The Blame Game: John Kerry versus Pauline Marois

The Blame Game: John Kerry versus Pauline Marois


Howard Adelman


After every important political act, at significant political junctions, one of the first responses is who gets credit and who gets blamed. The peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians may be drawing its last breaths and the corpse of the process is not yet on the coroner’s gurney, yet pundits and ordinary folk alike are already weighing in and assessing blame. The dissection of the Québec election began almost as soon as the election was called.

Seventeen minutes after the results of the Québec election, a chorus that began a week before the end of the Québec election, now began its steep rise to a crescendo over the next three hours. On 9 March 2014, Pauline Marois was to blame for going off message by allowing her new star candidate, media mogul, billionaire Pierre Karl Péladeau, to upstage her, thrust his fist in the air and, like a Black Power revolutionary, shout the equivalent of, “Vive le Québec libre!”. Marois compounded the error when a video caught her shoving Péladeau aside as she once again took centre stage alone before the mike and then further compounded this double message by blabbering at length over the next week about precisely when a referendum would be held with weasel phrases such as “when Québeckers want it” or “when they are ready for it,” and then speculating at length on the currency Québeckers would use afterwards, border controls, etc.

Others blamed the introduction of the Charter of Values for being so divisive, for bringing bigotry out of the woodwork and for misrepresenting what Québeckers stood for. On 10 September 2013, when Bernard Drainville, as the ironically named Minister Responsible for Democratic Institutions and Active Citizenship, introduced the Charter of Values to save secularism from the threat of religion infiltrating state institutions, this imitation of France’s doctrine of laicité and its method of contemporary enforcement did not fit the behaviour and attitude of most Québeckers who came into contact on a daily basis with members of religious minorities who wore the professions of their religion proudly on their heads or around their necks when they came to work in Québec hospitals, schools and government offices

In 1985 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled i that such decisions should be determined by the principle of reasonable accommodation. The Bouchard Taylor Commission on reasonable accommodation in its hearings around the province had already demonstrated the enormous amount of latent bigotry around the province when the issue of reasonable accommodation was raised. The Commission also concretely documented that most Québeckers in their daily intercourse with minorities were very accommodating and exemplars of tolerance. The Commission recommended against playing into the sentiments of bigots and for allowing reasonable accommodation to be worked out in practice. The Marois government chose not to follow the lead of the Commission. Their divisive policy to ban the wearing of religious symbols, either as a political ploy to help get re-elected with a majority or as an expression of their own deepest prejudices and fears or a mixture of both, backfired

Further, as the debate on the Charter of Values unfurled, instead of retreating to some degree to deal with the criticism, the exponents dug in their heels and tightened the restrictions. The recent election only permitted the unreasonable nature of the fears to be pronounced by some of the oldest and most respected citizens of the Province from the Francophones (le rattrapage) while, in practice, many Québeckers began to realize it would mean the flight from their province of highly regarded professionals whom the province needed if the economy was to complete its path to modernization and renewed economic growth.

For the first time Marois faced an opposition leader who proudly wore a Maple Leaf pin, who even dared to suggest that all Québeckers should be bilingual, who trusted and supported the strength of the French fact and reality in the province, and who echoed the sentiment of most younger voters who were tired of divisiveness in politics. However, the articulation of this set of competing values threatened the very raison d’être of the PQ party. In reality, the election was a great success, bringing forth in an open manner a fundamental choice for the people of Québec, whether in the future they were to face a series of debates over how to protect the unique character of the French fact in Canada and in North America, a renewed use of the device of a referendum on sovereignty that had become anathema to most Québeckers, a belief that Québeckers were under constant and continuing cultural threat and could not and did not feel secure enough and strong enough to go out into the world and face the competition. Marois may have been very wrong in reading the mood of her constituency but she should perhaps be praised for, even if reluctantly and contradictorily, putting the choice clearly before Québec voters.

