Peter Armstrong: How Quebec bashing moved West

There was a time, not long ago, when Quebec seemed to run the country and suffer its share of verbal slings. Is it perhaps now Alberta's turn, Peter Armstrong asks?

When Twitter blew up Thursday over Justin Trudeau's comments about Alberta, an idea began to turn over in my head.

Watching the video of his two-year-old interview on Quebec TV, in which he took a shot at the "Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda" — and which had the added bonus of Trudeau oddly throwing himself down a flight of stairs — I began to wonder: In all this frenzy of analysis, condemnation and defence, has Alberta become the new Quebec.

For years, Quebec was the slightly touchy base of political power that was misunderstood (or poorly understood) by the rest of the country. It was the province about which people across Canada would often say dumb things.

I moved to Ste. Foy, Que., in 1997. It was that weird time after the '95 referendum, and the hangover hadn't quite subsided.

I remember walking past the National Assembly one winter's night and looking up at the place with slight awe.

Lucien Bouchard was still premier. Jean Chretien had just won his second majority in Ottawa. The Bloc Quebecois was no longer the Official Opposition in Parliament, but was still a force to be reckoned with. 

Justin Trudeau, at a media scrum in Vancouver on Friday. Says he is sorry for attacking Alberta when he really meant Stephen Harper. (Richard Lam / Canadian Press)

In short, Quebec was a powerhouse provincially and federally.

If you were interested in politics, Quebec City was a fantastic place to be. It was a magnet that drew great political stories and I felt lucky to be around to report on them.

But as much fun as it was watching the politics inside Quebec, sometimes the even better sport was watching how Quebec politics played across the country.

There are entire websites dedicated to the dumb things people have said about Quebec. (And just as many chronicling the stupid things Quebecers have said about the rest of Canada.) There's no need to revisit them all here.

PQ and Bloc members kept a fresh and updated list of grievances, and coined the term Quebec bashing.

(Ask a Quebecer about Don Cherry or Mordecai Richler, or a recent Calgary Herald headline pondering whether one third of Quebecers are "bigots," or Richard Lafferty, the investment broker who was convicted of libel for once comparing Bouchard and Jacques Parizeau to Adolf Hitler).

Well, since then, power in this country has shifted west, with Canada's economic engine having virtually packed up and moved to Alberta.

The political movement currently in power finds its roots well outside the old maps of Upper and Lower Canada.

Today, those plucky outsiders who once demanded the West wants in are in.

And now the rest of Canada, or, perhaps more accurately, Canadians east of Manitoba, is struggling to understand Alberta and to seem "plugged in" to the West.

Combine that with the instinctual desire of politicians to play to their base and the saying of stupid things is almost inevitable.

I know, I know, there are countless differences between Quebec and Alberta.

But this isn't really about Albertans, it's about the rest of us and the way we see Alberta.

It's about how we interact with the new powerhouse. And, as is the case with so much of today's politics, it's about perception.

Maybe what we are seeing in the sensitivity over Trudeau's two-year-old remarks and his subsequent apology is simply the price a region pays for holding political power.

The West wanted in. Now that it is in, it will get yelled at, slandered, blamed and mocked for all sorts of reasons.

Some of them will be legitimate. Many of them will be slightly absurd.

Perhaps Albertans will recall the outrage in Quebec over every slight (perceived or otherwise) and shrug off the stupid things people say now about Alberta. Though perhaps that's too much to ask of any Canadian region.

That said, I now live in Toronto. This city is relentlessly mocked by everyone in Canada, even Torontonians themselves.

But that's not politics. It's probably just good sense.