How does Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe justify taking federal funding for his anti-federalist cause, and why do Canadians put up with it, asks Rex.
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April 8 2010
It's a little puzzling that Gilles Duceppe, the separatist leader of the Bloc Quebecois, is on a tour of the alien nation of Canada. He was in Newfoundland a few nights ago telling my crowd that we were once a nation too. That's not news. History teaching may be feeble, but it's a lonely Newfoundlander who doesn't already know Newfoundland went from nation to Commission to province a little over half a century ago.
I don't suppose Mr. Duceppe found it agreeable to give equal prominence to that last consideration, that we chose the Canadian route.
It's natural for Mr. Duceppe to tell Newfoundlanders we can separate, but awkward I suppose that Newfoundland actually made the choice to join. Just as I see it as awkward that our federal system is so flexible, that it incorporates within its federal Parliament, as federal politicians, a movement, a Bloc whose essential function in that Parliament is to bring it, and the federalism it represents, to an end.
Those who recall Lincoln's prophetic words “A House divided against itself cannot stand”, must sometimes wonder how federal Canada can be so 'broad' about its own interests. The existence of the Bloc in the federal Parliament, apart from being, in my view, a constitutional oxymoron, an electoral contradiction in terms, is, however, now sanctioned by time and usage. We've grown accustomed to their place.
We wear the oxymoron – federal Parliament separatists - as one of those badges of extended tolerance Canadians strangely cherish.
I doubt, however, that Mr. Duceppe's tour will deal with how a band of separatists in a federal Parliament works inescapable injury to our federal system - how the existence of a sovereigntist movement in federal elections almost necessarily impedes the formation of real national governments – certainly of representative majorities. How our federal Parliament has to “work around” a concentrated grouping of dedicated separatists, whom Duceppe recently absurdly likened to the “French resistance” of the Second World War, in forging genuine national policies.
This is one of the epic curiosities of that broad tolerance; we actively subsidize the weakening of our own federal system; we pay federal salaries and offer federal pensions to activist anti-federalists.
There's something of a game about all this. Separatist politicians get a couple of decades as Canadian federal politicians; the Quebec 'fact' gets more political leverage than other regions of the country; we, Canadians in general, get to look ever so tolerant. But the cost is a system structurally impaired, a lack of coherence in our federal Parliament, and a succession of minority governments unable to forge a real national agenda.
These would be nice items for Mr. Duceppe to address on his farewell tour of the disappointing country he is so anxious to leave, as they certainly haven't been in any real sense for the majority of his term as a “resistor” in the federal House of Commons over the last 20 years.
For The National, I’m Rex Murphy