Not ruling out law on riding change criteria: Couillard

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Not ruling out law on riding change criteria: Couillard

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard spoke Friday to a full audience of the Côte St. Luc Men’s Club at that city’s Aquatic and Community Centre.

The Premier spoke and answered questions about various issues, including health care, court case delays and seniors issues. He was also asked about the planned provincial riding changes for the next election, including the elimination of the Mont Royal riding as part of a merger with the Outremont riding, and the expansion of the D’Arcy McGee riding eastward.

Local politicians and activists have argued these changes violate the Election Commission’s own guidelines that ridings’ “natural communities” should be respected. Local ethnic communities say they will be split between ridings.

A citizens committee, chaired by Suburban editor-in-chief Beryl Wajsman and former NDG-Lachine MP Marlene Jennings, has hired constitutional lawyer Julius Grey to handle the legal case. Wajsman has been spearheading the fundraising effort for the legal case having raised over $6,000 in crowd funding. He took the opportunity to inform the Premier that the legal challenge will be filed in court before the end of the month.

Couillard told the gathering that the riding issue is not restricted to Montreal, but also affects the Mauricie where two ridings are also set to merge.

“People are not very happy there — it’s not related to language, it’s related to representation [in that area] on a very large territory,” the Premier said.

Couillard explained that it was decided years ago to enable the independent, non-partisan Quebec Electoral Commission to decide on riding changes “to remove petty politics and partisanship from the issue.

“The only way for us to act on [riding changes considered to be unjust] is to change the criteria on which the commission bases itself to make decisions, and for this we need to change electoral law.

“I’m not ruling this out. We’re going to have significant discussions. I know legal recourse has been tabled by the community here on this, and people should exercise their rights. That’s something that should be done.”

Couillard said he is concerned about representation by number.

“On the island of Montreal, the issue is numbers, because you say ‘why is our vote less important, apparently at least than in other parts of Quebec with a smaller population?’”

The Premier said he is also worried about the quality of representation, in relation to the rural ridings, because of their massive size distance-wise.

“We have MNAs who have to literally drive for full days and they don’t even see the whole of their community.”

Numerous dignitaries attended Friday’s speech. Couillard was introduced by D’Arcy McGee MNA David Birnbaum and thanked by Côte St. Luc mayor Mitchell Brownstein, and other attendees included Israeli Consul-General Ziv Nevo Kulman, Mount Royal MP Anthony Housefather and his chief of staff Bonnie Feigenbaum, Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg, and other MNAs — including Mont Royal’s Pierre Arcand — and Côte St. Luc council members, amongst many others.

Premier Couillard charms his audience at packed Côte Saint-Luc address

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Premier Couillard charms his audience at packed Côte Saint-Luc address

by: Councillor Mike Cohen

It is pretty rare that we see the Premier of Quebec come to speak in the City of Côte Saint-Luc. But this finally did occur on May 12 as Philippe Couillard addressed a standing room only crowd at our Aquatic and Community Centre on Parkhaven Avenue.
Credit is due to our incredible Men`s Club and of course the Member of the National Assembly, David Birnbaum, who made this happen. As event emcee and District 2 resident Sidney Margles pointed out that in his then capacity as new Quebec Liberal Party leader Couillard was slated to address this same group at the urging of Birnbaum`s predecessor, Lawrence Bergman. Something came up at the last minute and his appearance had to be cancelled. The Men’s Club has 560 members and counting.

Couillard CSL

The Premier shakes hands as he enters the room. (Photo: mikecohen.ca)

This time everything worked out just fine. The Men`s Club began distributing reserved tickets a few weeks ago. When I arrived, there was a strong police presence around the building. Couillard did get to the ACC a little late and like a born campaigner he enter the room by shaking as many hands as possible.
One thing must say about our Premier, who by profession was a former professor and neurosurgeon. He speaks both languages so beautifully. While many of us are upset with the significant budget cuts we incurred early in the Liberal mandate and their gutting of the health system, Couillard has this audience eating out of his hands from the get go. He began with some humour, alluding to the massive flooding in different parts of Quebec and the fact he decided to visit an aquatic center. He drew applause immediately when he announced “I will do this speech in English so we can all follow.” He also introduced Greg Kelley, son of Native Affairs Minister Geoff Kelley, as his new point person for Quebec’s English-speaking community. “Anglophone liaison officer,” is the exact title. I met Kelley after the talk. He’s 31 and presently bunking with his parents in Beaconsfield. He formerly worked in the office of government House Leader Jean-Marc Fournier.
Couillard drew cheers again when he previewed his upcoming trade mission to Israel. “This will be my third trip there…it is the first time a Quebec Premier has gone.” More than 100 Quebec business persons and leaders will accompany him. “Why are we doing this?” Couillard asked rhetorically. “Israel is a start-up nation and an example to follow.”

