Future historians will probably be mystified by the extent to which the Charest government allowed Stephen Harper to make sure that Quebec City's 400th anniversary would also serve to publicize Canada, its history, federalism and the federal government.
The first serious hint of this appeared earlier this year in La Rochelle where the 400th was launched in France in the absence of Quebec's premier, but with the highly visible presence of Michaëlle Jean, Canada's governor-general. As she occupied the entire stage, she became an instant media star in France where she was dubbed Canada's "almost queen."
It quickly became obvious that throughout 2008 the telegenic Jean would act as the poster girl for a historic event that Ottawa was eager to present as the founding of Canada, not just that of Quebec, or the beginning of the French presence on this continent.
When Jean went as far as to ask French President Nicolas Sarkozy to start looking "beyond" Quebec, she showed a strong willingness to politicize her usually more diplomatic role in a way unmatched by her predecessors.
In doing this in France, she repeated Stephen Harper's line. But she also reflected Sarkozy's known intention to shift France's foreign policy much closer to Canadian interests than ever before, as well as Charest's apparent approval of it all.
In fact, appropriating Quebec City's 400th anniversary to turn it into Canada's own, even though the Canadian state wasn't founded until 1867, has been at the centre of every intervention from the G-G and the federal government on this subject. In this politically-driven bit of historical revisionism, Harper went as far as to describe today's G-G, the representative of the British queen, as the successor of Samuel de Champlain, governor under the king of France.
Harper has reprised these themes on many occasions with his usual formula: "The founding of Quebec City also marks the founding of Canada." This formula is also in the half-page ad that Ottawa, not Quebec, took out in many of Canada's newspapers yesterday to mark the 400th. Quebec took out its own ad in Le Soleil.
But no where is this political hijacking more obvious than on the federal government's own official website on the 400th (www.quebec400.gc.ca).
It starts with a homepage where the title "Quebec 2008. Celebrating our past, building our future" is actually crowned by a red maple leaf, not Quebec's fleur-de-lis.
The website's "links of interest" include such gems as that of Canadian Heritage and the omnipresent G-G's list of activities. In the believe-it-or-not category, it even includes the results of the Canada Day poster challenge featuring the name of the winner from New Brunswick.
Through a link to the G-G's "citizenvoices" interactive website, there's a text by Jean's husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, titled "Champlain, eyes on the horizon." One of only three reactions from citizens says that "there is no difference between the words Canada or Quebec" and that "Quebec City is nothing but the favourite place of French Canadians." Funny enough, another email is signed "Foresta Gump" ...
Ottawa's Quebec2008 website even offers this tasty, highly politically-correct version of the federal government's revisionism of 1608: "Canada is celebrating four centuries of progress in intercultural relations - relations and exchanges that our country passionately supports and encourages." You simply cannot make that kind of stuff up.
But sometimes, even the most insistent propaganda, if too disconnected from reality, doesn't work. Witness the Ipsos Reid-Canwest poll reported yesterday in The Gazette:
While 46 per cent of Quebecers see the 400th as the "founding of Quebec and the Québécois nation," 45 per cent of Canadians outside Quebec see it as the "founding of French Canada, both inside and outside Quebec." But none of these specific respondents see it as the actual "founding of the Canadian state."
Oh, well. Could it be that the Harper government spent its 400th anniversary budget of $110 million tax dollars for nothing?