Knowledge. If you don't use it, eventually you lose it. It's a particular danger in public life, where you push aside issues for spin and wind up with a head full of not much except political nonsense, which is extremely frustrating when you occasionally remember what the mess you're in actually is but not how to fix it. Consider, if you will, the issue of federal-provincial jurisdictions.
No, wait! Come back! I'll try not to be too dull. It is, after all, early August and most of us not currently on vacation wish we were, and it's not easy to discourse on federalism and the distribution of powers between levels of government without sending even the most valiant reader into a deep sleep on a brisk October morning. But there lies one of this country's biggest problems; we are bored into forgetting why we should care about one of our most important safeguards against unaccountable and endlessly squabbling politicians and that little nightmare-scenario thing about the country exploding into angry, bitter bits out of sheer exasperation.
Other than that, though, you're right. It's utterly useless. But if one were to care anyway, one would, presumably, worry about the almost complete lack of reaction to a few strange things happening in Quebec these days.
Starting with the environment. About a week ago, in response to nothing in particular (at least, nothing I could see), Quebec Environment Minister Claude Béchard gave his federal counterpart, Rona Ambrose, a stern warning. The Canadian government's upcoming clean air legislation, he said, “must respect the characteristics of each of the provinces”. Including Quebec's intention to comply with Kyoto. “For sure we want to influence the federal plan,” Mr. Béchard added, even though it's perfectly clear that on Kyoto the feds have no plan. “We would like Quebec measures to be included in the federal plan.”
Why, yes, of course. Mr. Béchard will, I'm sure, get approving nods from all the respectable folks in his province for doing his best to “influence” federal environmental policy towards a darker shade of green. There's just one tiny problem: the feds, too, have jurisdiction over the environment, and they can set national legislation pretty much any way they please while provinces are welcome to set their own standards, especially if they're even more stringent than the federal ones. If Mr. Béchard wants to dictate national policy he can run for the national parliament. I mean, if you care how the country's meant to work. And if you don't, why have rules?
It's even weirder that so many provincial politicians felt compelled to jump into the Middle Eastern fray and criticize Stephen Harper over Canada's foreign policy. Thus a protest in Montreal this past Sunday that attracted an estimated 15,000 people was treated to speeches from Parti Québécois leader André Boisclair, Québec solidaire co-leader Amir Khadir and the provincial Green party leader.
Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe and Liberal MP Denis Coderre also spoke. But, as they are federal politicians, it makes sense that they did. At least, jurisdictional sense. Politically the protest got a bit ugly with more than a few yellow-and-green-clad Hezbollah sympathizers (David Ouellette of the website judeoscope.ca posted a video of the events after La Presse reported on Monday that there were no Hezbollah flags in the crowd; it shows Hezbollah flags and t-shirts), complete with chants of “Israël terroriste, Harper complice” and the usual down-with-Israel-down-with-Bush stuff.
Wow. So prominent Quebec politicians and activists don't seem to mind having their event crashed by terrorist supporters, and they also make a big show of interfering in a matter of pure federal jurisdiction. And virtually nobody objects.
Imagine if the situation was reversed. There would be no end of rent garments if federal (and federalist) politicians spoke at a rally on a clearly provincial matter. Why the double standard?
On the flip side, why is it a Big Deal that Premier Jean Charest announced his government would unilaterally invest roughly $100 million a year for three years in the province's colleges and universities? “As we did with health care,” Mr. Charest explained, “we have decided not to wait for the federal government” to fork over the cash. Well yes, both are matters of provincial jurisdiction. Yet nobody appeared to think it was odd that a decision by a provincial government to spend money on education should be front-page news with Le Devoir headlining its story on Monday with “Charest gives up waiting for Ottawa”.
Basically people seem hypersensitive about questions of jurisdiction they don't care about. It's nonsense, no matter what the season.
Boring, yet infuriating. No wonder we're in such a mess.