If a flag doesn’t flap and nobody makes noise, is it a flag flap?

A few notes on a controversy that refuses to be a controversy

by Paul Wells

Quebec’s new Parti Québécois government is getting right down to delivering on the priorities of Quebec’s voters by removing the Maple Leaf flag from the National Assembly’s Salon Rouge. Reporters in Ottawa promptly went to the NDP to seek reaction, and there were some titters on Twitter this morning because two of that party’s MPs, Alex Boulerice and Charlie Angus, declined to touch the question with a barge pole.

This prompted me to wonder aloud — well, a-Twitter — what the Government of Canada thinks about the subject, because we do in fact have one and as of today it’s not run by the NDP. This is an evolving quirk of the low-level ambient neurosis in Ottawa (from which I’m obviously not immune) over the election of a PQ government: everyone keeps running to the NDP to test its bona fides on national-unity questions, while ignoring the actual government of actual Canada. Tom Mulcair spent the weekend explaining his position on the appropriate referendum majority needed to procure the secession of Quebec. Stephen Harper spent his weekend not having to do that.

But this time, my colleagues did put the question to the PMO, and Mercedes Stephenson over at CTV received this response: “We do not believe that Quebecers wish to revisit the old constitutional battles of the past…Our government will remain focused on jobs, economic growth and sound management of the economy.”

A few notes on this controversy that refuses to be a controversy, despite our best efforts.

First, there is ample precedent for this blasé attitude. PQ members of the National Assembly have never been sworn in in the presence of the Canadian flag. I didn’t hear anything about it in 1994, and I don’t recall reading about any fuss from Trudeau’s Ottawa in 1976. As a general rule it’s a good idea for federal governments to refrain from making suggestions about protocol in provincial legislatures.

But among the very small number of Quebecers who’ll read the Harper government’s statement on the flag issue, I suspect for most the reasoning in the statement will ring quite false. Francophone Quebecers to whom I’ve spoken do not suspect the prime minister is overly focused on jobs, economic growth and sound management of the economy.

Rather, the Conservative Party is consistently as popular in Quebec as the NDP is in Alberta, and the PM appeared as a cartoon villain in the PQ’s main campaign ad, because Quebecers believe the prime minister is focused on appealing court decisions on the gun registry, multiplying public references to the Crown, re-fighting the War of 1812 and appointing unilingual candidates to serious offices.

So: Right on substance, to both the Conservatives and the NDP, but wrong, Conservatives, on spin. Concentrating on the economy? To many Quebecers, that would be an excellent idea and the only question is when the Conservatives plan to begin.




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If a flag doesn’t flap and nobody makes noise, is it a flag flap?

  1. On the other hand maybe our economy is safer if the Conservatives remain focused on celebrating the War of 1812.

  2. As Andrew Coyne stated last night on The National, Quebec has no problem taking our money.
    I think it is time for the ROC to question Quebec and if we WANT them in Canada. Now is the perfect time, Harper got his majority without Quebec, he has nothing to lose.
    Marois is a pathetic politician. Especially after reading all the great comments about the late Peter Lougheed (one of the greatest Premier’s of our generation), goodbye Quebec and goodbye Marois!! We can use our $4 BILLION on more positive things to improve our great country.

    • If and when Quebec goes, I hope they take us in Ontario with them….leaving the yahoos to yahoo in landlocked Alberta.

      • I do not understand what you mean EmilyOne. Ontario does not and has never wanted to separate. Why would we want to join Quebec? Canada is the greatest country in the world. We do not and have not sucked money from the rest of canada like Quebec, we never voted for anything to do with separating from quebec.

        • I’m an Ontario separatist, and there are others like me.

          Canada was originally Upper and Lower Canada, you know…..Ontario and Quebec. The others joined US.

          Maybe it’s time for back to basics.

          This is the kind of crap I’d be happy to leave behind ……”We do not and
          have not sucked money from the rest of canada like Quebec”

          PEI is the biggest beneficiary of equalization…..and Alberta was helped too, but can we act as ONE country? Apparently not…..even after 145 years.

          • How many of you Ontario separatists are there? 10? 11?
            Quebec wants to separate because of language and culture. Alberta has a few separatists because of the fiscal arrangement and NEP-like policies. What’s your reason?

          • Enough to form a party.

