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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Quebec Premier François Legault has announced on his social media accounts that the next Quebec election will be called on Sunday August 28th for a vote on October 3rd, 2022. But, as in other jurisdictions where a fixed election date has been put into law, the parties have already been campaigning for weeks, even months.

Quebecers have been bombarded with political ads, with the governing Coalition Avenir Québec being the most forward about its political pitch. On the starting line, the parties are divided into two classes: on one side, the governing CAQ has dominated the polling ever since they defeated the Liberals on November 7th, 2018, currently hovering in the mid-40s; on the other side, the opposition parties, who have all been stuck in the teens, for months.

The CAQ cannot and has not been complacent. But on the starting line, it is François Legault’s race to lose. Despite the pandemic management by the CAQ government, the worst in the country, François Legault and his team have done an excellent job from a communication point of view. They have maneuvered well with key nationalist files to steal the thunder from the other parties, keeping an eye on their voters’ wishes and going as far as they can on language, on secularism and other identity issues. And they have kept the opposition divided.

In fact, mostly because of the anger caused on their right flank by the sanitary measures put in place by the Quebec government, including not one, but two curfews during the course of the pandemic, the CAQ has given some juice to the tiny Conservative Party of Quebec, lead by one-time Stockwell Day staffer Eric Duhaime. The CPQ will be competing in its fourth election. After garnering 0.18%, 0.39% and 1.46% of the vote respectively the previous three campaigns, this time the CPQ is really in the starting blocks, sometimes polling second to the CAQ. Duhaime will also be at the two Leaders’ TV debates, which is gold for the rookie leader.

But the CAQ is not suffering from the rise of the Quebec Conservatives, their numbers are actually up from the last election. Although they are keeping an eye on their right flank, they are quite happy that the anger-votes go to another party as opposed to one of the three already well established in the National Assembly. Right now, the PLQ, QS and the PQ are all down in the polls from the last election.

The once mighty Liberals are reduced to their fortress of the West Island and the Outaouais. And even there, there is some nervousness amongst Liberals that upstart Anglo rights parties, Bloc Montreal and the Canadian Party of Quebec, could hurt them. Leader Dominique Anglade has failed to connect with the francophone electorate, especially outside of Montreal.

Québec Solidaire has not been able to expand its base. Manon Massé and Gabriel Nadea-Dubois are still co-spokespeople of the party, but this time around, it is Nadeau-Dubois who will stand as candidate for the premiership. A former “carré rouge” student leader, Nadeau-Dubois is young and charismatic. QS is hoping to use that to its advantage to become the main, if not the sole, left wing, separatist party in Quebec.

The Péquistes also have a new young leader, Paul St-Pierre Plamondon. But since his arrival, PSPP has been unable to revive enthusiasm towards the PQ. A party which formed a government less than 10 years ago, the PQ was reduced to 10 MLAs last time around, with only 17% of support, an historic low. Of those 10 MLAs, three are no longer there and four are not running again. For the PQ, it is not about winning the election. It is about surviving.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Former Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau is often referred to as the architect of modern Canada. As the man chiefly responsible for repatriating the constitution and embedding within it a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, complete with official bilingualism and multiculturalism, Trudeau had an immense impact upon Canada and its maturation into the more united and confident nation we see today.

While not every one of his policy achievements have survived him (the National Energy Program, the Foreign Investment Review Agency, etc.) those most important to Trudeau and his vision of the country have prevailed, much to the enduring pride of everyday Canadians.

Trudeau understood that for a country as diverse and decentralized country as Canada to not only survive, but thrive in the coming decades, its citizens would need more than just an old flag, the myth of peacekeeping and a severely underfunded public healthcare system to unite behind. They would need his new pillars of nationhood – namely, the Charter, bilingualism, and multiculturalism – all of which Trudeau established during his 15-plus years in office.

Of course, as is the case with any great reformer, change is not always wholeheartedly embraced by all in society. The same is true with Trudeau. Not everyone has endorsed his vision for the country.

In the 37 years since his political retirement, many have sought to undermine his herculean efforts at nation-building. His opponents have come from all political backgrounds and ideologies, ranging from western reformers like Preston Manning, who, at one point, sought to eliminate federally regulated bilingualism, to Quebec sovereigntists like Lucien Bouchard and Jacques Parizeau, who have lambasted patriation and worse, sought secession from the rest of Canada. Even some former Conservative Prime Ministers, like Brian Mulroney and Stephen Harper, have at times joined the fray in attacking different aspects of Trudeau’s legacy.

