Dion and Duceppe, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s….


There’s a delicious irony in the thought of Gilles Duceppe coming to the defense of Stéphane “Clarity Act” Dion in the middle of an election campaign. But the sovereignist leader did just that after CTV‘s cheap broadside against the Liberal leader on Thursday, one that Stephen Harper was only too happy to repeat:

During a radio interview in Montreal Friday, Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe called Mr. Harper’s comments a “low blow” that only serves to illustrate the “double standard” that endures when it comes to Canada’s official languages.

Mr. Duceppe says Canadians demand that French political leaders speak English fluently, but that English-speaking leaders can get away with mangling French.

Thing is, I’m not so sure I follow Duceppe’s logic on this one. It’s certainly true that party leaders haven’t had to be anything approaching fluent in la langue de Molière to get where they are. (Alexa McDonough, anyone?) But it’s also true that not speaking French has severely limited their usefulness. (Again, Alexa McDonough, anyone?) Take Gerard Kennedy’s bid for the Liberal leadership, for example. Or Stephen Harper, when he first got to Ottawa—his spoken French is leagues ahead of where it was back then. And, on the flip side, consider how mightily people like Maxime Bernier and Josée Verner have struggled to build a profile outside Quebec, even when they were in cabinet. Although I definitely detect a whiff of bigotry in some of the attacks on Dion’s English, I also think a person’s ability to communicate to both solitudes is a legitimate leadership issue.

Anyway, despite the flawed logic, kudos to Duceppe for standing up and denouncing this low-rent bully routine; I’m 100% with Potter on this one.


Dion and Duceppe, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s….

  1. Ironic, but I believe that Duceppe is a principled human being with a heart. Even if his principles may differ than mine, anyone with them found it repungent

  2. If Harper had half as much class, he’s be sailing into a majority right now.

  3. “he’d” be sailing to a majority.

  4. Is there any truth to the rumour that if Harper wins the election he will appoint Duffy to the senate and then appoint him to the cabinet to be responsible for ethics?

  5. Duceppe playing the bigot card and getting warm and fuzzy with the Lib’s and NOT mentioning sovereignity once this campaign : wayne walks away shaking his head in disbelief : If I were to tell this to someone a few months ago they would never have believed it.

  6. That’s a global double-standard which applies to every non-English language everywhere. Fair or not English is the global lingua franca, and learning it is both easier (because it’s everywhere) and more valuable (because of the opportunities it opens up).

    IMHO English Canadians are unique charitable – globally speaking particularly among English speakers – in their eager willingness to learn another language in large numbers and accept that as the price-of-entry to high office.

    The idea that English supremacy is an Anglo-Canadian conspiracy targeted at Francophones, while having some currency in the past, is laughable today.

  7. …I could also mention the highly inflected nature of French making it much much harder to master than English, everything else notwithstanding… but I won’t ;)

  8. Man, this Duceppe is quite the farmer: getting to hay the same swath twice!

  9. The problem I have with this “no class” issue is that a proper understanding of class and culture only seems to exist within Quebec. Ok, perhaps slightly spilled over to within the borders of Ontario.

    But you know, all regions of this country possess class and culture. There is nothing wrong with expressions being made coming from all corners of this country.

    I mean, look at the classy ABC act Danny Williams is putting up. So what if other parts of the country read more into the classy (soon to be classic) ABCD act!

  10. Then there’s the clarity act (something to do with building)

    And there are artfull acts (something to do with tearing it all down again)

  11. It isn’t just the poor comprehension of English nuance, or the fact that English-speaking people make up a vast majority of the country, or even the fact that Mr.Dion didn’t have an answer to a simple question. It’s that he still doesn’t have an answer to that simple question:

    If Harper has done such a poor job on the economy, what Dion have done differently?


  12. Of course Duceppe is defending Dion, he definitely doesn’t want a Conservative majority, and he certainly wants a Dion government. Why, given Dion’s anti-separatist credentials?

    It is precisely because Dion is a hardliner on the Quebec issue that separatists want him in office. In Dion’s article in the British Journal of Political Science, he develops (he wrote about it before in an edited volume) a Fear-Confidence model of secession.

