It's summertime: Turn down the politics

Charest en fin de régime - L'art de ne rien faire

As Premier Jean Charest has realized, Quebec voters do not wish to be disturbed.
That's why, on the weekend, he immediately killed controversial proposals of his party's youth wing on tuition fees, the teaching of English in French schools and the internal affairs of labour unions.
The voters especially don't want to be bothered by politics in the summer, the season for bread (hot dog buns) and circuses (festivals).
It's tempting for politicians to fill the news void in the dog days by drawing attention to themselves, especially when the next election is only a non-confidence vote away.
The voters might not mind politicians being seen in the summer, attempting to look like regular guys enjoying regular-guy activities in photo ops. But they don't want politicians to be heard, intruding on the fun and disturbing the relaxed mood with talk of politics.
And while fewer people notice what politicians say in the summer, those who do are more likely to be annoyed.
Already this summer, we've seen a couple of political grandstand plays backfire against the politicians who made them.
After Ontario kayaker Adam van Koeverden was chosen to carry the Canadian flag at the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics, some federal politicians from Quebec, notably Liberal Denis Coderre, complained that he apparently isn't bilingual.
Maybe this is actually a sign of progress. Quebecers were so impressed at hearing English-speaking athletes from other provinces interviewed in French during recent Games that maybe some politicians now think it's reasonable to expect all of them to be bilingual.
We'll know for sure that the language of the Olympic athlete who carries the flag doesn't matter when a unilingual francophone is chosen. Canadian Olympic officials hastily promised that van Koeverden would be able to speak French by the opening of the Games two weeks later - as if the country's leading medal hopeful didn't already have enough to think about.
But most Quebecers understand the difference between un porte-drapeau (a flag-bearer) and un porte-parole (a spokesperson); the former is not required to speak in order to perform his function. And most of them seemed to dismiss the complaints about van Koeverden's linguistic skills as irrelevant at best and an unwanted political intrusion at worst.
One might have thought that the politicians who complained would have learned from the recent example of the Parti Québécois. For the PQ was by then - and still is - in rout after its defeat on the Plains of Abraham by an army of Quebec admirers of Sir Paul McCartney.
Badly misjudging the mood of Quebecers in general and in particular, the people of Quebec City, who merely wanted to enjoy the party celebrating the city's 400th anniversary, sovereignists had been complaining incessantly that the festivities had been too "Canadianized."
People finally became fed up when three PQ members of the National Assembly signed a public letter complaining about a show on the Plains by the English McCartney as part of the anniversary celebrations. One of them was the party's culture critic, Pierre Curzi.
(Curiously, the sovereignists had not complained about a show on the Plains co-sponsored by the anniversary committee on the actual anniversary date, July 3, by has-been American rockers Van Halen, who have had far less influence than McCartney on Quebec popular music.)
The letter, originally written by a Quebec artist (who on his website offered a limited number of autographed posters bearing the letter at $50 each), received international attention, much to the embarrassment of the province and its capital city. Quebec City is a volatile, key electoral battleground, and not for the first time, PQ leader Pauline Marois hastened to repudiate the especially outspoken Curzi.
But she didn't stop there. On the weekend, she hinted that in future, her MNAs should check with her first before taking public positions.
She all but came out and said their judgment can't be trusted. Well, if she says so.

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