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Schierman: Was your capitulation to Quebec nationalists worth it, Erin O’Toole?

Erin O’Toole has a very simple question he must ask himself: was it worth it?

Throughout his unsuccessful campaign to usurp the governing Liberals, O’Toole made every promise in the book to woo Quebec nationalists over to the Conservatives.

In his party’s platform, he vowed to do anything and everything from eliminating all restrictions on federal health and social transfers, to giving Quebec greater control over immigrants and refugees. He also pledged to “negotiate with the Québec government to simplify tax preparation and work towards a single income tax return for Québec taxpayers” while remaining “open to the development of new administrative agreements with the government of Québec to promote decentralized federalism.”

Let’s be clear about the repercussions of these proposals.

By handing over billions of dollars, no-strings-attached, in health and social transfers to the provinces, O’Toole was effectively pledging to relinquish Ottawa’s role as enforcer of the Canada Health Act. That wouldn’t have boded well for the future of national standards in Canada’s public healthcare system. Nor would it have boded well for Ottawa’s already limited influence in Quebec.

Speaking of limiting Ottawa’s influence, O’Toole’s other Quebec-centric promises to surrender Ottawa’s jurisdictional right over immigration and tax administration would have had similar, damaging consequences.

Worst of all, though, was O’Toole’s pledge to “respect the jurisdiction of the Québec National Assembly by neither intervening in nor providing federal funding to support legal challenges to Law 21.”

That’s right.

If elected Prime Minister, O’Toole would never challenge, let alone even consider challenging, Quebec’s discriminatory law which bans certain civil servants from wearing religious symbols.

This marked a particularly low point in the campaign; one that rightfully offended all citizens who take pride in Canada’s (albeit flawed) history and reputation for being a country that stands up for and promotes the ideals of multiculturalism and religious and ethnic diversity.

Perhaps seeking to blunt the criticism levied his way for failing to stand up to the rights of minority Canadians, O’Toole bizarrely stated that it was not just Bill 21 that he would never intervene against – it was all provincial laws he would never challenge, whether they be from the National Assembly of Quebec, or any other provincial legislature.

Absurd, I know. It’s like O’Toole forgot he was campaigning to be Prime Minister of Canada – not the best friend of Quebec separatists, or the “headwaiter of the provinces” as Pierre Trudeau once memorably quipped.

O’Toole was so accommodating to Quebec nationalists, so capitulating to their every demand, that he even earned the endorsement of Quebec Premier (and former separatist) Francois Legault.

During the final days of the election campaign, Legault lambasted all three of Canada’s progressive parties, going so far as to call them “dangerous” before stating that “The Conservative party has been clear: they want to increase health transfers with no conditions, they want to transfer immigration powers, and Mr. O’Toole has committed to not funding opposition to Bill 21. For the Quebec nation, Mr. O’Toole’s approach is a good one.”

One can agree to disagree with Legault on whether O’Toole’s platform would have been beneficial for Quebec. But it is much harder to argue how O’Toole’s decentralizing policies would have been anything other than crippling for the Canadian federation.

Fortunately for Canadians, though, O’Toole’s dreams of forming the next government of Canada were dashed; his aspirations for becoming Prime Minister, put on hold, perhaps indefinitely, once it was clear that the Liberals had swept a plurality of seats on election night.

Not even in Quebec were O’Toole’s hopes for a breakthrough realized. By the time all the ballots were counted, the Liberals and the Bloc Quebec emerged the clear winners in the province, winning 33 and 34 seats, respectively. In contrast, the Conservatives won a measly 10 seats. The same amount, in fact, that they won in 2019.

Put simply, O’Toole’s strategy of appeasement failed, in both Quebec and the rest of Canada, as was only right. It would not have been fitting to have a Prime Minister as weak-kneed and placating as O’Toole had been in dealing with Quebec, or any other provincial government. Canadians want more from a leader.

And so, as he nurses his electoral wounds, O’Toole must ask himself again: was his complete capitulation to Quebec nationalists worth it?

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