    Essentially, secession takes place when minority groups both fear assimilation, and are confident that they will succeed (“rejection” acts as a third, more short term factor – this is basically the Meech effect). Dion writes that decentralization of power to the provinces increases the confidence of secessionist minorities that they could succeed as their own country. Thus, putting as much power as possible in the hands of Ottawa, is a viable approach to Quebec. This is a deeply held intellectual belief for Dion – indeed it is holds within it the logic behind his main accomplishment (the clarity act) – since it suggests that sovereignty-association would lead to eventual secession, hence the need for a clear question which also reduces the confidence of Quebeckers.

    The Bloc, I think correctly, suspects that Dion’s basic insight is wrong. The trouble with Dion is that if you read his work he only talks about one case – Quebec. He briefly mentions other cases of bi-national countries, but does not really delve into them. Moreover, his own model can be used to deconstruct his argument: greater centralization of power increases the fear of assimilation. What Dion doesn’t do (because he has always relied on others – Nadeau and Blais – to do his quantitative work for him) is investigate which effect is larger. Indeed, that seems to be Dion’s problem – he has so much faith in his ideas that he doesn’t feel the need to do the hard work of verifying and checking them against the data or tenor of the times (eg. the Green shift).

  13. hoser, I think you misunderstand Dion’s position. He is certainly against salami sovereignty, but he is not in favour of centralising power in Ottawa a la Trudeau. He favours the BNA Act division of powers (plus, presumably, fait accompli centralisations like the Canada Health Act – but I doubt he does so with a clear conscience). So he’s exposed to attack both from centralisers and from decentralisers, but it’s an intellectually honest position. What he’s against is decentralisation over and above the BNA Act.

    As to a “bi-national” sovereignty association situation, which one could argue is what Harper has been fostering, if push comes to shove the ROC will never accept that. We haven’t heard much from English Canada’s resentment of Quebec’s individuality since 1995, but they’re not going to roll over & play dead if the separatists get serious again. The thing is, though, that they really aren’t serious about independence, only about Quebec’s “interests” – namely more power and more money from Ottawa. I’m not in Quebec so I don’t quite know why this is, but perhaps the fear of assimilation has generally abated. If they were serious, though, you’d see a much less conciliatory attitude from Duceppe, as it would be in his interest to provoke a Meech Lake resentment on both sides.

    My prediction, not a very cheerful one: with the fizzling of the Tory breakthrough in QC, we’ve reached a new equilibrium of a permanent Bloc, permanent minority gov’ts, permanently cool fed-prov relations re: Quebec, and a general atmosphere of Weltschmerz. Call it the Triumph of Entropy.

  14. Jack,
    Insofar as centralization-decentralization is a spectrum, who other than Justin Trudeau and Gerard Kennedy are bigger centralizers than Dion and why? Dion’s agenda would increase the power of the federal government: he authored the clarity act; his green shift would further centralize revenues; and has denied the existence of a fiscal disequilibrium. Now, Andrew Coyne notes that Dion favoured recognizing distinct society in the constitution, as evidence he is not a decentralizer. I don’t buy that – Dion’s argument in his articles is that you can use the constitution to protect minority rights, and everybody will be happy. It is little different from Trudeau’s view, is unworkable (constitutional change is too hard) and doesn’t give Quebeckers the sense that they are in control of their own destiny within Canada.

    A bi-national approach is possible, without English Canadian resentment if it comes from Harper (sort of a Nixon can go to China), but not from the Liberals. The core of the “screw Quebec” sentiment has always come from Alberta, where Harper has over 60% support. Moreover, I think it is naive to say that separatism is solely driven by interests. Why are there almost no English Quebeckers that vote Bloc (wouldn’t they benefit from pro-Quebec policies)? Why are Muslim girls playing soccer games election issues?

    I actually agree with part of your prediction, but think there is an obvious solution that would create workable governments: we need to be less squeamish about potential coalitions involving the Bloc Quebecois. After all, while the Bloc has the goal of secession, it is nigh-on-impossible to accomplish that goal. I suspect Canadians would be more open to such collaboration as well, with the salience of national unity issues on the decline in this election.

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