The Bloc Québécois has succeeded in its attempt to push Canada’s collective buttons.
With Michael Chong’s resignation from the Conservative cabinet today, and a Laurel and Hardy-esque news conference within an hour by the government’s Québec lieutenant, Lawrence Cannon, and Senator Marjorie LeBreton, it is more clear than ever that the Conservative motion – just a modification of the Bloc’s – was written on the damp side of a cocktail napkin which is now hiding more than an olive pit.
Stephen Harper’s hasty calling of the Bloc bluff was ill-considered and its repercussions have split the country, at least the chattering classes, in the few short days since it was hatched. Harper, like arrogant, proud prime ministers before him, hates being teased by the seperatists. That’s what took this motion – “that this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada” – from being a Bloc Québécois bully tactic to a full-scale national cat-fight.
Michael Chong was not just any cabinet minister. He was the Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, i.e. the guy who dealt with provincial governments and who was ultimately responsible for duct-taping this federation together. Yet he revealed tonight that he was not in the loop over this fast-moving issue, but Liberal leadership hopeful, and former Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Stéphane Dion, was!
This whole debate is a bit surreal to many people in Québec. No one, least of all the federal Parliament, needs to tell them they are a nation, or a people, or however else history eventually translates this motion. No Canadian can drive from Ontario to New Brunswick and not notice that the province in between has a sense of itself which we can only envy. The NDP, during our convention in Québec last September, backed a comprehensive series of motions not dissimilar in spirit from this one before Parliament.
Hurriedly codifying differences, however, even in simple motions in the House of Commons, is a bit wreckless when it all seems to have been started by Stephen Harper thinking, “Oh, yeah, Bloc? You talkin’ to me?”