This Week in Canada

The shitshow that is Canadian politics is stepping up its game. Every American election season we slide under the radar as we don’t have flashy conventions with octogenarians speaking to chairs or right-wing nut jobs telling us that our rights as women or gays or immigrants are going to be called into question. But sorry America, 2012 is the year that Canadians remind you we can have a political circus as rowdy as yours. Never in my life did I imagine that I’d be in the midst of a political battleground, but here I am. You can dominate the rest of 2012 while you figure out your leader, but this week is going to go down in history for us.


Yesterday was Quebec’s election, an event had been brewing since Premier Jean Charest asked Quebec’s lieutenant-governor to dissolve the national assembly. Although he believed that the silent majority would re-elect him, turns out he was wrong. The Parti Quebecois (PQ) came into power as a minority government, marking the end to a decade of Liberal leadership. Pauline Marois will take a place in history as the province’s first female premier. Her election was an amazing step for women in power, but the mood surrounding her victory turned from elation to fear when a man fired shots and started a fire outside the rear entrance to the victory party venue, killing one and wounding another in the process.

Beyond the obvious shock of someone being slain, the assassination attempt shows how polarizing the political climate is in Quebec right now. While the shooter was clearly a single, deranged individual, there are a lot of feelings going around right now.

Marois has promised that her first hundred days in power will be busy. As you might recall, Quebec, Charest and the Liberals became internationally infamous last spring as thousands of students took to the streets in protest of the Charest government’s proposed tuition hikes; later, after the passing of Bill-78 (a dissent-squashing measure requiring any protest of more than 50 people to be pre-approved by police, among other things), their fight turned into one for free speech and the right to peaceful assembly. Marois has promised to reverse Bill-78, abolish the tuition increase and review post-secondary education funding.

The PQ’s election isn’t being welcomed by everyone, though. It has reignited the separatist movement and brought the possibility of Quebec sovereignty back to the forefront of the political conversation. The PQ had a referendum for sovereignty back in 1995 and it looks like their dream of the 90s may be back again. As an eight year-old, I remember how confusing it was to imagine a giant piece missing from my map of Canada. Now, as a 25-year-old living in said piece, I am equally perplexed. Marois has promised to show Anglo residents her respect and invited them to “shape together our common future,” but she’s also pushing for stricter language laws and for Quebec to have its own laws when it comes to employment and immigration. Although the party’s minority position will hinder plans for Quebec’s separation, we’ll have to wait and see if America eventually gets a second northern neighbour.


Of course, no update on Canadian political shitshows would be complete without mentioning yet another gaffe by our “dear” PM. On Saturday, the RCMP grounded a plane advertising a website critical of the prime minister. The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) had the plane tow a banner for StephenHarperNousDé (Steven Harper Hates Us) near Gatineau, a town bordering the country’s capital city of Ottawa, Ontario.

PSAC’s banner had been met with cheers over the past few weeks when it was flown over Quebec towns, including at Montreal’s recent pride parade. The flights are part of the union’s We Are All Affected campaign, showing Canadians that the cuts in government jobs extend far beyond the union. As workers and funding dry up in food security, scientific research, search and rescue operations, transportation, and the arts, Canadians should know who’s responsible. When controversial bills are omnibussed or agreements are made with corporations that lied to the public, we have a right to know that too.

It seems that the RCMP don’t agree with my sentiments: although the plane was following a flight path outside Parliament Hill’s restricted airspace, the aircraft was ordered to the ground an hour and a half into its scheduled three hour flight. The RCMP say that the plane was grounded because it could have “posed a security risk to the prime minister,” but Larry Rousseau, vice president of PSAC, noted that the flight path had already been approved and that its position could have been verified by air traffic controllers.

Rousseau suspects something else is afoot as the RCMP officers who spoke to the pilot said the banner’s words may constitute hate speech. The PSAC leader says they will continue inquiring as to why the plane was called down, but in the meantime they will try to repeat its unfinished flight.

“In this case, if you are critical of the prime minister or of the government or of the government’s policies, you should have the complete right to be able to say that. … We’re raising a little hell about this because we should have complete freedom under the Charter to criticize the prime minister, and that’s what we’re doing when we say Stephen Harper hates us.”

