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Picketers lead ‘shame convoy’ with Legault mannequin

Photos from Thursday: ‘Shame Convoy’

Photos from Wednesday: Classroom picketing

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New poll suggests young Quebecers support voting system reform

Young adults are ready to see a change in the current voting system, poll suggests

Following Coalition Avenir Québec’s (CAQ) victory in the provincial election, Léger conducted a survey for the Journal de Montréal asking 1,040 Quebecers aged 18 and over if they were in favour of reforming the current voting system. The data was collected from Oct. 2 to 7.

First-past-the-post (FPTP) is the current voting system, defined as a “winner-takes-all” system where the candidate with the most votes wins. Even if they don’t receive more than 50 per cent of the votes, they become the Member of Parliament for that riding and gain a seat in the House of Commons. Fair Vote Canada, a group in favour of electoral reform, describes the FPTP voting system as “distorted.”

“It [FPTP] fosters stability in general because it tends to generate majority governments rather than minority or coalition governments, as opposed to say, proportional representation,” said Dr. Daniel Béland, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. 

“At the same time, there are a lot of votes that are lost, because you vote in your riding for a candidate. And if the candidate loses your vote doesn’t have much of an impact,” Béland said. 

Guy Lachapelle, political science professor at Concordia, Legault failed to deliver on his 2018 campaign promise to implement voting reform. 

“And this argument that he didn’t have the time to implement it, I think I don’t buy it because he had created a committee right when he was elected and he signed the agreement,” said Lachapelle.  

Legault also previously stated the issue of electoral reform was a matter concerning “a few intellectuals” and not the majority of Quebecers. However, Léger’s study revealed 53 per cent of Quebecers want the current electoral system to be reviewed due to the current misrepresentation as highlighted by Béland. 

Results also show that 59 per cent of the respondents aged from 18 to 34 are in favour of electoral reform. 

Mina Collin, a journalism and political science student at Concordia, shared her disappointment with the recent elections. 

“What we’ve seen with the elections that just passed on Oct. 3 is that the system that we have is not representative especially,” said Collin. 

The recent provincial elections enforce the idea of a “seat penalty” in the House of Commons whereby the popular vote doesn’t represent the number of seats elected.  

The study also indicates the current electoral system causes a discrepancy between the percentage of votes that a political party obtains across Quebec and the number of seats it has. 

“They had a majority of popular votes than for example the Liberal Party, but it’s the Liberal party that has more seats in the Assembly.” 

 The survey also shows that 59 per cent of voters aged 18-34 favour electoral reform. 

Noah Martin, a political science student at Concordia, explained his theory for the low voter turnout of 66 per cent during this election. 

“As a poli-sci student I will still vote, but if there were [a different] system where people’s voices can be heard and represented better, then I would think people would be more likely to vote,” suggested Martin. 

Though, as the study suggests the majority of Quebecers wish for electoral reform, change is unlikely to happen in the next few years. 

“I don’t think change will happen in Quebec, anytime soon, because the current government doesn’t want change to take place, because the system works for them. They got barely 40 per cent of the vote, and they got more than 70 per cent of the seats,” said Bélanger. 

“It’s not going to happen as long as the CAQ is in power with the majority government,” he added.

Graphic by James Fay

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New poll suggests young Quebecers support voting system reform

Young adults are ready to see a change in the current voting system, poll suggests

Following Coalition Avenir Québec’s (CAQ) victory in the provincial election, Léger conducted a survey for the Journal de Montréal asking 1,040 Quebecers aged 18 and over if they were in favour of reforming the current voting system. The data was collected from Oct. 2 to 7.

First-past-the-post (FPTP) is the current voting system, defined as a “winner-takes-all” system where the candidate with the most votes wins. Even if they don’t receive more than 50 per cent of the votes, they become the Member of Parliament for that riding and gain a seat in the House of Commons. Fair Vote Canada, a group in favour of electoral reform, describes the FPTP voting system as “distorted.”

“It [FPTP] fosters stability in general because it tends to generate majority governments rather than minority or coalition governments, as opposed to say, proportional representation,” said Dr. Daniel Béland, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. 

“At the same time, there are a lot of votes that are lost, because you vote in your riding for a candidate. And if the candidate loses your vote doesn’t have much of an impact,” Béland said. 

