“Let's talk about us”, again

“Let's talk about us”, again

“Let’s talk about us», again

Photo: Jacques Nadeau archives Le Devoir Yves-François Blanchet accuses the Trudeau government of seeking today to wrest a “piece of sovereignty” from the hands of the National Assembly.

February 2017. Jean-Marc Fournier had taken it into his head, on the eve of the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the Canadian federation, to “resume the dialogue” with other Canadians so that the parties could “better know”.

The Minister of “Quebec Allegiance” and “Canadian Belonging” dropped by the federal capital to raise awareness in Justin Trudeau's cabinet of Quebec priorities in the margins of the negotiations on the Canada Health Transfer.


The broadcast of the first episodes of the historical soap opera Canada: The Story of Us (CBC), in which French figures, including Samuel de Champlain and Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, were covered in grime, literally, will make him do it faster. “Let’s talk about us! he exclaimed, convinced that “the recognition of Quebec national identities and, also, indigenous identities appears to be the natural outcome of the Canadian project”.

February 2023. The work has to be redone, notes the leader of the Bloc Québécois, Yves-François Blanchet.

According to him, the heritage minute on the “distance or even [the] distrust” of Quebecers in relation to religion delivered by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on February 1st is far from enough to remove the xenophobic label that Quebec's skin is unfairly stuck in the rest of Canada.

“He was as sincere as I was when I took my oath to the king,” he says in an interview with The Dutyheld in the West Block of the Parliamentary Precinct. “It was an exercise he had no choice but to do. He had to try to put out the fire surrounding his appointment [of Amira Elghawaby as Canada's Special Representative for the Fight against Islamophobia],” he adds from behind his desk, that he won back after advocating for the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to be saved in the House of Commons, where, he said, “Quebec doesn't have many friends” .

Preserving Quebec's identity

In Quebec City, Premier François Legault reiterated that the Quebec Parliament must “be ready to use it” to “protect our identity”, “[our] values”, “our language”, “protect what we have different in Quebec”. It did so when the Act respecting the secularism of the State (Act 21) was adopted in the spring of 2019, then the Act respecting the official and common language of Quebec, French (Act 96), three years later. These laws “have effect regardless of sections 2 and 7 to 15 of the Constitution Act, 1982,” the National Assembly determined before they were even challenged in court.

Yves-François Blanchet accuses the Trudeau government of seeking today to wrest a “piece of sovereignty” from the hands of the National Assembly by convincing the Supreme Court of Canada to cut short the preventive use of the notwithstanding clause, which shields a law from legal challenges. “Mr. Lévesque had invoked and installed quite comfortably the notwithstanding provision in all of the laws passed in the National Assembly of Quebec. There were a few strokes, but Canada survived them,” he said in the chamber.

“If they break the derogatory clause, Quebec's ability to preserve its difference will be more than seriously compromised. I wonder how we would do it. For the Quebec identity, it would be catastrophic. For the principle of democracy, too,” he reiterates in his office. Candles glow and cello sounds echo behind him.

The problem: more than one Canadian voter — and more than one Canadian elected official — does not understand why the National Assembly seeks to preserve its specificity in Canada, even if it means violating fundamental rights. “There is sometimes a tendency in certain media devices to play the spectacle of polarization”, explains Yves-François Blanchet.

Respond “as directly as possible”

Ready in turn for dialogue, the Bloc leader plans to travel to Toronto, New York, Washington and Europe in particular to debunk the myths about Quebec that persist there. “I don't think Canada, and especially Ontario, and Toronto, would be that hostile to Quebec if we talked more directly. We talk to each other through politicians and we talk to each other through opinion pieces, and that polarizes the discussions enormously, ”he argues at Devoir.

He therefore promises to respond “as directly as possible” to questions from Canadians, Americans and Europeans about Quebec — including the identity “reasonable positions” he has taken in recent years — so that “in the short term and even in the long term, we have a better understanding of each other”.

“Out of respect for everyone”

Prime Minister François Legault chose to talk about what unites rather than what divides during his visit to Ottawa earlier this week.

Without thinking about it, he even began to speak in English to the journalists assigned to cover the federal-provincial meeting on the financing of the health system. “Thank you, Heather. So I'm happy…” he said after being invited to speak by his Manitoban counterpart, Heather Stefanson. Recognizing his mistake, he sketched a grimace. “I'll go there in French…”

Then he cut the whistle to a reporter who had gone so far as to ask him a question about the latest developments in the Amira Elghawaby affair. “I'm going to arrest you right now. Out of respect for everyone, I'm just going to answer questions about health transfers,” he said.

Mr. Legault recalled that all the provinces agree that the federal government is underfunding the health network. “It is a problem that is the same in all provinces and territories. So it has nothing to do with other topics like values, language,” he said, smirking.