In the case of John Kerry, the problem is quite different. He had repeatedly said that, in the end, the choice was up to the Palestinians and the Israelis. “We can’t want peace more than they do” had been his mantra which he repeated once again on 5 April when it was evident that the negotiations were in deep trouble. Further, Kerry had made it known that the prospects for a deal were not high when the latest effort began, but he could not accept evading making a strenuous effort. US Secretary of State John Kerry declared that he owed that as an obligation to the world community, to Americans and especially the millions of Israelis and Palestinians who generally desired an end to the conflict between the two peoples. Nevertheless, he was blamed for giving rise to unachievable expectations, for the inevitable aftermath of disappointment and depression, for the high costs of a diplomatic initiative that ends in failure and for the possible (inevitable?) violence that was likely or sure to arise as a result of that failure and the further erosion of trust between the two parties. Further, if past failures had seriously wounded the peace parties on both sides, this failure would mortally wound them.

It is true that risks have consequences, that the effort does not leave the situation at the status quo ante, that new layers of cynicism and despondency are piled upon a long history of failure. However, failures also bring about clarity, just as the Québec election did. Are negotiations and a peace agreement to be based on the 1967 cease fire lines with reasonable adjustments and equal trade offs from both sides as Kerry had declared? (“We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.”) Or does the resolution have to go back to the 1948 deal with respect to borders, rights and mutual recognition? Or is there a third option?

Last night on Steve Paikin’s, “The Agenda” on TVO, Steve had as one guest, Diana Buttu, an Israeli-born Palestinian-Canadian lawyer who, in the past, has served as a spokesperson for the PLO and an advisor on international law with respect to the peace negotiations, but who has been outspokenly critical of Saeb Erekat, the lead Palestinian negotiator. His other guest was Emmanuel Adler a political scientist at U. of T.’s Munk Centre. The two discussed with Steve Paikin the negotiations and their likely immanent failure.

While Emmanuel Adler wanted to cling to a faint hope for the receding prospect of a two-state solution, it seemed clear that Diana wanted to go back and override the original decision on division to resurrect a one state solution with the ideal of Jews and Palestinians as equal citizens in a single state rather than the principle of national self-determination being the basis of the political order in former Palestine, but without acknowledging this would mean the end of the Zionist dream of national self-determination for the Jewish people and that this was a resolution totally unacceptable to the vast majority of Jews in Israel. Supporting her position was the fact that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had not agreed to recognition of the 1967 borders as the basis for the talks with Israel renewed last July.

What seems clear is that who gets blamed depends, in part, on the outcome wanted or expected. If the goal is a single state in which Israel is eliminated, the failure of the talks is simply a proof that the two-state solution is and has always been doomed. Then the blame goes to Kerry for convening the talks and misleading international public opinion, to Israel which refuses to grant Palestinian demands even for the two-state solution, and perhaps a little to Abbas for allowing himself to be drawn once again into such a fruitless process, though he is somewhat excused because he is operating from such a relatively weak position. If the goal is a two-state solution, then the blame could go to Netanyahu a) for not being flexible enough, b) for provocatively approving the building of 700 housing units in Gilo even though discussions had already determined that Gilo in Jerusalem would be part of Israel, and even though Israel had made clear at the beginning of the negotiations that the building freeze would only apply to the West Bank, and c) for a tactical error in not releasing the prisoners at the time originally agreed, even though by that stage of the negotiations Israel had become convinced that the talks could not have any positive results. Or blame could go to Abbas for also lacking flexibility and for taking a step of initiating an application to join various international bodies even before the talks ended.

Who gets blames also depends on the integrity of the person casting blame. Diana Buttu has a record of distorting facts and even outright lying to support arguments and allegations she makes against Israel and to advance the goal of a one state solution, while Emmanuel Adler is a renowned scholar of great integrity and a well-known dove who despairs at Netanyahu’s leadership. So the politics of blame were not balanced.