Guy Lachapelle, political science professor at Concordia, Legault failed to deliver on his 2018 campaign promise to implement voting reform. 

“And this argument that he didn’t have the time to implement it, I think I don’t buy it because he had created a committee right when he was elected and he signed the agreement,” said Lachapelle.  

Legault also previously stated the issue of electoral reform was a matter concerning “a few intellectuals” and not the majority of Quebecers. However, Léger’s study revealed 53 per cent of Quebecers want the current electoral system to be reviewed due to the current misrepresentation as highlighted by Béland. 

Results also show that 59 per cent of the respondents aged from 18 to 34 are in favour of electoral reform. 

Mina Collin, a journalism and political science student at Concordia, shared her disappointment with the recent elections. 

“What we’ve seen with the elections that just passed on Oct. 3 is that the system that we have is not representative especially,” said Collin. 

The recent provincial elections enforce the idea of a “seat penalty” in the House of Commons whereby the popular vote doesn’t represent the number of seats elected.  

The study also indicates the current electoral system causes a discrepancy between the percentage of votes that a political party obtains across Quebec and the number of seats it has. 

“They had a majority of popular votes than for example the Liberal Party, but it’s the Liberal party that has more seats in the Assembly.” 

 The survey also shows that 59 per cent of voters aged 18-34 favour electoral reform. 

Noah Martin, a political science student at Concordia, explained his theory for the low voter turnout of 66 per cent during this election. 

“As a poli-sci student I will still vote, but if there were [a different] system where people’s voices can be heard and represented better, then I would think people would be more likely to vote,” suggested Martin. 

Though, as the study suggests the majority of Quebecers wish for electoral reform, change is unlikely to happen in the next few years. 

“I don’t think change will happen in Quebec, anytime soon, because the current government doesn’t want change to take place, because the system works for them. They got barely 40 per cent of the vote, and they got more than 70 per cent of the seats,” said Bélanger. 

“It’s not going to happen as long as the CAQ is in power with the majority government,” he added.

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Quebec elections: CAQ wins a majority government

Graphic by Carleen Loney

The votes are in. Coalition Avenir Québec will remain in power until 2026

François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) has been elected for a second mandate as the Quebec premier with a majority government and will remain in power until 2026. 

The CAQ won 41 per cent of the vote and 90 seats in the National Assembly, the most seats any party has ever won in Quebec since 1989. This marked an increase of 16 seats since the 2018 elections. 

“We had a clear message. Quebecers sent a powerful message. Quebecers told us: let’s continue!” shouted Legault during his victory speech. 

The voter turnout was also slightly lower than in 2018. 66.07 per cent of Quebecers voted this year, compared to 66.45 per cent in 2018. 

Here’s what you need to know about the CAQ’s promises for its second mandate: 

Immigration: 

  • Reduce the annual threshold of immigrants from 70,000 to 50,000 for the next four years
  • Invest  $130 million to make it easier for immigrants to have their professional skills acquired abroad recognized

Education: 

  • Additional $2 billion over four years to renovate and update schools, besides
  • Investment of $348 million in vocational training to help address the labour shortage

Climate change: 

  • Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 37.5 per cent below 1990 levels 
  • Wants to reach carbon neutrality by 2050

Health care:

  • Open two private clinics in underserviced areas of Montreal’s east end and Quebec city
  • Investment of $400 million to train and recruit 660 more physicians and 5,000 other health professionals

Cost of living: 

  • $600 will be given to Quebecers making less than $50,000 annually
  • $400 to those earning between $50,000 and $100,000
  • Annual allowance up to $2,000 to people aged 70 and up
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STUDY: Minority students experiencing hardships after Bill 21

A joint study from Concordia and McGill highlight that religiously expressive minority students have faced career uncertainty, discrimination, and a worsened perception of Quebec since the enactment of Bill 21

Teachers like Bouchera Chelbi, a Muslim woman who chooses to wear the hijab, has noticed changes in Quebec since the enactment of Bill 21. Grandfathered in after the legalization of the bill, Chelbi now has no chance to move up in her career as she is unable to be promoted due to Bill 21. 

