Ceanada (Canada)

Linguicism And Linguistic Imperialism

Thanks to @MisneachNYC for a heads-up on this video from Angelica Galante of Niagara College in Canada. It makes some interesting points.

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Gaelic, The Pluralist Language

The Celtic Nations

The Celtic Nations

The people of Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man are united by one thing above all others: the indigenous languages they share in common. The Gaelic tongues, Irish, Scottish and Manx, are not just national, they are international. And so is the world-view of those who speak or support them. From the Irish Times the words of the new Language Commissioner, Rónán Ó Domhnaill:

“The thousands of Irish speakers who marched in Dublin last month for their rights weren’t looking for any special treatment.

The rights of Irish speakers are recognised in article eight of the Constitution and in the Official Languages Act 2003, while the rights of linguistic minorities are provided for in a number of important international documents including the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Unesco’s Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights.

Increasingly, it is accepted that the rights of linguistic minorities are basic human rights.

The provision of language rights helps make the fight for the survival of a vulnerable or endangered language that little bit fairer, as languages often live or die depending on their perceived status and the level of prestige they are accorded.

These demands are being made by parents struggling against the odds to pass a 2,000-year-old language onto their children in order to preserve what is an important part of both our cultural identity and global linguistic diversity.

Is it too much to ask that children in the Gaeltacht should enjoy the right to basic services, such as healthcare, in their first language, which also happens to be the first official language of the State, according to the Constitution?

By indulging in empty rhetoric about the importance of Irish, while failing to grant it anything like the status promised by all the lip service, the Irish State, since its foundation, has sent out mixed messages about the value of the language.

In a review of Nicholas Ostler’s Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World a number of years ago, the author Jane Stevenson suggested it might be time to adapt the old joke that a language is a dialect with an army, when “the real key to survival is for a language to be a dialect with a civil service”.

Stevenson wrote: “A class of bureaucrats with the power to defend its monopoly can keep a language going for centuries, as can a set of scriptures, while conquerors come and go.”

Irish speakers are asking for the right to conduct their business with the State in Irish because the provision of such services is key to the survival of the language…”

And in the same newspaper, veteran journalist Pól Ó Muirí:

“Many Irish speakers, sooner or later, find themselves heading to Scotland’s Gaeltacht to find out more about their sister language. It is one of the ironies of the language debate that those ignorant of Irish seem to believe that Irish speakers are insular and anti-British. Far from it. The pull of language brings many to the Highlands and Islands and to Wales. (Go to Wales and marvel at the bilingual signage. You will be amazed and a little ashamed.)

Many Irish speakers know more about British culture than their monolingual English compatriots do. However, it is not the Britain of the Home Counties but another Britain, a Britain with voices that predate the political state and speak of an older Europe.

That language arc, fractured but just about functioning, that stretches from Munster to Connacht to Ulster to Scotland and down into Wales…”

From Canada’s east coast Chronicle Herald:

“I’m sure it’s easy to dismiss the current argument about adding “Royal” or “Rioghal” to the name of St. Anns’ Colaisde na Gàidhlig, also known as the Gaelic College.

The problem with this, though, it that it dismisses the very real and ultimately quite reasonable aspirations of a community of people important to Nova Scotia’s distinctiveness.

Gaelic was spoken here for centuries. Until the 1930s, it was in decent shape; not great shape like French in Quebec City, but decent shape like Cree in northern Quebec. The decline has been sharp, but as in Scotland, it’s not yet a done deal.

And as in Scotland, that decline has long been led by the tendency of central governments to try to get people to behave in ways that make them easier to manage.

Language has always been a big part of that; it’s easier for governments, easier for business people, easier for state-run education services, if an entire state speaks one, or at the outside, two languages.

Governments generally have to be dragged toward multilingualism; they don’t just accept it because it’s the easiest thing to do. It’s basically never the easiest thing to do.

There is a group of Nova Scotians who have been working for a long time to maintain one of the province’s smaller languages, and trying to get the Canadian state to recognize their right to live some part of their lives through that language.

The activists, educators and civil servants who have devoted themselves to Nova Scotia Gaelic see themselves, quite reasonably, as part of the rich mosaic of this province’s smaller cultures.

Like the African-Nova Scotians, the Acadians, and the Mi’kmaq, Nova Scotia Gaelic speakers and their descendants form a culture that exists nowhere outside of Atlantic Canada. And like all of those groups, they have a complicated and sometimes (not always, but sometimes) painful relationship with the central government.

There’s a long history, here as in Scotland, of Gaelic being informally or not-so-informally suppressed because monolingualism made things easier for that central government.

Nobody, then, should be at all surprised that words like “Rioghal” or “Royal” make many Nova Scotia Gaelic speakers and their descendants uneasy. Nobody is surprised to hear that words like “Royal” tend to make Acadians uneasy.

