Saturday, January 03, 2009

The Faustian Naivete of the Coalition

The problem with deals with the devil is that they don't keep their end of the bargain

Ever since the Liberals and the NDP made their coalition deal with the Bloc Quebecois -- a deal many supporters of the coalition continue to mislead Canadians about -- many Canadians have wondered precisely what the Bloc demanded in return for the deal.

On Thursday Marlene Jennings, the Liberal MP for Notre Dame-de Gracie-Lachine revealed what just one of those demands were.

The Bloc, it seems, demanded that all federally-regulated companies operating in Quebec be subject to Bill 101. Jennings reports that she flat-out denied that.

“I said no. Never. Not while I have a breath in my body,” Jennings insisted.

Jennings' refusal allegedly cost the Liberals six months of Bloc support -- reducing it from a full two years to 18 months.

“I was able to [say no] because I knew that for people in my riding, and English-speaking communities, and the Jewish community, and other communities, Bill 101 is anathema… for a variety of reasons,” Jennings continued.

Jennings also crowed about her purported accomplishment of convincing the Bloc to take sovereignty off the agenda for the 18-month term of the coalition agreement.

“I’m quite proud of it,” Jennings addeded, “because it’s the first time in the 18 years [since] the Bloc was first founded, that the Bloc, in writing, took sovereignty off its agenda, if the agreement was put into action. No other party, no other government has been able to do that."

Of course, Jennings seems to believe that this is the perfect answer to the concerns many Canadians have over how much the Liberals are prepared to sacrifice to keep their coalition intact.

But Jennings forgets that there's a difference between the demands the Bloc would make during the negotiation of a coalition agreement -- a coalition that, no matter how much Jennings lies, the Bloc very much is party to -- and the demands that the Bloc would make when the noose is already around the Liberal party's neck.

In the course of the negotiations, before they had any real leverage, it was merely Bill 101. Give the Bloc Quebecois some real leverage and it very well could be the clarity act.

Beyond that, one has to imagine there's a difference in the concessions the Liberals would have been willing to make during the negotiations and the concessions they'd be willing to make once their precious coalition is a reality.

During the negotiations Jennings was willing to draw the line short of Bill 101. But no one can say for certain how far Jennings, Stephane Dion and the Liberal party would have been willing to go in order to preserve a government.

The naivete of expecting a written coalition accord -- an agreement that Canada's democratic institutions have no power to actually enforce -- to bar the Bloc from breaking their word and making further demands is beyond Faustian.

After all, no one should expect a party that so blatantly and intentionally decieved their own people during the 1995 sovereingty referendum -- and did this so effectively that many oui-voting Quebeckers believed they would continue to elect members to Canada's Parliament under the guise of "sovereignty association" -- simply cannot be trusted to keep their word to the rest of the country.

Even beyond this Faustian naivete, there is one other matter that Canadians need to be very concerned about: the concessions the Liberals have already agreed to make.

The naivete is one thing. The secrecy is quite another.

Other bloggers writing on this topic:

Johnny Bee - Johnny B ... Says Spill All the Beans, Marlene

Adam Daifallah - "Jennings Speaks Out"


  1. You can call it paranoia if you like.

    I think of it as being realistic.

  2. It's not paranoia in the least.
    Being a Quebecois myself I have seen the Bloc and it's provincial party the PQ deceive us over and over again. Changing their platforms once they are elected.

    I have no doubt that the Bloc would make demands once/if the coalition is in charge. Their main base of separatist voters would demand it.

    Good on Jennings for refusing to submit to the harmoniousness of bill 101, but bad on her for trying to get us to go along with a coalition that is destined to cripple Canada for years to come.

  3. I just wish the pro-coalition crowd would figure this out.

    Canadians don't buy into this "sovereignty off the agenda" argument.

    We know all too well what happens when our politicians become complacent regarding the separatists.

  4. From an alternate point of view, I don't think a lot of people outside Québec realize the good Bill 101 has done. As Stéphane Dion pointed out in an early 1992 article, long before he ever entered into politics, the passage of Bill 101 actually reinforced French Québécois feelings of linguistic security, and actually contributed to sucking the wind out of the Parti Québécois' sails, as Will Ferguson pointed out.

    What actually strengthens separatism in Québec are attacks on what many French Québécois view as an important part of their linguistic security (and as Dion repeatedly pointed out in "Straight Talk" on pages 141-142, 135 and 159, we English Canadians would no doubt want the same kind of linguistic protections and reassurances if we were the only province with an English majority on a majority-French continent). Radical dicks like Pierre Falardeau and Jacques Parizeau, who would be quite happy to see all the English minority driven out of Québec, make the whole population look bad, even when guys like Claude Ryan and Stéphane Dion are in many ways quite happy with Bill 101 when it's applied sensibly and moderately.

    As it stands, people in the rest of the country seem to be saying that Québec is the only province that has to be bilingual, and that English Québécois are the only group that deserves any kind of special treatment. Can you blame Québec francophones for getting upset at this blatant double standard?

    You know, if the rest of Canada would put as much effort into supporting its French Canadian minorities and recognizing their rights, instead of trying to assimilate them and screaming blue murder when they try to assert their political rights, like with that traffic ticket thing a few months back*, Québec separatism would be a non-issue.

    * And before anyone starts protesting about that traffic ticket thing, put yourself in the driver's shoes. If you're driving through Québec, and you get pulled over and given a traffic ticket, wouldn't you want it to be in a language YOU can read? How would you feel if the Québec government refused to serve YOU in your primary language?

    Like I said, a lot of Canadians outside Québec seem to have a blatant double standard towards la belle province, and I say this as an Alberta man born and bred.

    Don't get me wrong, a lot of the complaints directed at Québec are justified or understandable, like the perceptions about how much transfer payment money the province receives when it seems like they're perpetually on the verge of calling another referendum, or the way the more radical sovereignists act towards the Anglo-Québec minority, but it's worth remembering that a lot of this is caused by mutual misunderstanding on both sides, and the problems we're dealing with are a two-way street.


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