Enacted in 2019, the bill prohibits the wearing of religious garments and symbols for workers in the public sector in government-run institutions like courthouses or schools.

“It changed a lot about my future plans, I can longer dream about having a higher position, I cannot change school boards. It changes a lot for me,” Chelbi explained.  

As a member of the Coalition Inclusion Quebec and someone who is heavily involved in challenging the law, Chelbi feels that it has impacted her on both a career and personal level. Though leaving has crossed her mind, the priorities of being a wife and a mother have made her stay in the province.

“It makes me feel like I don’t fit anymore in the community. Before the bill, I used to feel like I was free as any other woman in Quebec but after, it felt like suddenly I was a second-class citizen.”

A study conducted by researchers from Concordia and McGill has uncovered harsh realities for the next generation of students, particularly minorities, entering the workforce, many of whom will likely be affected by Bill 21’s legislation. Students who wore religious symbols were at a higher risk of experiencing higher discriminatory treatment as well as job prospect uncertainty, prompting many of those surveyed to admit intending to seek work out of province once their diplomas are obtained. Those surveyed felt that Bill 21 had affected their future career decision, especially due to experiencing an uptick in discrimination since the passing of the legislation.

Meir Edery, a third-year law student at Université de Montreal who wears a kippah, felt that Bill 21 has affected him, like many others who wear religious garb. “The law felt like a personal attack. Truthfully, it felt like something that the government was putting forward to show the population that these people are not wanted and valued as a part of society.”

Kimberley Manning, an associate professor in political science at Concordia and one of the authors who helped conduct the study, was interested in researching the effects of students studying in sectors affected by Bill 21. 

The majority of the 629 participants surveyed highlighted worsened perception of Quebec since the bill’s legislation, creating more divisiveness rather than its intended unification. “Our findings are suggesting a rise in discrimination. People who wear religious symbols are reporting that they’ve experienced more discrimination since the passage of the law,” said Manning. 

The law’s notion was intended to secularize the province, providing neutrality in government institutions. Manning, however, has noticed from the study’s findings that it’s also affecting minorities who do not express themselves religiously. 

“This goes way beyond the individuals wearing religious symbols. [It] is clear that people who do not wear religious symbols are experiencing discrimination in the wake of the passage of this law,” she explained. 

“There is a great deal of confusion about this law, I think that our research findings and research findings from another study that was done by a professor out of UQAM are suggesting that among the general population there is confusion about what this means.”

This confusion has created a bypass for many people to single out minorities, regardless of whether or not the Law applies to those accused. One respondent reported a teacher telling an 11-year-old that she could not wear her Hijab due to the law, something which is patently false.

The results showed 51.8 per cent of those surveyed said that they are extremely likely to look for work out of Quebec as a result of Bill 21, while 77.9 per cent of respondents were considering leaving the province for employment options elsewhere. “I’ve decided to take the Ontario bar exam because I will likely go work in Ontario, where I feel more welcomed as a religious minority,” said an unnamed female law student at McGill.

As someone who will soon enter the job market for the first time in his life, Edery has to consider his future, as the bill prevents him from taking certain opportunities. “When I was looking at my career options, I knew that I was limited and it’s the first time I’ve ever been limited because of the expression of my religion and that stung, because in the 21st century that shouldn’t be happening to anybody.”

 Chelbi referring to feeling like a second-class citizen is a shared sentiment according to Manning’s study. Though a minority of people surveyed were in favour of the bill due to having once faced religious extremism from their native country, 70 per cent of respondents have developed a worsened perception of Quebec. 

“That’s really significant, again this is a motivated group who responded to the survey but when you triangulate our results with the results from the recent polling that’s not insignificant. I think it’s really important that our policymakers pay attention to it and consider the negative impact this is having on people’s lives.”

Teachers like Chelbi will continue to challenge the government in regards to the law for future generations of students hoping that they can work in a Quebec that favours religious expression.

Source: The Impact of Law 21 on Québec Students in Law and Education: STUDY BY ELIZABETH ELBOURNE (MCGILL), KIMBERLEY ENS MANNING (CONCORDIA) ZACKARY KIFELL (MCGILL)

Illustration and infographics by Lily Cowper

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More than just a budget cut

The Quebec government’s decision to abruptly cut the $100 million worth of funding once promised to Dawson College raises questions, especially for what they had planned on doing with the funding

The Coalition Avenir Québec’s (CAQ) sudden change of heart to cancel the Dawson funding project has left many in the English community scratching their heads as to why the once-promised $100 million project to expand the institution is no more.