It doesn’t mean that either group is stuck in the 18th century. It means that like African-Nova Scotians or the Mi’kmaq (for whom these words mean something different again), Nova Scotia Gaelic speakers and their descendants want badly to move forward, and to forge a more current, more complicated and ultimately less dependent relationship with the state.

And that is something we should all take more seriously.”

However those who wish to supplant the indigenous languages of north-western Europe with their own take with far more seriousness that determination to subjugate and ultimately destroy. From the Belfast Telegraph, a tale of gerrymandered democracy – because in the anachronism that is the last stockade of the British colony in Ireland that is how they do things:

“Belfast City Council is facing a High Court challenge over its policy on Irish language street signs, it emerged today.

A resident in the west of the city has been granted leave to seek a judicial review over being denied dual-language name plates on her road.

Lawyers for Eileen Reid claim a method of surveying householders is irrational and unlawful.

Ms Reid was one of those canvassed about having supplementary Irish street signs erected on Ballymurphy Drive.

Under council criteria two-thirds of those questioned need to declare themselves in favour before the new plates can go up.

It is understood that out of 92 eligible residents 52 confirmed they wanted Irish signs, with only one opposed.

However, the remaining 39 did not respond to the survey.

According to Ms Reid’s legal team these non-returned votes were wrongly counted as being opposed to dual signage.

They contend that the two-thirds policy does not comply with a requirement in local government legislation for the views of residents to be taken into consideration.

Belfast City Council is also in breach of its obligation to promote Irish under the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, it is claimed.”

So who are the true multiculturalists in western Europe, and beyond?

Some Irish Are More Equal Than Others

Dearg Le Fearg: Language Rights Are Civil Rights

Dearg Le Fearg: Language Rights Are Civil Rights

Forgive the “Animal Farm” paraphrase in the title above but it seemed appropriate when contemplating some recent articles written on linguistic equality by Anglophone journalists in Ireland and Canada. The first comes from the newspaper columnist Catherine O’Mahony in the Sunday Business Post where in two pieces she both praises and criticises the Irish language and those who speak it. In a convoluted argument that more or less eats its own tail she arrives at the conclusion that, yes, Irish-speaking citizens and communities in Ireland do face social ostracization for speaking in our nation’s indigenous language and are being pressurised into speaking in English. Her solution to the heretofore unacknowledged oppression of a significant section of the population? Remove the obligation to continue the teaching of Irish language skills to schoolchildren ages 12-18. This of course will lead to a situation where even fewer people will possess any understanding or respect for the Irish language (and more importantly those who speak it). Fascinatingly this is presented as a reasonable solution to the problem of the linguistic oppression of Hibernophones in an Anglophone milieu. While O’Mahony recognises that something is seriously wrong in modern “officially” bilingual Ireland it is obvious that her proposals will simply place another wedge in the ever-widening gap between Irish Ireland and English Ireland.

The second example comes from Canada and the journalist J.J. McCullough writing in the HuffingtonPost:

“The other night I had a bit of a Twitter tussle with Paul Wells, beloved Maclean’s political commentator.

To make a not terribly interesting story short, Paul sent out a tweet written in English linking to a blog written in French, and it grabbed my attention simply because it was the most recent instance of a tic I’ve noticed a fair bit from establishment-type journalists based in the eastern provinces: happily tweeting (or retweeting) in French, in glib indifference to the fact that very few of their followers could possibly be expected to understand.

According to the 2011 census, only 17 per cent of Canadians claim fluency in both official languages. An English journalist who tweets in French is thus purposely engaging in a weird sort of audience-alienating behaviour, and I’ve never understood precisely what motivates it.

Not that I begrudge anyone who’s proud they can do it, given that knowledge of French is the price of admission to the upper echelons of the Canadian elite.

Justin Trudeau once quipped that non-bilinguals are simply “lazy,” a Marie Antoinette-like bit of victim-blaming (“Let them learn French!”) popular with segments of the Canadian elite who simply can’t fathom why more peasants can’t find the time to study an exotic dying language utterly irrelevant to their daily lives.

Journalists and academics have long played a role in this “unilingual shaming” as well, posting long, untranslated French quotations in books or articles, excessively praising the merits of being “fluently bilingual” when evaluating the suitability of potential leaders, and of course, drifting in and out of French in supposedly public forums before overwhelmingly unilingual, English audiences  –  including social media.

People can speak  –  and tweet  –  in whatever language they want, but Canada’s second-class, 83 per cent majority have equal right to recoil from an overzealous, ostracizing culture of bilingualism, which is not, nor has ever been, rational, given the demographic realities of this overwhelmingly English country.”

A linguistic minority who function as a privileged elite in society secretly exercising the levers of power and oppressing the majority? A dying language no one speaks? Sound familiar? Given the opinions regular expressed by Anglophone journalists in Ireland I’ll call this the “Irish theory”.