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Hailing from Vancouver, Kristen's still trying to figure out how to survive Montreal's Real Legitimate Canadian Winter. So far she's discovered that warm socks, giant toques and Tabby kittens all play a role in her survival. Her ultimate goal is to rank higher than KStew in the "Kristen + Autostraddle" Google Search competition.

Kristen has written 139 articles for us.


  1. this was so super helpful and timely, thank you! (heading to quebec today where I sort of work once a month!)

  2. It’s so great to see Canadian articles here! More more!

    But also the separtist movement confuses and baffles me as an Albertan. Quebec adds so much to Canada in terms of culture and language, and a lot of that is supported by tax dollars coming out of the west. If it weren’t for the oil sands Quebec wouldn’t have their subsidized: day care, education, artist grants etc. Right? Like, has no one thought of this? It’s just math.

    And it would also change election dynamics drastically! Quebec has a big population for a province and it generally pulls the country to the left. I can’t imagine what this country would look like if Alberta had it’s way…. I can almost see the dead ducks…. Shudder.

    • Another way to look at the math would be that affordable day care and education would be possible everywhere if we had a half-way decent economic equilibrium. As it stands now, I have little sympathy for people who blame Quebec while ignoring the abysmally low amount of oil royalties collected in Alberta, Harper’s ridiculous jet purchase and the handouts offered to corporations for the purposes of remaining ‘business friendly’. Similarly, I wouldn’t be opposed to a tuition hike if we had a maximum wage for university administrators, an end to university mismanagement and golden handshakes, an end to corruption in Quebec, reasonable tax rates for the extremely wealthy and so on.

      • I’m so with you. Alberta can be kind of strange sometimes, just look at the Wild Rose Alliance… The politicians here pander to business. There is a reason all the queers and artists and vegetarians move to Vancouver or Montreal.

        There is a lot of anti-east sentiment here, which is understandable to an extent, since our votes don’t have a lot of influence, and are pretty much guaranteed to the conservative party anyway. I think some people feel a little bitter about that.
        I don’t blame Quebec at all, though. I love Quebec. I just think it separatism would be bad for Quebec AND for Canada as a whole.

    • I often read that Quebec gets more support from the fed gov but I’m never sure if this is true.

      Either way I have to roll my eyes at the idea of a referendum for separatism. As much as I like a lot of their more socialist policies, I really don’t think Quebec would survive without the rest of Canada.

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you. As a Canadian in the Ottawa-Gatineau region and living in Quebec, I personally get lost in all of the political shitshow (I couldn’t find a better word, you are spot on) and this was a very informative, clear and concise piece on the topic.

    I was 7 on the day of the Referendum and I was on a field trip in Montreal. I didn’t understand at the time why parents and teachers were so on edge, but I remember it being completely crazy.

    • The last referendum was held on my 17th birthday. I feel old reading about your field trip! I remember it being so crazy that time, friends and families fighting about it. People you thought were reasonable people would up and surprise you by turning into rabid separatists. What most Anglos don’t understand is that it is about culture and pride and trying to hold on to the past, not actually about voting for a better future.

      • I do remember it being crazy. I lived in Quebec, but in a very biilngual town (probably the single most anglo city in the province) with Franco-Ontarian parents. You had to be either Franco or Anglo; Queb or Canadian. My family was all of the above. I was too young to really see what that meant, but I remember my older brothers coming home and talking about how kids from the Anglo school tried to beat them up for no other reason than the fact that they spoke French.

        It got to the point where I couldn’t go play at some friends’ houses because their parents’ political opinions were so strong and disrespectful of others’ and my parents were scared for my safety.

        It is definitely better now, but I’m curious to see what’s going to happen next…

  4. I’m fascinated by the political stuff going on Quebec, my first thought after I heard that the PQ came into power was if there was going to be another referendum.

    • She has a minority government so that’s definitely going to tie her hands, but the PQ has always had the goal of Quebec sovereignty. Not gonna lie, as an English speaker (still trying to learn French) I am more than frightened.

      The PQ platform said that they’d ask for increased Quebec rights (language, immigration, employment) and have a referendum IF nothing comes of it. Uh, we’ll see how well she gets along with Harper…

      • Even if there was a referendum, I really don’t think the Oui will win.

        The way I see it, if Quebec separated/became sovereign, it would be like letting your 16 year-old move out and live on their own. Yeah they can make it, but really, they’re just not ready.

