Monday, December 03, 2007

Snow Day!

I've been very absorbed in school and work and life so it wasn't until last week that I started really thinking about the winter. Last year was so mild and what with all the global warming, I was anticipating a few weeks of hassle here and there and some basic bundling up. I happened to read an article in Le Journal about how it was supposed to be a really cold and snowy winter in Quebec this year. Then all of a sudden everybody seems to be talking about it. It's Canada-wide! And a few days later we get a nice dump and all kinds of alarmist media reports about 40cm on Vancouver island and storms across the nation. Excellent.

I like talking and thinking about the weather, but the media reports really get me ranting. I totally understand how we want to see images of lots of snow in other parts of the country, but please leave off the tone of concern and seriousness. It's winter. We live in Canada. It snows. Why is this news? Just show it to us and give us the details. Stop with the retarded man in the street interviews where some guy tells us how he's having a hard time getting to work. Take the bus you loser!

What they should do is have a team that goes around and finds the best and worst shoveled households and compare them. The old Italian and Portuguese dudes in my neighbourhood are most impressive. I mean some of these guys are old. And they come from mediterranean countries. But they are out there early, and their work is thorough and symmetrical. They even sweep the ground after, even when it's still snowing. That's commitment (and retirement).

I don't if it's because I'm in the heart of the city or just the general collapse of civilization, but it seems like the rest of the people have become incredibly lazy and half-assed about cleaning their walks and drive ways. Perhaps out in the countries and the burbs, you have the kind of heart and character that used to define this great nation. But here, you see spiral stairs a foot deep in snow with a little trail of boot tracks in the middle of it. Get up and clean the whole thing off, you lazy whippersnappers. Are we all so used to the city to rushing out with their gas-powered machines and carrying the snow away that we expect it to be done for our own homes as well?

I think we should get rid of the plows altogether and have a law that everyone is responsible for shovelling within their property line, projected halfway out into the street. Then when it snows like this, we'd all take the morning off, come out onto the streets together and shovel. The cols bleus, could be responsible for the highways and larger roads, as well as bringing hot chocolate to the neighbourhoods. The mayor would make spot checks and the cleanest streets would get a small tax break and have their picture in the newspaper. It'd be great for the environment, great for community spirit and keep people in better shape.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Why Thomas Mulcair won

I don't know if any of you care, or even know about it, but the NDP star candidate won the Outremont riding here in Montreal, which had been a liberal "stronghold". Mulcair was the provincial Liberal minister of the Environment here in Quebec under Charest before they had a falling out. I had a minor encounter with him on the radio during that time, which made me very suspicious of him. However, his quitting the provincial Liberals, though probably politically very pragmatic did suggest to me that he might have some core values. I also spoke with one of my colleagues at work, who knows politics and the environment extremely well and he said that often ministers of the environment come out "converti" to the cause.

So even though I tend to vote green, I was leaning towards Mulcair. I used to like Jack Layton when he just spoke intelligently instead of constantly trying to market his way into our hearts and the NPD does actually seem to stand for things from time to time. I applauded them forcing the transportation money into the federal budget. And they seem to be the only federal party that is actually willing to publicly criticize the cons.

It also helped that the NDP called my house twice, each time taking the time to listen to my positon and my doubts about Mulcair. Both were francophones (though the first call was in english) and seemed well-informed and flexible. We just had the kind of interesting political conversation you might have over lunch. There was little pushiness. The second guy said that because of the plastic bag incident, he would see if he could get Mulcair himself to call me. Which he did. Twice, leaving me a number to call him back. Unfortunately, this happened around one of my busiest periods of the year and I really didn't have time to call him back. I was disappointed, because I wanted to get a sense if he was just playing the game or actually had some environmental beliefs.

I hadn't decided who to vote for right up to the moment where I was standing behind that cardboard screen with the piece of paper in front of me (how pleasant it is to vote in Canada; such a lack of bullshit). One thing that threw me was the presence of the a Neo-Rhino candidate. It doesn't get much more Canadian than the Rhino party. Unfortunately, I hadn't read up enough on their platform, but I was tempted. In the end, I decided that since it was an interim election, I'd give Mulcair a chance. Maybe he'll stir up some shit in the Parliament.