[ASF: With thanks to Sinéad Rohan and Jean François Joubert]

The Partition Of Québec

A partitioned Québec. The "British solution" to a Québec vote for independence

A partitioned Québec. The “British solution” to a Québec vote for independence

The one thing that stands out when you examine the ideological underpinnings of British nationalism (or Unionism) and Canadian nationalism (or Federalism) is the commonalities they share when it comes to dealing with those territories Britain and Canada “acquired” in times past. For the British (or rather the English) the island nation of Ireland – Free and Occupied – continues to provide no end of existential angst. Britain’s first and last colony is so tied up with Anglo-British notions of racial, linguistic and cultural superiority that one wonders what on earth they will do when the tattered remnant of that last colony soon disappears into the pages of history. A Scotland free of London rule provides a similar challenge to the mental hegemony of Greater England, albeit to a less bellicose degree. On the North American continent it is Québec’s tortured relationship with Canada that provides some seriously dysfunctional – and militant – thinking in what we would call “Unionist” circles.

So, given that Britain’s answer to the pro-independence votes by the people of the island of Ireland was the deliberate crippling and impoverishment of their nation through the imposition of “partition”, it is hardly surprising that this “solution” is being suggested for Scotland as well. What is more surprising is that some sabre-rattling Canadian Federalists favour this idea too. Though in this case their target is of course Québec. From the National Post newspaper:

“So how should our federal government respond if a referendum is called by a re-elected Parti Québécois?

Have the courage to tell Quebec, flat out, that if Canada is divisible, so is Quebec. And whatever clear voting standard is used to adjudicate the overall result of the province’s referendum will be the same result used to adjudicate the status of the province’s northern Cree regions, the Eastern Townships, and, most importantly, Montreal.

Which is to say: If 60% of Quebcers somehow can be convinced to vote for separation, while 60% of Montrealers vote to retain the status quo, then Ottawa should partition Montreal as part of sovereign Canada, free of Quebec’s parochial language laws, ethnic demagoguery and dead-end economic policies.

Partition wouldn’t be about Canada making any sort of land grab, even if that is how separatists would describe it. Partition would be about fulfilling our historical and constitutional obligations to Canadians — especially Anglophones and immigrants — who have grown up in this country expecting their government to respect basic rights (especially those pertaining to language and religion). Since Quebec’s separatists have shown that they have no intention of respecting these rights — indeed, that are willing to ostentatiously flout these rights as a means to appeal to the worst instincts of Québécois voters — the federal government must signal that it will act decisively when the votes are counted.

It is fine for jaded Canadians in Toronto and Calgary to say they’re tired of Quebec’s complaints, and that the province can just “go its own way” if it likes. But there are several million people living in Quebec who oppose their provincial government’s separatist agenda, and they may soon be looking to Ottawa for vindication of their rights. In the unlikely event that the separatists win a referendum, the voices of these Canadians must not be ignored.”

Yes, because the imposition of a “border” cutting off parts of southern and eastern Québec from the rest of the Francophone nation will certainly go well. Crimea with a Canadian accent.

Like I said, seriously dysfunctional thinking.

The Self-Determination Spring



Despite (or perhaps because of) all the controversy surrounding the proposals by the Parti Québécois to restrict the display of overtly religious symbols in public workplaces the formerly lacklustre PQ government in Québec is now riding high in the polls. Unsurprisingly rumours of a snap election are circulating in both the Francophone and Anglophone media, albeit much to the alarm of the latter. From the Globe and Mail, a Canadian “Unionist” newspaper:

“It is as sure as anything can be in politics: Quebec Premier Pauline Marois will call an election on March 11 for a vote on April 14. And why wouldn’t she? According to the latest CROP poll published Tuesday in La Presse, the Parti Québécois is virtually assured of winning a majority.

This poll confirms the tendency shown by previous polls conducted by different firms over the past few months: the gradual rise of the PQ government’s popularity and the corresponding downfall of the Opposition Liberals, who are losing ground under the ineffective leadership of Philippe Couillard.

This turn of events is surprising for those who remember how demoralized the PQ government was a year ago, but there are explanations: The Charter on secularism boosted the PQ among francophones, especially older ones and those living outside Montreal, who resent the visible presence of Muslim immigrants [ASF: a dubious explanation to say the least. Though initially unpopular the suggested legislation has also found some support amongst young urban voters who don’t see it as an anti-Moslem policy but a pro-secular one]; while catering to the conservative nationalist voters with its identity politics, the government has acquired some credibility on the economic front by silencing its radical environmentalist wing and making peace with the mining companies. Ms. Marois now appears to be an enthusiastic promoter of foreign investment and development, including the exploration of oil fields that might exist in the province, and the pipeline project to bring tar-sands oil to the east.

