We are approaching a provincial election here in Quebec and in the next several posts, I'm going to share my perspective on it. I had an encounter with a politician last week that served as a strong reminder of how slippery and dangerous they can be. I believe the anecdote will help set an appropriate tone to launch this subject.
Radio Noon is a Quebec-wide talk show on CBC in english that plays from noon to two on weekdays. The host, Anne Lagacé Dowson, is quite intelligent and informed but tends to walk a very safe line. She also summarizes the french newspaper editorial positions in the mornings, which I find an incredibly helpful and interesting service. When she does that, she's quite opinionated, quite different than on her show.
On Friday, she had Thomas Mulcair, the Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks, to discuss a range of environmental issues. I was initially impressed with the breadth of his knowledge and his strong pro-environmental rhetoric. He seemed to be very much on the side of the environment, to the point of restricting business, which is surprising for a Liberal. He came down particularly hard on pig farms, discussing how his office had closed tons down, restricted growth of new ones and were actively looking for other farms that had snuck through loopholes to stay active. A lot of people hate the pig farms because they smell bad, but the minister was also very aware of their more significant environmental damage.
He talked a lot. He seemed quite interested in discussing various approaches to sustainable development. But after a while, I started to realize that he wasn't actually answering any of the difficult questions. I was listening to all this on the phone because I had called up and was waiting to get my turn. When I finally got on the air, I asked him what was his position on bill 390, a bill proposed by Stéphan Tremblay, a member of the opposition Parti Québecois, to ban non-biodegradable plastic bags.
He responded respectfully, saying, "ah yes, that was introduced by my colleague on the other side of the house," sounding as if they were all working together. He then went on to talk about how in Ireland, plastic bags caught in trees are called witches' britches and how they have introduced a tax on plastic bags (something like 20 cents a bag at the supermarket), that has reduced consumption significantly. I tried to ask him again what his position on the bill here in Quebec was, but me and the host spoke at the same time. She repeated her question to me, which was what did I think of a tax on plastic bags. I said that I thought that was a better idea but at this point, the situation was becoming so bad that any legislation was necessary. I tried to ask if he was not going to support bill 390, what was he going to do about the plastic bags. He went on about how a lot of supposedly biodegradable plastic bags are actually still quite bad as they pollute compost sites and still release plastic molecules. I agreed with this and this time got kind of insistent, asking what his position on bill 390 and what he was going to do about it.
They hung up on me.
I was probably a little abrupt, but I really felt that Ann Lagacé Dowson had let him off easy. It's her role to press the interview subject to answer the callers' questions and her role as a public servant to call the politicians on their BS. Even worse, the lead news piece on the CBC that afternoon was how the minister had announced a possible tax break for people who buy hybrid cars. The soundbites were from that day's show. What kind of news is that? Aside from the fact that it wasn't actually news, because it was only a suggestion, it also painted the minister as this all-powerful benevolent protector of the environment and a CBC radio show as an official news event. Pathetic.
I would love to spend a day with minister Mulcair, picking his brains about the environment, policy and industry. As I say, he's intelligent, informed, well-spoken and charming. But he is also dishonest and indirect and I would not trust him to give me a straight answer on anything that might actually implicate him in some kind of action. He is, in short, a politician.
My uncles here in Quebec are hardworking people who lean on the side of libertarianism. They have gotten to the point with the governments in their world that they see them as a joke at best. One of them recommended that one should always vote for the opposition, just to ensure that the party in power never stays in power long enough to really get corrupt. I don't agree with this position, but after trying to get a straight answer out of one politician, I really couldn't think of a better solution. This minister of the environment cares about the environment only as long as it supports his party and his position of power. Why couldn't he and his opposition just sit and work together, hammering out legislation that would cut down on the plastic bag problem in a way that would work for the province? The citizens would support it. The bags come from outside of Québec so industry wouldn't fight it too hard. The grocery stores wouldn't care as that would be one less thing they would have to buy. So why isn't anything done?