Yves Engler explains why 50,000 Quebec students voted for a one-day strike & Jenny Uechi discusses the Vancouver Observer expose on Premier Christy Clark’s hidden ties to the Northern Gateway Pipeline
SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries in Baltimore.
You have joined us for our Canada panel. Today we have two panelists joining us.
Our regular, Yves Engler. Yves Engler is a Canadian commentator and author. His most recent book is The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy.
And we are also joined by Jenny Uechi. She’s the managing editor and senior reporter of The Vancouver Observer. During her time editing The Vancouver Observer, the publication won the 2012 Canadian Journalism Foundation Excellence in Journalism Award.
Thank you both for joining us.
JENNY UECHI, MANAGING EDITOR, THE VANCOUVER OBSERVER : Thank you.
PERIES: Jenny, why don’t you go first? Let us know what’s going on in Canada, in Vancouver in particular, and with The Vancouver Observer more specifically.
UECHI: Sure. So this week The Vancouver Observer broke a story about how the premier of this province, Christy Clark, was found to–we found documents that say that she was listed as a partner in a lobbying firm which had among its clients Enbridge, the big pipeline company that’s trying to build the Northern Gateway Pipeline right now. It’s a big, controversial project that would bring Albertan oil from the tar sands through to B.C.’s coast.
Now, the premier has said that she was in the company [incompr.] by the time that she joined the company, Enbridge was no longer listed as a client and that she personally has not done any lobbying. But, still, people are wondering why this was never made public.
PERIES: And what is the real controversy behind the story?
UECHI: The controversy is that the lobbying firm was actually operating out of her house during the time that her ex-husband was in fact lobbying the federal government for Enbridge on a project that was called the Gateway Project, which later turned out to be the Northern Gateway Pipeline. And it is controversial not only because it was operating out of her home at the time, but also–or registered to have operated out of her home at the time, but also because people who had worked with her on that firm, including a person named John Fraser, actually was hired to work with her in the B.C. government afterwards, and also that another Enbridge lobbyist, named Ken Boessenkool, was hired as her chief of staff in 2011, I believe. And for all those reasons, people are wondering, now that the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline is such a huge issue in B.C., whether that has any influence on the way that she makes decisions today.
But after the news has broke, some environmentalists have been coming forward to say that, really, the onus is on the premier right now to prove whether or not she works for the people of B.C. or if she still has these kind of connections to the–or if she works for the oil industry, basically.
PERIES: It appears that Enbridge and the pipeline and the connection to the premier’s office is a sensitive story in Vancouver. Can you elaborate on the next story that you wanted to propose to us, which also is connected through Enbridge?
UECHI: Yes. Right now through to–like, yesterday, Kitimat–it’s a tiny northern community in B.C. which has a population of about–less than 10,000. They are holding a plebiscite about whether or not they approve of the Joint Review Panel’s decision to–for the federal–not decision–recommendation for the federal government to give the green light to the Northern Gateway Pipeline. This plebiscite has been significant and in the news because Enbridge has been spending a lot of money to campaign, almost as if they’re running a political campaign, to convince people in Kitimat to vote yes for the pipeline. And because this isn’t a political campaign, they have no spending limit and have–they’ve been going door to door, knocking on people’s–talking to people, and putting in ads in the newspaper.
But the other important thing to remember about this vote is that regardless of what people–how the vote goes, basically it’s a vote for a social license. The final decision still rests with the federal government. But if the people were to vote–the majority of the people were to vote yes for the pipeline, it would give the appearance that Enbridge has the social license to build this highly controversial pipeline. And that’s what the company is aiming for.
PERIES: Jenny, the community that is going to be voting, are they aware of what just happened in terms of the premier’s connection to Enbridge? And what are they saying about that?
UECHI: I’m certain that they’ve heard. The opinions are very, I think, divided. In terms of the reaction from Kitimat, I think that some people have just scanned the headline and decided that she must have lingering ties to the company and–or that she must have some ties to the company, and therefore that she should answer to the public about that. But other people have defended her, saying that really she had done no wrong and that it was all connections through her ex-husband, and that some people have basically said, let’s sit back and see how things proceed with the pipeline.
PERIES: Does Vancouver have a policy where they have to declare their interest of this sort before becoming the premier of the province?
UECHI: Not legally, no. I think it’s more about–somebody commented that the bar that society sets, at least in terms of perception, is a lot higher than the legal bar. She would have had to declare, of course, if she was, you know, involved in provincial politics at the time that all this was going on. However, because it was during her break from politics in 2005, legally she was not obliged to disclose it.
But people think that–a lot of people are saying that it was something that they would have liked to know before she was elected premier.
PERIES: And did the premier’s husband continue to lobby with Enbridge after she becomes premier?
UECHI: No. That ended in 2006, ostensibly.
PERIES: Yves, so tell us what’s going on in Quebec.
YVES ENGLER, AUTHOR AND POLITICAL ACTIVIST: Well, today in Montreal there’s a major demonstration organized by the student movement, thousands, maybe up to 10,000 people protesting. Fifty thousand students across the province voted for a strike day against austerity. And the main theme of the demonstration is to make the rich pay their fair part. (It sounds better in French, the slogan.) And it comes in the midst of elections, the election campaign campaign coming to an end with the election on Monday, and a very bizarre four-way election race for the provincial government.
PERIES: Tell us more about the student movement. What was the nature of the demonstration? How many–you said 50,000 students came out to demonstrate. What are their particular calls?
ENGLER: Well, [incompr.] 50,000 students voted to take a one-day strike. It’s probably not that many people on the street–in the thousands. I wasn’t there, of course, but from the pictures I’ve seen, it looks like it could be up to 10,000 people.
