Whatever happened to Intergovernmental Affairs?

Is it possible the Bloc has become Canada’s de-facto Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs?

For reasons I imagine have a lot to do with the 20th anniversary of Gilles Duceppe’s election, a lot of ideas are being floated about on how to get rid of the Bloc. For the most part, these appear to be based on the premise that the problem with the Bloc isn’t that its long-term goal of an independent Quebec is fundamentally incompatible with the survival of the Canadian federation; rather, it’s that the Bloc prevents the Conservatives or the Liberals from getting a Parliamentary majority. (For the record, since Duceppe got to Ottawa, he’s spent 14 years opposing a majority and six opposing a minority.)

Jeffrey Simpson has suggested the party be bankrupted into obsolescence; pollster John Wright, abiding by the time-honoured principle that if you ignore your problems they just go away, figures the federalist parties may be better off waiting for demographics to run their course; William Johnson recommends having Mel Hurtig take over the Quebec Liberal party and working in the phrase “le plusse meilleur pays au monde” into speeches more often; the Toronto Star‘s editorial board advises that either the Liberals should transform into credible Quebec nationalists or the Tories should go Bolshevik (what happens if they both take the advice?); the National Post, meanwhile, is stuck on the rather existential question of whether Quebec “matters.”

The stunning decline of the intergovernmental affairs portfolio at the federal level is rarely, if ever, mentioned in the discussion. Is it possible the Bloc has become Canada’s de-facto Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs? Because they’re the only ones who seem burdened by the task.

Since 2006, four different ministers have handled the portfolio and Josée Verner has now held the job for nearly two years. During that time, Verner has made a grand total of one speech (I don’t count MPs talking about government work in the House of Commons as a speech). Of the three announcements made by the government’s Intergovernmental Affairs division over the past year and a half, two were for appointments to the Transportation Safety Board (apparently the true lynchpin of Canadian federalism) and the other about a grant to fix the water system in the town of Shannon. The picture above is the first one you’ll see if you go to the former ministry’s website. In case you were wondering, that’s Stephen Harper announcing upgrades to the Vancouver aquarium.

It’s not clear to me what the federal government and its institutions can do to regain their legitimacy in Quebec. Still, it’s striking how little interest they’ve got in even trying.




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Whatever happened to Intergovernmental Affairs?

  1. Well it's certainly true that the Bloc is the Block. LOL

    The NDP were manageable, the Bloc was one party too many.

    As to provinces, I think the Council of the Federation took over.

    One could, of course, simply point out to Quebecois that they have effectively dealt themselves out of the cabinet, and therefore anything for Quebec from now on, by supporting the BQ.

    Some Quebecois used to be PMs, and yet now they've voted themselves into being nonentities.

    • Having got most of what they want anyway (except to cut away from Canada) they have found that nobody believes their constant crap about referenda and separation. It is certainkly a flaw in the constitution that a member can sit with a party that wants to do away with Canada as it has been since Confederation.

      • It is certainkly a flaw in the constitution that a member can sit with a party that wants to do away with Canada as it has been since Confederation.

        Yes, but how could our Founding Fathers have known that a party like Harper's would one day be allowed to exist?

        • Very solid point.

          • Emily, you do know how to be both silly and boring – all in 3 words.

          • You're an ex-Canuck. Stay that way.

          • that's the way to show the douchebag! Go Em!

          • Quebec what provincial party was in power…?

            Another failed English major, with no sense of humour and a genius for missing the point.

            That said—tell me. What is the combined percentage of support for federalist parties in Quebec right now? How far away is that number from single-digit territory, precisely?

            And answer me this, O paragon of historiographical expertise: which federal party was in power when Levesque submitted to the Assemblée Nationale the "White Paper" motion that initiated the first referendum campaign?

          • No points. Do your own research.

            I will close with this gem from your blog comments.

            As I watch progressive bloggers fulminate with overheated rhetoric about Harper and Reichstag fires, etc., I can't help but see their protests as an admission of complete disarray and incompetence in the opposition and its supporters. The man has had a minority government for four years, for God's sake, and the opposition can't put one non-confidence vote together against the man putatively destroying parliamentary democracy?! But instead of visiting their wrath on the incompetence of the opposition and taking a hard and humble look at what it would need to displace him, they take the easy way out and use the opportunity to indulge in yet another sneer at Alberta yahoos and the sneaky machinations of the Harperites who are both incredibly stupid and uncommonly wily. At least the Dems had the excuse that Bush had a fixed term.-Peter Burnet Jan 4, 2010

          • Do your own research.