Fortunately, all have failed in their unholy pursuits.

Now, with another Trudeau at the helm of power in Ottawa, and with the separatist forces in Quebec considerably diminished, it would appear to many that Pierre Trudeau’s Canada is free from any significant internal threat.

But the reality, of course, could not be further from the truth.

In fact, the foundational principles of modern Canada, of Pierre Trudeau’s Canada, have been under relentless assault.

The assault of which I speak has been carried out by none other than popular Quebec premier Francois Legault.

Though he has only been in office a few years, Legault has become a formidable threat to Trudeau Sr.’s legacy. He assails each and every one of his accomplishments whenever he can.

The Charter. Respect for linguistic minorities. The official promotion of different cultures within Canadian society. None have been free from Legault’s wrath.

While the evidence of Legault’s hostility has been pervasive throughout his actions in political life, one could deny it no longer, when, in the spring of 2019, his government passed into law the infamous Bill 21.

Through the use of this noxious legislation, Legault and his government have unfairly targeted and persecuted religious minorities. By banning public sector employees – many of whom are Muslim women – from wearing their religious symbols and garments at work, Legault has made a mockery of both the principles behind Canada’s multiculturalism policy and the Charter’s protection of minority rights. That, coupled with his preemptive invocation of the notwithstanding clause to shield Bill 21 from the oversight of the courts is further proof of his disdain for the rights and freedoms enshrined in Trudeau’s Charter.

Alas, Bill 21 is not the only battle front that Legault and his government have used to wage war against Pierre Trudeau’s legacy.

His government has also preemptively invoked the notwithstanding clause on another piece of controversial legislation, Bill 96.

To some, the bill might seem innocuous enough at first reading. But further analysis of its 200 amendments, purportedly aimed at strengthening the French language, make it clear that Bill 96 is just another weapon that Legault is using to bludgeon the minority language rights of Quebec’s English-speaking population. Not to mention Trudeau’s treasured belief in the equality of Canada’s two official languages.

Indeed, the bill does far more than promote the usage of French. It also restricts the ability of Quebec anglophones to converse and do business; something the Quebec Community Groups Network and others believe could “disrupt the two-decades-old social peace around language.”

Make no doubt about it. Pierre Trudeau would have been appalled by Legault decision to sacrifice the language rights of Quebec’s English-speaking minority, just as he would have been by Legault’s attempts to unilaterally rewrite the constitution to affirm the nation status of Quebec, another one of Bill 96’s controversial additions.

In the face of all these assaults, one might have expected Pierre Trudeau’s son to have taken up his father’s defense. After all, Justin Trudeau won his first federal election as Liberal leader in part by campaigning on his father’s political record. Later, while in office, Justin continued to praise his father’s key political achievements, including by releasing official statements celebrating the anniversaries of both the Charter and Multiculturalism.

However, despite all his self-professed admiration for these nation-building feats, Justin has proven to be anything but a stalwart defender of his father’s vision for the country.

While the prime minister has stated on multiple occasions that he “deeply” disagrees with Bill 21 and, like his father, is fundamentally opposed to the use of the notwithstanding clause, he has thus far stopped short of confronting Legault, let alone taking any legal or political action to defend his father’s legacy.

The reasoning behind his inaction is simple: Justin fears that any sort of federal intervention against either Bill’s 21 or 96 will only encourage Legault in his Ottawa-bashing, which in turn, might cost the Liberal’s seats in Quebec, come election time. That same thinking, by the way, pervades the mindsets of both his chief political opponents, former Tory leader Erin O’Toole and Jagmeet Singh, who have similarly stayed quiet in trepidation of Quebec voters.

Still, these men do not bear the last name “Trudeau.” Nor have they underscored to voters (both in Quebec and the rest of Canada) their commitment to Pierre Trudeau’s legacy, as Justin has done. Therefore, while their failure to stand up for the Charter and its protections for religious and minority language rights is lamentable, it is not nearly as disheartening as is the Prime Minister’s.

For Canada to maintain the newfound confidence and unity it gained after Pierre Trudeau’s tenure, what with its constitutional embrace of a Charter, bilingualism, and multiculturalism, it will need a champion in Ottawa to defend these pillars of nationhood against all those who seek to weaken or abolish them.

