BC Pipeline Fight and Quebec Elections – The Canada Panel

Linda Solomon Wood and Yves Engler also report on the residential schools case and the Fair Election Act

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. And welcome to The Canada Report on The Real News.

And now joining us from Canada first of all in Vancouver is Linda Solomon. She’s the–Linda Solomon Wood, I should say, is publisher, editor-in-chief of The Vancouver Observer, a national, daily, independent, award-winning news site with a readership across North America.

And joining us now–Yves, where are you, Yves?

YVES ENGLER, AUTHOR AND POLITICAL ACTIVIST: Toronto.

JAY: You’re in Toronto now.

Every time I–Yves’s in a different place. Yves joins us from Toronto. He’s a Canadian commentator and author. His most recent book is The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy.

Thank you both for joining me.

ENGLER: Thanks for having me.

LINDA SOLOMON WOOD, PUBLISHER, THE VANCOUVER OBSERVER: Great to be here.

JAY: So, Yves, kick us off. You’re in Toronto, but you spend a lot of time in Quebec. Give us an update on the Quebec provincial elections.

ENGLER: Well, the Liberal Party has taken the lead. That’s the federalist party’s polling at the top of the poll–leading the polls right now.

But I think there’s a–it’s an interesting dynamic with the Parti Québécois, which is the government that’s in place, has really taken a complete U-turn on its environmental policy and has–. Immediately when it came to office, it brought in a ban on fracking. Now it’s actually put public money into oil extraction in a island on the Gulf of St. Lawrence. It supported the pipelines, two different pipelines bringing tar sands oil across the province.

And what this has done has been–it’s opened a lot of political space for the fourth party, the left party, Québec Solidaire, that’s now polling–it’s kind of an equivalent to the Green Party in the U.S. It’s now polling at about 10 percent and has a chance of winning a handful of seats, which would really shake up the sort of–the left official political world in Quebec politics.

JAY: Now, if memory serves me right, it wasn’t that long ago that you had tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of students, Quebec students in the streets. Many people came out to join them. And the Liberal government lost to the PQ, Parti Québécois, who are now in power, right? So what other issues are driving this? You would think PQ would have helped–been able to ride some of that wave.

ENGLER: They did [incompr.] When they came to office, the first couple of weeks they actually adopted a whole series of quite positive reforms, got rid of the tuition increase, the ban on fracking, a series of environmental policies that were positive, you know, sort of social democratic kind of policies.

But since that time, they’ve just gradually moved further and further to the right. They’ve promoted this xenophobic charter of Quebec values and playing off of a sort of underlying kind of racism in Quebec society, particularly directed at Muslims. And there’s been this big corruption inquiry that’s implicated both the Liberal Party and the Parti Québécois. So there’s–the Parti Québécois has really taken quite a clear rightward shift.

But yet there’s a large proportion of the population that’s still very much mobilized, sort of active, tied to the student strike. And there’s still a strong social democratic or a socialist sort of sentiment among much of the population. So the division within the official political world is starting to get much deeper, in terms of four different parties all proposing different sort of ideological perspectives that are in this election.

JAY: So Québec Solidaire is the left progressive party. If they win some seats, I guess that will be quite a breakthrough.

ENGLER: Yeah. They’ve won two seats. In the last election, they won two seats. They came very close in a couple of others. They’re expected to win a couple more in this election. And this is–Québec Solidaire would be as left-wing of a party that has a chance of winning seats in North America. This would be–you know, at no provincial or state level would there be a party as left-wing that actually has, you know, this kind of influence, which is, I think, reflective of the more leftward opinion of Quebec society.

So both the question of–the environmental has been–they’ve been–Québec Solidaire has been very critical of the government’s–Parti Québécois’ government’s pro oil position, pro tar sands position. And they’ve also been quite critical on the question of the Values Charter and its role in sort of stoking xenophobia in the province.

JAY: And just quickly, to what extent is sovereignty an issue in this election? I saw just before we started the interview, Marois, the leader of the PQ, saying, well, we don’t really have any plans for a referendum.

ENGLER: It–sovereignty is–it’s still definitely an issue. Québec Solidaire is a very explicitly sovereigntist party. They have much more of a socialistic conception of the sovereigntists. What they want to have: they actually want to have a people’s sort of assembly, a constitution to assembly, sort of as they did in Venezuela and Bolivia, and that be part of the process towards sovereignty. So, like, what kind of sovereignty? Do we want sovereignty from, you know, tar sands oil? Do we want–you know, so a bigger question than just a sort of simple national question, including lots of different social policies. But it’s on the agenda.

