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Harper's contempt for Quebec.

The election of the Conservatives in 2006 was due in no small part to political developments stemming from the failure of previous Liberal governments to settle the constitutional question or to integrate Quebec into the Canadian confederation in any sustainable way. Stephen Harper has eschewed that aim altogether. Instead he has promoted a monolithic conception of Canada in denial of the realities of Quebec.

Indeed, he even demonstrated that he could govern without Quebec. And to make that a permanent possibility, he passed the Fair Representation Act in 2011 which, in practice, will reduce Quebec's representation in the federal parliament. In the upcoming election there will be three additional seats in Quebec, but 15 more in Ontario, six more in Alberta and six more in B.C.

"When [Harper] seized control of the Progressive Conservative Party, he promised to demolish the foundations of Canadian federalism, and especially the idea of two founding peoples with rights," notes Pierre Beaudet, adding that, for Harper, "bilingualism is a relic of a bygone era when Canada was forced to make concessions to the francophone minority; the appointments to the Supreme Court and to the office of the auditor general should be seen in that light." (1)

In 2006, in a bid to defuse nationalist sentiment in Quebec, Harper introduced a motion to recognize the Quebecois as a nation. But both Harper's explanations and his political choices belied the significance and sincerity of that act: "The real question is simple," he affirmed: "do the Quebecois form a nation within a united Canada? The answer is yes. Do the Quebecois form a nation independent of Canada? The answer is no and it will always be no."

In 2013 he took an unequivocal position, joining a legal challenge to Bill 99, which was adopted under Lucien Bouchard's government in 2000 as a response to the federal Clarity Act introduced by Jean Chretien's Liberals. Bill 99 asserts that, in a referendum, a vote of 50 per cent plus one for independence is sufficient for Quebec to separate from Canada. In its legal intervention, the Harper government argued that Bill 99 did not provide the legal basis for a "unilateral declaration of independence ... or the unilateral secession of the 'Quebec State' from the Canadian federation." (2)

The Conservatives' determination to abolish the long-gun registry was also seen as a slap in the face to the women's movement in Quebec. The registry was created in large part as the result of the efforts of survivors of the massacre at the Ecole Polytechnique of the Universite de Montreal in 1989, when 14 women were killed. The abolition of the registry was in some sense a symbol of retreat from the goal of ending violence against women. Adding insult to injury, last year Harper eliminated the Therese Casgrain Volunteer Award, created by the Liberals in 1982 in honour of a leader in the struggle for women's suffrage in Quebec, replacing it with the "Prime Minister's Volunteer Awards."

Shortly after being appointed minister of foreign affairs in 2011, John Baird had two paintings by renowned Quebec artist Alfred Pellan removed from the lobby of the department's offices, only to replace them with a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. The Conservatives may have acknowledged that the Quebecois are a nation, but gestures like these made it clear that we are a colonized nation within a monarchical state. The message was reinforced by the cuts to culture: budget cuts of $130 million at the CBC/ Radio Canada wiped out 657 jobs, nearly half of which were in French-language services.

These matters should not be taken lightly. Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe has claimed that it is possible to make alliances with anyone, even Harper, where Quebec's interests are at stake. With only five MPs in Quebec, perhaps the Conservatives aren't a threat to the Bloc, but they are certainly a threat to the people of Quebec, as they are to First Peoples and most Canadians.

The alternative remains to be built. If the right has succeeded in occupying so much political space, it means there's a void on the Left. It isn't enough to vote NDP; ties have to be forged between Quebec civil society and the rest of Canada. We have to take our future in hand and work together to fight the right head-on.


(1) "La consternante performance du NPD," Presse-toi a gauche [online], November 8, 2011.

(2) "Stephen Harper's Legal Challenge to Quebec Secession," Paul Wells, Maclean's, October 18, 2013.

ANDRE FRAPPIER IS a member of the CD Collective. He also serves on the editorial board of the online weekly Presse-toi a gauche, and has been a member of the FTQ Montreal Labour Council for many years. Andre ran for Quebec solidaire in the riding of Cremazie.
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Title Annotation:Quebec Communique; Stephen Harper and the Quebec separatism
Author:Frappier, Andre
Publication:Canadian Dimension
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 1, 2015
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