Over seven years in the making, the long-term project supposedly guaranteed Quebec’s largest English CEGEP funding to expand its medical technology department. According to Dawson’s Communications Coordinator Donna Varrica, the funding would have improved upon the current lack of adequate space to comfortably host all of the CEGEP’s students, all while providing a medical clinic in the area that would serve the community and train their students.

 “Over the past two years, we’ve been hearing about the lack of skilled labour in those areas”, Varrica said when referring to Quebec’s healthcare system. “The fact that it’s overburdened, the fact that there’s a burnout because they’re understaffed, the timing couldn’t have been any worse. Here we were providing a solution for the healthcare system and had the rug pulled from under us,” Varrica said.

Former Dawson alumni, lawyer, and Quebec Community Groups Network secretary Matt Aronson said the sudden budget cut emits “a feeling of betrayal, disappointment and outrage,” among many in the English-speaking community. “The funds that have been previously committed for a shovel-ready project that met the needs of not only the community, but of the healthcare system were being withdrawn so that they can prioritize French institutions.”

The decision makes less sense when put into context. Last November, the CAQ unveiled a new $3.9 billion investment plan to attract 170,000 students interested in enrolling in essential sectors like health and social services. The decision to cut funding seemed entirely propelled by language as Quebec’s Minister of Higher Education Danielle McCann advised Dawson that the decision to scrap the expansion project was based to prioritize francophone institutions and students. 

For many, the swift motion to pull funding from Dawson not only seems like a political chess move with an upcoming election on the horizon but also felt like the government was picking sides, choosing to favour francophones. “There really is no two ways about it, it’s clearly the case that the decision was made entirely arbitrarily because, had Dawson College been a francophone institution, they’d be getting the money,” Aronson said. 

“They have an election coming in October, and in the event that they fulfill their obligations as good government they would allow for the possibility that they would be pillory in some very nationalist French press for doing anything to assist an English-speaking community to thrive.”

 More than a matter of space

 Though all students have experienced the same space issue over the past 20 years, students studying in health programs especially need the extra room for the machines that they operate. “Because our programs are technologically advanced, we had to invest in some big and expensive equipment,” Varrica said. “The entire nurse simulation room is an old closet.” Though Dawson’s students are still getting their education, the infrastructure in which they’re receiving it is too small to accommodate both students and equipment.

 “Even to this day if you walk through our halls, you’ll see a student on the floor with their laptop plugged into a wall socket because that’s the only place where they could sit,” Varrica explained.

 “We’re not looking to get more students; we have a cap of 7900 students and that’s what we’re sticking to. But even at that we’re still short of space,” described Varrica.

Dawson has been trying to find alternatives to comfortably accommodate the ones currently enrolled. Legault and the CAQ have already acknowledged the need of over 11,000 square metres of added space despite Parti Quebecois pushback. The decision to pull back in the final hour raises questions regarding why now the government saw fit to cancel the project, especially when they’ve defended it in the past.

The budgetary decision may affect francophone students enrolled at Dawson, the students the government has intended to protect. Dawson Student Union President Alexandrah Cardona said the students she represents aren’t exclusively anglophone, and the narrative from the government that Dawson is exclusively for English speakers is far from the truth. “In the day-to-day lives of Dawson students, we are francophone, we are anglophone, we are bilingual, we’re allophones, we speak all types of languages and so that’s where the confusion comes from.”

Photo by Kaitlynn Rodney

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“Stop evictions” — Quebecers demand better social housing solutions

“Stop paying the rich! Increase investments in social programs!” read a poster

On Feb. 12, hundreds of marchers gathered around Norman Bethune Square and walked through downtown Montreal demanding radical solutions against the current housing crisis in Quebec.

Le Front d’action populaire en réaménagement urbain (FRAPRU) and other groups joined to organize the first mobilization of a week of regional actions.

Housing problems are the new normal.

Every day the FRAPRU and other housing organizations see the dramatic effects of the housing crisis, noting the escalating number of tenants who struggle to afford excessive rent increases and face eviction.