My vote is certainly not the reason Mulcair won. What I found really interesting is that during this time, I did not see a single sign or poster up for the Liberal candidate. Mulcair was all over town, big placards of him hanging with Jack Layton. The Bloc were there as well. I also got nothing in my mailbox, no phone calls. The Liberals were effectively silent in my neighbourhood. I don't support all that waste of paper but just speaking strategically, you have to get your name and face out there.

I spoke with another person at work, also pretty well informed and he told me that the Liberal party has no money in Quebec. According to him, that's the whole reason for the sponsorship scandal in the first place. Their financial base is gone and they don't have the manpower or resources they used to have. This made me think immediately that without the base, how can they raise more money? Death spiral, anyone?

Anyways, I'm going to be keeping an eye on Mulcair. I hope he comes in swinging. If there is some cheesiness there, I'll forgive it if he's actually aggressively attacking the cons and talking about issues that matter, without equivocating.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Quoi!? (les yeux bridés)

I have really not been motivated to add much to this blog for a while. I have kind of plateaued out with my cultural and language immersion. I'm getting by in French and starting to understand Quebec enough to the point where it seems to be exactly like everywhere else in the world: full of human beings! So I just had nothing really interesting to discuss. On top of that, I find politics, particularly provincial politics, profoundly boring. One of those things I hate talking and thinking about and yet often find myself doing just that and then feeling annoyed. I had sort of thought that provincial politics in Quebec would have a little more depth and substance than the media machines I was used to in B.C. I had hoped that the idea and history of sovereignity and Quebec's culture uniqueness would result in a more informed populace and candidates who would respect that.

Well I was wrong about that. This election is fully up-to-date, with every single move geared towards the party's relation with the media and how the spin will affect their ratings. The current analysis is that it is a three-way race because none of the candidates has come up with the single dominant videobyte that will define them and give them the lead. So that is what they are struggling for, the perfect television moment. One issue that seriously came up earlier in the week was whether or not Boisclair dressed in too fine of a style, alienating the working class base and perhaps reminding them of his homosexuality. Whoo, deep issues!

But I am motivated to post today in reaction to Boisclair's latest gaff, where he referred to students of Asian descent as "les yeux bridés" (the slanted eyes). I'm not kidding. I repeat, I am not joking. And you think that's bad, he said that in french it's okay to use that term. Um, mister havard-intellectual, it's not the person who is saying it who decides if it's okay or not. It's the one labeled who decides. Absolutely shocking. I thought I was dreaming when I heard this on the radio today.

Now Boisclair is a fumbling politician, that's obvious. To even think of saying something like that, even if it isn't offensive in french (that I'll get to later), shows an incredible lack of judgement. Was it a speech? Did nobody vet it? He's done.

But far more disturbing to me is that I think he is not making it up when he says it is okay to say "les yeux bridés" in french. I think that is probably true. I'm going to ask my friends about this one. And maybe there is a linguistic argument for why it doesn't sound as harsh in french as in english. But the fact of it is that you are labelling an ethnic group by a physical stereotype, one that has been used throughout history to caricature and ridicule (and make look evil) asians as a vast group, lumping Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, etc. in one vast group. That kind of language should be recognized as racist and people should be taught that it is offensive at best. That that has not happened in Quebec is extremely disturbing to me.

But it seems clear from Boisclair's reaction, that he expects the Quebec people to agree with him. The language he used was "we Quebeckers see nothing wrong with this language" and said it was a question for linguists, not politicians. In effect, he is belittling the people offended, saying their concerns don't count among "his" people. It could be a really sneaky strategy to try to appeal to the more xenophobic Quebeckers that populist Mario Dumont has been winning over. It could also be another example of Boisclair's misapplied pride (which almost always comes off as arrogance). But I think ultimately, he really believes his response is acceptable and there will be a lot of people in Quebec who will agree with him.

Since the big argument that went on here over Jan Wong's article, I have seen more and more small, but significant, examples of this kind of racism in Quebec, geared especially towards people of asian descent. It's rarely antagonistic, like you see in B.C., but it is alienating and weird. I can't figure out what is the Quebec weirdness with asian people, maybe some distant cultural strain inherited from the french and their colonial history in Southeast Asia? I'm grabbing at straws here, so if someone has some anthropological explanations, I would appreciate it. So I guess what I'm saying is that P.Lee, who seemed so virulent about racism here, may have a point.