I hope your holiday season was everything you hoped it would be, despite the fact that it rarely is and that the traditional January letdown is a bit disconcerting considering the intense cold, darkness and the inevitable dread of the December credit card bill coming due.
Here in Montreal, thoughts of global warming could not be farther from mind as a particularly intense cold snap has those of us who have not escaped to sunnier climes, fearfully restricted to the safety of our over-heated homes, while those in Toronto, still reeling after the nastiest, costliest and most bothersome ice storm to ever hit that city, reminded as well, that Mother Nature still rules.
There's little doubt that this last year was a humbling affair for Quebecers as the stench of pervasive and entrenched corruption reached into almost every domain and aspect of society, where even the manufactured issue of those so-called 'Quebec Values' could not displace the ubiquitous and over-powering issue of corruption as dominant news story of 2013.
From crooked mayors to crooked city halls and from corrupt police in high places to a business and professional community exposed as cheap crooks in bespoke attire, bereft of morals, integrity and decency.
Where the largest and most prestigious corporations of Quebec were exposed as two-bit bribers and where dubious and shamefully illegal practices were exposed as de rigueur or standard operating procedures and where collusion, corruption and banditry were more the practice than the exception.
The open sore that was the Charbonneau Commission laid bare the depth of that depravity which made Quebec look no better than a corrupt third world banana republic.
Years ago I travelled to Mexico on business and hired a driver to ferry our group around town, a bit frightened to rent a car myself in fearful consideration of the lawlessness that gripped the country.
I cannot tell you of my surprise at the audacity of a certain member of the Policía Federal who demanded from our driver a small fee in order to park our car in an open spot by the curb in 'his' protected street over which he seemed to hold dominion.
I remember thinking to myself how uncivilized the brazen and open corruption was, only to realize now that it was a foolish assumption that we here in Quebec had evolved as a society beyond such dubious practices.
I reflected back to that naive assumption this year, as I took in the news that the three of the former highest members of the Sureté du Quebec (provincial police) were being investigated for dipping into a secret slush fund (used to pay informers) for their own benefit. Add to that, two highly placed moles were exposed, one on active duty in the Montreal police, the other an ex cop, who is accused of selling information to the Hell's Angels and pocketing up to $500,000 in payoffs. The first killed himself in a Laval motel in light of his arrest, a scenario right out of a cheap crime movie.
Nope, it's hard to write up 2013 as a banner year for Quebec, no matter how you slice it, but for the self-delusional, Quebec's problem's can be described away as nothing too spectacular, the problems overblown and over-stated by federalists, eager to tarnish and sully the hitherto shiny reputation of Quebec's distinct society.
And so for these 'optimists', the Charbonneau commission isn't an embarrassment, it is a heroic effort by Quebecers to come to grips with corruption, something no other province has the courage to do.
It is a province that despite being named, for the umpteenth year in a row, as the absolute cheapest Scrooge in regards to personal charity, can be portrayed as kinder and more socially responsible, the lack of giving merely a measure of Quebec's different path, where in consideration of the higher taxes paid by Quebec taxpayers, the government is charged with the task of helping those in need, rather than the public.
For these self-deniers, the economy isn't great, but no worse than elsewhere and the debt as well as the deficit, well under control, both exaggerated by enemies of the state, just ask Jacques Parizeau, who gave us an outstanding lesson in spin..
It is a place where immigrants are expressly blamed for not assimilating and for not finding jobs in sufficient numbers and where Quebec society, described as kind and open to foreigners, abused for its hospitality.........Yikes!
At any rate, rather then make some fearless predictions for 2014, let me just make a few observations about events to unfold.
A 2014 provincial election
Almost a certainty, because two out of the three major political parties want it.
The PQ is keen to roll the dice over the Charter of Values issue, there's only so long that the pot can be kept boiling.
While the chance of a majority PQ government is slim, for Pauline, another minority government is acceptable, buying her another two years in power, something she can certainly live with.
And so to allow a watered-down Charter of Values law to pass, with enough amendments to satisfy the CAQ and buy its support, doesn't make sense to the PQ on any level.
With the charter issue safely put to bed, the PQ will have played the only trump card they possess and with that, the public debate would return to the economy and the deficit, a suicide debate that would only lead to ignominious defeat at the polls.
No rosy forecast here, but not a reach as a prediction.
The PQ will continue to offer subsidies for companies to invest here, giving the self-delusionists the appearance that jobs are being created and that the PQ is working hard on the economic front.
In fact, if one does the sums correctly, the entire Quebec deficit can be blamed on these subsidies which takes billions and billions of dollars out of the public purse each year.
