Reflections on #Occupy movement

The occupy movement is the most important mass mobilization in recent history. Resistance to the American empire has shifted to the home front, and the ruling elite is scared. This right from the horses mouth, Rolling Stone put out some memorable quotes. This should not really surprise anyone, except for those who held the romantic idea that the rich spend their leisure time devising ways in which to better society and everyone in it. Entertaining ideas of philanthropy compensating for the negative attributes of capitalism is no longer fashionable; the charitable actions of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are all well and good, but they no longer have the power to distract people from the day-to-day realities of an economic crisis.

It is compelling, to try and depict Occupy as some sort of complex, open-ended platform whereby there is not a consistent theme, but rather there are many. This characterization has of course received consistent attention in the media insofar as it can contribute to conjecture of disorganization, uncertainty, and disconnection from the people and reality. The only truth in this speculation is the open-ended platform, but the rest of the analysis ignored entirely the most crucial aspect of Occupy: Unity. This unity they have has allowed the organization to be non-sectarian, it is inclusive, everyone can come join in, everyone can participate, and everyone has a voice.

The message of Occupy is a response to contemporary problems, but clearly it has roots in protest politics of the past as well. It would be untrue to suggest that such events did not garner attention, yet the Occupy movement has been unprecedented in the support it has received. Precisely because Occupy has blended unity with diversity that they have been so successful. Occupy recognizes the common discourse as centering on corporate greed and its excesses, which by all accounts resonates quite strongly with most in Canada. Holding an open forum for those dissatisfied with capitalism has proven extremely effective as film screenings, lectures, and discussions are the main activities in Occupy. This is an educational exchange, and an opportunity for many to learn and construct a community of common ground.

In contrast to the Tea party or the LaRouche movement, Occupy exists outside state institutions and has not been coopted by a political party. Without a link to these organizations Occupy can present itself as a pure people’s movement, and with it comes a new kind of legitimacy. The discrediting of mainstream political parties in the eyes of many, especially youth has become more critical as evidenced by the huge campaigns to coerce people into vote, honour their duty as a citizen, and so on. In this sense Occupy is a rejection of the capitalist democracy in that is recognizes the inability of the system to represent the needs of the masses. Conversely, Occupy demonstrates the capabilities of ordinary citizens to organize without using traditional avenues of power. As the movement grew, Occupy demonstrated the ability to act as a governing body in that it regulated the areas under its control. These are clearly small and not affecting a significant number of people, but it does contradict the media claims of disorganization in a very powerful way. A protest is simply that, people march with a message and then go home, Occupy is that next step where they set up camp, and provide services to people which establishes legitimacy for the Occupy movement.



The success of this initiative can be weighed against the spin mechanism of the media and its attempts to paint the movement as confused and having too many demands, however the exact opposite is true. The Occupy movement opposes corporate greed, plain and simple. The fact that the media responds with divide-and-rule games clearly indicates which side they are on. Hopefully, this should indicate to many the truth behind ‘objectivity in the media.’

The lesson to be learned from Occupy is organization, and the hostility which the media represents. 

In the aftermath it is therefore important to maintain this organization and advance the struggle in the information war. Social activist politics outside the control of the American government has penetrated the mainstream, this cannot be reversed. The omission of this information speaks to the inherent power of the movement. 



What needs to be considered now is the next steps of the movement. It is absolutely imperative that the Occupy movement does not participate in the electoral system, as the key objective of the movement should be to break the monopoly of political power enjoyed by the present system. The disenchantment and alienation being felt by an increasing majority by the population is very real, which does not necessarily imply apathy. In a recent Toronto Star article, the very opposite was discovered in a poll.