If the PQ wins a majority of seats, it will be free to pass the two controversial bills that were blocked by the opposition: the charter bill that restricts the rights of religious minorities, and the language bill that will force the “francization” of small enterprises. Will it push for sovereignty? It will certainly try to, but on this issue, everything will depend on the polls. The PQ will never again call for a referendum it isn’t sure of winning handsomely.”

While some Canadian nationalists/federalists still cling to the hope that another referendum campaign is untenable given the current economic climate others are facing up to a much more likely reality – given the “Self-Determination Spring” sweeping Europe, from Scotland to Catalonia, it is highly improbable that Québec will be far behind those other would-be nation-states.

Meanwhile in Ireland, when is a British Unionist (and separatist) politician not a British Unionist (and separatist) politician? The seemingly logical, if actually fallacious, argument about nationality versus socio-economic self-preservation is one many Québécois will find wearily familiar.

The Abuse Of Indigenous Children In Canada

Children of the First Nations in Canada

Children of the First Nations in Canada (Íomhá. Andrew Stawiciki)

Following on from my post highlighting the appalling socio-economic conditions Canada’s native peoples live in comes this news via Vice webzine on the still developing “St. Anne’s” scandal:

“The Ontario Superior Court of Justice has ruled that the Canadian Federal Government has to disclose thousands of police documents concerning the torture of native children at St. Anne’s residential School in Fort Albany, Ontario. The infamous school—where children as young as six were disciplined in an electric chair—is, at least to this date, perhaps the most egregious example of the abuses inflicted upon children who were forced into the residential school system. The government has been withholding transcripts and documents related to a police investigation that took place when group of former students jointly filed their complaints in the early ‘90s. The Harper government and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Vaillancourt has cited “privacy concerns” as reason not to produce the documents, although it appears they may simply want to avoid the possibility of having to pay any compensation to the aging survivors.

In his ruling last Tuesday, Justice Paul Perell ripped into the government for their shrewd and insensitive treatment of abuse victims, showing once again that they’re unwilling to comply with their obligations in regards to land treaties or reconcile with any spirit of openness, authenticity, or healing.”

Read the full article including an interview with Fay Brunning who has been working on behalf of former students at St. Anne’s. More analysis here.

Canadian Shame

The indigenous peoples of North America - life under the occupation

The indigenous peoples of North America – life under the occupation

The Irish Medical Times carries an article by Lloyd Mudiwa examining the appalling conditions the indigenous peoples of North America live in under the jurisdiction of the much fêted “multicultural” nation of Canada:

“Some 146 years after Canada’s independence, its Aboriginal peoples are still suffering from the health effects of social and economic inequities.

On virtually every measure, the health of Canada’s Aboriginal people, also known as the First Nations, ranks well below that of the general Canadian population.

Canada is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but the benefits of that wealth are far from equally distributed.

Aboriginal people are overrepresented among those living in historical poverty in the North American country, and many First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities are struggling with high unemployment, low incomes and overcrowded housing.

Today, these determinants continue to take a significant toll on the health and life expectancy of Canada’s indigenous people, with Aboriginal people suffering from chronic diseases, obesity, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, mental health problems, suicide and infectious diseases in much greater proportions than Euro-Canadians (their rate of tuberculosis is six times greater than for the overall Canadian population).

A 2009 UNICEF report noted that children from Aboriginal communities are seven times more likely to die in infancy than others, and 50 times more likely to be hospitalised with preventable illnesses, such as chicken pox.”

The article lists many aspects of the perpetual poverty that most citizens in the culturally diverse First Nations experience as their day-to-day norm, up to and including the actions of hostile provincial and federal authorities. This includes persecuting those people who attempt to ameliorate the suffering of their own communities such as Doctor Cindy Blackstock, a respected physician and Executive Director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.

“…Dr Blackstock was invited as an expert by a First Nations group to a meeting in the government offices, meant to discuss the welfare of First Nations children.

Despite clearing all the security staff and conducting herself peacefully and professionally, she says a government official told the First Nations group the meeting would not go ahead if Dr Blackstock entered the room.

There is a Privacy Act in Canada, which is its form of a Freedom of Information Act, where citizens can apply to government departments to get information about themselves, so Dr Blackstock did that. It took her a year-and-a-half, but she finally got a DVD in the post.

There were notes about when she was not at an event. There were also snapshots of her personal Facebook page, or they had somebody copy and paste the material and send that along to other government officials.

Dr Blackstock got email correspondence between the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and the Department of Justice, with Aboriginal Affairs owning up that they had been on her personal Facebook page for six months, but gave up when they realised the Department of Justice was also on there collecting data and they could just share the information.

There was a whole other series of monitoring of her movements — even her personal events.

One of the events that was shocking to her was that when the Australian Aborigines invited her in 2010 to their conference in Alice Springs in the desert of Australia, the Canadian government had notes of her talk given there.

