Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Quebec problem an old memory

  • Print

Quebec now has a provincial premier who has been dubbed "Captain Canada" and a decidedly federalist-minded government. Does that mean the whole divisive national-unity file has been essentially placed in a holding pattern?

If so, what does that mean for Ottawa and federal-provincial relations? And secondly, what are the implications for Quebec's place within the Canadian polity?

One could not be faulted for positing another series of questions as well: Are we looking at constitutional peace for the next several years? Can we anticipate a Quebec government that will be in lock-step with the rest of its provincial counterparts? Might we see Quebec's weight within the federation curtailed?

Could it be possible that we are actually entering a phase not only where interprovincial relations in this country are more harmonious, but where Ottawa-Quebec interactions will also be more constructive and positive? More importantly, have we reached a point now where the whole sovereignty card has been effectively neutralized?

During the March-April provincial election campaign, Liberal leader Philippe Couillard made no effort to hide his pro-Canada convictions -- as past Liberal leaders had done. "I'm a Quebecer first and above all, but I'm among a large number of Quebecers -- I suspect the majority of Quebecers -- who think the future of Quebec is much better off within the Canadian federation," he declared proudly.

In his first speech to Quebec's National Assembly last week as premier, Couillard said his province's voice would be heard within the wider federation. In fact, he maintained Quebec would play a leadership role in federal-provincial relations through mostly "constructive dialogue" with his provincial colleagues and Ottawa.

Could this be the first federalist Quebec premier who will not have to press ahead with talk of constitutional renewal, additional powers for the province, and, dare I say it, opening up the Constitution for protracted negotiations and amendments?

Even during the election campaign, Couillard had to quickly backtrack when he first raised the possibility of seeking, should he be elected premier, to recognize Quebec's "distinct identity" within the Constitution. There was just no appetite for it among the voting public.

Given the weakness of the Parti Québécois, which is now plagued by crippling internal inconsistencies and poor poll numbers, there will be plenty of room for Couillard to manoeuvre on the federal-provincial front.

Moreover, voters in Quebec made it very clear they don't want to hear any loose chatter about holding another referendum. It's just not on.

So with support for Quebec sovereignty at an all-time low, there is no need for Couillard to pick a fight with Ottawa or push for some form of mega-constitutional discussions with the rest of Canada. Indeed, there is no real pressure on his government to adopt a hardline position vis--vis Ottawa or the other provinces.

At the same time, this dwindling support for sovereignty and a PQ in disarray removes a huge negotiating hammer from the premier's hand. His position within Canada has obviously been weakened.

Others around the first ministers' table will surely call Couillard's constitutional bluff, should he attempt one. He is not in any shape to extract concessions from Ottawa or get the provincial premiers to fall into line behind the Quebec government's agenda. Knowing the political situation on the ground in Quebec, along with Couillard's avowedly pro-Canada disposition and the clear absence of any serious constitutional threat, they simply don't have to capitulate.

Put another way, why should Ottawa, or the other provinces for that matter, feel obligated to meet Quebec's historic demands? Without the sovereigntist axe hanging over their collective heads, what is the cost of not giving in? Not much, as I see it.

It would seem Couillard does not even have the ability to rally public sentiment in Quebec around a major constitutional gambit. As a result, has not the hand of the federal government and the provinces been correspondingly strengthened? Has not Couillard's Quebec become more or less like the other provinces in terms of its future wrangling with Ottawa? Has not the constitutional and intergovernmental field, then, been levelled?

I guess only time will tell for sure. But the initial signs are certainly encouraging from a unity standpoint.


Peter McKenna is professor and chairman of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island in Charlottetown.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 27, 2014 0

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Andrew Ladd talks about his injury

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A golfer looks for his ball in a water trap at John Blumberg Golf Course Friday afternoon as geese and goslings run for safety- See Joe Bryksa’s 30 day goose challenge- Day 24– June 15, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • A squirrel enjoys the morning sunshine next to the duck pond in Assiniboine Park Wednesday– June 27, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


What do you think of the government's announcement that there will be no balanced provincial budet until 2018?

View Results

Ads by Google