The paragraph I'm glad I didn't write -

The paragraph I’m glad I didn’t write


I was nodding along with Norm Spector’s latest column, until his final graf:

Finally, on language issues, Mr. Harper need not line up with devotees of Pierre Trudeau who insist that Montreal’s mayor must be bilingual but that Ottawa’s need not be. Instead, he should propose measures to strengthen the French character of Quebec, starting with subjecting federally regulated companies to the province’s language laws.

Memo to Norm: the government of Canada, like the country, speaks English and French. The laws of Canada apply throughout Canada. The government of Canada is not subordinate to the provinces, nor is it in the business of enforcing provincial laws, particularly laws that discriminate against linguistic minorities.

UPDATE: Second prize for oddest Quebec-related graf goes to Tom Courchene for this “rebuttal” of Brian Crowley’s recent column, adapted from his recent book Fearful Symmetry: The Rise and Fall of Canada’s Founding Values, particularly his description of Quebec as “a society that cannot pay its own way or reproduce itself, that is highly dependent on transfers from the rest of the country, and that is losing its political influence”:

It is instructive to approach this claim from the opposite vantage point, namely, what did Quebec “win” for Canada. First, Quebec gave Canada legal, linguistic and institutional pluralism, among the many beneficiaries of which are the country’s first nations. Second, because Quebec as a founding nation was also a “have not” province, this led to a larger role for interpersonal and interregional transfers (including equalization, which is absent in the United States). Third, and related, Quebec has assumed Saskatchewan’s earlier role as an innovator in social policy (daycare, parental leave, pharmacare for example). Fourth, Quebec was, and still is, a leader in terms of decentralizing the federation, much appreciated now by the fossil-energy provinces. Fifth, with Quebec in the fold, the political tensions in Canada revolved around federal-provincial and territorial axes, and not non-territorial ones (e.g., not Charter interests versus vested interests). Sixth, multiculturalism would be less strong were it not for official bilingualism and biculturalism. Lastly, but hardly exhaustively, Quebec has been the bastion of collective rights, which again distinguishes Canada from the United States.

Okay, the “legal, linguistic and institutional pluralism” part I buy, though whether that’s been all that beneficial to native people is worth debating. But Quebec’s role “as a founding nation” (it was no such thing) in saddling the country with chronic and ever-escalating equalization payments, or in hollowing out federal power — this we should celebrate? We should be thankful that our politics is split on “federal-provincial and territorial” lines, rather than ideological? And “collective rights,” ie the “right” of majorities to lord it over minorities, in whose defense even Tom can only muster the tautology that it “distinguishes us from the US” — sorry, where’s the rebuttal here?


The paragraph I’m glad I didn’t write

  1. I wish I'd said that!

    You did. You should sue him for Bidening your line.

  2. No copying. Just synchronicity.

  3. What on earth does any of this have to do with Olympic hats? :)

    • Busted. Where's my head at?

    • Do you believe?

  4. Also what is a graf?

    • Sorta like a no at the UN.

  5. =paragraph

  6. ROOOOOOTS!!!!!!!

    • Ah, and conserv-ing them. It all makes sense now. I thought Coyne had completely missed the important developments of the day.

      • Actually, I think that's just going to be my response to anything related to the epic fail that is the HBC Olympic outfits.


  7. What possible grounds would Norm Spector have to suggest that devotees of Trudeau think the mayor of Ottawa (an officially bilingual city) shouldn't be bilingual?

    • What Spector is talking about is that when Ottawa was expanded by amalgamation and the question arose as to whether the new city should be bilingual, the Trudeauites were suprisingly mute on the issue but they were very loud in their support for an officially bilingual Montreal.

  8. I was puzzled by that one too. Nice to see that AC is still in there battling for at least some of PETs vision of the country. I was starting to wonder if there was anyone in the media who still had the will. or even cared anymore. Sounds like Spector's still pushing that old two nations handcart.

  9. Methinks Courchene has his reheadal stuck pretty far up his rebuttal if he thinks these are arguments for the greatness of Quebec's legacy to Canada.

    Equalization payments? Multiculturalism? Collectivism? Non-americanism?

    • Sounds like the greatness of communist Russia, except for the multiculturalism –
      poverty, collectivism, non-americanism

    • I agree, it sounds nuch like the greatness of communist Russia, except for the mutliculturalism –
      equalization (ie poverty), collectivism (socialism), non-americanism (conflict)

      Not a great legacy.

