Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Holding Hands

On the surface, Harper's latest overture to Quebec on the UNESCO question is a positive development. The move recognizes Quebec's unique role within Canada, sending a strong signal of inclusiveness to Quebecers. I have no qualms with Harper's commitment, it simply acknowledges what most Canadians already know. Allowing Quebec a place on the international stage isn't necessarily a threat to federalism, so it seems a win-win. I also commend the spirit of a new beginning:
"I do place a high priority in not just good relations with the provinces, but getting the federal relationship with Quebec back on the right foot," Harper said.

Charest said Harper's visit is symbolic because it's an "opportunity for us to enter into a new era in this relationship between Quebec and the federal government.

"We believe in Canada. This is a federalist government, and we want to work with our partners within the federation."

Sounds great doesn't it? All Canadians are tired of the endless wrangling between Ottawa and Quebec. The Liberal legacy on Quebec is hardly flattering, illustrating little nuance in cultivating a positive relationship, while doing much harm. Other provincial governments, namely the Klein Conservatives, have seized upon the dysfunctional relationship and used the wedge to further their own narrow agendas. Obviously, the current climate can't continue if you favor a strong, united federation.

Enter cynicism, or maybe more accurately realism. While the initiative is a noble premise, the motives are anything but. I can't help but see the Harper/Charest mutual admiration society as nothing more than political calculation. Harper's sudden desire to appease all things Quebec is driven by the electoral allure of a majority. Charest recognizes the desire for "inroads", and in turn sees an opportunity to change his dismal political reality through results with the feds. Both men get what they desire through the co-operation, but the impetus is hardly a vision for Canada.

Honestly, I don't think Harper gives a rat's ass about the needs of Quebecers, at least not in the way the soundbites argue. Again, I see the Harper approach as a mere extension of the Klein desire to use Quebec to weaken the federal government, so in turn Alberta is left alone. I believe Harper's philosophy towards Quebec starts from this position, and is not "renewed federalism", but more accurately "hyper provincialism". Harper views federalism through the lens of a premier, a dangerous mindset for sure. Appeasing the western base with the knee jerk criticisms of evil Ottawa wielding its misguided power, encroaching everywhere. Appealing to Quebec is a natural extension of this regionalist approach and Harper deftly sees the voter potential.

So, when I read about a new role for Quebec in UNESCO I say "great idea" on its own merits, but I still don't trust the messenger and his slick tones. The Harper initiatives in Quebec are about power, appeasing the base and opportunism. Canada is a distant consideration, which makes the prospect of future "agreements" all the more concerning.

1 comment:

lept said...

An Upper Canadian gets it right!