On her Facebook page, Dr Blackstock was disturbed by an entry where she was discussing the baking of cookies with friends. Some of them, based internationally, commented and the government copied their URLs and comments and passed them to other government departments of justice and Aboriginal affairs.

A message by a 12-year-old child who had seen Dr Blackstock’s video about First Nations children in her class and just wanted to thank the campaigner was also copied and passed on to about 10 or 11 lawyers at the Department of Justice without that child’s/child’s parents’ consent.”

In fact there seems to be a massive if sometimes shambolic system of monitoring by Canadian police and security agencies of anyone interested in promoting the civil rights of indigenous peoples in the North American nation. It embraces activists, politicians, journalists, physicians, historians, linguists, anthropologists and many others. Please read the article in full and share on your social networks.

I’m Not A Racist But…

Hating people who speak Irish is not racist, sure it's just a bit of fun...

Hating people who speak Irish is not racist, sure it’s just a bit of fun…

One of the more amusing spectator sports of recent months has been derived from watching the seething antipathy expressed by the anglophone and federalist media in Canada towards the governing Parti Québécois in the province of Québec. It goes far beyond mere political animus and into the realms of existential angst as many “Unionist” Canadians battle with a desire to retain their continent-spanning federation in its present form versus an obvious wish to see the Francophone component of that essentially Anglophone nation ejected forthwith.

Everything, politics, economics, culture and history, is fair game in this war of wills. So we are told by a leading national newspaper in Canada that “only” 33% of non-Francophones in Québec support its laws guaranteeing French-language rights, in particular the so-called Bill 101. Given that non-French speakers constitute around 19% of the total population in the province one might think it pretty good that nearly a third are supportive of language protection. But no. While there has been some understandable controversy in recent years over the manner in which the regulations under the Charter of the French Language have been upheld there seems little doubt that without it the Francophone population of Québec would have succumbed to the pressures of its Anglophone neighbours decades ago. If not voted into law in the 1970s there would be no 80% plus French-speaking majority in Québec or anything close to it. Economic and social bullying, and above all else the institutional discrimination of an Anglophone establishment would have ensured that by now we would have witnessed the cultural extinction of a French-speaking population of six million men, women and children.

Which is perhaps a lesson for us here in Ireland. When “shock-jock” presenters on popular Anglophone radio stations can claim with no fear of legal repercussion that parents who raise their children through Irish are engaged in “child-abuse” for doing so or that the Irish language “problem” will end when the last speaker of Irish dies then one must wonder if the aim of some on this island nation is also the “extinction” of a population they find troublesome.

[With thanks to An Lorcánach]

The Not So Royal Gaels

A sign in English and Scottish (Scottish Gaelic) in Nova Scotia, Canada

A sign in English and Scottish (Scottish Gaelic) in Nova Scotia, Canada

Here is a story on the Scottish language (Scottish Gaelic) that has been rumbling away for the last couple of weeks in Nova Scotia (Albain Nua) but which has now erupted into a major row that is encompassing academics, language activists and politicians in the easternmost Canadian province. From the Globe and Mail:

“In a controversy pitting some Nova Scotians of Scottish ancestry against each other, the chairman of Cape Breton’s recently renamed Royal Gaelic College has stepped down because of a backlash against the school’s gaining its royal prefix from Queen Elizabeth II.

The name change was intended to mark the college’s 75th anniversary, but instead the move reopened centuries-old wounds.

The uproar started two weeks ago when Alex Morrison, then the chairman of the board of governors, announced that the Queen had honoured the school by allowing it to be called Colaisde Rioghail na Gàidhlig – The Royal Gaelic College.

The office of Allan MacMaster, the Conservative MLA for Inverness and party critic on Gaelic affairs, received scores of e-mails, calls and letters complaining about the college’s new name.

Mr. MacMaster said in an interview that three college instructors no longer wanted to teach there.

The acrimony, Mr. MacMaster said, stems from the fact that historically the British Crown suppressed Scottish culture, pushing many Scots to emigrate to other lands, including Canada.

He said that while he wished “no ill will towards Queen Elizabeth II or the Royal Family,” he had not forgotten that the British historically sought to eradicate Gaelic culture and tradition through the Statutes of Iona of 1609, for example, a legislation that forced clan chiefs to send their eldest child to English-speaking Protestant schools.

Someone who identified himself as one of the college’s governors, Ernie MacAulay, wrote on Facebook that the board had made a mistake and should review its decision and “somehow gracefully withdraw from using the ‘Royal’ name.”

Located northeast of Baddeck, on the Cabot Trail, the college was founded in 1938 by a Presbyterian minister who had immigrated from Scotland’s Isle of Skye. The college promotes itself as the most important school of Gaelic language and culture in North America.”

For anyone who thinks that this a storm in a tea-cup they certainly don’t see it that way in Nova Scotia where by all accounts the anger between the opposing sides is palpable.