Occupy is battling the diversionary tactics used by establishment, yet it embraces the method. Occupy has a message, and it is very direct, despite all attempts to prove otherwise. Pundits have been using this tactic with great effect, demonstrating its power, but the upside of this is how it can be employed constructively which many on the left have been reluctant or unable to use. In a sense, the tactic of activism to turn the message of establishment on its head resembles progressive movements of the 1960s where protestors co-opted the messages being used by the US government to justify foreign intervention. The success of occupy is emerging out of the illusion being created by the media of a confused fringe movement, and thus creating itself as a popular and legitimate alternative to the system. But, this is only the beginning… 



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The Socialist City: Experiments in Public Welfare

Second Part: The Golden Age of Socialist Planning

The post-war years in the Soviet Union saw a shift in orientation back to planning, despite the destruction suffered by the Nazi occupation. The exacerbation of the housing crisis necessitated planners to prioritize a quick solution. The government responded by passing successive resolutions in the 1950s aiming to decentralize control of planning to local levels of government. During the war, the enterprises that had gained relative power vis-a-vis the government did not want to relinquish power which lead to power struggles between enterprises and local governments. The central government felt that devolving power to local soviets would be the most effective way to solve the crisis.  The government pushed to empower local government and provide more funding as a means to solve the crisis, but it took multiple decrees to achieve this in the 1950s and 1960s. It is important here to stress the budgetary constraints placed on planning and how this factored into the government’s innovative capacity to attempt to solve the housing crisis with the meager funds available.

Within this context of decentralization and improving local participation in planning, it is useful to discuss the government’s view on land. Hamilton (1979) outlined the government’s land policy in The Socialist City: “Land ceased to be regarded as a commodity for profitable investment or trade, and assumed the status of a social asset to be used in national interest.” The Soviet Union calculated the value of land within a Marxist theory of value, viewing it as a finite resource and did not have interest or rental wages. Socialist planners considered that all people were equal in their basic needs, and social investments reflected this paradigm. In Planning and Decision making in the Soviet city, Reiner explains that rent was only 5% of a person’s income, recreation facilities were highly developed, there was a greater ratio of doctors and teachers than in America and Western Europe, and free welfare services were made widely accessible as part of the larger urban plan. While not misconstruing the Soviet experience during this period as utopian, the gains being made during this era are unprecedented and constituted a great rise in living standards.

Around this time Aleksei Gutnov lead a group of prominent planners in releasing the groundbreaking work The Ideal Communist City in the 1960s. Notable about the research content was that it marked a return to many of the ideas put forward in the 1920s. Expanding on the communal living ideas of Miliutin, Gutnov proposed the micro-district. These areas would comprise all the amenities of a community within walking distance, and serve a maximum of 10,000 people.
The government believed adequate housing was intrinsic to socialist development, and though the rapid industrialization programs and subsequent war years compromised this as a priority, it was always in the party discourse. In Soviet urban housing: problems and policies, DiMaio provides the government position: “the fundamental economic law of socialism is the satisfying of the material and cultural needs of workers … that is why it is so important that all workers have at their disposal comfortable housing where they can work, rest, and raise the younger generation in the best conditions possible.” Acknowledging the continuing housing crisis, the central government promoted its housing program as a great undertaking of socialism; Khrushchev intended to build 15 million apartments, which he subsequently backed up by increasing funding to planners by 83%. Each seven-year plan projected a doubling in the amount of housing. Gutnov had differed from other approached as he had recognized the inevitable migration to cities and proposed planning for it instead by using alternative urban forms. American Suburbs were widely derided as being depressing and monotonous, and discouraged social interaction and community. The government agreed, and enthusiastically embraced Gutnov’s ideas like increased decentralization, high rises, micro-districts, and pre-fabricated materials.

Once the housing shortages had been solved, the government turned its attention to bridging the divide between town and country. The integration of regional and urban planning was a key component of this policy. Insofar as suburbs in socialist cities can be called as such, they did serve the purpose of combining town and city in a way which contrasted with the capitalist model. In The Soviet city: ideal and reality, Bater explains the character of Soviet suburbs, often times they housed special enterprises related to the city. Suburbs also served as an oxygen tent, and contained forests, farming, and recreation facilities. Bater also remarks on the transportation system in two important ways. First, he notes the relative short average commute times for inhabitants as ranging between 20 and 45 minutes throughout the Soviet Union. Second, he contrasts the consistency of the Soviet transportation system with the irregularity of capitalist cities where transportation is only really efficient during rush hours. The effect of planning here is demonstrable in the equal accessibility of suburbs to all citizens, effectively underlining the egalitarian purposes of planning initiatives in the socialist city.
The contrast between suburbs in a socialist and capitalist city becomes more apparent, whereas in a capitalist city they insulate the rich from the pollution of the downtown, in a socialist city they are made available for the enjoyment of all. Suburbs were intended to be easily reachable by all in the city, and in effect be a connection to nature for those who lived in the central areas of the city. The construction and promotion recreational facilities, parks, and forest reserves confirms this objective. In addition the construction of enterprises and employment of a highly effective system of transportation facilitated the easily reachable character of these suburban areas.

