Federation CJA unveiled an art installation last week to recognize “visionary donors” to the organization’s Centennial campaign. “The art installation, by Montreal artist Pascale Girardin (above), is on permanent display in the lobby of the Federation CJA building,” says a prepared Federation CJA statement. “The artwork, entitled ‘Abundance,’ refers to the twin notions of generosity and prosperity – qualities that are essential to building a healthy and thriving Jewish community.” Each of the 200 metal discs on the installation includes the name of donors. During the event, Centennial Campaign Co-Chair Stephen Gross announced that the campaign has raised nearly $300 million, towards the goal of $380 million “to secure the next 100 years.”
With 2016 drawing to a close, Premier Couillard took time out to sit with The Suburban and do a review of the year. It struck us that this was a premier proud of the achievements of his government, very well-versed in all the files important to the communities we serve, and ready to be fully candid and open in his answers — whether they were in accord with our positions or not. We published part one of the interview last week. The following is the conclusion.
Civil liberties; Bills 56, 59, 74
We then questioned the premier on our editorial criticisms of Bills 56, 59 and 74. These Bills would compromise citizen access to elected officials, freedom of expression and net neutrality. We were not only gratified that the premier was aware of The Suburban‘s positions, but that he had taken action on these proposed pieces of legislation. Bill 56 would have required all Quebecers — even social workers — to register online as lobbyists if they wanted to talk to their MNAs or a Minister. That has been amended to require registration only when money was being requested. Bill 59, which would have given the Quebec Human Rights Commission prosecutorial power even without a complaint against any expression that made a member of a minority feel “hurt or marginalized,” has been amended to remove all impediments to freedom of expression. Bill 74 would give Quebec the power to block Internet gaming and gambling sites not operating under the umbrella of Loto-Québec. It would put Quebec, we pointed out, in the company of China, North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Cuba as jurisdictions that v
iolate net neutrality. We asked the premier if, “You really want Quebec to be in that club?” To his credit, Couillard ordered his staff to look into the Bill and assure that net neutrality would be respected.
Revenue growth and resource development
On the economy, we asked if it was not important to broaden our resource base to bolster the balanced budget and job creation. That since Quebec is very much a resource economy, was it not time to generate more revenue from more resources such as the closed uranium mines in the north and natural gas on the South Shore and oil exploration on Anticosti Island, both of which have been halted due to environmental concerns expressed by BAPE particularly over fracking, even though Alberta and British Colu
mbia have been fracking for some 55 years with only two incidents. Since Quebec receives some 60 percent of all transfer payments from Ottawa — $10.5 billion of the $18 billion last year alone — was it not time to grow new sources of revenue, investment and jobs?
Premier Couillard insisted that Quebec is not a major player in oil and gas. “Oil and gas is a part of our portfolio of resources; it is not the main part, it will never be.” We’ll never know if we don’t try,” we countered.
But the premier did acknowledge the importance of resource exploitation to create revenues. “The price of minerals is going to continue to go up. The Plan Nord is actually working.” As for the halted uranium mine operations, he said the companies involved did not approach the First Nations as they should have. “They went sideways, ignored them and they paid the price,” but pointed to companies like Tata Steel investing $450 million in Quebec. “The Plan Nord is working and is going to expand and is going to bring significantly expanded resource revenues to Quebec.”
As for oil and gas, he said the government has not interfered with projects now underway on the Gaspé peninsula producing several hundreds of barrels a day. As for Anticosti and the South Shore, he said, “it’s fracking on the land. It could destroy i
t. Nowhere in the world today would it be easy to promote a fracking project in a populated area. Our water resources will make us richer,” he added, “Water that we turn into hydro-electric power and among other uses we produce
aluminum with that power.”
It was important to point out that America has successfully used fracking in areas over six states including Pennsylvania. The premier acknowledged that environmental norms are sometimes problematic for cities and companies, saying Quebec’s Environment Minister David Heurtel “is now conducting a big reform of the law that makes it much simpler for companies and municipalities to navigate through all this maze of regulations and norms.” We asked how this will affect the status of BAPE reports that always seem to carry so much weight. “BAPE is not gospel. They give an opinion and the government decides.” The premier also acknowledged that “I find it very strange that in order not to extract natural gas in Quebec, you have it shipped from Pennsylvania.”
English school boards
we asked Premier Couillard his position on school board reform. With Bill 105 passing much more easily then Bill 86 which was contested broadly across the province, Couillard attributes that to the government and particularly his Education Minister Sebastian Proulx listening to communities. “We decided to stick with elections even if it’s a very weak democracy, low turnout, except in terms of the English-speaking community where the participation is highest. They go out and vote.”
“We listened to what they had to say,” he said, “not only because they said ‘we are going to sue you,’ but I know and you know that these institutions are a beacon in the community. The hospitals have merged, it’s your last institutions, we heard and we listen and we understand.” Couillard said that despite UPAC investigations at Quebec’s two largest school boards, he still has confidence in the system. “Not only in the English system but also the well-performing French school boards.”
He also noted that his staff will soon have a person specifically dedicated as a point of contact for the anglophone community and “to deal with issues upstream before they become a crisis.”
Given that the two largest English school boards are under UPAC investigation, the premier said he still maintains confidence in the system, in English boards as well as French boards.
A parting note
Premier Couillard summed up this year by expressing pride in his government “...sticking to its plan. We did exactly what we said we would do, what we told people we would do: We would balance the budget, put the money in healthcare and in education and in the important transition to the new economy. We are doing exactly that. This in itself has an ethical value. We started with the plan and we stick with the plan until the end of the term.”