Notice that, unlike the Québec elections, there is no winner. So the blame largely overlaps with responsibility and is totally congruent with the responsibility allocated to the loser. Explaining why something happened (allocating responsibility) and then blaming someone for that responsibility – that is, adding a negative morally critical judgment to the one responsible – are related but different acts. In the case of the Québec election, the loser comes in for blame for the loss. In the peace talks, everyone loses when talks break down, including the mediator and both sides, except those who wanted the talks to break down because they deplored the two-state solution. The argument then involves how to allocate, spread or diffuse the blame. But if the moral or political reprehensibility is to be added to the judgment, it may be totally inappropriate when applied to the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, or, at least, only of use in revealing the position of the person casting judgment rather than whether any of the agents involved deserve to be characterized as morally or politically to be hung out in disgrace.

My own conviction is that understanding the reasons for the breakdown and the responsibility of the different parties is important, but when everyone is a loser, casting blame is not only useless but counter-productive. Instead, the breakdown allows one to recast the problem. A peace agreement based on a two-state solution is NOT possible, at least for the foreseeable future, no more possible than a successful secessionist referendum in Québec. Does that mean you should support a one state solution? Not at all, for that is far more impossible than a two-state solution and, in effect, would doom the victors on the ground to being losers.

So what position should one take as each party takes up positions that will best advance its cause. The Palestinians will attempt to shore up its position as the victim, to shore up its position under international law, to shore up its position in the world of public opinion by working harder on the BDS effort, and the efforts to denigrate and delegitimate Israel. For the only grounds on which the weaker party can advance its cause is through the use of moral arguments, legal arguments and through sentiment. Israel as the stronger party will have to defend itself as best it can on all these fronts, and be limited in any aggressive actions it can take lest its position significantly worsen under international law, dominant international norms and, most of all, public sentiment. At the same time, Israel can try to use its position to both pressure the Palestinians – generally counter-productive – to create partnerships with Palestinians on the ground – generally positive – to get the Palestinians to accept a two-state solution. The dilemma is that using economic pressure and the prerogatives of the powerful, such a real economic sanctions, congruently fits right into the international campaign of the Palestinians. Further, the result can run counter to any Israeli interests. For example, cutting off the rebate of taxes to the Palestinian Authority could cripple it economically, but the result may be the rise of Hamas to power in the West Bank, the initiation of the third intifada, and the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority.

My own position is to advise a fourth strategy. The pursuit of the two-state solution through peace negotiations is as dead for now as the pursuit of self-determination for Québec. The pursuit of a one-state solution is a fraudulent illusion and a mask to cover up the pursuit of the death of Zionism and Israel. The resort by Israel to economic pressure and tightening the screws of oppression are both counter-productive and will only lead to strengthening the Palestinian cause in the long run.

The only position, that I think is viable, is to use only the minimal level of economic and military coercion necessary to defend the state of Israel and its people while pursuing a two-state solution and de facto boundaries on the basis of the agreements that have already been negotiated and agreed upon while enhancing economic, intellectual and political partnerships between Israelis and Palestinians on the ground. Just as the pursuit of sovereignty has to be aufgehoben in Québec, preserved, raised up to an ideal and put away on a shelf for an unknown and far off future, so too must the goal of reaching an agreement on a two-state solution be preserved, raised up to an ideal and put away on a shelf for the foreseeable future while taking steps on the ground to advance such a goal. The PQ failed because they were impatient while the rest of Canada remained patient with Québec. The Israeli government must act with patience, generosity and forbearance using the behaviour of Ottawa as an example.