A final crucial component of socialist planning was its focus on developing a society with a strong connection to the environment. Building cities to occupy more space as was done in the case of American suburbs had a larger impact on the environment in that more wide roads were needed and the forests were entirely cleared out to make room for suburbs where nature was then artificially reconstructed. By building micro-districts with low-rise and hi-rise buildings part of the idea was that the more limited impact on the environment would enable a greater percentage of green space to prevail in the urban environment. Studies by Reiner (1979) and Bater (1980) confirm the greater proportion of green space in soviet cities. Scholarly consensus in the Soviet Union was against expanding automobile usage, not because of an inability to produce cars but moreover as a reflection of an environmental policy of avoiding pollution. Conversely, the space that would have been used for parking spaces and wider roads, could be then used for parks, green, and open space.

Reflecting back to the goal of community, the real objective of socialist planning was to employ a sense of community in each micro-district, and in each building. Planners put people of differing ethnic backgrounds, and employment levels in the same building encouraging contact, yet the limiting of size of micro-district certainly helped to localize and encourage contact. Unlike capitalist cities where services and consumer goods are largely located in the center, socialist cities place a premium on an even distribution throughout the city. Keeping in mind the transportation system, and the walking distance of all amenities in a micro-district, this fit well with the larger plan of a socialist city catering to popular demand.

The model of urban planning developed in the Soviet Union during this period began to see widespread usage in countries elsewhere in the world, and lead to lively debate within academic circles on the nature of a socialist system of urban planning. French (1979) and others came to the conclusion that the new mode of planning in the socialist bloc indeed constituted a distinct and independent trend worthy of study. It is with this conclusion that the study of socialist planning can be situated in a trajectory of planning which defines its intent to be part of a democratic tradition, in essence gearing itself more toward popular participation than autocratic controls. Reviewing the extension of social welfare initiatives and the efforts to decentralize are both compelling examples of how socialist planning offers a constructive alternative to the capitalist system of planning.

References
Bater, J. H. The soviet city: ideal and reality, 1980.
DiMaio, A. J. Soviet urban housing: problems and policies, 1974.
French, R. A. The socialist city: spatial structure and urban policy, 1979.
Gutnov, A. The ideal communist city, 1968.
Hamilton, F. E. Spatial structure in east european cities, 1979.
Reiner, T. A. Planning and decision making in the soviet city: rent, land, and urban form, 1979.

Further Reading
The Ideal Soviet Suburb
We Lived Better Then
Traces of Utopia: Socialist Values and Soviet Urban Planning

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Reflections on Libya: The Media War

After the death of Muammar Gaddafi and the NTC solidifying power, mainstream media coverage of Libya appears to have run its course. Focus has been redirected toward Syria and Iran, yet the war in Libya is relevant as the conflict escalates toward another war. The new regime in Libya is gearing for conflict as it has publicly endorsed the Syrian rebels and sent all the help that it can. This form of proxy warfare and state destabilization is facilitated by media coverage which uses techniques of spin to recast the blatant imperial ambitions as a humanitarian effort. As seen in Libya there is a critical pattern that emerges, subsidizing the rebels while isolating and punishing the government, effectively foreign countries decided whether or not the rebel movement could succeed. While such a pattern of manipulation is not new, there is a certain precedent set in Libya which is now being extended to other regimes in the region.