Silence will no longer do. Nor will the Prime Minister’s prolonging of action.

The Charter needs a champion. So too does religious minorities and English language speakers in Quebec.

If Justin Trudeau is truly the keeper of his father’s legacy, he will become that champion and finally stand up to Legault and anyone else that threatens the foundations of modern Canada.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

It feels like déjà vu all over again.

The COVID-19 fifth wave caused by the Omicron variant is spreading like wildfire and our governments were once again asleep at the wheel and slow to react. Across the country, in varying degrees, governments seem ill-prepared. Once again. The Omicron variant took the country by surprise.

Cue the provincial calls for army deployments. Cue the chaotic search for vaccination appointments. Cue the stock ruptures of rapid tests. Cue the Soviet-style line-ups to get tested. Cue the increased sanitary measures. Haven’t they learned anything over the past two years? That’s a question people are entitled to ask.

To be fair, things happened fast. Much faster with Omicron than any of the previous waves. The new variant was first detected on November 22 and reported to the World Health Organization on November 24. Two days later, the WHO designated it as a variant of concern. Travel restrictions were introduced by several countries in an attempt to slow its international spread. Canada reacted the same day, on November 26, by restricting travellers from several African countries from entering Canada.

By then, it was already too late and soon became pointless. The first case of Omicron in Canada was reported on November 28. Yet, despite media reports of the rapidity at which Omicron was spreading in South Africa and elsewhere, our politicians didn’t seem to have much concern.

For instance, despite the rise of cases, which began prior to Omicron’s arrival, reopening was still the operative word. Barely over a week ago, Premier Legault was full steam ahead with bigger Christmas parties while ordinary people, sensing things were turning, were canceling reservations in hotels and restaurants.

On December 14th, Health Minister Christian Dubé, flanked by Quebec Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda, began his news conference by stating it was likely the last one before the Holidays. People were scratching their heads. Haven’t they heard about Omicron? Didn’t they know it was now prevalent in Ontario? They had, they knew, they were prudent, and they were monitoring.

Not a word on schools, which is where the November spike of cases was most prominent, especially amongst the not yet vaccinated younger cohorts. Even when they actually realized that Omicron was now out of control, on November 16, in a dramatic press conference during supper hour newscast, Premier Legault was adamant: schools were going to stay open, despite a flurry of restrictions, including smaller Christmas gatherings and restrictions on restaurant capacity. Parents shook their heads and a lot of them kept their kids home.

Two days later, another dramatic press conference and schools were being closed. Two days later, even more restrictions were brought in by the Premier. Not as dramatic as his spin doctors had floated in the 48 hours leading up to that newser, mind you. The trial balloons of canceling Christmas gatherings and imposing another curfew floated by Legault’s spin doctors did not sit well with the electorate.

Because people are fed up. They were promised, time and time again, that if they did the right things, if they followed the rules, if they got vaccinated, we would go back to normal. It ain’t happening. Our governments are just not able to react promptly and properly. But there are two other main culprits.

First, the unvaccinated, which account for more than 50% of the COVID hospitalizations despite being less than 15% of the population. Calls are growing for politicians to deal with them, perhaps Austria-style. It seems doubtful in Quebec and Ontario, in an election year.

Second, the lack of medical resources. Canada has one of the fewest hospital beds per capita in the OECD. It’s even worse if you look at ICU capacity. Politicians are afraid to overload the system. We’ve heard that over and over: it has been the number one factor in their decisions during the course of the pandemic. The number of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients in Canada is around 1,100, and 500 more patients are occupying ICU beds. And we’re almost at capacity, for a country of 38 million.

Yet, health care is the biggest line in provincial budgets. The capacity of our health care system has eroded over the years, starting in 1976. Until then, the Federal Government used to cover 50% of our health costs. The Federal share currently sits at 22% under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. You would think this pandemic would make him realize that perhaps it is time to sit down with the Premiers and restore the federal health care transfers. Just so we can perhaps be ready for the next pandemic.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

The current atmosphere in the House of Commons is pretty volatile. Party leaders of the left and right rarely see eye-to-eye on issues. Bipartisanship seems like a figment of the imagination. Rigid partisan politics ranges around Level 3 or 4 on the danger levels – and occasionally flirts with the dreaded Level 5.

Yet, there appears to be one point of agreement on Parliament Hill. When it comes to Bill 21, no-one wants to touch it with a 10-foot pole – or any feet, for that matter.