The Liberal Party, of course, is the federalist party. They are currently in the lead, very slight lead. The Parti Québécois is, obviously, still supportive of sovereignty, but it’s–at this point the majority do not want a referendum, so they are downplaying whether they will hold a referendum on independence.

JAY: Linda, there’s a fight going on over a new elections law. What’s that all about?

SOLOMON WOOD: That’s called the Fair Elections Act. And that is working its way through the parliament right now. And many people are calling it the unfair elections act. It is going to change the rules that apply to voters and candidates and parties. And it really grows out of the Robocall scandal of 2011, when the Conservatives were accused of Robocalling people in different districts and sending them, actually, to the wrong polls to vote on purpose. And when [inaud.] Elections Canada heard reports about that, they of course launched an investigation. And in what has become kind of a pattern of the Harper government, they, instead of correcting the problem, attacked the elections commission.

JAY: So just to make sure everybody got it, especially our American audience, these people get phone calls saying there’d been a change in where you’re supposed to vote or telling them you’re supposed to vote at such-and-such polling station, and it was the wrong polling station, and then they would wind up not being on the voter’s lists and either not voting or somehow having to run back to the correct polling station.

SOLOMON WOOD: Yes, they actually went to the wrong polling stations, and by the time they got to the right one, they were closed. So a lot of people didn’t get to vote.

JAY: So that’s got to be illegal. That’s some form of election fraud. Was there any charges or anything?

SOLOMON WOOD: Well, the RCMP was called in to investigate, and to date there have not been any charges, I believe. But the scandal still hasn’t really been resolved. And like many scandals that have plagued the Conservative government, they rear their ugly heads, and then they get a lot of attention for a while, and then they sort of just fade down under the radar.

But it’s just very ironic, the Fair Elections Act coming, when you think about it.

JAY: Well, what’s going to be–what’s in the Fair Elections Act that’s controversial?

SOLOMON WOOD: Well, the Fair Elections Act, part of what it does is in Canada now, if you go to the polls and you forgot–let’s say you don’t have government ID, or you just moved, so you don’t have an electric bill, like, you’re a student perhaps. You can have someone vouch for you that you live there. That’s how it’s been up until now. So they’ve killed that part of the Act. Now you have to actually have government-issued ID, and they think that’s going to really discourage students and people who’ve just moved. And that means people who might vote Liberal, or even NDP, but not Conservative.

JAY: Well, that doesn’t sound that unreasonable, that you have to have some proof that you’re eligible to vote.

SOLOMON WOOD: No, it’s not that unreasonable. But it is not addressing the real fraud that did happen in the 2011 election.

JAY: I see. So they’ve shifted the discussion.

SOLOMON WOOD: Yes.

JAY: Right.

Yves, kind of quickly, ’cause we don’t have too much time, what’s been going on with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in relation to the residential schools?

ENGLER: Well, it’s coming to an end, a five-year process that came out of the apology that Stephen Harper was sort of pushed into making for the residential school system, where 150,000 First Nations children were taken from their homes and put in schools where they were basically, as one official put it, to kill the Indian in the child, a sort of form of cultural genocide, if you like. A couple of months ago, it came out in the Commission that 4,000 children died during the residential school system over a century that it was in existence. It ended right in the late 1990s.

JAY: Four thousand children died of what?

ENGLER: Mostly of different diseases. But, you know, diseases tend to flow out of poor conditions. Obviously, they were, you know, children. These schools that the First Nations children were put into were not of the highest standards. So there were a number of different diseases that led to this really incredible toll.

While the Conservatives apologized–well, Stephen Harper apologized for residential school and set up the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the government has been completely unwilling to share government documents with the Commission. And that’s been a big controversy over that. They’ve had to [incompr.] before, survivors had been forced to go to the courts to try to force the government to release documents. So they set up this Truth and Reconciliation Commission that has, you know, put a narrow mandate, but nevertheless a positive thing, and then they do everything they can to sort of undermine it at each turn.

And so this has–you know, it’s been, on one level, a positive development in people telling the story about what’s happened in residential schools and a certain understanding. But the question of reconciliation is still–you know, truth, big chunks of the truth have come out, but the question of reconciliation is still very far–.

