Top stories this week are likely to include: Uncertainty surrounding Hugo Chávez’ inauguration in Venezuela; Evo Morales alleges U.S. plot to destabilize his government; Brazil weighs electricity measures; and Canada deepens ties with Africa.
Inauguration Day in Venezuela: After his re-election last October, President Hugo Chávez is scheduled to be inaugurated this Thursday per the constitution that he helped write when he first rose to office in 1999. However, with Chávez recovering in Havana, Cuba, after his surgery last month on an undisclosed form of cancer, many Venezuelans are questioning his fitness for office as well as if or how he will assume another six-year term in three days. The constitution stipulates that the National Assembly President—Diosdado Cabello, who was re-elected to the post over the weekend—act as president if Chávez is declared incapacitated before Thursday and that Vice President Nicolás Maduro would become head of state if Chávez is declared incapacitated after Thursday. However, there are no indications that the executive branch intends to abide by these rules. Maduro claimed that the Supreme Court could swear in Chávez at a later date—a statement that was supported by Attorney General Cilia Flores, who is also Maduro’s wife. Calls from the political opposition for greater transparency have been repeatedly rebuffed. Stay tuned for updates on what will be the top issue in the hemisphere this week.
Morales Accuses U.S. Embassy: Bolivian President Evo Morales claims he has “irrefutable evidence” that the U.S. Embassy in La Paz is plotting to destabilize his government, claims Minister of the Presidency Juan Ramon Quintana. Quintana continued that the Morales administration will present the evidence to U.S. President Barack Obama and “tell him [to] cease all hostilities against the Bolivian government, stop the political ambush of our government.” U.S.-Bolivian relations have been tenuous since Morales assumed office in 2006, hitting a nadir when Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador in 2008.
Brazil’s Energy Budget Crisis: After water levels in hydroelectric dams dropped considerably—in some areas reaching a two-thirds decrease—Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff called an emergency meeting with energy representatives to shore up electricity reserves. Rousseff tasked her Minister of Mines and Energy, Edison Lobão, to head the meeting, which Folha de São Paulo is reporting will occur on Wednesday. At issue: Brazilian cities have experienced blackouts in recent months, and some private-sector analysts are projecting a rationing of electricity in the world’s sixth-largest economy—recalling a similar scenario in 2001. Pay attention to see if Rousseff’s government announces any measures for 2013 as a result of the meeting.
Canada Discusses Africa Policy: Beninese President Thomas Yayi Boni, also the head of the African Union, will visit Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa tomorrow. A central focus of the meeting is anticipated to be the growing instability in Mali; last month the United Nations Security Council agreed to an African-led counter-assault against Islamist rebels. Boni’s visit could include a request for Canadian involvement. According to Defense Minister Peter MacKay, the Canadian government is “contemplating what contribution Canada could make.” International Cooperation Minister added that “Canada remains very concerned about the situation in Mali, [but] we do not anticipate going there.” More concrete details will likely surface after tomorrow’s meeting.
It is difficult to discuss Canada’s constitutional history without mentioning Pierre Trudeau, former Canadian prime minister. That his son Justin, member of parliament for Papineau, Québec, is running for the leadership of his father’s Liberal Party has once again brought the Trudeau constitutional legacy back in the public eye.
From the 1960s until the 1995 Québec referendum on separatism, politics in Canada and in Québec focused largely on constitutional reform relative to the status of the province. In 1867, Canada was created by the British North America Act (BNA), commonly referred to as Confederation. The BNA Act, which serves as our written constitution, created a federal system with the use of French and English in both the national and Québec parliaments.
From 1867 onward, tensions rose between those who preferred a more centralized federalism and those who wished for greater provincial autonomy (i.e., decentralized federalism) which was promoted by successive Québec governments. This characterized federal-provincial relations over the years, and came to a head in the 1960s. Just as Canada was nearing its centennial celebrations in 1967, it was clear that the country was heading toward an eventual constitutional showdown largely provoked by competing visions within Québec’s political class.
Essentially, three visions emerged to define the debate on Québec’s status north of the border. One approach was articulated by the elder Trudeau (1968–1979, 1980–1984), who argued for a strong central government, a Charter of Rights and Freedoms and a greater Francophone Canadian presence in national affairs. A second vision with emphasis on Québec’s identity was gradually developed by a former federalist who later became Québec’s premier, René Lévesque (1976–1985). He believed in full Québec autonomy and sovereignty with the possibility of an economic association with Canada. Finally, successive Québec premiers from Jean Lesage (1960–1966) to Daniel Johnson (1966–1968) to Robert Bourassa (1970–1976, 1985–1994) worked for the reform of the 1867 Canadian Constitution, pushing for greater powers for Québec within the federation. From the 1970s to the 1990s, elections were held in Québec, and federal elections in Canada reflected these differing views over the functioning of our federal state.