            The reason is that 8 of the 10 provinces are primary resource economies….pre-industrial….and they don’t seem to have any ambition to do any better than that. Oil, wheat, trees, fish……’hewers of wood, and drawers of water.’

            And it’s holding the rest of us….the bulk of us….. back.

          • How can it be that what they do is holding you back?

          • Ever since Mr Harper got in, there have been hits on Ontario…..a whole mass of them, not noticible by themselves but they add up.

            Everything from attacking unions, to losing trains, to the dumping of Nortel and it’s patents….the lack of support for RIM, the nuclear industry, the refusal to do federal duty on a native problem, the push to keep the dollar high, the wishy-washy free trade deals, the attacking of immigrants etc etc.

            Ontario has shelled out to every other province over the years. When we got hit hard in manufacturing things were re-jigged so first we couldn’t get any money, and then later we got a small rebate.

            Flaherty finally had to be duct-taped from trashing Ont and telling people not to do business here. What he says in private is another matter.

            ‘Health studies’….reams of them in favour of wind turbines, are to be disregarded for a ‘federal’ one ….from the guys that prefer oil to wind.

            Not the first time either….we lost the Arrow, and we were told to ‘freeze in the dark’ before. Which is why we import oil from other countries.

          • I notice you ignored the multi-billion dollar taxpayer-funded bailout of GM.

          • Obama did that.

          • Obama did that south of the border, and the federal and Ontario governments did it north of the border.

          • Yup. Harp did what he was told.

          • Just because some provinces happen to have natural resources…oil, wheat (and other food stuffs), trees, fishes, ……things people want to buy…doesn’t mean they are pre-industrial. Even Mr. Mulclair (whom now you are “down on”) recognizes, you sell the commodities you have. These provinces meanwhile are developing other industries.
            You on the other hand, are begging Quebec to “take you with them” when they separate. Did you not get the memo that they ONLY want people who speak FRENCH in their homes and are interested in keeping Catholic-related religion stuff in their public buildings (for historical reasons). Gee, Emily, even you in your most strict denial phase regarding “Catholic politicians NEVER let it affect their policies” have to admit this is religous bigotry. Do you really believe they want you, Emily? How do YOU fit their criteria? Start dealing in the reality of what Quebec wants and not want YOU want. You are neither Francophone nor Catholic….you don’t make the list.

          • Stop it.

          • BTW – right above the crucifix in the National Assembly you will see the coat of arms of England – Dieu et mon Droit !

          • Also, isn’t the Queen the head of state of Canada, and isn’t she Supreme Governor of the Church of England ?

          • I guess in Emily’s books, Norway is pre-industrial.
            Fascinating.

          • Yeah, what would I know. I’ve only travelled and spent time there.

          • I have no idea what you would know.

            Nothing much from what I’ve seen….just a tendency to bitterness

      • I am from Québec, I am 100% for separation. But if Ontario would like to create a new countrie by joining Québec to do so, I am 100% for it. We have much more in common when we thing of it! Most of my friends are from english background, and some live in Ontario and they start not to feel at ease with the ”ROC”!

        • Fantastic!

          Ontario and Quebec would make a great country! The ROC is steadily going downhill…back to the olde days…and we don’t need that!

    • Odd you reference Peter Lougheed. He would never have agreed with the gist of your statement. Leave him out of it. As PW implies it is Harper who has the job of trying to convince Quebecers they are better off inside Canada than outside of it. But like you he seems not to care anymore.

  3. Oh come on, Paul.

    I trust that the NDP can spare 20 seconds in a scrum to at least pretend to be federalists without losing the thread on the economy (and yet it declined to do so today).

    Yes there may be things to criticize about the government’s handling of the economy, but there is only one “federalist” party, full of former soft nationalists, that needs to prove its federalist bona fides. But the NDP ducks every opportunity to do so.

    • Read Denis Lebel’s and Max Bernier’s bios sometime.

      • Do Lebel and Bernier comprise 70% of the CPC caucus? Were either the interim party leader? Have they signed the Sherbrooke declaration? Your argument is a good debating point, but it has no traction in deeply pro Canadian parts of the country like Saskatchewan, where the NDP used to have a clue about how to win votes. The NDP has to find a middle ground between appealing to Quebecers and defending a federalist pan-national vision. Haven’t seen enough of the latter.

