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FRENCH POWER: FOR BETTER OR WORSE, THE WORM HAS TURNED
By Peter G. WhitePresident, Brome-Missisquoi Conservative AssociationIn 1967 Pierre Trudeau published a collection of his essays,
Le Fédéralisme et la société canadienne- française
(
issued in English in 1968 as
Federalism and the French Canadians
).Mr. Trudeau reminded us that federalism is not simply a question of assigning various powers to Ottawaand the provinces. Equally important in any federal system is the issue of who gets to run the powerfulcentral government.Mr. Trudeau had argued for years that French Canadians, from Quebec and elsewhere, had a right, aduty and an opportunity to play a far greater role in all instances of the federal government, and toparticipate fully in the management of the federation they had co-founded in 1867.This led to his rift with his long-time friend René Lévesque, who had concluded that French Canadians,or at least Quebecers, were wasting their time trying to gain influence in anglophone-dominated Ottawaand should concentrate exclusively on Quebec City, seat of the only government in Canada that theycontrol unequivocally.In 1965 Jean Marchand and Gérard Pelletier took up Mr. Trudeaus challenge, and with the benevolentcomplicity of prime minister Lester Pearson these three wise men were elected to the House of Commons and became ministers in Mr. Pearsons minority government.This was the beginning of the era of French Power in Ottawa, which at one point  a generation ago saw French Canadians as governor-general, prime minister, chief of staff in the PMO, several seniorministers, clerk of the privy council, chief justice, head of the CBC and many other institutions, virtuallyall at the same time.Somehow, the country survived.Under Stephen Harper, how the worm has turned.Today, of the major federal offices of state, only the CBC presidency is held by a French Canadian
(
Hubert Lacroix, appointed by Mr. Harper in 2008).Even though Mr. Harper put 80% of his Quebec caucus into his current cabinet, these four ministers arewithout discernible influence or profile. Today the voice of Quebec is virtually absent in Ottawas hallsof power, or if present it is a voice grown mighty small, and mighty easy to ignore. The effect on bothpolicy and tone is remarkable.This has not gone unnoticed in Quebec.Since the election of May 2, 2011, many Quebec observers have concluded that Mr. Harper hasconsciously decided to ignore Quebec, now that he has convincingly demonstrated that he can win amajority without it.
 
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 He should find this even easier in 2015, with the addition to the Commons of 27 new non-Quebec seatsunder his new Fair Representation Act. For the first time ever, Alberta
(34
seats) and B.C.
(4
2 seats) willtogether have almost the same weight as Quebecs 78 seats. The West is in, while Quebec is out.Many Quebecers
(
reluctantly) concede the logic of Mr. Harpers putative position. Why should hecontinue to beat his head against Quebecs electoral brick wall? Despite
(
in his eyes) his best efforts,Quebec consistently turned its back on him and his party in 200
4
 