Various attempts to modify Québec’s status within Canada produced constitutional proposals but they failed to resolve the issue. In 1980, a Québec referendum on sovereignty was held with the federalists winning decisively. In 1982, the Canadian government led by Prime Minister Trudeau then decided to patriate the Canadian Constitution (the BNA Act, which had remained a British statute since 1867) and include a Constitutional Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Québec government under separatist René Levesque objected and withheld Québec’s consent. Trudeau’s action to patriate was ruled legal by Canada’s Supreme Court, but it had the effect of splitting the federalist forces in Québec.
By 1990, the Meech Lake Accord had been negotiated between the Canadian government and its 10 provinces to provide a rationale for Québec to finally consent to the 1982 patriation. It provided concessions to Québec to obtain its agreement. This attempt at reconciliation by Trudeau’s successor, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (1984–1993), and Québec Premier Robert Bourassa, however, failed ratification by two provinces (Manitoba and Newfoundland). Trudeau, then retired, opposed the Meech Lake Accord and strongly influenced the opposition forces within Canada to the Accord.
This is largely the constitutional legacy that Justin Trudeau, the son of Pierre Trudeau, is now carrying as he runs for the leadership of Canada’s Liberal Party. Sovereignists and some federalists in Québec continue to resent the elder Trudeau’s constitutional legacy. For many, it remains an open wound.
Some in the Québec media now believe that Justin Trudeau must address this issue with a position of his own. Will he complete the unfinished work of 1982? The junior Trudeau, in a recent television interview, skirted the issue by saying that Québec and Canada as a whole did not want to revisit old constitutional wounds and had moved on to other issues.
To some, the younger Trudeau’s view was seen as insensitive and to others, reminiscent of his father’s so-called legendary arrogance.
Having lived through some of the aforementioned constitutional battles, I agree that patriation must be addressed given that Québec is the only non-signatory province to the 1982 Canadian Constitutional Act (including the Charter of Rights). However, no one in the Canadian and Québec political class is held to the same standard as Justin Trudeau is, and none wish to revisit the issue in the near future. Outside of his family name, why should Justin Trudeau be held accountable for redressing his father’s actions?
Politics in this century have changed and the policy debates have moved in new directions. The issue of Québec and the Canadian constitution remains pertinent. But should we be settling our accounts with the elder Trudeau by using his son, who has a different agenda and is running in different times and for different reasons? I do not think so.
For many of us north of the border, we are watching the showdown emerging around the U.S. fiscal cliff discussions. Despite President Barack Obama’s rather convincing victory, it is clear that the divisions remain—and the role of government is central to the discussion. The 2011 debt ceiling stalemate resulted in a process where gridlock was essentially institutionalized with December 31, 2012 as the ultimate date to find a negotiated settlement or else. It is a collective “jump off the cliff.’.
Influential voices such as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and International Monetary Fund President Christine Lagarde are warning about the decreasing role of the U.S. in global economic matters should it fail to get its debt and deficit problems under control. The increasing possibility that a deal will not be reached in time for automatic tax increases and spending cuts to kick in and threaten a second recession in four years has to preoccupy world economies.
The European Union is in recession, emerging markets are less robust and the U.S. economy has had a sluggish recovery since the middle of 2009. A U.S. recession could have catastrophic results, especially north of the border. In recent days, Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney sent some ominous signals about the risks associated with failure to reach a deal on the fiscal cliff. We in Canada may have done better coming out of the Great Recession, but there is evidence that another U.S. slowdown will have a serious impact on a range of our exports and overall consumption leading possibly to a Canadian recession as well.
While Canada’s economic future is often dependent on how the U.S. economy fares, we did get some things right that could serve as a guide to U.S. policymakers. The balanced approach regarding revenue and spending cuts that Obama so often advances has been on our radar with successive governments—both Liberal and Conservative—since the mid-1990s. Deficit reduction, debt control, revisiting entitlement programs, modest stimulus programs, tax reductions, free-trade agreements, and reducing the size of government has been very much a part of Canada’s public policy agenda in the last 20 years. Fortunately, Republicans and Democrats have been sending some more encouraging signals in recent days.
It was Winston Churchill who once said that America will try all solutions until they find the right one. It is clear Obama has a mandate to tax the top two percent, whether he does it by raising tax rates or closing tax loopholes. But there is an indisputable reality: tax revenue will not be enough. Some tough decisions about spending cuts including the defense budget, Medicare, Medicaid, and possibly social security will have to be part of the eventual “grand bargain.”