The Winds Of Change – Catalonia And Québec

An Chatalóin (Catalonia)

An Chatalóin (Catalonia)

The drive for autonomy seems to be in the air. We begin with news from the resurgent Iberian nation of Catalonia where the leaders of the main Nationalist parties have agreed on a date for the upcoming independence referendum (albeit with a two-part question to quell the nerves of the conservative CiU government in Barcelona). From the Irish Times:

“After two days of discussions between the parties, Catalan regional premier Artur Mas announced yesterday that the vote will be held on November 9th, 2014.

The referendum question will be in two parts, the first being: “Do you want Catalonia to be a state?” If the answer to this is yes, another question follows: “Do you want Catalonia to be an independent state?”

“This has great historical importance,” Mr Mas said of the agreement. It will be voted on by the Catalan regional parliament, which pro-independence parties control.

The regional premier’s own CiU coalition and the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) have been the political driving forces behind the referendum plan and the ICV greens and left-wing CUP parties also signed off on the accord.

Recent polls show that a narrow majority of Catalans would vote in favour of independence.

However, the two-part question is less strident than some pro-independence factions wanted. It appears to keep the door open to a federal “third way” solution advocated by some, while placating some less independence-minded members of the CiU coalition.”

Both questions seem all but identical and it is hard to escape the feeling that it may well confuse some voters at the polls to the detriment of the independence movement. While recognising a number of “autonomous” regions the Spanish constitution does not support the creation of “federal states” nor is it likely too. So what effect would a vote favouring the former question have?

Caoibec (Québec)

Caoibec (Québec)

Meanwhile in Québec the nationalist Parti Québécois is riding high in the polls despite the ongoing controversy over its plans for a more secular face to public services in La Belle Province. From a report by the “unionist” Globe and Mail newspaper:

“Sovereignty doesn’t appear on the Parti Québécois’s Christmas wish list for this year, but a new public opinion poll has given it renewed hope for the future.

In fact, many Quebeckers already see themselves as politically independent, said Minister of International Affairs Jean-François Lisée, while commenting on a CROP poll showing support for sovereignty at 44 per cent, a three-point increase over the previous CROP poll in November.

The distance between Quebec and Canada is growing. It is as though at many levels Quebec is already independent in its mind, in its way of making decisions,” Mr. Lisée said.

Mr. Lisée called it the “decanadianization” of Quebec and the “dequebecization” of Canada, comparing the relationship to that of an old couple on the brink of divorce.

The PQ minority government is not planning to hold a referendum on political independence any time soon. But the temptation to hold an election early next year may become irresistible if support for the government continues to grow.

The CROP poll published Wednesday in the Montreal daily La Presse and Quebec City’s Le Soleil shows the PQ and the Liberals in a tie at 35 per cent, followed by the Coalition Avenir Québec at 18 per cent and Québec Solidaire at 10 per cent. After 15 months in office, the PQ minority government’s approval rating has jumped to 41 per cent, an increase of nine percentage points over the previous month.

The PQ has also increased its support among the key francophone voters who decide the fate of governments in the province, according to the poll. According to the poll, the PQ now has the support of 40 per cent of francophone voters, compared with 27 per cent for the Liberals and 20 per cent for the CAQ. The government’s approval rating has jumped from a low of 28 per cent last June to 41 per cent in December.”

The rise in support for independence has been marked by increasing tensions in Québec’s “culture wars” with the Anglophone media’s antipathy to Francophones reaching levels not seen in many years. As a result over one hundred leading figures in the nascent nation from the worlds of entertainment, business and politics have signed a document calling for an end to Francophobia from the Anglophone community both locally and in Canada as a whole.

Québécois Secularism Rattles Canadian Unionism

Pauline Marois, leader of the Parti Québécois

Pauline Marois, leader of the Parti Québécois (Íomhá: The Guardian)

The debate in Québec over Bill 60 or the proposed Charter of Values, secularist legislation being advocated by the ruling Parti Québécois (or PQ), is throwing up all sorts of interesting political phenomena. On one hand it is reviled by Canada’s Anglophone news media and federalist (“unionist”) establishment, as seen in a controversial opinion piece published in the New York Times comparing the liberal, centre-left PQ to the “Tea Party” movement in the United States. However on the other the hand the more English Canada rails against what it deems to be an “anti-multicultural” law the more people in Québec itself seem in favour, with majority support amongst Francophones and from a not insignificant minority of Anglophones.

