The Bloc Quebecois was founded as a party of grievance, which has been its raison d'etre through five federal elections.
Since Stephen Harper took office last year, though, the Bloc has been surrounded and outmanoeuvred on issues of symbolic or substantive importance to Quebec. From the Quebecois nation thing to the fiscal imbalance, from a role at UNESCO to limiting the federal spending power, Harper has consistently skated Gilles Duceppe into the boards. As someone else has suggested, Harper has triangulated the Bloc, much as Bill Clinton did the Republicans after the Democrats lost control of Congress in 1994, on his way to re-election as U.S. president in 1996.
Lacking traction on serious issues, the Bloc last week latched on to the question of whether Shane Doan, alleged to have trashed-talked a francophone linesman at an NHL game in Montreal, should have been chosen as captain of Team Canada at the world hockey championships in Russia.
Never mind that Doan was exonerated of the accusation by the NHL, he has been found guilty by Rejean Tremblay and other members of the French-language media vigilantes who find a "mange canayen" behind every door and under every bed. This dubious cause was first taken up by Liberal MP Denis Coderre, resulting in frivolous lawsuits back and forth between him and Doan.
When Doan was named captain of Team Canada, the Bloc immediately jumped into the fray in question period last week.
"This player has allegedly made, discriminatory, racist and xenophobic comments about francophones," fumed Bloc MP Luc Malo.
Discriminatory, racist and xenophobic?
Actually, the worst he might have said was to call an all- francophone officiating crew a bunch of homers. In Montreal.
So, off with his head, or least the captain's C, because as Malo said, "Quebecers cannot relate to a team with Shane Doan as its captain." Clearly, the new official languages commissioner, Graham Fraser, has ducked his responsibility by not denouncing the effrontery of Shane Doan.
Actually, if he were playing for the Canadiens, and scored three goals in any game, as he did against Belarus last Friday, he would be awarded the first star and cheered to the echo at the Bell Centre.
While it's not surprising that the Bloc would go down this cheap road, it's astonishing that the Liberals, the NDP and even the Conservatives allowed themselves to get trapped in this zone of political correctness. Liberal leader Stephane Dion, desperate to revive his party's fortunes among francophone Quebecers, expressed his concern. The NDP's Jack Layton said that Doan's selection as captain "cast a shadow" over the Canadian team. Even the Conservatives were sorely divided, as between Quebec and English-speaking MPs, at their caucus last week.
All parties agreed to summon Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson to a meeting of the official languages committee last Thursday, where he was treated rudely by the Bloc's Malo, who hectored and interrupted him. For his part, Nicholson went so far as to surmise that Doan was just about the finest young man ever to lace on skates, and that, indeed, without him, there would be no Team Canada.
It seems that Doan comes from a good home of practising Christians, and that such words would never pass his lips, especially during the summer when he volunteers at his parents' sports camp in Alberta.
At last glance, this ridiculous story had not made its way from the silly sports columns to the front pages of the serious francophone press. In other words, it's a non-story.
In English-speaking Canada, though, it's a linguistic bridge too far. A talented hockey player, volunteering his time for his country, is being slagged indiscriminately for something he might or might not have said. Imagine, hockey players using the F-word, which is apparently not in this hockey player's vocabulary. Trash talk in pro hockey. Shocking.
Even Harper mistakenly got involved in this on Friday, making a "private" call to Doan, as if a call from the prime minister to the captain of our national hockey team would be a private matter in any circumstance, let alone this one. It leaked within half an hour. Of course it did.
Doan and his teammates should do all their talking on the ice, and return home to be received as honoured guests in the visitors' gallery of the House. Then, Layton, Dion and even Duceppe would be leading the applause. They would then have earned three stars for hypocrisy.
The Shane Doan affair has brought out the worst in the Bloc Quebecois