JAY: What about compensation?

ENGLER: Yes, there’s–exactly–questions of compensation. And the government’s apology was, you know, partly tied into not wanting to pay compensation. The system of compensation has been not for everyone who’s been victimized by the residential school system, but only if you were specifically victimized by–you know, like, sexually abused or [incompr.] the schools themselves weren’t, you know, an abuse, but that specific acts at the schools, those who were abused in specific acts would receive compensation.

JAY: It’s kind of crazy. It can’t be that many people and that much money.

SOLOMON WOOD: There actually were.

JAY: Like, that actually–what I mean by that many people: it can’t be that much money. I know there were a lot of people involved. But in the scheme of things, is it really that much money? What kind of compensation’s being talked about?

ENGLER: Of course not. If the federal government was, you know, honest and, you know, serious about reconciliation, it’s not that difficult. But it’s not a question just of reconciliation of these historic crimes, in the case of residential schools. You still have, you know, ongoing abuses towards First Nations, you know, new abuses that, you know, the Harper government’s, you know, done in recent years with undermining First Nations sovereignty, refusing to have a commission for murdered and missing indigenous women that’s, you know, now–all the opposition parties, provincial governments are all demanding this inquiry for up to 1,000 murdered or missing indigenous women. And so it’s not–it wouldn’t be that difficult financially for the Canadian government to do some, you know, proper financial reconciliation, but the political will is not there at this point.

JAY: Right.

Linda, there’s–you’re also following a story of native resistance to pipelines in British Columbia.

SOLOMON WOOD: Yeah.

If I can jump right in, I just wanted to say one thing, too, about the children in the residential schools, that they’re–yes, there was a lot of sexual abuse, and people died running away, and people died from physical abuse, so, you know, it wasn’t–you know, it was disease and it was much more than that.

And it–yeah, just this morning I was meeting with chiefs from the Kitselas First Nation, near Prince Rupert, British Columbia. And they are waging a court battle against the Government of Canada for violations of treaty rights to do with consultation around the Enbridge pipeline project, which is a tar sands pipeline, which the government is trying to push through the Kitselas’ territory in one of the wildest and, you know, most pristine parts of an island in British Columbia where they live. Two hundred tankers would come through to get the oil from Kitimat, B.C., or Prince Rupert, near where the Kitselas are. So they say that if this pipeline goes through, that it will be genocide for their people, that their way of life is so dependent on the marine life and on their right to harvest, to fish, to hunt and gather, that the Canadian Constitution guarantees them. So they are determined to fight this at all costs.

JAY: And why would the pipeline have that effect?

SOLOMON WOOD: They say–you know, it’s interesting, because the anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill was last week. Twenty-five years ago that happened. And when they see the pictures of that spill, what they see is what very well could happen to them. They point out that although they’ve been in extensive conversations with the government of Canada and with the Enbridge pipeline company, no one can assure them 100 percent that there will not be a spill. In fact, people are very careful not to make that assurance.

JAY: And for the American viewers who may not be familiar, the natives in British Columbia, of course other parts of Canada, have significant treaty rights, and there’s a big battle over all of this. But they have some real leverage based on these court cases, don’t they?

SOLOMON WOOD: They absolutely do. They have rights that are, you know, very much embedded in the Constitution. And the court often favors First Nations. I should say the court upholds these kinds of rights, has traditionally. And, you know, of course, we can’t really talk about–you know, I don’t mean to talk about First Nations as one group, because, as they pointed out to me this morning, that is, you know, a very wrong perception. And they are the Kitselas, and they represent their own community and their own territories, and they don’t speak for anybody else. This is really their battle.

JAY: But they are nations within the country of Canada and they have some rights, and that’s been quite a battle.

SOLOMON WOOD: It has been quite a battle. And, you know, it’s all related–the reconciliation work, you know, the residential schools, the people that–. You know, the chiefs I was sitting with this morning, their parents would all have been in residential schools. So this is a conflict that is long, and it’s deep.

And it was very interesting, because they said they’re not interested in civil disobedience. That’s not their way. They will use the process, the legal process to the very end, and they will respect the process. But they hope to be respected in return.

JAY: Okay. Thank you both for joining us.

SOLOMON WOOD: Thank you.

ENGLER: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Canadian Report on The Real News Network.

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