Quebecers are a goofy bunch. At a time when the deadly evidence of global warming is drowning big parts of the province (when it’s not chewing up cities in monster tornados and spitting them out as so much building debris and body parts elsewhere in North America), what do we argue about?
There are few things that can move people in this country like hockey. Especially here in Quebec, where the whole political class is undergoing convulsions over the efforts to bring a NHL team back to Quebec City.
Perhaps it’s spring, and with spring, the Stanley Cup playoffs, but it’s getting weird out there.
The desperate antics of Quebec City Mayor Régis Labeaume to overcome any opposition to his sweetheart deal with one of Canada’s richest media tycoons – Quebecor owner Pierre-Karl Péladeau – is so ludicrous on so many levels it leaves one’s head spinning.
PKP, as he is affectionately known, has his pet “journalists” decry public funding for the arts and the CBC at every turn (some may have caught the unintentionally hilarious interview by Sun TV anchor Krista Erickson with dancer Margie Gillis, a scene that’s gone viral on YouTube as a prime example of the loony right-wingers who are taking over our media). But when it comes to sucking taxpayer dollars for his private gain, PKP is a master.
Take the Quebec City arena deal. The city is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a “multifunctional amphitheatre” that it will essentially give to PKP to manage for 25 years, all without public tender. The punch-line is that Mayor La-bomb, as I like to think of him, then asked the Quebec government to protect the city and the deal from court challenges of a sweetheart deal that experts say would not survive legal scrutiny.
This is where the story gets even goofier. Intriguingly, Premier Jean Charest skilfully manoeuvred the Parti Québécois into doing his dirty work for him. The PQ under the aristocratic Pauline Marois obviously seized on what it perceived as an opportunity to ingratiate itself with the Quebec City region by sponsoring a bill in the National Assembly to protect the deal from any such legal challenge. The result has been to blow up her party – four MNAs have left the caucus denouncing the undemocratic nature of the bill and her imperious attempts to impose it on her party.
The cherry on the sundae? Now that Charest has postponed a vote on the bill for several months, thereby drawing out the PQ’s political agony, Marois accuses Charest of having committed “treason.” Wow. “L’État, c’est moi” for Princess Pauline.
That’s why the political world usually goes on holiday when the weather gets hot. People can’t think straight anymore.
The Quebec City arena scheme is illegal, illogical and doesn’t withstand scrutiny. But that doesn’t mean people will not wilfully ignore reality if the holy grail of the NHL is just maybe, possibly, excruciatingly within reach. It may also be a side dish of envy that Winnipeg – Winnipeg! – beat out Quebec’s sophisticated “national” capital in regaining access to the holy of holies. But it’s an issue that makes folks lose their sense of balance.
I’ve had this argument a few times with colleagues from the Quebec City region. Their biggest target? The one, lonely representative in the National Assembly for the small leftwing party, Québec Solidaire. Amir Khadir, of course, has been the voice in the wilderness calling for a bit of sanity and respect for the law in this story, and has promised to oppose undemocratic attempts to relieve Quebecers of their fundamental right to take the government to court when it breaks its own laws.
That has only earned him scorn from many, especially in Quebec City. But the latest polls show that people are taking note. While the PQ swallows its own tail in its hunger for power, little Québec Solidaire is now up to 17% support. Could we be seeing another political upheaval that shook Quebec during the recent federal election?
If so, this could be the one upside to a saga that only confirms the worst suspicions many other Canadians have of Quebec – corrupt, incompetent and ruled by their passions. But it’s a disgust that Quebecers also have with official corruption so blatant that the politicians try to protect it from the law of the land by passing another law saying it’s okay. Just so long as we get our Nordiques back, anything goes. Well, not this time.