Bill 21, or An Act respecting the laicity of the State, was introduced by Quebec Premier François Legault and the Coalition Avenir Québec on March 29, 2018. It’s the first piece of Quebec law to have ever stated the following, “The State of Québec is a lay State.”

The bill had four main principles: equality of all citizens, separation of state and world religions, the state’s religious neutrality, and freedom of conscience and religion. All religious symbols, regardless of shape and size, would be prohibited for public employees who carry weapons (police officers, prison guards, bodyguards), work in schools (teachers, principals, vice-principals), and the judiciary (crown prosecutors, government lawyers, judges).

What did this mean for Quebec? One of the world’s strongest religious societies with deep roots in the Roman Catholic Church would be transformed into a secular state.

This didn’t bother many residents in La belle province, truth be told. An Oct. 27 Ipsos poll showed that 76 percent of Quebeckers supported the previous legislation, Bill 62, which banned people wearing face coverings for religious purposes from delivering and receiving public services. In fact, 70 percent of Canadian respondents to the Angus Reid Institute’s Oct. 27, 2017 poll said they would support “legislation similar to Bill 62.”

Bill 21 passed on June 16, 2018 by a vote of 73-35. The CAQ and Parti Quebecois supported it, while the Liberals and Québec solidaire opposed it.

Religious Christians, Jews and Muslims were furious, and remain furious, over Bill 21. Organizations like the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and National Council of Canadian Muslims filed unsuccessful challenges to overturn this provincial law. They all felt this bill was a direct attack on their religious freedom in a democratic society. 

The recent removal of Fatemeh Anvari, a third-grade teacher in Chelsea, Que., for wearing a hijab in her classroom caused an eruption. It was viewed as an unfair and undemocratic decision. A growing number of Canadians wanted their political leaders to speak out and condemn it.

 They haven’t, for the most part – and they won’t anytime soon.

 For the record, I’m fundamentally opposed to Bill 21 and believe it’s a direct attack on religious freedom – and I’m agnostic! That being said, it’s not hard for me to understand why our political leaders want to stay out of this fight.

First, it’s a provincial matter. 

Bill 21 was passed democratically. If Quebec chooses to maintain this law during Legault’s leadership and beyond, there’s not much that Ottawa can do. They can criticize it to their heart’s content, and attempt to intervene at a certain level. They don’t have the constitutional right to bring down this provincial law, however. 

Second, Ottawa doesn’t want to start another war of words with Quebec. 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has flip-flopped on several occasions in terms of getting involved in this debate. On Dec. 13, he said that he “deeply” disagrees with Bill 21 and “I don’t find that in a free and open society someone should lose their job because of their religion and this is no longer a theoretical issue.” At the same time, he stated “I think the important thing is the province passed the law and Quebecers are defending their rights through the legal process in Quebec.”

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh have basically taken similar stances. Both are frustrated on a personal level, but begrudgingly respect Quebec’s democratic right to pass controversial and non-controversial bills on a provincial level.

Third, Quebec has been (up until recently) a critical piece of the electoral puzzle.

The old political playbook in federal politics was clear: if you can’t win Quebec, you can’t win the election. Hence, parties on the left and right all tried to play nice – or pander, if you prefer – when it came to this province. Policies and programs were announced, and taxpayer money was either ear-marked or doled out. It led to frustration and resentment from the rest of Canada, causing everything from western alienation to support for booting out Quebec. When Quebeckers felt their needs weren’t being met, it led to a rise in separatism and threats to break apart Canada.

Winning Quebec isn’t the prime electoral strategy any longer. Alas, political leaders still walk on eggshells when it comes to this province. They try to avoid as much conflict as humanly possible. In the case of Bill 21, they would rather stay out of this fight than get involved and cost them a few seats in future elections.

Doesn’t make it right, of course. It makes them look weak and ineffective.

Trudeau, O’Toole, Singh and other federal leaders should band together and help bring down Bill 21. If nothing else, it would be nice to see the House of Commons sitting at Level 1 or 2, even for a short spell.

Michael Taube, a long-time newspaper columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Quebec premier François Legault’s government is proposing a unilateral amendment to the Constitution Act, 1867 to entrench the idea that “Quebeckers form a nation,” and that the official language of the province – and of the Quebec nation – is French. There is a lot of debate on whether the provincial legislature can in fact do so under the rules of our constitutional amending formulas – including apparent agreement from Department of Justice lawyers in spite of clear evidence to the contrary when it comes to changes to a province’s official languages – but I find myself a bit more interested in the “nation” part of the proposal, for a couple of different reasons.