Cecil Responds


Hello Howard
I wrote an article for an anthology that Kathy Walker and Will Kymlicka edited on Cosmoplitanism. I took up issues of interculturalism in terms of the Bouchard-Taylor report. A reviewer for UBC said I was “simply Quebec bashing” primarily because I agued B-T calls for reconciliation/harmonization gestured towards my ideals of multiculturalism as cosmopolitanism. Worse, the reviewer suggested I read some articles I thought offered one-side and unexamined arguments that Quebec was the ideal society for immigrants in the West, and that no other society incorporates diversity and differnce as well as Quebec–what I thought was very different from what B-T were saying. I don’t fault people for having different and even strongly held positions on anything. We can debate the merits of our conclusions.  I find it intimidating when terms like “Quebec-bashing” are used so freely and in my view unnecessarily, even if there is strong disagreement. (Indeed a few months later Bouchard came out and said that he wanted to disagree with those who (deliberately?) misinterpreted the B-T report and argued a position very similar to what I had offered Will & Kathy). Needless to say the article was not published. Will and Kathy were very understanding but I assume the UBC editors would not have dared to go against the reviewer, not even accept a rewrite as the article was so tainted, So I withdrew the article. But it did hurt. I admire how you have dealt with this allegation. Of course, I continue to learn from you.


Peter Responds


Hi Howard


Enjoyed the talk at Massey yesterday. I think there is a missing piece.


Aside from political personalities and populism, there is actually a political theory underpinning what otherwise appears to be irrational political actions of Ford-Harper et al.

They actually have a different theory of the State. I encounter this in my philanthropy work and it is a pre-occupation right now among the foundation leadership.


There was for decades a consensus around policy development, dialogue and political decision making. It was assumed that there was a linear progression from academic research to pilot projects, evaluation, policy debate then a dialogue with the civil service that eventually resulted in options being presented to Cabinet. Foundations played a major role in funding the initial research, pilot projects and evaluation studies.


That model of policy development has now been broken, spectacularly by the Harper government, rudely by the Ford administration but not so subtly by the late McGinty government. It is not just ideology.


The new proposition is that governments have values they got elected on and they now they implement based on those values. They are not interested in research or policy dialogue or in hearing from the civil service. The theory is that the State is in the business of making decisions, it is not in the business of Socratic dialogue.


In my view, we have to seriously consider this and respond. These guys are crude, but they actually have a theory motivating their actions. We ignore it at our peril.


Best Regards





Warren Bell Applauds Howard


Magnifique, Howard!

When we lived in Québec, the Québecois we met were generally more personable, more warm and more social than their Anglophone counterparts. Educated Québecois were generally broader and more holistic and humanistic in their outlook on life. 

The Charter of Québec values is not, in my opinion — and as so eloquently laid out by you — a good representation of the historical or social truth of la belle province (ou “mon pays…”). It represents a retrograde step legally and ethically, for whatever narrow political end. 

The people of Québec deserve better.

Salmon Arm, BC


Marc-André’s Criticism of Howard on Québec


I do not want to go into a debate over this very sensitive issue.

I would simply like to say that I share many of Howard Adelman’s concerns, and I do agree that the debate over the charter partly “appeal to the fears of pure laine francophones”, which are mostly irrational. I simply think it is non-sense to reduce the pro-charter perspective to ethnic populism.

There is a civic, rational debate that is also taking place on this issue. I would like to bring to your attention that the ex-Supreme Court judge Claire L’Heureux Dubé, the ex-Minister Louise Beaudoin, and anthropologist Luce Cloutier announced yesterday that they are quitting the main feminist organization in Quebec, Fédération des femmes du Québec, because the organization is embracing a liberal, individualist feminism. The new organization, in the name of women’s rights, wants to go further than the proposed charter in order to Laicize the Quebec society.

I do not agree with their position, but I would never call them anti-democratic ethnic nationalists in order to discard the civic perspective of these progressive, even radical, feminists. And again, during an unrelated speech in science policy, calling the Quebec minority government anti-democratic for raising the issue remains to me unacceptable (as if Quebec bashing was the easiest way to get support of a Toronto audience when discussing any issue).