Couillard mentioned the fact that both Air Canada and Air Transat have direct flights from Montreal to Tel Aviv. He also laughed that when he is in Israel, so will controversial US President Donald Trump.
“Since elected our government is doing exactly like we said we’d do; putting our financial house in order.”

The Premier gave a ringing endorsement for federalism. “Some people are telling me that I cannot be a Quebecer and Canadian. We will stand tall for a strong Quebec within Canada.”
Couillard expressed pride about his government’s job creation program. He also pointed to the investments made at the Jewish General Hospital. “This is a hospital that serves all communities,” he said. “My (late) father was treated there in oncology. So was Mr. Parizeau”
Couillard asked, “How do we build our economy in such an unstable world?” He referred to the three pillars: advance manufacturing, exports and entrepreneurship. “You need a strong educational system to build a proper economy,” he said.

Couillard spoke very excitingly about the planned 67-kilometre, $6 billion electric-train system which will connect downtown Montreal with the South Shore, Deux-Montagnes, the West Island and Trudeau airport. “This will be the equivalent of Expo ’67 in 2017,” he said.

Rather than a straight question and answer period, Margles said that members were asked to submit queries. From the 40 or so obtained, he chose to share a few with the Premier related to assisted living for seniors, the availability of family doctors, special needs children, the sale of marijuana and the Quebec Electoral Commission’s decision to merge the Outremont and Mont Royal ridings and change the boundaries of D’Arcy McGee.

Couillard said that he turns 60 in June so he is sensitive to issues related to seniors. “We are devoting significant dollars to seniors,” he acknowledged. “We have many more doctors than we did before – hundreds of new physicians and they are staying in Quebec.”

As for access to family physicians, Couillard said that right now there are 600,000 people more who have this option compared to 2014.

Turning to the sale of marijuana, which will become legal in Canada in July 2018. “An easy thing for me to say that at first glance I think there is merit to the idea,” said Couillard. “It is now controlled by the black market. There is still a tremendous amount of work to be done. My biggest concern is public health. Smoking pot is probably not good for your lungs. Young people now are smoking a product that much worse than the hippy days.”

Couillard also wished to clear up a myth that the province is not going to make a lot of money on this. “If to price it too high you will send people back to the black market,” he remarked. “If you price it too low, you will increase consumption.”

Mayor Brownstein concluded proceedings by thanking the Premier for coming to Côte Saint-Luc and particularly the ACC, which the provincial government contributed one-third of the cost.

Also on hand for Couillard’s speech were provincial cabinet ministers Kathlee Weil, Pierre Arcand and Francine Charbonneau, Mount Royal Liberal Member of Parliament Anthony Housefather, Hampstead Mayor William Steinberg, CSL councillors Sam Goldbloom, Ruth Kovac, Allan J. Levine, Dida Berku and myself and English Montreal School Board Commissioner Bernard Praw.

Premier Couillard speaks to D’Arcy McGee residents in MNA David Birnbaum’s video

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Birnbaum Couillard 2016-03

The progressive and innovative Member of the National Assembly for D’Arcy McGee, David Birnbaum, has launched an impressive short video destined specifically for the residents of the riding encompassing Cote Saint-Luc, Hampstead and the western section of Snowdon.

The bilingual production features Premier Philippe Couillard touting an “inclusive Quebec inside Canada”.  “We’re all Quebecers,” says Couillard and we must “erase divisions.”

These are all very welcome words for D’Arcy McGee residents and indeed all Quebecers. I look forward to the premier putting these brave and inspiring words into action.

The closing remarks pay tribute to former D’Arcy McGee MNA, Dr. Victor Goldbloom, who passed away two weeks ago. The premier’s comments are touching.