(z
ero seats out of 75), 2006
(
10 seats),2008
(
10 seats) and 2011
(
five seats).Granted, Mr. Harpers electoral record in Quebec is on a par with those of Tupper, Borden, Meighen,Bennett
(
except in 19
3
0), Manion, Bracken, Drew, Diefenbaker
(
except in 1958), Stanfield, Clark,Campbell, Charest, and Clark again  which is why so few of them ever won a general election.This is not the place to assess the electoral wisdom of Mr. Harpers policies in Quebec, or the obviousineffectiveness of his Quebec campaign teams and strategy in those four elections.But many had expected that Mr. Harper, arguably our most politically cunning and calculating primeminister
(
save perhaps Macken
z
ie King), would break this mold and do better in Quebec.To his great credit, Mr. Harper has reached out to Quebec in many ways. The potent symbolism of hisrecognition that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada
(
2006), his settlement of the so-called fiscal imbalance issue
(
2007), and the fact that he begins every speech in French, both at homeand abroad, are much appreciated by Quebecers.But that was then. Except for his continued use of his excellent French, Mr. Harper now seems to haveturned his attention elsewhere, seldom visiting Quebec or discussing Quebec issues.Since Lauriers first election as Liberal leader in 1891, the Conservatives have always been viewed inQuebec as the party of 
les Anglais
. The only Conservative to consistently sweep Quebec sinceMacdonald is Brian Mulroney, a native Quebecer
(
58 seats in 198
4
, and 6
3
in 1988).But no Conservative leader, at least since Diefenbaker, has been seen by Quebecers to be as gratuitouslyoblivious of them as is Mr. Harper and his current majority government. Previous leaders all appearedat least to be trying their best to be sympathetic and understanding.I live in Quebecs Eastern Townships. Like most Quebec Conservatives, I cringe every time a federalpolicy or minister is portrayed in the local media as being flagrantly anti-Quebec. Generally, theseincidents do not involve economic issues, nor matters of great national import. Rather they aresymbolic sins of commission or omission, of the sort that inflame political passions and emotions, andreconfirm existing prejudices and preconceptions. They are taken as signs that Ottawa simply doesntcare what Quebecers may think  or worse, doesnt even know, or care to know.Of the thousand small cuts, I will cite only one of the most egregious. When New Brunswicks MichaelFerguson, a unilingual anglophone, was nominated as auditor general  an officer of the parliament of Canada, not of the government  minister Vic Toews was caught on camera fleeing the media pack.Over his shoulder he tossed out the party line: We make appointments based solely on merit.
 
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 Oh, really? What if Mr. Ferguson spoke only Swahili? Or what if 
(
God forbid) he spoke only French,Canadas other official language? Would he now be our auditor general based on merit?What does all this matter? Mr. Harper will likely win another majority, again without Quebec, in 2015.So why should we be concerned at his governments alienation from and of Quebec?For two reasons.First, Mr. Harper is handily proving René Lévesques point. As several observers have noted, along withthis de-Quebeci
z
ation of Ottawa
(
indeed of Canada), we are also seeing the gradual de-Canadiani
z
ationof Quebec. We are weakening the ties that bind. We are drifting ever farther apart. We are witnessingthe slow
de facto
separation of Quebec from the rest of our country  emotionally, spiritually andintellectually.Any competent Québécois demagogue  and there are several  could easily fan the tinder into flamesby decrying the many petty slights inflicted on Quebecs honour and pride at the hands of Ottawa sinceMr. Harper has been prime minister.In November, the separatist newspaper
Le Devoir 
said: Mr. Harper is untroubled by bilingualism nor byoffending Quebec. On the contrary, he is doing all he can to alienate Quebec. But we can bet he wouldbe the last to quibble over ways of preventing Quebecs independence in the event of a favourable vote.And this he does in the name of the unity of the Canadian nation while doing his utmost to divide it withall his might.In December, respected journalist Vincent Marissal said, in the federalist newspaper
La Presse
: Mr.Harper, your Canada is ugly. I have trouble believing that voters will long recogni
z
e themselves in agovernment that plays sheriff and bogeyman, that tramples on institutions, that scorns the courts andfrancophones, that tears up Kyoto, that plasters the Queen everywhere, that holds military march pastsin front of parliament, that insists on buying inadequate and costly planes and that abuses negative adcampaigns.Quebecs federalist government of premier Jean Charest will one day be replaced. Canadians mustremember that despite the current tribulations of the Parti Québécois, Quebec separatism is not dead,and it never will be. It is simply awaiting the opportunity to rise again. All that is required for the PartiQuébécois to become a contender in the next provincial election, or perhaps the one after, is a simplechange in leadership.Second, the sheer political obtuseness of this policy should be obvious. Unless Mr. Harper activelywants to prevent appropriate Quebec representation in his caucus and his government, he should bedoing everything he can to win more Quebec seats in the next election. It is the duty of the governingparty to ensure adequate representation in the federal government from all regions of Canada. Mr.Harper knows this, and pays frequent lip service to this basic principle.Yet he does nothing about it, and by his neglect, benign or otherwise, he makes the situation worse.It would be a simple matter for Mr. Harper to refashion his extremely negative image in Quebec. But hiscontinuing failure to do so makes Conservative electoral success in Quebec impossible.

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