The main Canadian parties and their Québec offshoots or sister organisations have up to now been steadfast in their opposition to PQ’s proposals but provincial polls have caused cracks to appear in the federalist façade. The Liberal Party of Québec seems to be floating the idea of supporting a weaker previously suggested version of the bill, quite contrary to their pronouncements of recent months. The National Democratic Party or NDP which relies heavily on Québec for its electoral existence is again making sympathetic noises about accepting a 50%+1 vote on independence in the majority French-speaking country (up to now Canadian federalists insisted that any vote on full autonomy for Québec required a substantial if yet to be agreed upon percentage in favour). While many feel that Pauline Marois’ leadership of the PQ has been less than inspiring up to now she has certainly set the vote-winning cat amongst the federalist pigeons and they are all of a flutter.

It remains to be seen whether this, and other avowedly separatist policy programmes, will pay off in provincial elections which may well be called early if the electoral wind blows favourably for the current minority PQ government.

Is The PQ’s Secular Charter A Vote-Winner?



Following on from my post here about the controversy surrounding suggested new regulations in Québec promoting greater secularism in the public workplace this is a surprise. From The Star in Canada:

“Québec’s proposed ban on the wearing of religious symbols has drawn criticism from across the country, but a new poll suggests it has strong support in the province.

The measures designed by the minority Parti Québécois government to underscore Québec’s secular nature may also now have the political support necessary to pass the legislation into law in the coming months.

The so-called charter of Québec values, to be unveiled in the coming weeks, proposes barring public servants from wearing veils, kippas, turbans and even crucifixes while at work. A leaked report last week said the measures would apply to anyone who draws their salary from the public purse: bureaucrats, lawyers, police officers, teachers, and even doctor and nurses.

…the PQ plan got a boost Monday with the results of an opinion poll showing that two out of every three respondents believed there are “too many accommodations” for religious groups in Québec. A majority of French-speakers surveyed said they backed the ban while a majority of anglophones and allophones, whose mother tongue is neither French nor English, were strongly opposed to the proposed measures.

But with a provincial election likely less than one year away, Premier Pauline Marois’ party appears to be on solid footing with potential voters — a conclusion that was confirmed Monday when third-party Coalition Avenir Québec Leader François Legault said his caucus would support the broad themes of the government’s plan.”

However those figures are hardly decisive with just 57% of Québec voters supporting the concept. On the other hand 65% of Francophones and 25% of Anglophones approve of the plan.

Québec: Polls And Secularism

Le Presse-CROP poll August 2013 (Íomhá: threehundredeight.com)

Le Presse-CROP poll August 2013 (Íomhá: threehundredeight.com)

Mixed polling news from Québec where Pauline Marois’ ruling Parti Québécois has recorded a slight rise in popularity but is still well behind the opposition Liberal Party, a Canadian federalist or “Unionist” party. From the survey by Le Presse-CROP:

40% Québec Liberal Party – Parti libéral du Québec

29% Parti Québécois

20% Coalition Avenir Québec

7% Québec solidaire 

2% Option nationale

2% Others 

As always in Québec there are big differences in the communal vote with 93% of Anglophones supporting the Liberals. Three Hundred Eight has the details and some excellent analysis of what they mean. Meanwhile the PQ government is floating the idea of introducing new laws encouraging faith-neutral public workspaces. While in general this is a positive move the regulations may include far less positive rules banning the display of personal religious symbols or emblems such as turbans, niqabs, kippas, hijabs and crucifixes. Even an aggressively pro-secular atheist like myself finds it hard to disagree with the sentiments expressed in an interview over at the Montréal Gazette:

“As Quebec prepares legislation that would further restrict religious symbols, a borough mayor wants Montreal to urge the PQ government to define secularism in a way that is “inclusive and open” and recognizes Montreal’s diversity.

Lionel Perez, interim mayor of Côte-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, said Tuesday that a motion to that effect will be discussed at Monday’s city council meeting.

“We need a secularism that reflects Quebec’s new pluralistic demographics,” said Perez, whose borough is home to about 100 cultural communities.”

Parti Québécois, Power For Power’s Sake?



Hard to disagree with this description of the Parti Québécois by Jean-Martin Aussant, former PQ politician and disillusioned ex-leader of the rival Option Nationale, in an interview from Canada’s National Post newspaper:

“Mr. Aussant, 43, was first elected under the Parti Québécois banner in 2008, but he soon lost patience with what he saw as the party’s half-hearted commitment to sovereignty. In 2011, he was among a group of PQ MNAs who came close to torpedoing Pauline Marois’ leadership when they quit the caucus.

He formed Option Nationale the same year and attracted 8,000 members. He was popular among young voters and during last year’s election campaign was endorsed by former PQ Premier Jacques Parizeau. Still, with no place in the televised leaders’ debate and the PQ urging a strategic vote to defeat the Liberals, the new party was unable to win a seat.

Mr. Aussant said he has no regrets about leaving the PQ. “The institution itself has become a professional political machine oriented towards winning an election. If they conclude that talking less about sovereignty will make them win, then they won’t say a word about sovereignty,” he said.