Quebec spends about six times as much as Ontario (per capita) on buying and preserving jobs through these dubious programs.
A good example of this perverse interference of the free market system, is the entire Montreal based video game industry, a creation of public money, the gift that keeps giving this industry life and it's raison d'etre to locate in Montreal.
As for these subsides, have you noticed that they are directed almost exclusively at American and European concerns?
Is it because the PQ is leery of offering Canadian companies a shot at these programs or is it because Canadian companies are just too fed up or fearful in invest in Quebec?
Another $2-5 billion for sure, and this with increased payments from Ottawa for equalization. The economy will continue to weaken as Hydro-Quebec stumbles over low international electricity prices as well as reduced activity in resource based industries.
The housing market is receding and private investment drying up. Quebec's economy is growing half as fast as Canada's and as long as the PQ remains in power, the future cannot be rosy.
The Charbonneau Commission will roll on but with diminishing returns. The promised and highly anticipated appearance of the keystone player in all this, Tony Accurso, will likely not happen as he uses the courts as a delaying tactic to avoid testifying.
Speaking of the courts, I'd implore readers to pay attention to the debacle that our criminal justice system has become.
Of all those lawyers, politicians, businessmen and professionals arrested and charged with corruption in 2013, not one will actually have a trial where they plead innocent, in 2014.
That is how slow our criminal justice system has become and how inherently vulnerable to interminable delaying tactics.
Big shots can use high priced legal talent to draw out proceedings with agonizing delays and one should note the marked difference between the Canadian and American justice system, where in the latter, you can only do so much to delay the inevitable.
From the time Conrad Black was first charged with fraud in the United States to the time he was convicted and sent to jail was about a year and a half, this despite all his legal manoeuvring.
Compare that to Garth Drabinsky of Livenet who was charged with fraud in Ontario in 2002 and did not go to jail for another seven years and that was in Ontario where trials are speedy compared to Quebec.
While all of Quebec celebrated over the David versus Goliath Supreme Court victory of Claude Robinson over Cinar in a case of plagiarism, the eighteen year long battle resulting in the long anticipated win, can best be described as a Pyrrhic Victory.
It remains to be seen if the author can get any of the $4 million award as Cinar is bankrupt and the other defenders spread across Europe.
I've already described, in a previous piece, how ridiculous and futile it is in Canada to sue over these types of issues, as is the idiotic and futile case of André Boisclair.
So if Quebecers are anxious to see these criminals finally face justice, they will need a bucket load of patience, because in Canada and particularly Quebec, the wheels of justice grind slowly.
I'd like to close by naming my biggest villain of the year and I invite you to use the comment section to name your biggest villain of 2013.
Stephen Harper?...Pauline Marois?...Tony Accurso?....Mike Duffy?.....Arthur Porter?.....Gilles Vaillancourt?
Let's hear from you.
For me, the biggest villain of 2013 is Michael Applebaum, for two very important reasons.
First it is always easy to point fingers at someone other than 'your own' but betrayal from within one's community is all the more painful.
It is true that what Applebaum is charged with, accepting bribes of $50k or so, is rather small potatoes or chump change when compared to the alleged systemic looting of Laval by ex-mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, but for me, Applebaum was the bigger villain.
Applebaum had the interminable chutzpah to get himself appointed mayor of Montreal on an anti-corruption platform, only to be charged with accepting bribes in relation permits and zoning changes.
The last idiot to try that in Montreal was Benoit Labonte, a mayoral candidate running on an anti-corruption platform, who also suffered a Humpty-Dumpty fall from grace when it was revealed that he was accepting money under the table from the infamous Tony Accurso. Read the story
At any rate, All during the long and not so secret investigation of Applebaum by police, he cynically assured us on several occasions that he wasn't the target but rather just providing information to police, this in an effort to preserve his position should the investigation not have resulted in his arrest.
Talk about brazening it out...
Applebaum humiliated the Anglo community, but particularly Montreal's Jewish community, who were thrilled to have the city's first Jewish mayor and then deeply humiliated by his arrest, which was, to say the least, a powerful deception.
But Applebaum did demonstrate one thing, that corruption in Quebec isn't a French, English or an ethnic thing....it is a Quebec 'thing' that transgresses all lines and showed us that we of different backgrounds and ethnicity can work together in harmony.... at least in the commission of felonious crimes!..
And so in Quebec, it is fair to predict that 2014 will be interesting, but I remain mindful of that old Chinese proverb, "May you live in interesting times' which is actually a curse.