If Maxime Bernier had called on Quebeckers to focus all their efforts and talents on making Canada a better place rather than to waste some of those efforts and talents on trying to separate from the country, two hands would not have been enough to applaud him. But he couldn't resist tainting his appeal with a sour partisan and ideological scent. He portrayed Canada as a right-wing project, and Quebec as a leftist drift gone bad.
Per se, Canada and Quebec are neither left-wing nor right-wing. They are what their citizens and governments choose to make them. Be they on the left, right or centre, it is in the best interest of Quebeckers to stay united with other Canadians to develop Canada's huge potential.
If Maxime Bernier had merely expressed the wish that we Quebeckers may one day be able to dispense with equalization payments and to help other Canadians with the same generosity that donor provinces are showing us today, it would have been a show of lofty ambition. What he showed instead was condescension and contempt, declaring, according to the Canadian Press: "I'm not proud to be a Quebecker when we are a poor province!" Neither should we Quebeckers, nor our fellow citizens of the other six provinces receiving equalization payments, be ashamed that for the time being, our province is a little less well off than the Canadian average -- which, after all, represents one of the highest living standards on the planet. What we should be doing instead is roll up our sleeves and work hard to rise above this demanding average.
If Maxime Bernier had invited us to stop listening to the kind of nationalism that keeps blaming our difficulties on the "others" (the English, the Federal, Ottawa...), he would have been right. Instead, he characterized any request for increased federal aid as the mark of a dependent mentality. It turns out that some provincial requests can be legitimate and some federal refusals, intransigent.
If Maxime Bernier had said unequivocally that nothing justifies breaking up Canada, he would have done something useful. Instead, he chose to predict that the return to a Liberal government in Ottawa would fan the separatist flame. He denounces separatist myths when they target his own party and embraces them when their target is the rival party.
It would be too easy to respond in a similar tone. One could wonder how the 1980 and 1995 referendums would have turned out with a Joe Clark or a Preston Manning as Prime Minister rather than Pierre Trudeau or Jean Chrétien. One could point out that Madame Marois was elected in 2012 through denouncing the Harper government's ultraconservative policies. One could well denounce the unilateralism, lack of dialogue and boondoggles that marked federal-provincial relations under Harper, as well as the Conservative government's hodge-podge of ill-advised political decisions with respect to health, justice, training, old age security, immigration... decisions which are proving costly to the provinces.
But responding in that manner would be irrelevant and uncalled for in the perspective of a call to Canadian unity. If people switched countries every time they didn't like the government, what country could survive? A country is much more than its government of the day!
So my response to Mr. Bernier is simply that Canada and Quebec are bigger, greater, far more noble and much more generous than the Harper government. Thankfully!
Click here for the French version.