Such behaviour would better fit Russia, Iran or China, not a developed democracy like Canada.

As Chris Selley pointed out in the National Post, Britain recently had a similar debate initiated by its Women’s Minister, Maria Miller. Only instead of voting on a motion to discuss when life begins, Ms. Miller made her intentions clear: she wanted the legal abortion period to be reduced from 24 weeks to only 20 weeks – a far cry from our unlimited time frame. If comparing the insane reaction Ms. Ambrose received in Canada for a minor motion, you would think Ms. Miller was crucified by the public, but no. No one called for her to step down, no one protested. David Cameron’s government released a statement saying he had no intention of changing the law – as Mr. Harper did – and it ended there. No hard feelings, no controversy. Just a well-functioning government. The world was not going to end.

Canada is 145 years old, independent, and maturing, but we could still learn something or two from our former Motherland.

More from this columnist | @TomK0tt

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PAH: A conversation with Luc Harvey, leader of the Conservative Party of Quebec

The Conservative Party of Quebec has more campaign posters in some parts of Montreal and the South Shore than both Option Nationale and Québec Solidaire, but receives hardly any media attention. The PCQ was formed in 2009 and boasts over 700 members. They have 27 candidates running in the September 4th election under the leadership of Luc Harvey, a former Member of Parliament for the federal Conservatives. I interviewed Mr. Harvey to get a better idea of where the party stands.

Why resurrect the Conservative Party in Quebec?

I was in France when the financial problems began in Greece. Here in Canada, the media didn’t show how big the problem was in Greece and now you see this type of problem in Spain and in France. When the debt is out of control, we lose our ability to make our own decisions; bankers will make our decisions for us if we don’t move. It is the reason why Daniel Petit and I took the decision to go ahead with the Conservative Party of Quebec. That’s the base of the story.

What is the main difference between your party and the CAQ?

The CAQ was on the right at the beginning, now they’re on the left. They are proposing extra spending close to four billion dollars when we know the debt is completely out of control. They know they are making this promise and they know they will not be able to support it and deliver it because it’s impossible. They take the voter to be stupid enough to believe in this kind of promise. They have no right wing positions anymore. You don’t know if they’re federalists and you don’t know if they sovereignists. Mr. Legault was a hard line PQ supporter for 40 years and now he’s ready to vote No in a referendum? The CAQ is the PQ 2.0. It’s the same thing. They’re a bit more to the right, but they’re center-left.

So you believe the CAQ started off as a right-of-centre party?

When you say ‘a right party’, you say it’s less state, less civil service, more liberty, but François Legault is for a strong state. He made some commentary like ‘we should take the control of our companies, and when the cleanup will be done, we’ll start to talk about independence again.’ It’s like a serial killer, he can’t be rehabilitated. In ten years, the Conservative Party will still be there and the CAQ will be done. It’s a prediction because, what are they there for? The PQ is there for the independence of the province of Quebec, but at least they have a clear position. What is a clear position by the CAQ? For education, they want to shut down school boards, but they’ll take that money and they give that in an extra 20% salary for the teachers. You take from Jean-Marc and you give it to Paul, it’s no change.

The Conservative Party of Canada only received 16.5% of the vote in Quebec in 2011. As a provincial party with similar federalist policies, how will your party try to connect more with Quebeckers?

First of all, a lot of people think we’re the same thing, but when we talk about the Liberal Party of Canada and the Liberal Party of Quebec, it’s not the same. It’s not supposed to be the same thing when we talk about the Conservative Party. Its two different administrations and two different leaders. I have a lot of respect for Mr. Harper, but we are making our own decisions.

Is there one policy of Mr. Harper’s that you disagree with?

If I have an issue with Mr. Harper, it would be spending power in provincial jurisdictions. If we are able to fix the federal government’s intervention, I think for the PQ it would be finished. They would no longer have any issues to defend. The fiscal imbalance and the power to expand in provincial jurisdiction could be fixed and it would not only be good for the province of Quebec but for the rest of Canada too. Just look at health. It is a provincial jurisdiction, but the federal government has something like 18,000 civil servants working for Health Canada. That doesn’t make sense. Just give the money to the provinces and each province will be able to give good services. It’s the kind of jurisdiction that the federal government has nothing to do with.

I noticed that the party still doesn’t have an English website or an official language policy, so –

We have somebody who’s working to fix a bug on our website, but our website is already translated in English and it should be available soon. Everything was done in English, it was very important to me. My wife is English, and because of this we got the chance to choose which schools our kids would go to. I have two kids in an English college and university – as you know I have six children – and we have one kid in French school because it’s important for him to learn French correctly. We need people who are able to speak both languages, I believe in that very strongly. Our population would be much better if we were able to speak two languages. The kinds of positions we hear from the PQ are completely crazy in 2012.

Do you see any need for the French language to be protected by Bill 101 type laws?

I want to be sure that the English population understands that Quebec was so strong when we were able to work together. Quebec was the leader in Canada, Montreal was the metropolis of this country, and now Montreal has lost everything. I spent a lot of time in Africa and you could be in a third world country to see these kinds of roads, bridges and tunnels. It’s completely crazy and it’s unacceptable.