            I have. I'm just asking you to do likewise.

            I will close with this gem from your blog comments.

            Well, I see that at least some of your Internet time has been well spent. And, if you absolutely need someone else to do your thinking for you, I suppose Peter—clever chap that he is—represents as good a choice as any. Congratulations on your excellent taste.

          • How far away is that number from single-digit territory, precisely?

            You're the same guy that was cheering on the coalition and likes to count those voting BQ in his tally as those voting against Harper. So, one thing's for sure, you're a cheerleader for separatistes when it suits you.

            And at the same time, you're a cheerleader against democracy when it suits you as well. Harper wins a minority government and you yearn for continuation of one-party rule from the Liberals.

          • You're the same guy that was cheering on the coalition and likes to count those voting BQ in his tally as those voting against Harper.

            I can't remember "cheering on" the so-called coalition, and I've no idea why one would not tally BQ voters in the total of those who voted against Harper, since they…[wait for it]…voted against Harper.

            Harper wins a minority government and you yearn for continuation of one-party rule from the Liberals.

            …just one of the many abysmally fallacious assertions you'll be reading in my forthcoming anthology, "How To Optimise the Illogical Payload of Your Run-On Sentences: A Neocon Primer", soon available at your very worst bookstores.

  2. I'm not sure why "interprovincial affairs" is synonymous with "gaining legitimacy with Quebec". Whatever affairs are "interprovincial" likely involve more than just one province.

    Having said that, the death of Intergovernmental Affairs as a serious Ministry likely occurred around the time Rona Ambrose
    was appointed to lead it.

  3. The picture above is the first one you'll see if you go to the former ministry's website.

    I think the picture is perfectly appropriate, given the ease with which the verb "tanking" comes to mind whenever the words “Stephen Harper” and “Quebec” are made to adjoin each other in a declarative sentence.

    • Harp is the one in the silk suit and the farmer glasses, right?

      • Hard to tell. But I think the picture calls for a Feschuk-style caption contest. My entry:

        "An interesting, thoughtful, and charismatic mammal. And Stephen Harper."

        • LOL I love that!

          • Remember when Mulroney went hunting with Yeltsin and they killed a couple of wild boars. Someone claimed the photo caption should have been 'Boris Yeltsin with three dead boars.'

        • A mammal with a layer of blubber and pasty white skin … and a beluga whate.

        • ‘PM announces prison expansion for pro-rogue whales.’

  4. I imagine most Canadians are satisfied with the state of Quebec-ROC relations these days. And I suppose after the high drama of the Trudeau-Mulroney years it's understandable that people apptreciate the quiet.

    However I'm not convinced we won't pay a price for this for this inaction. Canada still remains something of a joke for many French-speaking Quebecers (for example see how Canada Day is "celebrated" in the province) and the ambivalence felt towards separation hasn't been replaced by any kind of warmth towards the Canadian project. I fear the day some clever and ambitious sovereigntist like Parizeau makes his/her way back into the Premier's chair. It seems to me that under the current regime Canada would be largely defenceless in any ensuing confrontation.

    • Charest is doing an excellent imitation of the Titanic. The PQ has a real chance for a comeback. Then its back to the same old grind, and sooner than we think. Maybe in what … 14 -15 months ?

    • You're right that the average Franco-Quebecer does not really have great depth of feeling toward Canada and Canadian federalism, but I doubt any actions of the federal government, whether it be Tory, Grit, Dipper or some combination thereof would do anything to fix that. Fundamentally, a constantly growing proportion of them simply do not identify Canada as their country. No amount of federal funding and programs is going to change that.

      • Perhaps you're right but, you know, TRYING might not hurt.

        • And just to nitpick one point:

          It's not clear to me that it's a "constantly growing proportion" of Québecois who do identify with Canada but certainly it's not showing any signs of improvement.

      • um that explains why separatism is at an all time high. Could I borrow your Tardis to travel to your alternative universe?

  5. "Like to help you son, but you're too young to vote."

    • “Sometimes I wonder if Harper's ever gonna lose,
      But there aint no cure for the summertime stooge.”

      • As he launches another Arctic ' use it or lose it' photo-op tour. David Akin is travelling with him, so we can expect some tough questioning.

        • "Mr. Harper, please excuse my impertinence. I hate to get tough or seem abrasive, but…well, damn it… I think Canadians have a right to know: would you class yourself with Alexander the Great and Richard Coeur de Lion, or do you think you're closer to Simon Bolivar and Winston Churchill?"