One of those is that this is seems to be a culmination of the whole wrenching process of trying to enshrine Quebec as a “distinct society” as part of the Constitutional wrangling of the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords, which helped give rise to the Reform Party in the early 1990s. The fact that the current federal government seems to be shrugging this off seems to be curious given the history in this country, especially given the constitutional wrangling of the 1980s. (There is a whole added dimension about Justin Trudeau and his father’s battles against this particular notion, but this is not the column to delve into that).

Others will point to the motion that Stephen Harper moved in the House of Commons in 2006, which moved that the House recognize that “The Québécois form a nation within a united Canada,” hoping to both try and one-up the Bloc Québécois and divide the Liberals, which was largely uncontentious in the broader scheme (though his intergovernmental affairs minister, Michael Chong, resigned as a point of principle over it given that he was not consulted in the process). The counterpoint, however, is that this was essentially a symbolic, non-binding motion and not an addition to the constitution. As well, Harper refused to qualify just who “Québécois” described in the motion, nor did the ministers he sent out to the media to explain the motion give any indication of just who it included – Harper himself indicating that it was a personal decision as to who chose to self-identify. This makes for some uncomfortable notions around both the anglophone minority within Quebec, more recent immigrant populations, as well as the First Nations on whose land the province rests, great portions of which remain unceded. And then there is the whole notion about it sounds uncomfortably like ethnic nationalism.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t a case for considering Quebec to be a nation – they have a distinct language, culture, legal tradition and history within what we think of as Canada today, which is a federation of different nations and national identities – it’s just that constitutionalizing it becomes tricky. But where I suspect it will get even trickier will be an impetus for copycat notions from other parts of the country – most especially Alberta.

“But Alberta doesn’t have a distinct language, culture, legal tradition, or history,” you might say, and you would be correct – and yet, if you recall the Buffalo Declaration, the ridiculous farce of a manifesto put out by a number of Western MPs to lay out the Alberta and Saskatchewan’s – but mostly Alberta’s – grievances, and one of those was the insistence that “Alberta is a culturally distinct region, but this has not been recognized.” The logic around it was fairly dubious – claiming that their history contained several “distinct cultural themes.”

“A struggle against a colonial government, a desire for individual freedom, a willingness and drive to achieve personal economic liberty; a deep connection and respect for our land; and an economy unique to other areas of Canada,” the document reads, and goes into some of the immigration patterns to the province (having paid lip service to the Indigenous populations in the region without quite acknowledging how they were displaced). But much of this self-congratulatory back-patting likes to paint themselves as a bastion of tolerance in pushing back against the “redneck” stereotype, and yet, having grown up there, I can tell you that much of this tolerance is surface-level.

Sure, if you make a lot of money – and much of “Alberta culture” seems to be very much centred on how much money you make, in places where keeping up with the Joneses is a competitive sport – you can move in more social circles in the province, but there is a lot of deep-seated intolerance, racism, white supremacy, and homophobic bigotry. There are pervasive attitudes around First Nations as somehow being interlopers rather than the actual owners of the land. And then there is the religiosity that infects a lot of the politics and makes the “tolerance” harder to believe. Hell, in the mid-90s, my new-agey mother was accused of witchcraft by our rural neighbours, who began targeting us with threats up to and including killing our dog to send a message.  You’ll forgive me if these protestations of tolerance ring hollow.

Nevertheless, if Quebec goes ahead and attempts to enshrine its “nation” status unilaterally, you can bet there will be calls to open up the constitution to address issues like equalization – which have already started in Alberta – but I’m certain that we’ll start to see more calls for Alberta to demand some kind of recognition for its special cultural status, if not from the Buffalo Declaration crew, then by other opportunists who will try to use it to leverage some other kinds of concessions from the federal government. No doubt Quebec’s attempt to make these changes will be headed to the courts – likely not at the behest of any federal party as each are too craven to stand up to Legault and his apparently popularity, each of them hoping to get his magic glow upon them in the next election – and it may yet be struck down. But before that happens, I wouldn’t be surprised if proposals to unilaterally amend either the Constitution Act, 1867 or the Alberta Act, 1905 start being floated, creating even more problems for the rest of Confederation in the meantime.