To do this, it will take leadership and political courage on all sides of the partisan divide. It will also have to involve vision and audacity. Clearly, the eyes of the world are directed on the U.S. political class, and especially on President Obama. Having been decisively re-elected last month, it has been said that Obama has a rendezvous with history as he begins his final term. All are waiting to see how he pulls it off, including Canada.
On a university campus in Montréal on December 6, 1989, a lone gunman deliberately targeted innocent victims, killing 14 young women and injuring another 14 before turning the weapon on himself. The horror of this tragedy led the Canadian government to institute a gun registry law in 1993, which became a source of controversy for many gun owners regarding the mandated registration of unrestricted guns and the larger bureaucracy to regulate it. The law was eventually modified by Canada’s ruling Conservatives in April 2012—abolishing the firearms registry that was established after the Montréal tragedy. The two Canadian opposition parties in Parliament—the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the Liberals—opposed the Conservative initiative.
Since 1989, other tragedies have occurred in both Canada and the United States. Every time such an incident occurs, the initial instinct is to raise the issue of access to firearms and the proliferation of gun-related violence. Gun violence has no boundaries; while Canada has greater restrictions in terms of access, the fact remains that gun violence is still high in North America and the conversation must take place beyond the initial shock of the crime.
The U.S. Constitution provides an explicit right to bear arms. In itself, this has resulted in the reluctance by the political leadership to deal with the issue of gun violence and bring the conversation to a national level. To his credit, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has attempted to start a national conversation on the matter. Following the recent murder-suicide of an American football player, sportscaster Bob Costas tried to follow Bloomberg’s efforts—a comment that resulted in swift condemnation from the National Rifle Association of America (NRA) and its like-minded allies in the media—which put an end to the national conversation.
The recent reelection of Barack Obama as President, the increase of Democrats in the Senate, and their slight gains in the House of Representatives has led analysts to talk about a changing America. While Obama is a highly popular political figure in Canada, it was somewhat surprising for many of us glued to our television sets to see him declared President before the stroke of midnight on November 6. After all, the polls had been close, but the victory seems to convey that America has indeed begun to change.
There are two ways to assess what this U.S. election tells Canadians. One way is the actual results which show a changing electorate where minorities, women, and youth will continue to play an increasing role in the choice of future presidents. State referenda also showed a transformation on certain social and cultural issues—legalization of marijuana and support for gay marriage.
The Presidential map with its omnipresent Electoral College seems decidedly more favorable to the Democratic coalition. The Senate map is also favorable to Democratic candidates. The House may still be Republican, but districting in states led by predominantly Republicans governors (30 of 50) can be a determining factor. This has led to some public soul-searching on the part of prominent Republican leaders. In a recent television appearance, conservative Republican Newt Gingrich spoke of the U.S. “as a centrist country with a dominant left”. Where is the center right America of just a few weeks back?
Canada has only had two political parties who have governed the country’s affairs and destiny
—the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. Just as in the United States, the two-party approach has served our democracy well. Unlike the U.S., however, our parliamentary system leaves more room for the establishment and the sustaining presence of a third party. In Canada, third parties have come and gone, but one has had a persistent role over a number of decades and it is the New Democratic Party (NDP).
The New Democratic Party, created in 1961, was formed from the fusion of the Christian left Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) party and the Canadian Labor Congress. By so doing, the new party attempted to enlarge its share of the electorate and appeal to a wider range of progressive views from the political left. Often referred to by its Liberal and Conservative opponents as socialists, the NDP resembles more the social democratic left associated with Britain’s Labour Party and other European countries. Its leaders, generally moderate in tone and policy, have come across as sensible and principled types. While the NDP has never governed nationally, it has been a key player in some of our provinces.
For the first time in its history, the NDP is no longer the third party in Canada’s House of Commons. It is now the official opposition party, and its leader Tom Mulcair could very well become Canada’s next prime minister.
The formerly dominant Liberal Party is embarking on a leadership contest with the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Justin Trudeau, being touted as the next leader. But a closer look is being directed at Mulcair and the kind of prime minister he could become. Mulcair, a former provincial Liberal minister and deputy leader of the federal NDP, won his party’s leadership race over many long standing and more conventional NDP standard bearers. For some party regulars and stalwarts like former leader Ed Broadbent, it was near heresy to select a recent convert to the NDP.
Top stories this week are likely to include: Argentina and Iran attempt to repair relations; U.S. presidential campaigns enter final week; reactions to the municipal elections in Chile; Harper begins trip to India; and Mexico celebrates Day of the Dead.