And while I am at it, in his blog entry, Harold Adelman suggests a causality between opposition to wearing ostentatious religious symbols in Quebec and recent drop in employment. I mean, come on! Do I really need to explain that, once again, it is pure unrelated Quebec bashing. In the last year there was significant job creation in Quebec (yes we see a decline since January, but comparisons are normally made over one year, cherry-picking the start date to do comparisons is what lobbying groups do, not academics). He also mentions that Quebec also witnessed a dried-up investment for developing natural resources in the province. I have a lot of troubles understanding the causality here. Is he saying that the PQ should continue supporting asbestos mining, or maybe the PQ should refuse requiring more dividends from mining companies.  Maybe we should simply do away with environment concerns and transform Anticosti and Gaspesia into FortMcMurrays, and while we are at it deregulate oil transportation to create jobs. Unfortunately, people at Lac Megantic might disagree.

Sorry, I am getting carried away.

My point was that Howard Adelman has very valid points on both science policy and identity politics. I am just appalled about the way Quebec-bashing has become the new norm even among the academic elite in the rest of Canada.





Howard Responds to Marc




Why is criticism in a debate that is supposed to be encouraged called Quebec bashing? The piece praised Quebeckers for their common sense and tolerance generally, but criticized the GOVERNMENT for its policies and failures in other areas. If I criticize Harper is that Canada bashing? If I criticize Bob Ford, is that called Toronto bashing?




Marc Responds


Dear Howard,

Sorry for snapping out on you, but let’s just say that I am angry with the way that this issue has been covered in the rest of Canada. I agree with Michael Ignatieff about the irrational Quebec bashing this issue launched in the rest of Canada:

I thought your opinion was well balanced and, like I mentioned, I almost completely agree. However, you say that everyone supporting the idea that public employees should not display ostentatious religious symbols are not upholding the values of pluralism, democracy and equality.  I disagree.  In your blog entry, you reduce the contrary view to ethnic nationalism showing its ugly head, to irrational pure laine francophones. As if Quebecers were tainted by a dark side and that the only thing that PQ wanted to do is to gain votes by capitalizing on that dark side.  At the contrary, I thought that arguments in favour of a laic face for public employees are also supported by the values of pluralism, democracy and equality. You  might say that  you are criticizing the Government and not Quebecers, what I read is that Quebecers, especially the ones supporting the PQ, remain a bit backward, still struggling with crypto-ethnic debates as compared to the modern rest of Canada who fully embraced equality, plurality and democracy.

I know my perception of your opinion is certainly not the right one, but the way some elements were expressed in both the speech and the blog entry did not help in lifting the confusion. You still need to explain to me why you used the economic argument to discredit the PQ and their charter on values.

Please send any additional correspondence to me directly and not on the biojest mailing list.

All the best,




Trudo Responds



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I understand the irritation about Quebec bashing Marc-Andre.  There is a tendency to do that among some commentators outside Quebec, but I’d emphasize  ‘some’. I have personally written a short blog piece for the Huffington Post some time back about a particular example of this bashing by a Globe and Mail columnist whose name I don’t even want to mention.  


But let me make some friendly comments about the exchanges on this: it is also too easily seen as a ‘Toronto’ thing in Quebec or Montreal, this Quebec bashing, as suggested in your last message, as if it is a common practice and widely popular down here. Among the many Toronto colleagues and friends I know, it’s a rare exception rather than the rule. 