“Today, we are going to call on Quebec Premier François Legault to make the housing crisis a real political priority,” said Véronique Laflamme, organizer and spokesperson of the FRAPRU. Excessive rent increases and evictions are a daily occurrence in the province.

“In the last three Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) budgets, there have been 500 new financial, social housing units for all of Quebec. In Montreal, only in the last year, there were 800 new families and households on a waiting list for low-income housing. Twenty-four thousand renter households in Montreal are just waiting for low-income housing,” Laflamme added.

Laflamme explains that the FRAPRU opposes the government’s current plan of privatizing housing assistance.

She says the government should fund the AccèsLogis Quebec program, an initiative created by the Société d’habitation du Québec, which supports non-profit and cooperative housing projects.

Andrée Laforest, minister of municipal affairs and housing and member of the CAQ for Chicoutimi, recently announced the Quebec affordable housing program last week that will expand public funding to the private sector.

The Programme d’habitation abordable Québec (PHAQ) aims to provide affordable housing by having a maximum rent set by the Société d’habitation du Québec corresponding to about the median rent. However, the new program is also open to private for-profit developers.

“As long as we are in capitalism, we will have to fight like this all the time to have access to housing. It is because society that is based on profit and not on the needs of the world,” said Marianne Amiô, member of the Socialist Fightback Students organization.

Maryan Kikhounga-Ngot, an organizer of the Projet d’organisation populaire, d’information et de regroupement (POPIR), is marching to emphasize what they believe is the only option to improve the housing crisis: investing in social housing to stop enriching the wealthy.

“[The CAQ government] wants to kill the AccèsLogis program and replace it with a program that is private funding. To mask it, he says it is an affordable housing program,” said Kikhounga-Ngot. “Someone on social assistance is not able to pay a 4 ½ for thousands and some that is what he calls affordable,” she added.

Protestors also demanded better assistance for the homeless communities in Quebec.

Catherine Marcoux, community organizer for the Réseau d’aide aux personnes seules et itinérantes de Montréal (RAPSIM) says 10,000 new social housing units per year is necessary.

“We believe that the Quebec affordable housing program will not meet the needs of homeless people. What we really need is social housing,” Marcoux said.

Another organization marching was La Table des groupes de femmes de Montréal (TGFM). Véronique Martineau, coordinator and organizer, pointed out how the housing crisis affects vulnerable women.

Last year, a study conducted by TGFM showed that women are having more difficulty finding affordable housing due to discrimination and prejudice.

“We doubt that private developers will develop real community housing that will truly meet the needs of women in their diversity,” Martineau said.

“Having funding for social housing adapted to women in all their diversities is a very important issue to overcome systemic barriers such as racism, sexism, homophobia,” she added.

Moving forward, the FRAPRU has scheduled more protests until Feb.18 all around Quebec.  The next protest will be on Feb. 14 in front of Laforest’s office in Saguenay.

Photos by Catherine Reynolds

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Quebec’s budget update too optimistic?

Quebec’s Finance Minister plans to return to balanced budget in five years

Quebec’s new budget update presented on Nov.12 by Finance Minister Eric Girard did not convince the members of the Official Opposition, qualifying it as “extremely optimistic.”

Girard has made ambitious projections in his budget plan despite Quebec’s deficit of $15 billion in 2020-2021. He is expecting the province to “return to a balanced budget within five years without cutting services and without increasing income and other taxes.”

To reach that goal, $1.5 billion will be invested over three years to help Quebec’s economic recovery. Of that amount, $477 million will be awarded to stimulate economic growth in various sectors.

“We need to stimulate economic growth. Our companies must be more competitive, more productive,” said Girard while presenting his budget plan.

Moments after the finance minister finished presenting his plan, the opposition held a press briefing in which Dominique Anglade, leader of the Official Opposition, said her party had asked the CAQ to deliver three different scenarios from the budget update.

Yet, just one “optimistic” scenario was presented to the public, making it hard for the opposition to have faith in the budget’s achievement potential.

Girard’s goal to get back to a balanced budget within five years doesn’t seem realistic to the opposition.