Congratulations, once again, to our energetic MNA for this excellent communication effort with his constituents.

Birnbaum should be judged by the content of his character, not his mother tongue

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Don Macpherson’s column in today’s Gazette strikes a chord with many English-speaking Quebecers. It is infuriating that any decision within Quebec politics invariably comes down to a question of language. Your mother tongue is not the single most important criteria in characterizing an individual. What about skill, competency, honesty, integrity, loyalty, good judgement and a friendly smile?

Macpherson gives the example of our MNA, David Birnbaum, being passed over for a cabinet appointment by Premier Philippe Couillard, presumably because of his linguistic heritage.

When will Quebecers finally say enough is enough? Must language be our primordial defining quality? Shouldn’t it suffice that one can communicate effectively with one’s fellow citizens?

Anyone who has heard him speak would agree that David Birnbaum is indeed such a communicator. Eloquent, effective and persuasive.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

I hope that my premier will judge his team members, and all Quebecers, by the content of their character as well.

Read more: Don Macpherson: The invisible barriers facing non-francophones in Quebec politics | Montreal Gazette.

Why I support the call for an Office of Anglophone Affairs

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The need for an Office of Anglophone Affairs to represent the interests of 800,000 English-speaking Quebecers is reasonable and quite evident.

First, having three cabinet members of the Quebec Liberal Party who come from the English-speaking community does not absolve the government from its ongoing obligation to its English-speaking population. Cabinet members come and go, so do governments, and cabinet members have many more responsibilities than uniquely watching out for linguistic issues of their constituents.

The last four decades have shown us that English-speakers promoted to cabinet are no guarantee that the rights afforded to the English-speaking community will be respected in each ministry and throughout the government.

No disrespect or lack of appreciation to our Anglo MNAs, past or present. Their competencies are far from limited to their mother tongue. In D’Arcy McGee riding, for example, David Birnbaum is off to a great start, is very interested in his constituency and his assistance is quite sincere, I have no doubt. Lawrence Bergman was a model MNA, of the highest calibre. Robert Libman (Equality Party) was elected specifically because of his position on language and Bill 101 and had wide community support because he was a thorn in the side of the government – a voice specifically for the English-speaking community.

An Office  of Anglophone Affairs would be such a representative body that is sorely lacking in Quebec City.

Editorial: An Office of Anglophone Affairs is needed now more than ever | Montreal Gazette.

Second, in an era when a judge of the Quebec Court rules that it is legitimate for the government to deny the rights and freedoms guaranteed to all Canadians and Quebecers, such as this week’s ruling to uphold Bill 101 with respect to marked predominance of French on signs, it is clear that the Quebec English-speaking community needs greater presence within government. An office, as suggested by Commissioner of Official Languages, Graham Fraser, would be a good start.

Smaller English wording on signs will convince more people to speak French? Nonsense. This is nothing more than the government, through its OQLF, bullying small business owners, who have enough trouble making a living in this province without being restricted from communicating with their non French-speaking customers.

It is harassment of Anglo seniors who have difficulty reading much too small English wording in the few cases where English is even provided.

It is an insult to English-speaking Quebecers that their language is diminished by such mean spirited laws that do absolutely nothing to promote the French language

It is pure politic and it is contrary to what Philippe Couillard told us in last year’s election campaign (‘English is not the enemy’).

Finally, Quebecers were screaming their support for freedom of expression, alongside people of good will all across the planet just two weeks ago. Where are they today? Where are our business leaders demanding their freedom of expression to run their businesses as they see fit in order to create wealth in our province? Where are those politicians who waved their signs upholding freedom of expression? Where are all those marchers?

We’re quick to cry for freedom for everyone all over the world. I fully support that. But what about right here in Quebec, in Canada, where we have something called a ‘Notwithstanding Clause’ that allows our own government to deny our rights? What about our own freedom of expression?

All other provinces have an office for their French-speaking communities. Anglo Quebecers need a voice too.

 

Read more:

Court quashes challenge to Quebec’s sign law (The Gazette)

Judge shoots down sign law challenge (CTV News)

Suburban | Feb. 4, 2015 | Click to enlarge

Suburban | Feb. 4, 2015 | Click to enlarge

SQ French-only tweets ‘ludicrous’: CSL councillor

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The Suburban Newspaper, August 6th, 2014

The Sûreté du Québec’s policy of issuing messages on Twitter to the general public in French only is “ludicrous,” says Côte St. Luc Councillor Glenn Nashen.