  10. Spector's paragraph is essentially the same as the prirotiy policy resolution the NDP tried to hide from the rest of the country at their last convention. 'Til the Montreal Gazette busted them:

    • Yes, and it is very depressing that such fascist ideas continue to spread even beyond the borders of Quebec. Spector reallyt lost the plot, and these ideas of opressing minorities and individual rights, as being something good, disgusts me.

    • Yes, and it is very depressing that such fascist ideas continue to spread even beyond the borders of Quebec. Spector really lost the plot, and these ideas of opressing minorities and individual rights, as being something good, disgusts me.

  11. Andrew Coyne still fighting the good fight on the Pierre Trudeau vision of federalism.

    The Liberals, who once beleived in that vision, have abandonned even that, there last principled stand on anything as demonstrated by Iggy's Quebec as a nation resolution at the 2006 Montreal leadership convention.

    • You mean that shameful resolution that an opportunistic Harper picked up and ran with?

  12. The last thing that PM Harper needs is to insert the Conservative Party into a language debate that almost certainly would blow up in his face. Surely, Norman would understand from talking to the tea-drinking matrons in Oak Bay. Or is Norman trying to undermine Stephen?

    • Maybe he had a brief siezure or something.

    • Maybe he had a brief seizure or something.

      • Didn't he work for Brian? Just saying…

  13. And “collective rights,” ie the “right” of majorities to lord it over minorities,

    Although that is a cute line, it isn't a very accurate explanation of collective rights. Collective rights are rights held by collectives or groups rather than by individuals. Aboriginal rights would be an example of collective rights.

    • Collective rights are exactly what Coyne said. Your example of Aboriginal rights is incorrect. Aboriginal "rights", based on treaties, are contractual obligations. Aboriginals have the same rights as all Canadians. Actually, the Supreme Court ruled several years ago that collective rights do not exist in Canada. However, Quebec did not sign the Constitution and has no problem ignoring the Supreme Court whenever it pleases.

      • No, you're wrong. Check out the following for a helpful primer:

        The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Constitution Act, 1982, and the jurisprudence recognize that the "existing treaty and Aboriginal rights" of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada include certain rights of a collective nature. Although these collective rights have yet to be fully defined, it is clear that they include matters such as the inherent right to self-government; hunting, fishing and gathering rights; collective land rights; and the right to the preservation of traditional languages, cultures and traditions.

        • These are all included in the treaties. Jurisprudence recognizes the treaties. Check section 25 of the Charter. It clearly references the treaties and does not confer any new rights. The opinion of the Canadian Human Rights Commission does not supersede the Charter.

          • Actually, s.25 and s.35 both reference "aboriginal and treaty rights". So, two sets of rights: aboriginal rights, and treaty rights. Both sections recognize aboriginal rights, which are, of course, collective rights.

          • Once again, the courts have decided there are no collective rights in Canada. Any Aboriginal "rights" are treaty obligations. Aboriginals have no additional "rights" outside of the treaties (none are given in the Charter). This is what the Aboriginal community says itself. However they do expect, and rightly so, that the treaties be honored. Collective rights mean explicitly that the larger the group, the more rights it has. For example, Aboriginals can individually chose to be status or non-status. Under collective rights, individuals would not be able to chose that identification for themselves.

          • No, you're ill-informed. The SCC has recognized collective aboriginal rights many times over, including rights that do not come directly from treaties. Look at the Sparrow decision for one example.

            On a side note, just because the collective right is contained in a treaty obligation doesn't mean that it isn't a collective right. What makes a collective right is simply that it is a right held by a collective, or group.

    • There is no such thing as collective rights.

  14. Funny….my copy of the BNA Act says that municipalities are creatures of the provinces (OK, not in those exact words). It strikes me that a PM who respects the constitution might be reluctant to weigh in on who and who can't be mayor of Montreal (or Toronto, or Moncton, or Calgary for that matter).

    • You are absolutely right. And is Coyne implying that it's okay to insist that Montreal have a bilingual mayor and Ottawa not? That's literally what he seems to be saying: the the federal government should insist on bilingualism where it serves an Anglophone minority but not where it serves a Francophone minority.

  15. Agreed, stay out of municipal politics…..stay away from language wars….two pieces of advice for any PM.

    I wouldnt subject the federal bureacracy to any laws of a lower level government unless I was required to, no matter what the law is. nasty or innoucuous. Just makes life…..well complicated.