Argentine- Iranian Negotiations: Delegations from Argentina and Iran are meeting today in Geneva to discuss the 1994 bombing of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (Argentine–Israeli Mutual Association—AMIA) in Buenos Aires, which left 85 dead and over 300 injured. Iran and its proxies have long been suspected of orchestrating the attack, but have never claimed responsibility for it—and the Islamic Republic’s diplomatic relations with Argentina have been hampered since, particularly because Argentina is home to South America’s largest Jewish community. Today’s dialogue builds on the meeting that Argentine Foreign Minister Héctor Timerman held with his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Salehi, last month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
Final Week of U.S. Pre-Election Campaigning: Although early voting has begun in select U.S. states, most U.S. citizens will cast their ballots on Tuesday, November 6 for the presidential election and additional elections at the congressional, state and local levels. However, the campaigns of President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney have had to alter their schedules given the expected high winds, flooding and power outages that Hurricane Sandy is expected to produce along the eastern seaboard. Power could be out in some places for up to 10 days, meaning that polling stations may be affected. While Obama will spend the first part of this week in Washington DC to make emergency preparations on behalf of the federal government, Romney will take his message to Ohio and other swing states in the Midwest.
Dissecting the Results in Chile: Opposing parties to President Sebastián Piñera made gains in yesterday’s nationwide municipal elections in Chile; beyond the results, however, one big takeaway was the low voter turnout. Only 40.9 percent of Chileans turned out to vote in this first election where voting was optional. Piñera cast this low turnout as a “warning sign” for democracy in Chile. A government spokesperson has already hinted that Piñera will make changes at the ministerial level in response to the disapproval of his coalition.
Harper to India: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper departs for his six-day state visit to India on Saturday, where he will seek to deepen bilateral ties through meetings with his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, and other national leaders. Harper is expected to visit New Delhi, Agra, Chandigarh, and Bangalore—and will address the World Economic Forum in Guragon. In advance of the trip, Harper said, “India is a growing economy with enormous potential, and expanding our trade and investment links with India will create jobs, growth and long-term prosperity here in Canada.”
Day of the Dead: This Mexican holiday will be celebrated on November 1 and 2 to remember family members and friends who have died. This Indigenous Aztec tradition was moved by Spanish conquistadores to coincide with the Christian holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Celebrations will occur throughout Mexico and other communities with Mexican influence such as select cities in Texas and Arizona.
An enduring characteristic of Canadian politics in the last 50 years has been the question of language and how it plays out in the French speaking province of Québec. From the outset in 1867, Canada adopted a federal system of government at Québec’s behest, giving the constituent federated states defined constitutional jurisdictions. The Canadian Constitution (1867) also guarantees the use of French and English in both the national legislature (House of Commons and the Senate) and Québec’s legislative assembly (the National Assembly).
Over the years, linguistic tensions and divisions emerged in different parts of the country leading many in Québec to question whether linguistic equality actually existed, and whether Québec remaining in the Canadian federation was the best course for ensuring the survival of its French character.
In an effort to respond to the concerns of Canada’s French-speaking minority, (French communities outside Québec, and Quebec’s French majority population), the country’s national leadership eventually adopted the Official Languages Act 1969 making French and English official languages. This Act was later given constitutional force in 1982 by amendment. The principal effect of this move was felt in the federal bureaucracy and within Canada’s minority language communities in their dealings with the central government apparatus. Official bilingualism remains a major feature of Canadian democracy.
While the federal level was coming to grips with language issues in the nation’s capital (Ottawa) and beyond in the 1960s, Québec was undergoing its “Quiet Revolution” with the election of a progressive government headed by the Québec Liberal Party in 1960. By the end of the decade, progressive forces in and out of government had changed Québec’s political and sociocultural landscape dramatically in nearly all sectors of civil society. However, economic challenges remained, and linguistic activism soon emerged as the growing force in the public debate.
By the mid-1970s, following much study, debate and protest, French was declared Québec’s only official language by legislation. This was first introduced by the pro-federalist Liberal Party of Québec in 1974 and later reinforced by the new pro-sovereignty Parti Québécois government in 1977. This approach may have contrasted with the federal initiative of two official languages, but it did represent a growing consensus within French-speaking Québec in dealing with the survival of the French language.
Québec’s new policy did not occur without reaction and confrontation. Many in Québec’s English-language population reacted immediately—some chose to leave Québec fearing discrimination, while others chose to contest the policy in court. Over the years, however, Québec’s language laws have evolved because of new realities, court rulings based on both the Québec and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and legislative changes by successive Québec governments. It is important to add that the English-language community continues to have institutions that meet its needs and defines its character. While irritants remain, Québec has undergone a sustained period of linguistic peace since the mid-1990s.
