Insult Quebec, why not? I'm prime minister

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Stephen Harper has revealed his Quebec strategy. The prime minister wants to punish Quebec for sending 59 New Democrats to the House of Commons in last May's federal election. To achieve his petty partisan goal of scaring Quebecers away from the NDP, he is willing to ignore years of work to create trust in Quebec, about the place of French in Canada.

Canadians of good faith have tried to show Francophones across Canada that there is a willingness of the Anglophone majority in Canada to want to protect and promote the French language. Such civil society activity seems not to matter to our current prime minister. For a good example, take Canadian Parents for French, a citizen initiative started in Calgary under the noses of Harper and Preston Manning when they were campaigning against the use of French.

Last week, the Harper government appointed a unilingual candidate to be auditor-general of Canada. The position requires, by law, a knowledge of both official languages. Ironically, the unfortunate individual who agreed to accept a job for which he was not qualified, came from New Brunswick, the only province where both English and French are protected as official languages. A senior Francophone in the office of the auditor-general resigned in protest against a government which does not feel bound by its own laws.

As was widely remarked upon, and not just in Quebec, Harper saw fit to elevate a unilingual Ontario judge to the Supreme Court, while passing over a highly qualified candidate from the same court with competence in the two official languages. 

Denise Bombardier writes a widely read, and influential weekly column for the nationalist daily Le Devoir. This past Saturday she exclaimed that so long as Stephen Harper appears bent on reviving the movement, sovereigntists have no reason to stop fighting for their option.

Having the prime minister of Canada taking the bellows to a fading Quebec nationalist fire, gives heart to the weakened and divided PQ, and the not quite moribund Bloc Québeçois.

Harper biographer William Johnson was convinced that the one-time Reform party stalwart understood that every Canadian prime minister had to place national unity considerations high in every decision. So what gives?

Stephen Harper is hoping that rookie les néo-démocrates will get sufficiently annoyed so as to allow him to keep alive the "socialists and separatists" rhetoric he used to discredit the coalition government proposed by Jack Layton, accepted by Stephen Dion, and assented to by Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc, who promised voting support. 

Harper now thinks he has an even easier target lined up. He is itching to say the NDP is not only socialist, it is also separatist. To help things along, he is even pushing the British monarchy as a symbol of Canadian unity.

By attempting to divide Quebec along nationalist lines, Harper is following a well-tread path. Who has not heard successive Ottawa politicians proclaim how bad sovereignty would be for Quebec, and how good federalism has been for Quebec? And by extension, how Quebec is divided into good, and bad Quebecers.

We are not supposed to notice that "the bad guys" have been calling for social and economic policies that make a lot of sense to New Democrats from Newfoundland to British Columbia. Quebec nationalists have been fighting in Ottawa since 1993 to restore unemployment insurance, and to adopt fair, progressive taxation principles. 

The dividend Harper expects to get outside Quebec by ignoring federal official language laws is solidifying support from his base of voters suspicious of any laws that appear to favour someone other than themselves.

Stephen Harper wants to be prime minister of the 37 per cent who voted Conservatives. To his everlasting discredit, this prime minister divides people around language (or whatever else) in order to maintain his position of full power while enjoying barely one-third support from the public.

Divide the country rather than bring it together? Is that not precisely what strong federalists could not accept about sovereigntists?

Duncan Cameron is the president of and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

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