Tell Quebec where to get off

It's too bad Quebec's nationalists lack such maturity.

1759-2009 - point de vue anglo-saxon

Each July at the annual re-enactment of the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg in southern Pennsylvania, the Union soldiers always win. Gen. George Pickett's forces are always decimated in their futile charge up Cemetery Ridge and the Confederates are always forced to slink off south with their tails between their legs. Yet there are no petitions among Southerners to ban the historical staging -- which takes place on a designated national battlefield -- just because it "rubs the noses" of modern-day sons and daughters of the Confederacy "in their ancestors' defeat."
At the annual re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium, the French always lose to the British and Prussians, but France never files a complaint with the United Nations. Each October's recreation of the Battle of Hastings in 1066 is even hosted by the English Heritage Society, the heirs of the losers.
It's too bad Quebec's nationalists lack such maturity. If they did, then plans to re-enact the 250th anniversary of the 1759 Battle of the Plains of Abraham wouldn't be the subject of violent threats by aggrieved separatists seeking -- successfully, as it happens -- to shut down the event.
It was not the only time in recent months, of course, that Quebec had stomped its collective foot and spineless federal politicians had trembled. During last fall's federal election, Quebecers' overreaction to a joke by Prime Minister Stephen Harper about cuts to arts funding caused the Tories to promise to restore the grants -- some $47-million -- if only Quebec voters would support them. They didn't, but the grant monies were reinstated anyway.
Every prime minister since John Diefenbaker has believed he has discovered a magic incantation unknown to any of his predecessors that he might invoke to charm Quebec into satisfaction with Confederation and, ultimately, each has failed to placate la belle province.
Lester Pearson had his Three Wise Men, Pierre Trudeau had bilingualism and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and Brian Mulroney had both the Meech Lake and the Charlottetown accords. All failures.
The current PM, Stephen Harper, has even declared the Quebecois a nation within a nation -- as close are they are ever likely to come to a declaration of special constitutional status -- and given the provincial government something of an official presence at international summits of French-speaking nations. Yet one off-the-mark quip about artists' propensity for pleading poverty while attending gala dinners -- a quip Quebecers mistakenly perceived as a slight against their culture-- and all of Mr. Harper's efforts to built bridges with Quebec voters vanished in a puff of smoke.
Enough of the decades of appeasement; it's time for Ottawa to adopt a tough-love attitude toward Quebec. And who better to do that then Mr. Harper and his Tories? They've got nothing to lose.
Since October's national campaign, Conservative support in Quebec has nearly halved. Where eights months ago the Tories rivalled the Bloc Quebecois for first place in popular support, now they stand at third or even fourth in most polls. Last week, a CROP poll found the Tories with 16% support -- equal to that of the NDP -- and Mr. Harper's personal popularity below 20%.
That means the Prime Minister and Cabinet can do the right thing without risking their popularity: They have none.
They can start by reinstating the Plains of Abraham re-enactment and, if need be, providing federal security for the event. They also can end the unofficial federal policy that as near to half as possible of all federal defence spending must go to manufacturers in Quebec.
While they're at it, they should tell the truth about equalization. Quebec annually receives the most money -- nearly 50% of total equalization, despite the fact that for decades now, Quebec's per capita provincial GDP has been just 3% to 8% below the national average. There is no "fiscal imbalance," at least not between Ottawa and Quebec. Most federal leaders know the stats, they have merely been too frightened about the prospect of Quebec leaving to give it voice.
Let's also take away the Quebec chair at the Francophonie. Defend vigorously in court any challenges filed that seek to uphold the minority-language rights of English-speaking residents in Quebec. And stop jumping out of your skin every time Quebec says boo-hoo.
Such an approach won't make any friends in Quebec. But at least everyone in the rest of the country won't keep feeling like suckers.

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