        • So Manitoba isn’t “deeply Canadian?” What about B.C.? Looks like it might be about to take a turn for the less Canadian?

          • Huh?

          • Where do you think all the NDP delegates that elected Muclair come from? Saskatchewan (and Manitoba and BC) are players in the party because they have deep roots and a lot of members there.

          • Wow, and here I thought it was a secret ballot. Never mind NDP, carry on with your genius strategy!

          • My remarks weren’t related to defending the NDP, I was challenging your assertion that the NDP is losing ground/appeal with so-called pro-Canadians. I just don’t see that happening. I’ve seen ROC support for NDP precisely because of the perception that they were a federalist breakthrough in Quebec. The Shebrooke declaration is far from anyone’s radar in ROC/not affecting their percepotion of the NDP.

            Speaking of genius, I see you provide your own thumbs up for your comments.

  4. To be fair to Mr Harper he hasn’t had a lot of luck in regard to whether the flag was in fact in the room or not. He’s not exactly a reliable witness. Best leave this one alone.

  5. Well Harper never said he would stand up for Canada in Quebec.

  6. “Rather, the Conservative Party is consistently as popular in Quebec as the NDP is in Alberta,”

    Ok i’m lost and a bit amazed. The NDP were running neck and neck with the CPC in AB as early as this summer!?!?…they even kicked butt in the 18-29 category[ if only they would all vote.]
    And the CPC is consistently at that level in QC? Colour me confused…for now. What has happened? Has Harper become a habs fan?
    Edit: I suppose there’s some smart alecky way of figuring out the average of their support since Nov’11. But that still doesn’t compute, does it?
    Make it around 21%…grumble…bloody know it all journalists…grumble…

  7. I don’t think you can fault the Conservatives for failing to concentrate on the economy. Canada has outperformed most of the OECD and all of the G8. They’ve done a lot of things to improve Canada’s economic performance.

    • No, they’ve lied about it

  8. Well, to be honest I never felt Canadian although I am against separating Quebec from Canada because I think it would just bring instability to the economy of both countries. People here in Quebec don’t hate Canadians or Canada, it just feel like a nice country that is not ours. If it wasn’t for instability, Québec would do just fine on its own because it would manage its money differently that the way it is done right now. I am not saying we would do it more wisely, but differently. We would spend less on millitary expenditures, more on crime prevention than prisons and so on. But lets be real: Canada is not a real country, it is a vast territory that we try to keep glued together with very expensive programs such as nationalized billinguism and multiculturalism. And the question is how long will this artificial country stay alive if we keep “working for the economy” by exploiting natural resources that make our dollars so strong that Quebec (and Ontario) loose hundreds of thousands of industrial and service jobs because our dollars is too strong. I think most people from Quebec can manage to stay with a country we consider foreign to keep the markets stable and keep enjoying a quality of life,

  9. “This is an evolving quirk of the low-level ambient neurosis in Ottawa
    (from which I’m obviously not immune) over the election of a PQ
    government: everyone keeps running to the NDP to test its bona fides on
    national-unity questions, while ignoring the actual government of actual
    Canada. Tom Mulcair spent the weekend explaining his position on the appropriate
    referendum majority needed to procure the secession of Quebec. Stephen
    Harper spent his weekend not having to do that.”

    Harper’s party doesn’t have an equivalent of the Sherbrooke Declaration which rejects the Clarity Act. So it makes sense that Mulcair would be the one under scrutiny on this issue, no?

    • Well there is this later on:

      “So: Right on substance, to both the Conservatives and the NDP, but
      wrong, Conservatives, on spin. Concentrating on the economy? To many
      Quebecers, that would be an excellent idea and the only question is when
      the Conservatives plan to begin.”

      The way i read some of that is that on the evidence so far the CPC has at least as much of a perception/credibility gap in QC as the NDP has on the unity file in the RoC.

      • No arguments from me on the CPC’s perception/credibility gap! It’s sad, to put it nicely, that so much of what the government says can’t be taken at face value.

        However, I do think it is reasonable that the NDP’s Sherbrooke Declaration should result in Mulcair having to say a lot more on referendum majority requirements than Harper should have to.

        • No argument from me either. Sherbrooke is a joke.

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