The lead up to war in Libya was relatively short, it was all put together quickly which has lead to speculation that plans were drawn up far in advance. This is not a secret however, it has been a longstanding goal of the United States to invade Libya as part of the Axis of Evil. In 2007, General Wesley Clark has revealed these intentions in an interview. At this point it becomes clear the United States was ready to invade at a moment’s notice.

Michael Scheuer, an ex-CIA operative, has clearly spelled out the al-Qaeda involvement in the conflict. It seems unthinkable to many that the United States would support radical islamists, however this is exactly what was done in Afghanistan in the 1980s. If the United States plans to build a base in Libya, it needs to be able to demonstrate instability in the country, which is certainly shaping up to be the case by allowing many radical islamists come to power in a country where the majority of the population is not. This part of the principal-agent relationship is unclear; the United States can exercise control over the NTC, but it will not have the same power with the islamists. All of this sounds troubling, but it ignores the real objective of the invasion, which is to remove Libya as a regional power.

Geopolitically, Gaddafi is an obstacle to Western interests whether he is working with or against them, precisely because Libya was a regional power in Africa. Without going into the specifics, it is undisputed Libya has been funding African initiatives aiming for economic, and political independence for decades. The growing American interest in Africa as underscored by AFRICOM heightens the competition with Libya, and predicts the resulting conflict.

In examining the success of the rebel movement there are a few points to consider. Barring an in-depth examination of Gaddafi’s government it is important to establish the popular support enjoyed by the regime. The parades of millions in the Tripoli waving the green flag, and the enormous backing of volunteer fighters are certainly compelling arguments as to why the conflict lasted so long despite the enormous damage inflicted by the bombing. The legacy of NATO bombing elsewhere in the world shows tenacity amongst the people; people who may have opposed the government will shift allegience after being bombed. The mainstream media has consistently underrepresented the bombing despite a multitude of reports detailing the collateral damage.

The intent of the NATO intervention is apparent. One does not need to look further at the improved contracts gained by multinationals from Britain, the United States, and France. The principal-agent relationship between the NTC and NATO is strong for two reasons. First, the NTC is composed of technocrats and foreign dissidents who are not necessarily connected to the rebels, this is evidenced by the different frictions between rebel factions and the recent unrest in Benghazi. Second, the conflict was largely won by NATO’s participation; while the airstrikes were crucial to the rebel’s advancement, the landing of Qatari troops and NATO military advisors played no small part in the fall of Tripoli and the capture of Gaddafi. Inevitably, NATO expects reciprocity, however the NTC will be more willing to contribute than the rebels on the ground, which helps describe the present division between the NTC and the rebels. Further, it highlights the lack of legitimacy the NTC claims even amongst its strongest supporters in the country.

As the conflict in Syria escalates the benefits of having a NATO-sanctioned council control the affairs of Libya have become increasingly visible. In fact, the NTC is attempting to solve its legitimacy crisis by removing restive elements and sending them to fight in Syria. Of course this recent violence between rebels and NTC leadership neglects the conflict between supporters of the previous regime and the rebels, which is still ongoing. Whatever the allegations against Gaddafi, the level of prosperity, peace, and stability achieved under his rule are much greater than what has succeeded. Comparisons between the recent experience in Libya and the examples of Iraq and Yugoslavia in recent memory should serve to conclusively demonstrate the failure of NATO peace initiatives.

Further Reading
UN Report on Human Rights in Libya
Libya and the Return of Humanitarian Imperialism

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The Socialist City: Experiments in Public Welfare

First Part: Early Soviet Experience

In the advent of a society devoted to Marxist principles, the task of creating an urban system which reflected these ideas was immense. The Marxist writings used to inform notions of urban planning included few clear guidelines on how the model socialist city should be built, which led to a wide variation of interpretation and the formation of many competing schools of thought. The debates in the early years of the Soviet Union brought forward a number of ideas which were synthesized into the base of socialist planning and applied elsewhere.

Revolution had brought about a great transformation in all fronts of society, not least of which was the urban sphere. The Soviet embrace of Russian Futurism and its encouragement of dialogue between different elements of society in formulating a planning scheme for the socialist city characterized this early post-revolutionary period. Living conditions for many were terrible after enduring successive war, and the state was financially weak having little power to achieve many improvements.