During the opposition’s presser, Pontiac MNA André Fortin expressed his misgivings about Quebec’s new budget plan. He believes the projections proposed in the budget are based on a theoretical increase in the Canada Health Transfer of $6.2 billion annually from the federal government, and other non-factual information.

“He’s also banking on the fact that there is going to be a vaccine and that the economy is going to kickstart back again really quickly. We don’t know that. There’s too much uncertainty,” said Fortin during the question and answer period.

When asked if his ambition for Quebec was too big, Finance Minister Éric Girard simply responded that, although the next six months may be hard, Quebecers need to stay positive and should look ahead at the future as there will be an economic restart.

Moreover, the Official Opposition also considers it too early to think about an economic recovery when the province is still undergoing a recession.

“We can’t commit to a five-year balance when we don’t know when the recession will be over,” said Liberal MNA Carlos J. Leitão during the opposition’s press briefing. “A balanced budget can only come when the economy returns to a more normal situation,” he added.

Many small businesses are on the verge of bankruptcy and need more investment to keep their business running. According to Anglade, the budget didn’t include any additional measures to help them. She also expressed her worries of an economic recovery being almost impossible if too many of them close.

“The reason why it’s extremely optimistic is because they say, ‘the growth is going to pick up.’ But in order for the growth to pick up, you need the companies to pick up. If they’re closing … you won’t see the economy going up,” she said.

Last March, Girard presented his first version of his 2020-2021 budget, which was overshadowed by the first wave of COVID-19. This update shows a three-year financial framework, instead of the usual five-year projection, due to the high level of uncertainty of the pandemic.

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

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“Justice for Joyce” protestors march against systemic racism

Thousands march through downtown Montreal, calling for more accountability from the government

 

Thousands of protestors gathered on Saturday to demand action against systemic racism in Quebec after an Atikamekw woman, Joyce Echaquan, died at Joliette Hospital where she was racially abused by staff.

Mask-wearing demonstrators packed Place Émilie-Gamelin with drums, Indigenous flags and “Justice for Joyce” signs. Many were on bicycles, others pushed baby strollers. Protestors shuffled toward the speakers, all the while attempting to maintain a two-metre distance from each other.

The multilingual demonstration began with a prayer for Joyce. Buffalo Hat Singers were followed with a drum-pounding performance. Chiefs, local politicians, and Indigenous activists took to the stage to denounce the denial of systemic racism in Quebec public institutions and to call for a criminal investigation into the case of Joyce Echaquan’s death.

Cheers and chants of “justice for Joyce” punctuated remarks.

“I have spent the last few days wondering, am I next?” said one Indigenous speaker, fighting back tears. “Who’s next? I’m tired of hearing about intentions. We don’t want intentions!”

Manon Massé, co-leader of Québec solidaire, urged Premier Legault to engage with First Nations communities more respectfully and to put into practice the 142 calls to action listed in the Jacques Viens report, which in 2019 concluded that Indigenous people face systemic discrimination when trying to access public services in Quebec.

On whether political parties are working together in the National Assembly to address the issue of systemic racism, Massé told The Concordian that “The CAQ and the PQ don’t recognize that there is systemic racism [in] Quebec, [in] our institutions,” but she insisted that she is willing to work with other parties to advance change.

Jessica Quijano, who works at the Iskweu project and the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal said that the Indigenous community needs its own health centre.

“First Nations people often don’t seek medical attention because of systemic racism.”

However, she saw positives in the protest turnout.

“I think it’s hopeful to have this many people, but I always say that protests are dress rehearsals for what’s really to come.”

Jennifer Maccarone, the Liberal Member of the National Assembly (MNA) for Westmount–Saint Louis, had strong words for Premier Legault.

“I think he’s completely disconnected from the community he represents.”

She accused the CAQ of doing little to address racism in the province and acting without transparency.

“Joyce deserved nothing less than proper health care and respect,” she told The Concordian.

“You have to change the way people think,” Gregory Kelley told The Concordian, the Liberal MNA for Jacques-Cartier. He called for Quebec’s educational curriculum “to have more Indigenous content so people understand better who the Indigenous peoples of Quebec are and what are the challenges they face.”

