Quebec's profitable game

Crise politique canadian

Angelo Persichilli - The bad cop-good cop game is the best way to fool people and get what you want. The bad cop can make all kinds of hair-raising threats knowing that they will never materialize. The good cop reaps the benefits.
A classic example of the bad cop-good cop routine in politics occurs in Quebec, where the separatists are the bad cops and the federalists, like Liberal Premier Jean Charest, are the good cops.
The bad-cop separatists create a problem that the good-cop federalists can solve if Ottawa signs some cheques. The interests of Canada and the rest of Canadians are never part of the equation.
This is a privilege denied to all other Canadian politicians, federal or provincial. Danny Williams, who tries to play the role of bad cop and good cop at the same time, is not taken seriously because there is no separatist movement in Newfoundland.
Quebec's act is both well-rehearsed and successful, and whoever tries to meddle with it is pilloried.
In December 1999, separatists in the House of Commons shouted words such as "traître!" "vendu!" and "fasciste!" at then-minister Stéphane Dion after he introduced the Clarity Act.
But it's much worse if the person who tries to interfere with the good cop-bad cop game is not blessed with francophone chagrin. He is vilified, ostracized and criminalized. They even had an issue with Pierre Trudeau, whose "tainted" middle name was Elliott.
You can imagine what would happen when an anglophone like Stephen Harper gets involved in the game, even when trying to solve a problem – in this case, the harmonization of federal and provincial sales taxes in Ontario.
Big mistake. He is giving money to Ontario (imagine that!) that he didn't give to Quebec when it harmonized a few years ago. The suspicion is that he wants to punish La Belle Province for not voting Conservative in the last election. That's probably true, but why is it that when Ottawa gives money to Quebec it's a smart political move but when it's given to Ontario it's political opportunism?
If Harper made a mistake, it was in the last Parliament when he, an anglophone, tried to play the good-cop federalist role. Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe was furious; he and his caucus started throwing anything they could get their hands on at Harper.
It is time to abandon the assumption that the bad-cop separatists can be tamed only by the good-cop federalists giving them money – and sending the bill to the rest of the country, mainly Ontario and Alberta.
I don't know why Harper suddenly has become sensitive to Ontario's needs. What I do know, though, is that if his reasons where good enough for Quebec in the last Parliament, they are good enough for Ontario in this one.
This province, along with Alberta, pays the most for the good cop-bad cop routine. Ontario is in the middle of the worst recession since the 1930s. The provincial economy, for decades based on manufacturing, has collapsed. It needs to be revamped and it needs help – not so much a handout as an end to the federal practice of siphoning off money.
The changed attitude in Ottawa is welcome. I hope the federal government will not be derailed by complaints from the professional federalists and separatists in Quebec. They are just afraid of losing the grip they've had on Canadian politics for the last 40 years, during which time they have reduced the concept of Canadian federalism to an exchange of cheques between provinces.
Angelo Persichilli is the political editor of Corriere Canadese. His column appears Sunday.

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