To better understand the dire position the government found itself it is necessary to survey the planning history of the Russian Empire and how that contributed to the conditions of revolution. Planning tradition in the Russian empire is primarily focused on the military; because Russia had such a large territory to defend it was always depleting its resources in maintaining garrisons in all far flung corners of the Empire. Building materials were poor, and technology for transportation was lacking, altogether the prioritization of Imperial interests over urban planning explains the poor living conditions in cities.

In post-revolution Russia the government did have to contend with a legacy of neglecting planning priorities, environmentally unsafe industries, slums, overcrowded accommodation, and a lack of amenities and open space. Many of the urban conditions found in Russian cities were similar to the ones Engels described in Manchester, and help to explain the success of revolution in Russia. One of the first actions of the government was to expropriate the mansions of the rich and to subdivide it out to many of the poorer residents. This step is important as it established the government’s commitment to correcting the historical inequity in the planning of urban space and reclaiming urban space for collective benefit.

Within the context of an urgency to provide for the suffering population, and with few funds at the disposal of the government many of the proposals for socialist urban planning were far-reaching and not feasible. The enthusiasm at the triumph of the revolution may explain the great urban visions of the urbanists and de-urbanists, but it was unlikely the state could pursue any such grand plan in the mean time.

Consensus amongst Soviet planners was that capitalism itself contributes to an accidental mode of city growth, which creates poor living conditions. In this sense, the socialist city relies more heavily on planning and places its overall goals as establishing a stronger sense of community. The main schools of thought which dominated official discourse in the Soviet Union during this early period were the urbanists and the de-urbanists. Critical to Marxist ideology is the achievement of a more equal distribution of population across the landmass, and the difference in interpretation is crucial. The urbanists proposed concentrating population in cities and using high rises, while the de-urbanists believed spreading people out more evenly over the countryside in smaller settlements would be more effective. In contrast to capitalist urban planning which seeks to honor the past, socialist planning looks to the future, this tenet helps to explain the grand plans of the 1920s and fits into the general momentum of the era.

One of the earlier experiences in Soviet urban planning was that of Miliutin’s Linear city. Although it was not adopted as the standard of socialist planning it does represent an important experiment in planning. Miliutin’s book Socialist City set the groundwork for a comprehensive plan of the city, paying attention to Marxist ideology, social relations, and the economic feasibility of projects.

Miliutin’s proposals focused on the process of establishing what he called living cells; small apartments that depended on a multitude of collectivized services and would further the transition to communal living. The plan also included provisions to place residences near work, move agriculture and industry further away from residences, improved transportations systems, and locating cities near raw materials. The attention paid to environmental pollution is uncharacteristic of the era, but was also a major part of Miliutin’s plan which focused on establishing green belts, and creating more green space. The idea of the linear city was based on the assembly line realized in the concept of having everyone an equal distance from everything they needed and maintaining a constant flow to the city. The plan for Volgograd shows a direct application of the linear city. In the short term, Miliutin’s ideas for inexpensive alternative building materials, green belts, and the zoning of different areas of the city were adopted. Miliutin’s ideas experienced a resurgence in the post-war era when authorities began returning to the 1920s debates for inspiration.

The importance of Miliutin’s early attempts to establish a foundation for socialist planning cannot be understated. In adverse economic circumstances there is a certain sense of innovation to create economically efficient cities which satisfy social and environmental concerns. The resurgence of Miliutin’s designs long after his death in other socialist countries, and the more extensive use of green belts in contemporary capitalist urban planning does lend credence to the innovative capability of socialism.

By the 1930s, the government had released its own model of urban planning which had incorporated ideas from various schools of thought. Despite the advances promised by Miliutin’s plans they were largely ignored in the lead up to and during WWII, there are many reasons why this would be, but taking into account the need to industrialize the government did have a genuine need to conclude the debates on urban planning and move ahead in preparation for what lay ahead. That being said, Miliutin did remain an important contributor to socialist planning and his work is formative in establishing the socialist city which came to dominate the Eastern Bloc.