The demonstrators observed a moment of silence for Joyce, then marched from Émilie-Gamelin toward René-Lévesque Boulevard and stopped at the Quartier des Spectacles. One nurse and one orderly have been fired from the Joliette Hospital, and three investigations have been launched. A GoFundMe page has been created for the family, and the Echaquan family is filing a lawsuit against the hospital.

Photograph courtesy of Joe Bongiorno

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Poli SAVVY: Bill 40 passed under closure? So much for democracy, Legault!

Authoritarianism can have many faces.

We tend to depict it with extreme images such as slavery, dictatorship and oppression––but not all forms are as explicitly visible. And one of the worst kinds is silencing the opposition.

This rigid tactic is starting to be the trademark of Prime Minister François Legault and the Coalition Avenir––the current centre-right Quebec Government.

Last week, I wrote about Britain’s lack of urgency when it comes to dealing with Brexit—well, over here, we have a government that’s dangerously in a hurry. When it comes to passing bills, the CAQ is a bulldozer.

Late Friday night, it invoked closure for the fourth time in less than eight months, to pass Bill 40. The procedure allows the government in power to limit debates over legislation, even though some National Assembly members who wished to speak haven’t had the time to do so.

Despite severe critics coming from the educational system, 60 over 35 voted in favour of Bill 40, abolishing Quebec’s francophone and anglophone school boards. Additionally, in a last-minute decision, the original transition period of two weeks was eliminated, immediately kicking many commissioners out of their elected positions.

It was widely reported that school boards, teachers’ unions and English-language lobby groups, among the opposition parties condemned the government for rushing into an intense reform that needed more time and more consultation.

What was Legault’s response to evoking closure? “The opposition was ‘obstructing’ the passage of the law,” he said while speaking to reporters in Washington, D.C. on Saturday.

Yet, this is the entire purpose of the opposition: balancing powers and ensuring democratic debates over issues such as this one. Why was the CAQ quick to act so undemocratically?

Well, simply take a look at another controversial bill that was passed under closure; when Bill 21––the secularism law—was voted in last spring. The English Montreal School Board (EMSB) has since been one of the loudest opposition voices, in challenging Bill 21. If the board that’s challenging Legault’s precious laicity law doesn’t exist anymore, can the fight continue?

“Faire d’une pierre, deux coups,” they say—and the CAQ is striking hard.

 

Graphic by @sundaeghost

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Quebec raises cannabis consumption age, but will minors quit kush?

Despite the government’s intentions, raising the legal marijuana smoking age may not be as efficient as thought.

The Quebec government passed a law to raise the legal smoking age of marijuana from 18 to 21 in December 2019. Since January 2020, no one under the age of 21 is able to purchase, possess or smoke pot.

The law was introduced in Bill 2, which was sponsored by Minister of Health Lionel Carmant.

As an ex-pediatric neurologist, Carmant’s concerns for the youth-led to his introduction of this legislation. Research done by the Canadian government shows that smoking marijuana before the brain matures has consequences, as it negatively impacts the development of the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex controls things like memory, learning, making decisions and judgment. In an email exchange with the Concordian, Carmant said the increased likelihood of getting stimulation psychosis, which can occur from consuming too much cannabis in minors.Carmant hopes to give a “clear message” to teens and young adults. According to him, “cannabis is a harmful substance” that should be avoided.

“We will not compromise the safety of the youth because of an illegal market,” Carmant  said.

Louie, a Montreal drug dealer who is using an alias, started selling weed as a first year university student. Due to “shitty” residence food and not having enough money to buy better food regularly, Louie began to sell weed.

While he does not know where his weed comes from, Louie is confident in the reliability and safety of black market bud. However, buyers have to be smart about it, and be wary of prices. “If you’re getting five dollars a gram or something from some sketch motherf*cker, then you’re probably getting some synthetic shit,” he said. Louie sells a gram of weed for $10, and his customers’ ages range from 17 to 30.

Contrary to Louie, social worker Lindsay Faul sees some danger in black market weed and underage weed consumption itself. She cites brain development and the quality of black market weed as concerns related to underage smokers in Montréal.

Weed can be risky for consumers; one of the risks is the uncertainty regarding the amount of THC in illegal weed. According to the Canadian Government’s website, higher amounts of THC can heighten or prolong effects of confusion or anxiety.