Today, with increased immigration flows, the growing lure of new technology and greater globalization, new pressures are placed on Québec’s language policy. While French is still the first language of 82 percent of Québec’s population, it remains a minority language in Canada and is now the third most spoken language after English and Spanish in North America. No one in Québec’s current political class is ready to declare victory in the historic battle to protect the French language.
The recently elected Parti Québécois government in Québec has committed to reexamine existing laws to reinforce their applicability to protect and promote French, and likely to initiate new policies to expand the use of French. Despite this intention, it remains clear in opinion surveys available to all lawmakers that the Québec population—both French speaking and English speaking—values multiple language skills and also insists on greater access to individual bilingualism. This latter point is encouraging for those who wish to find pragmatic solutions to linguistic issues.
Language will always remain a part of the political debate both in Canada as a whole, and especially in the federated state of Québec. Having been part of some of the past battles, I remain confident that the road travelled provides a more positive path than a negative one. The hope is that policymakers will see dialogue, pragmatism, inclusion, and an incentive-based course of action as more productive for progress and harmony than a win-lose approach.
Finally, some outside Canada who study the conduct of language politics north of the border may well see it as an example to other countries faced with the challenge of accommodating more than one language in their governance and in civil society.
John Parisella is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He is the former Québec delegate general in New York and currently an invited professor at University of Montréal’s International Relations Center. His Twitter account is @JohnParisella.
Top stories this week are likely to include: the U.S. embargo of Cuba turns 50; Chile votes in municipal elections; final U.S. presidential debate; Argentina-Ghana standoff continues; and Canada may reconsider protectionist energy move.
Cuban Missile Crisis: Fifty years ago today, then-U.S. President John F. Kennedy announced a naval blockade of Cuba after U.S. spy planes found missile sites supported by the Soviet Union. On that evening in 1962, President Kennedy delivered a television address vowing to end the Cuban Missile Crisis, which he termed a “clandestine, reckless and provocative threat to world peace.” Today, Cuba is slowly undergoing economic reforms and the Cuban government is fending off rumors of former Cuban President Fidel Castro’s death—“yet oddly a policy that has failed to produce change and has hamstrung U.S. diplomacy (the embargo) is still in place. It’s telling that the embargo will likely outlive Castro—the man whose government it was intended to take down.” says AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini.
Chilean Municipal Elections: On Sunday, Chileans will head to the polls for elections in municipalities across the country. For the first time, “voting will be voluntary with automatic registration, which will allow all Chileans 18 and older to vote. The change could potentially double the number of voters, allowing up to 5.2 million to vote—half of which are under age 29,” according to AS/COA Online. Also, Chile’s ongoing educational protests will come to the fore, as the secondary school system is administered by local municipalities and 70 percent of Chileans support students’ calls for inexpensive, high-quality education.
Extra: Stay tuned for an AQ Web Exclusive this week from NYU Professor and La Tercera columnist Patricio Navia on the elections.
For a country that abhors political dynasties, the announcement by Justin Trudeau on October 2, 2012, that he would vie for the leadership of the Canadian Liberal Party drew a stream of comments and analysis. Surely, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (1968-1979, 1980-1984) would have been proud of his son’s decision, but he would undoubtedly have known that the expectations would be high. The response in Canada’s English language media ranged from skepticism to nostalgia to hope and excitement. In Québec’s French language media, the response was more tepid, with a mixture of indifference, amusement and curiosity.
Trudeau’s main claim to fame outside of his illustrious name is his ability to have been elected in a Montréal riding that once belonged to the separatist Bloc Québécois in 2008 and resisting the New Democratic Party (NDP) wave in 2011. Lately, the 40-year-old Trudeau took on a Conservative Senator in a “boxing” match for charity, and won handily. For moxie, the young Trudeau can be reminiscent of his dad at times.
This being said, the Canada of Pierre Trudeau has been transformed since the former prime minister left the scene in the 1990s. Constitutional issues involving Québec no longer dominate the political landscape. The preponderant role of Central Canada (Ontario and Québec) in Canadian politics has begun to shift toward Western Canada (Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia) making Justin’s Québec credentials less significant than they were for his father.
The Liberal Party, which he wishes to lead, has also been transformed from its “natural governing party” status to that of a third party. Quite a descent for a party that governed for 75 years in the twentieth century! The progressive voice in Canadian politics is now primarily in the grasp of Tom Mulcair, official opposition leader and head of the NDP party. Becoming the leading progressive voice in the Canadian parliament will be the primary challenge for Justin Trudeau if the Liberal Party hopes to regain a semblance of its former status.