  16. "You'd think with all those advantages, Quebec would be booming. It hasn't worked out that way. And yet, before Ottawa started to shower Quebec with benefits, before the separatist threat became significant, and before the Quiet Revolution that ushered in a huge and powerful state, Quebec was keeping up quite nicely with Ontario both economically and in other ways as well. Quebeckers had high levels of fertility and immigration, and their productivity and growth matched that of Ontarians".
    I don't mean to take Crowley out of context [ i hav'n't read his book ] – i understand he's railing against statism. But he's oversimplifying here – there was no golden past before the quiet revolution and statism – there was Duplessis. Few Quebecers, i would guess, look back to that era with anything other than relief it's gone.

  17. "Quebec has been the bastion of collective rights, which again distinguishes Canada from the United States."

    It may distinguish us, but why boast? This is one aspect of my home and native land that makes me look longingly upon the United States as a shining example of what we can be.

    • Give Texas time…

  18. "Quebec has been the bastion of collective rights, which again distinguishes Canada from the United States."

    It may distinguish us, by why boast? This is one aspect of my home and native land that makes me look longingly upon the United States as a shining example of what we can be.


  20. Iggy begs to differ.

    • What evidence do you have for that? Are you suggesting SH does?

      • Iggy is far more of a decentralist than PET was. However, they share a common disdain for ethnic or tribal nationalism. The more extreme variants of seperatists/sovereigntist/whatever we are allowed to call them today, are fine examples of ethnic nationalsists…..

        However, I also quibble with his definition of collective rights….it is often not about majorities, it is the other way around, a minortity, or those purporting to speak for them, attempting to exercise power on behalf of all.

        The collective just refers to a group. And I agree, rights are individual based not collective based. Powers are government based…..governments have powers not rights… gets confused when a "collective" is a government. Then you get governments claiming rights on behalf of their collective…..and the whole thing just gets messy.

  21. The non-Americanism is an insulting point for this Canadian abroad. It implies that English Canadians are the same as Americans, and only the political influence of les Quebecois has gave us some small claim to being euro-cool. Yet he misses the key distinctions between Anglo Canadians and Americans in the process. Distinctions, I should add that have, if anything, been worn down by the attempts of Canada's eurocool left to shear upper middle class English Canada of its Britishness, so as to appease Quebec, into a carbon copy of contemporary American Democrats (while our proximity to America assimilates the working class).

    Yes, English Canada was once a nation with real values and culture other than not having values or culture. Our values were Tory-touched liberalism. Like most Europeans we believe in and like progress, however, we are willing to go slow about it. Change in Canada has been driven by elites and well-established institutions. We have among the most liberal abortion laws and are one of few to legalize gay marriage – but both changes happened primarily through the courts, not the masses. We have long had among the freest markets in the world (Fraser institute says so, as does our low gov't spending as a % of GDP). However, at the heart of it all is a carefully regulated core (and our heritage of careful banking policies goes back to before the depression). For over a century our country had no constitution – conventions and norms were enough. When we think of our martial prowess, Vimy Ridge comes to mind, but so too do impartial peacekeepers and upright mounties.

    English Canadians are unfailingly polite (a custom not shared by all of our countrymen), but not especially nice (I posit that Americans are nicer, but also ruder – though it might not be so if I was non-white). We are reserved and lack the cult of the extrovert that Americans have. We are prudent and careful – we save when others spend. This is in part because we have a class system that is not entirely materialistic.

    So I agree with Crowley that appeasing Quebec (among other things) is slowly robbing us of our national culture. We simply disagree on whether that is a good thing (I would rather not have English Canada become some facsimile of Massachusetts).

    • Lament for a nation was exactly that – a lament. Nothing could hold it back – Grant couldn't, you can't. You're like one of those Brits who endlessly lament the passing of Rhodesia, Kenya et al., They remember what they want to remember, not caring to tell the whole story. English Canada, it's a remittance man's dream. We don't like to remember too well how minorities were treated, the indignities that were heaped on them for not being English. Cry your lament to some Ukranians, Irish or Chinese or Japanese Canadians – not to mention Aboriginals. Mythology dies hard i guess. Not that i'm mocking you. I have a partiality for life on the BC coast before the second world war, there were no ordinary people living on the coast in those days. But i can tell you the English were not universially loved or respected. In fact the seeds of a multicultural and egalitarian future were already there to be seen.