Well, the student ASSÉ [incompr.] federation that organized the demonstration, that was the main organization behind the massive student strike that rocked Quebec about two years ago, they are critical of the austerity of the current Parti Québécois government. They obviously were critical of the tuition increases of the previous Liberal government. And they’re sending a message for whoever wins this upcoming election that the austerity model of increasing daycare costs, of increasing tuition costs, of adding to health costs, while simultaneously cutting taxes on banks, cutting taxes for higher income people, is not a desired route.
In terms of the election, it’s a very interesting four-way race that looks like–the polls are suggesting that the Liberal government will–Liberal Party will probably form the next government. It’s not clear if it would be a minority or a majority government.
This week, this past week, Pauline Marois, the current premier of the province and the head of the Parti Québécois, she was basically accepting, almost lauding the comments of a prominent Quebecois feminist, 87-year-old woman, who basically said the Charter of Values that the Quebec government is pursuing, the Parti Québécois government is pursuing, it’s to stop it so Muslim men, when she’s swimming and they come in and they don’t want to swim with her–and that basically the Muslims are taking over. So there’s this rightward shift at an identity level of the Parti Québécois, which was traditionally the social democratic government, obviously a sovereigntist government that, you know, pursues Quebec independence. In recent months, they have pushed a very xenophobic form of nationalism, very much moving away from the roots of the sort of more social democratic oriented nature of the sovereigntist movement. That’s playing out in these elections campaign.
There’s a rise of the left-wing party, Québec solidaire, which is now polling as high as 13 percent, which is a huge breakthrough for a party that would be akin to the Green Party in the U.S. They will almost certainly win–well, they already have two seats in the provincial legislature, but they’re likely to win a couple more seats and possibly get over, you know, 10 percent of the popular vote, which would be a big step forward for this fairly new left-wing party.
And there’s obviously–on the right end of the political spectrum you have a far-right party pursuing, you know, attacks against unions.
And then you have the Liberal Party, which is sort of the traditionally dominant party, actually making some positive [incompr.] they’re criticizing the Parti Québécois for their sort of sellout to oil interests in the Saint Lawrence River area.
And so it’s a very interesting mix of economic issues, of national–of sort of race-relation issues, and of the question of Quebec sovereignty that’s going to be decided on Monday.
PERIES: Yves, are the students putting their weight behind any particular party at this point?
ENGLER: Well, the student movement, the mainstream of the student movement has historically close relations with the Parti Québécois. And so two of the leaders of the student movement, the more right-wing element of the student movement, they’re actually running their candidates for the Parti Québécois, two leaders for the last–during the student strike of two years ago, one of them, who’s already been an MP, who was elected right after the student strike, and another one who is joining it this election.
The ASSÉ has a bit more of an anarchist kind of orientation, so they would be sort of split between a more sort of anarchist component of ASSÉ and a component that’s closer to Québec solidaire. So ASSÉ, who organized this major demonstration today in Montreal, they have not taken an official position on the elections. They’re not calling for people to vote for any of the parties. But they are sending a message that they believe the money for education, the money for health services, daycare services, that should come from the wealthy, and the moves to increase tuition, the move that even the Parti Québécois has suggested, to increase daycare costs from $7 a day to $9 a day, that that’s not acceptable and in fact that, again, the rich should pay their fair part.
PERIES: Explain that again, Yves. The fact–the cost of daycare in Quebec will be a surprise to most of our listeners.
ENGLER: Yeah, and that’s why I said the $7 to $9. It’s–Quebec has had a–for–it’s the preeminent daycare model in North America, where it was $5 until very recently, $5 a day, a publicly funded daycare system. It’s really at the cutting edge. And the Parti Québécois, who implemented the daycare program a number of years ago, they have–as part of their sort of more rightward shift, they’re calling for an increase in the daycare fee, which had already just been increased a couple of years ago from $5 to $7, and now up to $9.
And the same thing goes when it comes to, you know, tuition costs. Tuition in Quebec is around $3,000 a year, which is about half of the national average in Canada, and obviously much less than most places in the U.S.
The same thing goes for, you know, some of the health services, where, you know, this is–obviously, in Canada it’s across the country, but there’s, you know, a model of community clinic model. And that’s one of the things that Québec solidaire, the left-wing party, is proposing to really expand is to hire a lot more people in the community clinic, the so-called CLSCs, and to orient it more towards house visits of medical professionals, you know, more rooted in the actual community, which I think is ultimately–you know, is the model that health should be focused on, rather than the sort of curative model of more–you know, more pharmaceutical drugs or more incursions, which tend to be beneficial to medical lobbying groups and companies.
So the Quebec–in total, the Quebec sort of social entitlement system is much more generous than the rest of–anywhere else in North America. So, you know, moves to increase daycare from $7 to $9 actually prompt significant resistance, just as moves to increase tuition by a couple of hundred dollars a year prompted that massive student strike two years ago.
PERIES: Right. But what do you expect will happen on Monday?
ENGLER: It’s looking like there will be a minority or slim majority Liberal Party victory. If that happens, hopefully the Québec solidaire will get up to four or five seats and over 10 percent of the vote. But it’s still possible, because it’s a four-way race and there’s quite a bit of fluidity between people voting, the people who tend to be sovereigntist-oriented, who tend to have a certain sympathy for sort of cultural rights of the French language, of support for sort of the sovereigntist movement. Some of these people flow between the most right-wing party, the CAQ, and the Parti Québécois, and its a little bit unclear where the votes will fall on Monday. But it’s likely to be a liberal government at this point.
PERIES: Okay. Thank you very much for joining us. And we will make sure that we come back to you sometime next week to give us an update.
ENGLER: Thank you.
PERIES: And, Jenny, thank you for joining us as well.
UECHI: Thank you so much for having me.
PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.