Nashen, who has also complained about the lack of English on the Montreal fire department’s website, displayed a Twitter conversation he had with the SQ on his blog.

In response to a French SQ general Twitter message about safety during the vacation period, Nashen asked if the SQ shouldn’t also be wishing English-speaking Quebecers a safe vacation as well.

The SQ responded, in English, that it wishes everyone a safe vacation.

“The account is in French only, but we respond in English to English tweets,” the SQ message adds, in English.
Nashen then asked if the SQ has an English-language Twitter account.

The SQ responded in English that the SQ only has a French-language Twitter account for now, “but thank you for the suggestion!”
Nashen was not satisfied.

“How ludicrous it is that the provincial police will not communicate with hundreds of thousands of English-speaking Quebecers plus hundreds of thousands more tourists and visitors unless they are asked a question in English?” the councillor wrote on his blog. “This nonsense has gone unchecked for far too long and it’s high time that the Liberal government correct the overzealous policies of its departments that are nothing short of mean-spirited, disrespectful and counter-productive in the dispensing of public safety and public service messages.

“The Sûreté du Québec / Quebec Police Force have a mandate to serve all who live in or visit Quebec,” he added. “They have an obligation to communicate with the people they serve, through various means, including social media. Yet, their policy on use of English on Twitter, as indicated above, shows a blatant disregard for all English-speaking Quebecers and English-speaking visitors. Public safety messages are broadcast in French only. To hell with English, they’ll only reply to specific questions in that other language.”

Nashen also wrote that Premier Philippe Couillard “made it clear in the election campaign, barely four months ago, that English is not a disease and English-speaking Quebecers are not the enemy here. Our language does not diminish the French language at all. He said not a single Quebec parent doesn’t want their children to be bilingual. It’s time to prove he meant what he said and to loosen the stranglehold that Bill 101 has on every public agency, department and service under the Quebec government. Then, even the SQ could wish us all a happy and safe vacation.”

The Suburban contacted the SQ. An official told us that the Quebec government determines that the SQ’s Twitter messages are in French, “because French is the official language of Quebec.”

The official added that English will be tweeted in case of emergencies, in case of a life in danger and if an anglophone is involved.
“We will then do it in English, exceptionally,” the official said.

First disappointment with the new Liberal Government

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Philippe Couillard’s arrival as Premier of all Quebecers came as a relief to most English-speaking citizens and to a majority of voters. He seems like a level-headed, sensible, no-nonsense character to fill the highest office after a miserable 18 months in Quebec politics.

So it comes as more than surprising, actually disappointing, when the nascent government announced they would appeal last month’s Quebec Superior Court ruling that large retailers including Gap, Best Buy, Costco, Walmart and Old Navy are not obliged to add French generic words to their internationally recognized brand names.
Does any Quebecer require Costco Wholesale to add a French language generic term like “Les entrepots” to clarify what store they’re going into?  Will a unilingual French-speaker enter a Gap store thinking it’s a café if they don’t add “Le magasin de vetements” on their store signs? Does such petty symbolism do anything to protect the French language? Give me a break.
This is ridiculous and petty strategic policy on the part of the Liberal Government whose members haven’t had enough time to move into their offices yet, let alone take such a sensitive and ill-advised decision to seek appeal.
French-speaking Quebecers are well served by signage and employees in their language throughout Quebec.  They are not being disrespected.  They have more safeguards to protect their language than any other jurisdiction in the world.  They are not inconvenienced.  French letters and words on signage are twice as large or twice as numerous as compared to English. They are not marginalized.  Store staff speak to them in their own language.
Let’s be honest. English-speaking Quebecers are the ones who are disrespected, poorly served, inconvenienced and marginalized by oppressive government policy, discriminatory language laws and overzealous language police.
Dr. Couillard, you inspired tens of thousands of Quebecers during the election campaign by indicating that it was a great benefit to be bilingual, that the English-speaking Quebecers are not enemies, that we are all Quebecers. Please be true to your convictions and vision and make us all feel like respected, equal citizens.

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