Another thing I’d point out, as an ‘adopted’ member of the francophone minority here in Toronto in relation to one of your comments: there is a tendency in Quebec to trivialize the significant rights francophone Canadians have outside Quebec. Are they always easily enforceable? No, but they are there nevertheless, and are impressive rights that exist within the Canadian context for a proportionally small population, because of the significant role of the francophone community in the construction of the federation. From my experience talking about this with Quebec friends and family (and particularly with nationalist friends and family), the francophone reality and the existence of language rights are all too easily brushed aside because they don’t fit the Quebec nation-idea. Franco-Ontarians tend to be irritated by this, and I’m sure other francophones outside Quebec as well (e.g. the more than 30 % francophones in New Brunswick, which is after all a bilingual province).  Yes, you are right that anglophones have significant minority rights in Quebec, but francophones outside Quebec also have significant rights, which is true even though there are proportionally much less of them than anglophones in Quebec–where anglophones still represent close to 8% of the population, and historically represented close to 14%.  My kids like to engage my nationalist family members in Quebec about this, as they are proud franco-ontarians who have had all their education in Toronto in French public schools. An interesting phenomenon in the Toronto context: francophone schools–and we’re not talking here about immersion!–are thriving. While english schools are closing, several new francophone public primary and secondary schools have been opening up since we arrived here in 1997. There are other examples of significant rights… You suggested that anglophones have ‘way more rights’ than any francophone minority in other provinces, which seems to overstate it. Measuring and comparing the ambit of these rights in their complex historical and geographical contexts is very hard anyway… 


Finally, stereotyping also occurs in the other direction, and particularly even in the context of the multiculturalism debate: what we get to hear about the ‘failure’ of multiculturalism in ‘Toronto’ (and the UK), and the alleged existence of ghetto’s here from some in Quebec (including some influential commentators) is truly astonishing and even irritating, as it is so far from our lived experience. Those same people fail then to acknowledge the incredible failure of good integration in countries that have enacted ‘laicite’ measures or outright anti-muslim measures. It’s for me truly disappointing to hear that even people like Justice L’Heureux Dube seem to ignore that countries like Belgium (my home country), France, Germany and others with measures along the lines of what Quebec is proposing are absolutely not examples to be followed and have clearly not succeeded in improving integration as a result of those measures… In fact, the measures added onto existing isolation and exclusion.  I’m just mentioning it here since it shows troubling stereotyping the other way round, and I understand you are not in favour of those measures. 


My reading of the PQ charter-project is that it is certainly in part a calculated attempt to stir up a new nation building project, and by the same token create a distance between Quebec and other provinces who stick to a more common-law model of multiculturalism. It is very clever politics, since the louder others complain, the more Quebec uniqueness is confirmed and the more Quebecers will get the feeling that they are not understood. Our exchanges about this confirm to some degree the political success of this approach. In fact, the term ‘Charter of Quebec values’ is just a confirmation of the political component of this: if this is just about laicite, state neutrality, and equality of citizens, there is nothing uniquely ‘Quebecois’ about it and you could call it something very different.  What’s particularly ironic is that Quebec is putting on the table something that is probably reasonably popular also outside Quebec, but not publicly acknowledged… 


These are just some thoughts….





Mag Responds to Trudo


Hi Trudo,


All your points are very well noted.

On comparing rights, you are right that I should be more careful. In some regions of Canada, some franco minorities are thriving. Still, most analysis, like the one by the Canadian Council of learning ( ), agree that the franco minorities in Canada usually face much more troubles in terms of access to education and cultural events in their language.

I agree about how stereotyping occurs in the other direction as well. You should hear all the stereotypes we hear here about Alberta… I certainly did not want to fall into stereotypes as well, and if it looked that way in anything I wrote,then please accept my apologies.

I am not sure how much the measures in Belgium or Germany look like the ones proposed in the Charter of Values, but I know that what is suggested in QUebec is in the end far more balanced than what we saw in France.  I simply hope the debate over the charter here will learn from international experiences, as you mentoned, in the same way that Canadian multiculturalism (a model of integration not favoured in Quebec) can learn as well from international experiences.

I completely agree with your reading of the project in terms of political strategy, and it is also where I found the most discomfort on this issue. I am happy that Quebecers (under an all-inclusive civic definition of what “Quebecer” mean) are having this democratic debate about laicity. I just hate the way how this democratic debate is being instrumentalized for electoral reasons, and I hope that we will still be able to have an enlightened debate, based on evidence and embracing shared core values of equity and democracy. In all cases, it does not mean that the pro-charter voices in Quebec are only ethnic nationalists incapable of embracing modernity.

All the best,