This past week, the (Canadian) news cycle has been dominated by ballsy, confident, in-your-face statements uttered by men who conveniently sidestepped the truth. Let’s just say that if I were handing out medals in the “Interesting but Inaccurate” category (honourary member for life, Donald Trump) I’d nominate the following gentlemen:
First off, Maxime Bernier. When it comes to national voting intentions, Mad Max hasn’t even managed to crack the three-per-cent mark and is widely (and justifiably) seen as a strange mix of political arrogance and shock-and-awe soundbites that, as with Trump, seem to be churned out for maximum media play. I often wonder whether he believes half of what he says, or simply makes statements that he knows the media will repeat.
His latest headline-grabbing claim is his belief that he’s being maliciously and purposefully excluded from the two official election debates taking place later this fall. In a strange column, long-time parliamentary correspondent Chantal Hébert, whose knowledgeable and insightful writing I normally agree with, argued in her Toronto Star column that Bernier’s ideas should not disqualify him from debating other leaders.
I’m not sure why Hébert wrote a piece that somehow gives the impression that Bernier is being silenced or in any way censored for his unorthodox and questionable views, but let’s make one thing clear: his ideas didn’t disqualify him, his numbers did. Bernier is barely polling at 2.7 per cent and by all accounts won’t be winning a single seat. Since he’s the party’s only MP, the People’s Party of Canada does not enjoy official party status. He, therefore, cannot be included in the debates according to the inclusion criteria clearly set by Elections Canada.
He and his supporters can claim that his exclusion is undemocratic, and that it’s primarily because the other leaders are “too afraid” to debate him, but the simple truth of the matter is the People’s Party has failed to attract enough people.
With federal elections around the corner and with populism rearing its ugly head over here, too, we should prepare for more hyperbolic absurdity and partisan contradictions to head our way.
And speaking of populism and identity politics, let’s check out the recent spat between Quebec Premier François Legault and his Alberta counterpart Jason Kenney, because they both get medals, too.
Kenney claims he wants to overhaul the equalization payments system because he feels that some provinces, like Quebec, are getting a giant slice of the pie ($13.1-billion in 2019 alone) and some, like Alberta, aren’t getting anything at all. If he doesn’t get what he wants, he’s threatening to go ahead with a referendum on the issue. Kenney made the same threat back in 2017 when he was campaigning, promising a referendum on the federal carbon tax, so it seems to be his go-to political tool to rile up the troops.
Western Canada has a long tradition of invoking the “unfairness” of the equalization payment system every time it feels it’s not getting what it wants. Quebec is often its target. In this case, Kenney wants the green light to build more oil pipelines. The simple fact of the matter is that Alberta doesn’t make any direct payments to Quebec and Quebec doesn’t owe Alberta its unconditional support in the form of allowing pipelines to run through its territory. Quebec pays into the federal system and has an absolute right to equalization payments.
Most importantly, tucked away inside Kenney’s little threat is the inconvenient truth that provincial referendums hold absolutely no power over federal programs such as equalization. Another inconvenient truth that makes his current grandstanding and political posing appear silly and disingenuous? Kenney was a federal cabinet minister and sitting up front and centre at the bargaining table when the current equalization program he’s now vilifying and calling unfair was put in place. He’s simply counting on most Albertans not remembering that detail.
In response to all this “Interesting but Inaccurate” content supplied by Kenney, Legault made sure not to be outdone and stay in the running. While he was right to defend equalization payments for Quebec, he completely lost me when he made the claim it’s enshrined in the Constitution since the beginning of the country’s founding. Seriously? Legault thinks equalization payments have been around since 1867?
Aside from the historical inaccuracy (it’s, in fact, in the 1982 Constitution, which Quebec, ironically, rejected), anyone who’s been following the Bill 21 fiasco closely has to find his statement a little hypocritical. Who would have thought that a Premier who just invoked the notwithstanding clause in order to circumvent the protection of individual rights would be such a big defender and fan of the Constitution?
“Equality payments are part of the original deal and we can’t change it,” he casually shoulder-shrugged to Kenney’s comments. How convenient that this piece of legislation that Legault jumps to defend, when it suits him, can be ignored when it doesn’t.
Legault also made another absurd comment while talking to the CAQ’s youth wing this past weekend in Sherbrooke. He compared Bill 21 to Bill 101, claiming both are now part of Quebec’s nationalist heritage.
Bill 21 has absolutely nothing to do with Bill 101 and it’s intellectually dishonest to claim that it does. Bill 101 was a historic and desperately needed piece of legislation that righted so many wrongs for Quebec’s francophone community, completely altered the province’s social and linguistic landscape and established the predominance of the French language. It was primarily created to protect a fragile linguistic and cultural minority from the influence and power of North America’s and Canada’s English majority and was a concrete and effective solution to a real problem and a real concern.
Bill 21, on the other hand, was created to protect a linguistic and cultural (and yes, religious) majority from its non-existent problems and fears perceived to have been brought upon us by religious minorities. It arbitrarily violated people’s human rights to religion and freedom of expression, and it did so by enforcing a gag rule in the middle of the night during National Assembly proceedings to force members to vote on the bill. And then it added the notwithstanding clause for good measure to ensure that no one could legally fight it. These two bills are nothing alike, except for the way in which they can be spun to rally up the troops when identity politics seem to work for one’s voting base.
Finally, honourable mention goes to Pierre-Karl Péladeau, not necessarily because he outright lied about something, but because he managed to eloquently comment on the dangers of business consolidation for the public good, while somehow suffering from a bout of severe amnesia that has made him forget who he is.
Commenting on Air Canada’s intention to purchase Air Transat, Péladeau, who owns 1.6 per cent of the latter airline’s shares, revealed that he would be voting against Air Canada purchasing it. His reason? He believes it’s against the public interest for 60 per cent of the Canadian airline industry to be concentrated in the hands of one company. So, a media baron who owns the second largest newspaper chain in Canada, the largest cable TV operator in Quebec, the largest French-language broadcaster in the country and is, in many ways, the primary gatekeeper of information in francophone Quebec, is warning consumers of the dangers of consolidation? I admit, I did not see that one coming. Give him all the medals. ■