Photo Credit: CBC News

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

It’s been percolating for quite some time, despite the pandemic. Language has always been a political football in Quebec and issues have been flaring up over the past few months. François Legault’s CAQ government, not being interested in seeing a revival of the PQ, decided to go ahead with the first major reform in 25 years of Quebec’s language laws and strengthen the Charter of the French language, as set by the infamous Bill 101.

In nationalist circles, the perception has been that over time, the Charter had been weakened by courts’ decisions and by tweaks made by successive Quebec governments. To dissuade court challenges, Bill 96 is declaring from the get go that the notwithstanding clause will be invoked. For which parts of the Bill, you may ask? For all of it, stated Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette, who tabled Bill 96 on May 13th.

Just like with Bill 21 on religious symbols, the CAQ government is signalling that their new legislative proposal is going against the Canadian Charter of Rights. They know it and they do not want to waste time with numerous legal challenges. It won’t dissuade everyone, mind you, as we have seen with Bill 21.

Premier Legault labelled the Bill as solid, necessary and reasonable. Without going through its 24 different measures, Bill 96 aims to regulate the use of French in small businesses with more than 25 employees, restrict access to English-speaking CEGEPs, streamline French learning for immigrants and guarantee services in French to consumers.

Politically, it is a magnificent play. Cunning, even. At the National Assembly, the opposition is neutered. The Quebec Liberals, already mostly reduced to anglo ridings, have nothing to gain in franco ridings by posing themselves as strong defenders of the anglo minority. Instead, they will embrace what they now call a consensus for the preservation and sustainability of the French language. Quebec Solidaire is criticizing on the margins but is supportive in principle. The PQ is trying to raise a storm, but their lead argument of “it doesn’t go far enough”, is hardly enough to create an uproar outside of its ever shrinking voter base.

In Ottawa, the reaction has been prudent and measured. Justin Trudeau knows that if he were to engage in a language war, he would bid adieu to regaining a majority in the next election: the Bloc Québécois is salivating at that possibility. For the Liberals, just like their provincial cousins, wearing their traditional cape of defenders of the anglo minority has no electoral upside and limited downside in Quebec. Liberal strategists can’t imagine who else Anglo-Quebecers would vote for anyway. Especially since the Conservatives are onside with the Bill and the NDP is unlikely to base its Quebec strategy on becoming the champions of the anglo minority. An opening for a new Equality Party, perhaps? Or maybe the Maverick Party would consider stepping up?

These champions, if they are to rise up, may cut their teeth on the municipal front. If adopted, Bill 96 will strip the bilingual status of Quebec municipalities that currently have it if less than 50% of their population is of English maternal language. There is, however, a way to avoid that. Municipal councils can adopt a resolution to preserve their cities’ bilingual status within 120 days of the bill coming into force of law.

Depending on when the Bill is adopted, the timing could set the table for potentially explosive and divisive municipal elections in Quebec, scheduled for November. It is not hard to imagine PQ-friendly candidates running on a platform to make French the sole official language in their town. They are dying for a fight about French’s decline. This would no doubt trigger a mobilization of the anglo minority. Explosive, you say? We’ve been in that movie before.

Federally, the real political trap is about a symbolic move, as is often the case on these issues. A short passage of Bill 96 seeks to amend the Constitution Act of 1867 so that it specifies that Quebecers form a nation, that French is the only official language of Quebec and that it is also the common language of the Quebec nation.

The CAQ says it can proceed unilaterally, without asking permission from the House of Commons, the Senate and the other provinces, by using section 45 of the Constitution Act, which says that a legislature has exclusive jurisdiction to modify the constitution of its own province – which is Part V of the Constitution Act of 1867. It would be quite a coup!

After all these years and all these rounds of Constitutional negotiations, could it have been that simple all along? Doubtful. The recognition of French as the only official language of Quebec in the Canadian Constitution will no doubt lead to constitutional challenges. For instance, article 133 of the Constitution Act states clearly that English may be used in the Debates of the Quebec Legislature and in any of the Quebec Courts. Similarly, Quebec laws and court rulings must be published in English as well as in French.

How does one square that circle? The most likely route would be a modification under article 43, which would then require the approval of Ottawa. This is the kind of political process that led to the rise of the Reform Party.

Photo Credit: CBC News


The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.