On a Sunday afternoon: cliffhanger in Washington .. Thailand .. niqab, Senate reform in Canada and Quebec

Mar 21st, 2010 | By | Category: In Brief
Thai protesters write poems and slogans using blood donated by fellow demonstrators.

Thai protesters write poems and slogans using blood donated by fellow demonstrators.

GANATSEKWYAGON, ON. SUNDAY, MARCH 21, 2010. As of just after 12 Noon today, the Washington Post online is reporting “House leaders express confidence they will secure enough votes to pass health bill.”  But it still seems no one knows for sure (well, maybe?). Up here north of the Great Lakes, we watch with some amazement.

[UPDATE, MONDAY, MARCH 22, 12:15 AM: The House leaders’ confidence about the health bill yesterday has proved well-enough founded. They won three historic votes, 219-212, 232-199, and 220-211. The last vote, on the reconciliation package for “tweeking” (or “fixing” if you prefer) the Senate health care reform bill passed by the first vote, still awaits confirmation by a simple majority in the Senate, just a bit down the road hopefully.  But, regardless of its fate, the “major” but not “radical” start on bringing the US health care system into the 21st century (to use President Obama’s own language), as set down in the Senate bill now confirmed by the House, will become the law of the land once the president signs it. This is only a beginning, no doubt. Yet as the president also aptly said, it does show that “We are still a people capable of doing great things.” And as he urged in concluding his brief but pointed remarks (standing beside Vice-President Biden in another nice symbolic gesture), “God bless America” too.]

Much further away, to the far east, “Thailand was mired in political deadlock on Sunday as demonstrators used their own blood to create a giant piece of protest art and rejected the government’s offer of talks designed to end their rally.” If you’ve been wondering just what is going on here lately, Joshua Kurlantzick provides at least some helpful background in the current issue of the London Review of Books. See “Red v. Yellow … Thailand, once known as one of the most stable democracies in Asia, is in political and economic crisis.”

Naïma Atef Amed says she wears the niqab for religious reasons. The niqab is a style of headwear that covers the whole body, leaving only the eyes exposed. (CBC).

Naema Amed says she wears niqab for religious reasons. The niqab is headwear that covers the whole body, leaving only eyes exposed. (CBC).

Back here in the former first self-governing dominion of the empire on which the sun never dared to set, Hélène Buzzetti in Le Devoir is asking “Le niqab des solitudes … Comment expliquer les réactions si différentes au Québec et dans le reste du pays à propos du voile de Naema Ahmed?”  Not too far west the current online poll in the Globe and Mail raises doubts about the premise of Ms. Buzzetti ‘s question. The question asked by the Globe poll is “Do you support Quebec’s movement to expel the niqab from much of civic life, which some in English Canada have called pure intolerance?” At the moment, the ordinary reader response is: Yes: 80% , 9355 votes;  No: 20% , 2362 votes. (So much for the two solitudes in 2010?)

Finally, as a sign of the increasing mixing of the many old and new diversities in northern North American life, the print edition of yesterday’s Toronto Sun carried an interesting article on Senate reform in Canada, by Althia Raj of the QMI Agency (where QMI, in case you’ve forgotten, stands for Quebec Media, Inc). There is an online summary of the article in “Not a fan of our Senate? Most Canadians aren’t.” But it doesn’t have quite as much intriguing regional and other detail as the print edition.

Quebec Immigration Minister Yolande James: those who want public services must show their face. (CBC).

Quebec Immigration Minister Yolande James: those who want public services must show their face. (CBC).

Both the online and print edition articles, eg, report that: “More than half of Canadians don’t see a value in the Senate as it is currently configured but nearly a quarter don’t understand what it does, according to an exclusive poll by Leger Marketing for QMI Agency …  35% of respondents believe the Senate can only be effective if senators are elected … Quebecers are most hostile to the red chamber, with about 43% supporting abolishment.”

The print edition included graphics which elaborated on key findings. Canada-wide 35% wanted senators to be elected, 25% just wanted the institution abolished, 12% wanted it to stay as is (with senators appointed by the prime minister), 5% preferred “No answer,” and 23% were brave enough to confess “Don’t know what the Senate is.”

Regionally, variations in the percentages supporting an elected Senate were somewhat interesting. As might be expected, the lowest percentage (22%) was in Quebec (where about twice as many would prefer to just see the institution abolished: see above). Quebec is still “not a province like the others” in this and in so many other respects. (And no doubt always will be? A place where most people speak French is bound to be somewhat different from places where most people speak English, etc, etc, etc.)

Visit of Emperor and Empress of Japan to the Senate of Canada, July 7, 2009. (The 23% of Canadians who don’t know what the Senate is probably didn’t know about this visit either.)

Visit of Emperor and Empress of Japan to Senate of Canada, July 7, 2009. (The 23% of Canadians who don’t know what the Senate is probably didn’t know about this either?)

The highest percentages supporting at least the elected-senator version of Senate reform, however, were in Atlantic Canada and Ontario (40% in each case) — not in the Western Canada which is supposed to be the great Senate reform advocate (39% in Manitoba/Saskatchewan, and 37% in each of Alberta and BC). The differences here are hardly vast, of course. But even this arguably enough suggests that regional differences inside the anglophone “rest of Canada” are not in fact as vast as some want to pretend either. O well. At least all Canadians already have reasonable access to affordable health care.  (And this has apparently attracted some from Alaska, even if the premier of Newfoundland still likes Florida best.)

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