  5. To echo others’ sentiments, great to see an article about Canadian politics on Autostraddle! I’m reminded of Zoe Whittall’s coming-of-age/coming out novel set in 1995 in Montreal; if you want an amazing fictional account of the referendum from a queer Anglophone woman’s view, I highly reccommend it! It really cements the idea that the personal is the political. It’s called Bottle Rocket Hearts.

  6. Thanks for not forgetting Canada!

    The whole PQ thing scares me. I know it’s just rumbles, but I don’t want Quebec to go. Half of my family is there, half in Ontario. I don’t want to feel “international” in my own country.

    • “I don’t want to feel ‘international’ in my own country.”

      That’s exactly how I felt back in 1995. Though I wasn’t born in Québec, I do feel very much tied to its language and culture. I was 8 years old when the second referendum happened and it was the most stressful year of my life, haha.

      • First off: I was born bilingual and bicultural in Montréal, and therefore I AM, and always have been, international in my own country, a bit off wherever I go and whoever I’m with.

        I have very strong feelings about this issue, so I’ll just make this short: given the Anglophone cultural and economic pressure on Francophones in the whole of the country (not to mention all-out francophobia), I feel like the ”Quebecophile” endearment from the rest of Canada that surfaces more or less intensely every time separation might be on the table hints of hypocrisy on a national level (as opposed to a personal one).

        If it should happen that a majority of Quebecquers wished for separation – which is not the case now – I feel like it’s a Québécois issue only.

  7. I’m one of those québécois from Montréal: borned in Montréal and lived there all of my life. Love the smell and the sound of the first season’s snow; love basking in the sun and dancing in the steet during summer. Love that people coming from all horizons live peacefully together for the most part.
    But then, I’m one of those french speaking québécois pure laine and, as many french-speaking québécois, I can’t help but see the dichotomy that is Canada. The two solitudes, as Hugh McMellan called it.

    There is Québec: more liberal, more to the left of the political spectrum, more inclined to spend it’s tax dollars to subsidize arts, daycare, free education and other social benefits rather than industries that will screw us; and then there is what we call the ROC, the rest of Canada, that most of the french speaking can’t comprehend. And yep, it’s even worst since Harper is in Ottawa.

    That being said, don’t blow any neuron thinking about Québec seperating, it wont happen any time soon.

    P.S. Excuse my french

    • I feel the same in a lot of ways. I can clearly see the difference between Québec and the ROC, but at the same time, nothing I’ve heard so far really justifies separation. I’m still open to being convinced but I still don’t see it.

      To echo what Jacquelyn said, I’ve always lived in Qc but always felt “international” both there and whenever I go to my parents’ home town in Northern Ontario. It feels like the two solitudes, all day, errday.

  8. I’m not sure the election of a lady premiere ministre is all that amazing considering her deeply troubling ethnic nationalism. And by this I’m not referring to her discrimination against anglophones (as an anglo in Montreal I’m surprised by a lot of the panic I’m encountering) but her attitudes toward ‘secularization’ ie: discrimination against Muslims and Jews, and her view of immigrants.

  9. I agree with donnamartingraduates. Though Marois portrays herself as a defender of minorities, it became obvious a long time ago that this was not the case. Among her campaign promises were a suggestion to ban all religious symbolism from the national assembly with the exception of the crucifix because it is “a part of our history” as well as the brilliant idea of disallowing all francophone students from attending English CEGEPS. The Quebec that she is trying to create is not one that s free and inclusive, but rather a xenophobic, unilingual society.

    • I totally get what you’re saying, and it IS scary for minorities.

      On the other hand, francophones are a minority in Canada, so if they can’t fully live in French in Quebec, where the hell are they going to do it? Yes there are plenty of French-speaking (read franglophones) communities all over Canada, in the Maritimes, Northern Ontario, Alberta, etc. but those people NEED to speak English too. Is it wrong to want to be able to ensure that Francophones can be just that here? I’m actually not sure.

      There should just be a way to ensure that we can be french everywhere in Quebec, while ensuring that minorities are heard too?

      I’m always super conflicted when it comes to these issues and that is why provincial elections stress me the hell out.

  10. you know what’s interesting? this is weirdly parallel to the current Scotland/rest of UK relationship right now…

  11. What the fuck, an anti-Harper URL constitutes hate speech? Hello, Club Facism? New member Harper speaking.

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