  6. "It's not clear to me what the federal government and its institutions can do to regain their legitimacy in Quebec. Still, it's striking how little interest they've got in even trying."

    Harper doesn't care if Canadian institutions have any legitimacy anywhere in Canada, not just Quebec. Hasn't for a long time. The only way to remedy that state of affairs is to vote the CPC out. Election please.

    “Whether Canada ends up as one national government or two national governments or several national governments, or some other kind of arrangement is, quite frankly, secondary in my opinion … And whether Canada ends up with one national government or two governments or ten governments, the Canadian people will require less government no matter what the constitutional status or arrangement of any future country may be.”

    Stephen Harper

    (Speech to the Colin Brown Memorial Dinner, National Citizens Coalition, 1994)

    • "Whether Canada ends up as one national government or two national governments or several national governments, or some other kind of arrangement is, quite frankly, secondary in my opinion '"

      A French-speaking Canadian politician from Québec would never, ever become prime minister of Canada after saying something like this.

      • Good point.

  7. … based on the premise that the problem with the Bloc isn't that its long-term goal of an independent Quebec is fundamentally incompatible with the survival of the Canadian federation…

    Such a statement requires the premise that the Bloc's long-term goal is an independent Quebec. They've been around for almost a generation. They'll be around for another. At what point de we call B-S: the Bloc's long-term goal is to be douleur dans les fesses rondes des têtes carrées in Ottawa for as long as possible. Not an independent Quebec.

    • Right

    • …the Bloc's long-term goal is to be douleur dans les fesses rondes des têtes carrées in Ottawa for as long as possible. Not an independent Quebec.

      I call a false dilemma.

      The Bloc can manage perfectly well to be both a pain in our round arses and the purveyors of separation.

      • The Bloc can manage perfectly well to be both a pain in our round arses and the purveyors of separation.

        They can't deliver the latter without giving up the former. They have settled in nicely with the former. Why would they in their right minds give that up for the latter?

        • The Bloc technically cannot deliver the latter, so their role is to look after the interests of Quebec in Ottawa best they can while supporting separation (lately only rhetorically).

  8. O/T.

    As a major Wes Anderson fan, did any person actually get a good pic of PM Harper with the whale in the back? Anyway the pics reminds me of this..
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OcUWE2TrSR0

    Go Team Zissou(Yes I do own a pair of Zissou adidas shoes).

    • I'm jealous. What size are your feet? And where do you live?

      [/innocent questions]

  9. Is it possible the Bloc has become Canada's de-facto Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs?

    It's quite a reach to to say the BQ can manage intergovernmental affairs when it is only interested in the affairs of one province. They have no interest in the affairs of 9 of 10 provincial governments, and if they had their way, they'd have no interest in the federal government either.

  10. It's not clear to me what the federal government and its institutions can do to regain their legitimacy in Quebec. Still, it's striking how little interest they've got in even trying.

    For one thing, I think Harper spent a great deal of time in his first two years as PM trying to woo the people of Quebec with all sorts of initiatives.

    Secondly, while it's evident Verner has been invisible, I'm at a loss for what Gohier would suggest has been lacking, specifically? Not enough federal handouts for Quebec folk festivals?

  11. If you elect Senators, there's no reason for intergovernmental affairs. All the representatives of the provinces that you need are immediately at your disposal. /glib

  12. The Harper government more closely adheres to the separation of powers in the Constitution. If you aren't interfering in provincial jurisdictions all the time, like previous Liberal governments did, then there is not much need for a "federal department of interfering in provinical jurisdiction".

    Good fences make good neighbors. The Constitution is a good fence. The federal Liberals are just bad neighbors and don't keep on their side of the fence.

    • The federal Liberals are just bad neighbors[sic] and don't keep on their side of the fence.

      "Yeah. The federal government should confine itself to handling Canadian matters and stay out of the provinces. Moreover, there are far too many Maple Leafs being flown outside of Ottawa's municipal limits. It's downright offensive."

      Is this kind of Western Concept rhetoric supposed to be somehow different from Quebec nationalism/soft-separatism? If I'm unable to discern the “conservatism” in Dominion-hatred and state-bashing, am I just another typical Tal-ee-ban-hugging commie, or do I just understand that Confederation was meant to bring a string of administratively independent colonies together, not keep them apart?

      Let's ask our favourite unassimilated American, Tom Flanagan. He'll know.

    • Please stop using the idiom “Good fences make good neighbours” like this. It doesn’t mean what you think it means.

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