References
Bater, J. H. The soviet city: ideal and reality, 1980.
Milutin, N. Sotsgorod: The Problem of Building Socialist Cities, 1930.
French, R. A. The socialist city: spatial structure and urban policy, 1979.
Gutnov, A. The ideal communist city, 1968.

Further Reading
The Ideal Soviet Suburb
The Creative Renaissance

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Attawapiskat: The Problems with Canadian Planning

The past few weeks has seen the Canadian mainstream media direct unprecedented attention to the housing crisis in Attawapiskat. It should be noted there is a general outpouring of support, however it is greatly undercut by the much larger response of the Canadian public which is less than understanding. One does not need to look further than the commenting boards on any of the Canadian news networks to view this deep-seated racism and ignorance out in the open.

More recently, the CBC has conceded that the housing problem in Attawapiskat has been known for a long time. Yes, it has, but it is a problem in many northern communities, and the root of the problem is not ineffective First Nations government.

The assumption that the community has squandered the 90 million on its own salaries is not based on any numbers per se, but instead on Conservative ideology. If the comments section on CBC are any indication of the said ideology, responses have claimed that too much funding has been sent up with no results, and that the entire system of First Nations reserves are economically unsustainable and they should be moved south and integrated into the Canadian economy, so as to ostensibly benefit them.

The greatest problem of this ideological knee jerk response is it fails to draw any significant backing from First Nations, in other words, the people they claim to be helping are not represented in their proposed solution. It is an ignorance of history, geography, and economics which advances these ideas, and of course the omission of key details by media reports merely fuels existing ideology.

First, economic sustainability is possible most places in this country by the sheer abundances of resources which exist, not to mention the significant labour force, of which a percentage are usually skilled by training offered with the local enterprise. Which leads to the next point, near most reserves is some sort of enterprise, in the case of Attawapiskat it is a DeBeers diamond mine. The questions that need to be asked here are, is this venture profitable? is it helping the community? and how? We know that the venture has drawn so far $800 million in profit, and trained and employed approximately 100 members of the community of 2000, the tax rate on DeBeers is relatively small. If it is any indication of the cooperation between First Nations and DeBeers, the road has been blockaded, and in terms of assisting housing developments DeBeers has provided only a few trailers. The role of DeBeers in this community needs to be seriously scrutinized instead of omitted as it has been in the mainstream media.

Second, connectivity is a dominant theme in the discussion of fly-in reserves. I would advise anyone to first consult a map before contributing to the debate; Attawapiskat has roads to the Diamond mine, and it is very close to the coast. It has fresh water resources as well, and of course an airport. One of the main issues in the community is power generation, which also contributed to the school problem. There is definitively no lacking of potential in the community for development.

Third, we need to consider how other communities are doing in the region. If we look over to the Quebec side of James Bay, communities have higher employment, they have signed a comprehensive agreement with government on a nation-to-nation basis and have pursued infrastructure projects, and more importantly created social and cultural institutions which contribute to the sustainability of the communities and cultural vitality. Arguably the arrangement still leaves room for improvement, but it certainly sets a precedent for Northern development that First Nations groups in Ontario could achieve.

Fourth, and most importantly, is the historical context of Attawapiskat. Many Canadians of different stripes have been campaigning to fix the school in Attawapiskat, which is still not functional. But this issue of infrastructural problems has more to do with the degree of local participation, and the amount of funding available, then it does with individual First Nations governments. Planning in these communities has historically been done from an office in Ottawa and regularly infrastructure was constructed in areas which had not been thoroughly researched. There have been many incidents in other communities of infrastructure decay and collapse. Obviously, this brings up the cost of housing developments, and the failure of the government to improve connectivity merely makes it more expensive to build these housing developments.

Finally, I want to make a point of local participation. In understanding how a community succeeds, one of the most important ingredients is involvement of local people in contributing to their own environment. People need to take part in deciding how their community will look, where things will be placed, and so on. Historically that has not been the case, but that is beginning to change. When we see communities like Oujé-Bougoumou it is indicative of the good results that cooperation promises. There are many First Nations architects and planners, what is needed is collaboration between these groups as it has had such positive results in the past. Universities in Quebec have made research exchanges with northern communities and have noted that these communities are strong examples of sustainable development.