      • Reminds me of the anecdotal: "Italian guy pusha da wheelbarrow, English guy smoka da cigarro."

  22. Perhaps Mr. Spector will pay us a visit to elaborate on that point.

    • Andrew

      Glad you nodded along (and not off) when reading the column

      And, honestly, I was not thinking of you when I referred to devotees of Pierre Trudeau, though, as a number of commenters have observed, the description would fit.

      According to documents I have seen, Mr. Trudeau was advised by some of his anglophone officials to challenge Quebec's language law, but declined. Mr. Chretien, too, accepted the law, though by his time no one in Ottawa was recommending that it be referred to the Supreme Court.

      (Continued below in a second post.)

  23. Oh this could get interesting…..maybe we can even bring in Iggy's Uncle George Grant…..who would have some other thoughts about what made Canada unique, and they competely disagree with Iggy….Calling Dr Melfi….

  24. "The government of Canada is not subordinate to the provinces….."

    Memo to Andrew:
    Really? You sure?
    Well you should let the Canadian Federal government, Circa 2004 – 2009 know. Everybody after Chretien seemed to be somewhat confused on this matter.

  25. Mr. Trudeau's devotees, on the other hand, continue to paint a picture of a bilingual Canada that exists only in their own minds. Quebeckers aren't fooled, though they are often amused: Remember how bilingual Gerard Kennedy was when he announced his candidacy for the Liberal leadership? Even Jeffrey Simpson eventually gagged on that one. And remember Elizabeth May, when anglo members of the press gallery pronounced her fit to participate in the two debates? It was too laugh (even more than her performance in English).

    As to the specific proposal, the federal government should continue to provide services to minority language groups across Canada.

    (Continued below in a third post.)

  26. But nothing stops it from delegating to Quebec the authority to apply provincial language laws to federally regulated entities in Quebec, which would mean that banks would be treated the same as credit unions on this aspect of their operations. A proposal along these lines would nicely balance an assertion of federal power over securities–as it is seen in Quebec, notwithstanding the velvet glove of an opt in.

    The Montreal Gazette would howl, as would devotees of Pierre Trudeau, most of whom vote Liberal. But Conservatives could bring some truth to the issue, including the truth that we are a bilingual country because of Quebec. And the move would be welcomed by the majority, judging from the reaction of Le Devoir readers to the French version of the column.

    Anyway, that's my free advice to Harper, and you know the old saying…

    • …"the move would be welcomed by the majority"…

      Presumably you mean the majority in Quebec. But, surely, Norman, you agree that the move would create a backlash in parts of English Canada? While this might be fun for newspaper columnists, it would just be fodder for the separatists who would love to prove that all squareheads are bigots.

      This is a sleeping dog that needs more sleep.

      • If it thinks about it, English Canada–your term–should have no problem with French Canada being French.

        • Where do yo draw the line Mr Spector? When we need a passport to enter Quebec? You can only push asymetrical federalism [ god how craven we've become ] so far.

        • Yes, but as Andrew pointed out, the federal government represents all of Canada, not English Canada (otherwise known as ROC), nor French Canada.

    • So when the next VIA train crosses from Cambellton NB into Quebec, the language police will board the train and replace everyone's luggage tags with new ones featuring state-approved font sizes? When you visit your bank branch you'll need to squint to read the English on the ATMS? The flight attendants turn off your TV screen if there isn't enough French content? Come on.

      There's a good reason why federallly-regulated entities are federally regulated. And a good reason why the Official Languages Act applies to them.

  27. So Spector thinks that the Prime Minister of Canada should ensure that more Canadians are subject to Quebec's discriminatory language laws?

    Yeah, genius. The Federal Government is official bilingual. Quebec is not. What more needs to be said?

  28. So Spector thinks that the Prime Minister of Canada should ensure that more Canadians are subject to Quebec's discriminatory language laws?

    Yeah, genius. The Federal Government is officially bilingual. Quebec is not. What more needs to be said?

    • That's not a fair comment. English Quebecers' access to government publications, services, tribunals, documents, and information in English is far, far superior than that of francophones' access to similar services in provinces outside of New Brunswick (and possibly Ontario).

  29. So Frog has a Norman Spector in his vest pocket rather than the other way around. Who knew?