What are the party’s realistic expectations for this election?

Our goal for this election was to explain to the population that the Conservative Party of Quebec is now there and that we are the real alternative for the right-wing voters in the province. That is our first goal. Our second goal is to position ourselves and explain our positions. But it is hard at the moment. The media just aren’t interested in us. My expectation today is a minority government and when Mr. Charest will be in trouble with the Commisson Charbonneau – maybe in February or in March – we will go again in an election. If we can have four or five candidates elected in September, it will be perfect start for the next election.

What would you say to people who would consider voting for the Conservatives, but choose instead to vote strategically to block a certain party?

Some people really don’t want to see Jean Charest back and they will vote for the party they’re sure will kick them out. For others, it’s the PQ, and for other’s it’s the CAQ. I think to vote in function of your convictions would be the better choice. That will help the party that will give you the real opportunity to change and to help the party that will be able to take a right position in the province. We haven’t seen a right position in the province for the last 40 years. The ADQ mixed some right positions with some left positions, but when you make a left and a right position at the same time, you will be in contradiction. When you start to be in contradiction, you lose your credibility. It’s the reason you can’t be in the middle. You can’t have a bigger and a smaller government at the same time.

In all the party’s campaign signs, the candidates wear a striped coloured square on their lapel, a play on the student protester’s red square. What does your square mean to you?

For the moment we don’t really want to talk about that because there’s no more debate on the red squares, but our slogan in English is ‘A Square Fit’ and ‘Carrément mieux’ in French. It’s a kind of way to bring the discussion towards reconstruction of the province. There’s no reason to see Quebec so weak in Canada and so weak financially. If Quebec is a country tomorrow, we will be the country with the fifth largest debt in the world, it’s unacceptable. I have six kids and it’s not the kind of heritage that I want to leave to my kids.

You can see more of the Conservative Party platform by clicking here.

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PAH: The long gun registry: worthless and outdated

The Conservative government’s hotly debated decision to scrap the long-gun registry back in April 2012 infuriated Quebec. The province went so far as to sue the federal government for the right to acquire the registry’s information before it was officially destroyed; and they won. A Quebec Superior Court judge ruled that Quebec had a right to access the information and build their own provincial registry. If Quebec goes through with their plans, they’ll be relying on a two billion dollar outdated and worthless registry to do so.

To start, the long-gun registry never actually helped prevent any crime from occurring. To legally buy a long-gun in Canada, a category of firearms that only includes rifles and shotguns, one already has to go through the process of obtaining a license. That means a criminal records check, a background check – a psychological illness examination is included in this – and a reference check. It is a common mistake for people to think abolishing the gun registry takes away a layer of protection and security, but those who are licensed have already been thoroughly examined, and the long-gun registry did not further investigate the individual; it just added their name to yet another list.

Having their name on the list did not mean much anyway. The RCMP and Statistics Canada were both forced to admit that statistics on gun crimes committed by licenced gun owners using registered guns have never actually been collected. Basically, there is no clear data or analysis as to whether registering a gun contributes to a lower rate of violent crime. The closest estimate we have is from Gary Mauser of the Simon Fraser University who has calculated that only 3% of the murders in Canada since 1998 have been committed by licenced gun owners. This still tells us nothing about the guns themselves – if they were registered or not, or whether they were long-guns or any other type of firearm. This begs the question of why the Canadian people, and the province of Quebec, are so focused on saving the registry when it would be much more beneficial to focus on the remaining 97% of cases. The registry did not provide any statistical information to prove the need for its own existence.

The other problem with the long-gun registry is that it was never very reliable. When it was introduced in 1995, gun owners had to opt-in to the new system voluntarily. If you bought your gun at any point before the legislation was put into law, you had no obligation to sign-up. Realistically, one cannot expect many hunters and farmers jumped at the idea of registering their weapons with the government. Because of this the Canadian Shooting Sports Association estimates that seven million firearms are absent from the registry and that there could be many more. If the Canadian government wanted to track every long-gun the country, it found a very ineffective way to do so.

There is one final straw that effectively renders the long-gun registry absolutely useless. When the Harper government was elected to a minority government in 2006, it knew it would not be able to scrap the registry without losing the confidence of the House. However, it deliberately allowed licensed long-gun owners to trade rifles and shotguns without notifying the government of the transaction, something that was previously illegal. This effectively means that thousands of weapon transactions have occurred without the government’s knowledge, and therefore an equal number of firearms are registered to the wrong people and likely untraceable. The Conservative government’s decision to do this may be questionable, but like it or not, it long ago killed any hope of salvaging the registry.

Given the flawed and outdated information encompassed in the long-gun registry, it would be a grave mistake for Quebec to try to save it. The federal government spent about two million dollars a year maintaining the registry at a price tag of two billion dollars since the program began. Though the province would only keep the Quebec portion of the registry, it would still cost millions before they could ever have a functional registry set up, and even then there would be countless flaws in the system.

If the provincial government truly believes having a long-gun registry is in the interest of Quebecers, they would be better off starting right from scratch. It would be costly and it would take a long time to create a useful database, but they could learn from the mistakes of the federal government instead of simply piling more problems on top of them.

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