“I could not work in that context because I was there for sovereignty. I admit, it might be harder winning an election with that as a central theme, but that’s what a leader has to do.”

Looking back on 11 months of PQ minority government, he sees no progress towards independence. Instead, he said, the PQ government is treading water, concerned mainly with avoiding defeat.”

Some of that sounds familiar (very familiar).

Catalonia, Scotland And Québec

An Chatalóin (Catalonia)

An Chatalóin (Catalonia)

Couple of articles looking at the faltering fortunes of the sovereignty movements in Scotland and Québec when compared to the dynamism readily observable in their Catalan equivalents. The first comes from Patrick West in the contrarian Spiked and reflects a broadly British Unionist Nationalist viewpoint:

“On the face of it, Spain and the United Kingdom have much in common. Both are maritime, quasi-federal states and former empire-builders, who in the post-war era have faced the prospect of disintegration, as peoples in their peripheral nations have sought varying degrees of separation. In each case, the largest central nation, Castile and England, has resisted violent campaigns of national liberation, in the Basque country and Northern Ireland respectively. That’s why the IRA and ETA made common cause: it’s normal for separatist groups to forge such allegiances. It’s also the reason why the two nationalist movements in countries now seeking peaceful means of withdrawal, Catalonia and Scotland, have paid much attention to each other’s fortunes. No wonder that Catalan leaders have been looking seriously at holding their referendum at about the same time as Scotland’s, which takes place on 18 September 2014.

Is such a comparison valid, though? Is an alliance between Catalonia and Scotland useful? In each case, I would say no and no. The reality that Scotland is looking increasingly likely to vote ‘no’ is bad news for the Catalan independence movement. If ‘Catalonia is not Spain’, as the familiar banner reads, it isn’t Scotland, either.

It’s not entirely coincidental that the Catalan parliament announced a referendum in January, 12 months after London agreed to one in Scotland. Catalans have been greatly enthused by the progress made by the Scottish National Party (SNP) under the charismatic Alex Salmond. Yet it has increasingly become an unreciprocated love affair. Salmond has so far kept his distance. There’s no point in making enemies with Madrid at this stage, as, unlike London, a belligerent Madrid has not agreed to an official referendum and the outcome in Catalonia isn’t binding.

The realisation that Scotland will probably vote ‘no’ (support for independence is at around 30 per cent and falling) is causing many in Catalonia, where secessionists make up a 70 per cent majority, to have a rethink. In January, the influential, left-leaning internet news site VilaWeb made known its concerns: ‘In Scotland, the process is practically exclusively led by the Scottish National Party, which is opposed by an ideologically diverse coalition’, wrote the site’s editor Vicent Partal. ‘In Catalonia, by contrast – and this became clear in the last election – the people don’t want a single party or a single leader to run the process.’”

While there is much of interest in the opinion piece it is just that: opinion, and Britnat opinion to boot. Still, definitely worth a read. The second article comes from Konrad Yakabuski in Canada’s Globe and Mail:

“What do you get when you’ve got a conservative prime minister embroiled in scandal who is so deeply unpopular in the province currently run by sovereigntists that he keeps driving voters into the arms of the secessionists?

The Parti Québécois might wish we were talking about Stephen Harper, whom sovereigntists consider their best weapon in the quest for Quebec independence. But the PQ has been unable to translate Quebeckers’ aversion toward Mr. Harper and his policies into sovereigntist support.

That’s not the case in Catalonia, where Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, his centre-right People’s Party and the region’s secessionist government are on a collision course that looks set to culminate in an independence referendum in 2014. While Anglo-Saxons focus on Scotland’s independence vote, most of the rest of the world – and especially Quebec – will have its eyes on Catalonia.

The odds of major political upheaval seem much higher in Catalonia, where more than two-thirds support outright independence or more autonomy from Madrid. As beleaguered Spain’s most prosperous region, with bustling Barcelona as its capital and a distinct language as its cultural glue, a new arrangement with Spain is increasingly sought by Catalonians. Nearly 100,000 of them filled a soccer stadium last month chanting, “Catalonia is not Spain.” Fifteen times that many – one-fifth of the Catalan population – marched for independence in Barcelona last September.

This is one more major problem for Mr. Rajoy, whose leadership has already been sapped by a 27-per-cent unemployment rate and voter discontent with the budget cuts he’s imposed to meet deficit targets set by the European Union.

As bad as it is, the economic crisis isn’t even the biggest threat to Mr. Rajoy. The corruption scandal consuming his party – and dominating the national media – has left him mired in political quicksand. The Prime Minister faces allegations that he received potentially illegal payments from a slush fund set up by a former People’s Party treasurer who is now in prison awaiting trial on fraud and money-laundering charges. Mr. Rajoy denies the allegations, but the scandal won’t soon die.”

Though it is quite possible that by the end of 2014 the Spanish state as we presently know it will be well on its way to dying.