In conclusion, the intervention of the Red Cross in Attawapiskat and declaration of emergency of other communities in the region indicates a policy problem. Delegating control to a third party will not help strengthen community institutions as has been the case in Quebec, instead it obstructs local development and self-sufficiency. The solution to this crisis can be found in listening to local people and working with them.

Further Reading

Agreement Respecting a New Relationship Between the Cree Nation and Quebec
Dealing with comments about Attawapiskat
Attawapiskat: War of words happening in the media

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Stephen Harper’s shifting strategy on Quebec

Prime minister Stephen Harper is planning on implementing changes to the existing division of seats. The compromise reached with Quebec in the past enabled it to have approximately 25% of the seats, whereas under this new arrangement it would have closer to 22% of the seats. Doesn’t seem like a big adjustment, and after all, Harper had plans to do this long before now.

But it is. The current division of seats amongst parties shows the areas that will receive most under this new arrangement are incidentally Conservative strongholds like Alberta and southern Ontario. Whether Harper actually believes the separatist movement collapsed or he merely makes grand statements on television is difficult to say, but this move appears likely to upset the political establishment in Quebec.

Stephen Harper TVA

Inevitably the seats were going to have to be expanded, but this is very timely, and will have far reaching ramifications. It is important to remember here that Harper has made attempts to broaden his support in Quebec, most notably in the provincial capital where he attempted to buy voters with his strong support of a new Quebec Nordiques arena. Gradually his interest in Quebec has waned however, with decreasing popularity, Harper had been relatively indifferent to infrastructure problems in Quebec like the federally owned Champlain bridge which is in serious need of replacement.

Maybe Harper has given up on Quebec. Of course political commentators have been quick to point out that even a majority government needs support in all areas of the country, however that does not change the fact that Harper effectively does not need Quebec’s input. This leads to the next development, how will all of this impact the separatist movement?

Recall, the orange crush. What first appears to many as a rejection of the Bloc and all of its policies is not quite what it appears. The NDP and the Bloc have a somewhat similar platform, differing primarily on the issue of sovereignty. Does such a shift in Quebec mean people are now voting against sovereignty? Probably not, the PQ is still very popular, and polarizing issues with Canada are really the events which shift public opinion toward separatism. Each referendum has seen a rising vote.

Quebec will be losing power in Canada as a result of the inevitable seat shift, which many expected to come anyway, especially from a western Canadian. The Bloc had about 40 seats, out of a possible 75, but it really did not give Quebec much negotiating power in Ottawa. It worked when the last Liberal government was in power, but perhaps Quebec is looking for more negotiating power. What is interesting here is how Gilles Duceppe acknowledges the NDP has really never had a chance in Quebec before, and it is reasonable to expect that they may be a force of change in the province.

The recent defection of a number of PQ politicians seems to confirm generally held suspicions that the separatist is collapsing in on itself. It is important to remember here that the PQ was expected to win the upcoming elections. Jean Charest and Harper appear to get along well; the election of the PQ would be most unwelcome in light of Harper’s dwindling popularity in Quebec. The first thing on the agenda after the election was to press for independence. There are a number of provincial political parties in Quebec, and some are fairly new and still quite small. The possibility of a new separatist party forming is not the end of the movement. It has happened before, Action Democratique Quebec had humble beginnings, as well as Quebec Solidaire.

The formation of new political parties and movements in Quebec represents a new generation coming to the fore. Parties change, they get reinvented, and sometimes instead of replacing an existing party, they merely add to breadth of representation. Currently, the next election appears to be a race between the Liberals and the PQ, but that too could change as election day draws nearer.

Further Reading
Quebec could get more seats in bigger house
Harper’s attack on Block risks alienating Quebec
Harper Conservatives act like they want to drive Quebec out of Confederation
Insulting Quebec, Why Not?

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