Quebec is now the only province that has a higher age limit to purchase cannabis than tobacco or alcohol. Faul does not agree with the decision to have varying legal purchasing age. “I believe that all three of these substances should be treated the same,” Faul said. “Either make all three legal at 18 or all three legal at 21.”

Faul continued by explaining the difference between the dangers of tobacco, weed, and alcohol. While all three have setbacks, “tobacco and cannabis are similar in the sense that they typically cause the most harm to our respiratory system,” she said. But cannabis is less dangerous when it is ingested in other forms. “Alcohol, on the other hand, negatively impacts all the systems in the body,” she added.

Both long-term drinking and heavy drinking can lead to many types of diseases, and can cause damage to organs like the heart, pancreas and liver. While tobacco and cannabis both negatively impact the respiratory system, tobacco affects much more of the body. A diagram by the Canadian Cancer Society shows that tobacco smokers have a higher chance of developing cancers in the mouth, lungs, liver, bladder, and more. Tobacco consumption, while dangerous, is also easy to avoid. The Canadian Cancer Society writes that tobacco is “the number one cause of preventable disease and death in Canada.” Secondhand smoke from tobacco is also dangerous. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, second hand smoke inhalation increases the likelihood of getting lung disease, a heart attack, and stroke. body, and nicotine––what gives users their high––is very addictive.

More research needs to be done to learn about the correlation between smoking cannabis and developing cancer. However, the Canadian Cancer Society writes that some cancer patients use medical marijuana to relieve symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and pain.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer lists both alcoholic beverages and all kinds of tobacco exposure in its list of carcinogenic substances to humans.

So how will the Quebec government restrict these dangers from the youth? According to Carmant, the battle against underage tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption is one that society has been fighting for “decades.”

Carmant also said his government will focus on keeping weed out of the hands of youth. “We now have the opportunity to strengthen laws that will prevent illegal cannabis sales in five or 10 years,” he said. “We strongly believe that Quebecers must be made aware of the effects of this substance–especially young people.”

 

Photo by Jad Abukasm

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Legault wants to launch the Quebec version of Amazon

Amazon Quebec would better serve “nationalist” clients, according to Quebec’s Premier.

Premier François Legault and Minister of Economy and Innovation Pierre Fitzgibbon brought up the idea of creating “Amazon Quebec” – an online shopping website like Amazon that would feature only Quebecois merchandise to better serve “nationalist” clients.

Hours before a meeting with Amazon Canada on Nov. 20, Legault told reporters from Presse Canadienne the lack of Quebec products on the amazon platform is a “big concern.” Legault added that he wants to be assured Amazon Canada will not just sell American products to Quebecers.

The idea of an Amazon Quebec isn’t new – Canadian entrepreneur Alexandre Taillefer, who later became the campaign director for the Quebec Liberal Party in 2018, first introduced the idea in 2017, but it never developed.

Fitzgibbon said that he was a fan of the Amazon platform and that a new Quebec version could help the province’s retailers. “We have customers who are nationalists, who like to buy Québécois, so perhaps it’s time we started to look closely at having such a structure,” he told the Presse Canadienne.

Fitzgibbon suggested that the Quebec government could invest in the platform to help it be sustainable, and that the platform could include a homegrown delivery system, so merchandise can be delivered quickly.

Earlier this month, Amazon announced plans to open its first fulfillment centre in Quebec, which will be a warehouse in Lachine and will create 300 full-time jobs in the area. Legault said his priority was to reassure Quebec suppliers that Amazon will not only sell American merchandise to Quebecers.

The opening of the new warehouse has sparked debate, both concerning the working conditions of Amazon factories, and that the online company could undermine local Quebec retail shops.

Stephano Carbonaro, a finance student at the John Molson School of Business, said that while the new jobs will be beneficial, “it’s increasing people buying online items, so you’re not purchasing items locally, so there are pros and cons in this situation,” he said.

A Quebec Amazon could help mitigate the issue of local retail stores losing business to foreign websites.

Angelica Rameau, a journalism student at Concordia said she thought a Quebec Amazon could be positive for the province. “I guess that it could help, if the population wants to know that their products are actually from here,” said Rameau. She would like to actively support local shops when she is shopping online.

 

Graphic by Victoria Blair

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