Tuesday, October 21, 2008

I hate to admit it, but he's right.

Jeffrey Simpson in the Globe and Mail:
Since 1993, the largest number of francophone Quebeckers apparently has wanted no part of federal parties, and therefore of the government or governance of Canada. Canada is no longer a country they wish to participate in governing, but one from which they wish to withdraw cash, like an automated teller machine.

They want to influence decisions in Ottawa without taking any responsibility for those decisions. They want neither to separate from Canada, nor to govern it. They want, through the Bloc Québécois, a variation of an old and enduring ambition: to be part of Canada, but only sort of, and on their terms, which means some sort of associate status, égal à égal, separate but not fully separate, sovereignty but with association, autonomous but still tied, somewhat in but somewhat out, or, in the metaphor of the brilliant Quebec journalist Jean Paré, parishioners in a church called Canada they seldom attend except for important occasions like Christmas, Easter and maybe marriages. They want to take but not to give. And they always prefer leaders, when given a choice, from Quebec.

Many words spring to mind: "provincial", "tribal", "selfish". They're harsh. They hurt. I wish it weren't this way. But it is. And Simpson goes ruthlessly on in his accuracy:
Conservatives and Liberals in Quebec now appear like parties from the "other," that is to say, the rest of Canada. This perception, in turn, allows the Bloc to portray Quebec's interests as unrepresented in those parties and therefore threatened by them.

It's the acts and lies Constitution debate from the 1980s all over again. Those purporting to represent Quebec storm out, and then convince their electorate that they were kicked out and unwelcome when in fact the wound was self-inflicted. It's where I think that Mulroney's legacy is most poisoned. During his near-decade as PM he and his nationaliste allies accepted, spread and reinforced the lies about Quebec's betrayal during the patriation efforts. There's nothing like an insulting and energizing lie when it comes to sticking to a soul.

What's fatiguing about this is that Quebec's political class often seems wedded to the philosophy of demand and the magic of extortionate pressure. Picture an entire political class being operated under the same principles as a 1970s British trade union. The idea of cooperation is baffling to them. Cooperation and compromise is met with a series of new demands:
Quebeckers have a Premier who, although a federalist of a certain variety, is always demanding, never happy and seeking by all avenues to expand Quebec's powers, prestige and transfers. They have a Prime Minister in Ottawa, of whatever political stripe, who pays enormous attention to the province, owing to its 75 seats and the always-possible threat of national dismemberment. And in the Bloc Québécois, they have their very own, homegrown opposition party, always demanding, never satisfied, and seeking, like the Premier, to expand Quebec's powers, prestige and transfers. ... In this culture, nothing is ever enough.

Simpson ends his article with a question to which I have no answer: What now?

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