The underlying message is direct and well-grounded.
It’s the timing, motive and method of delivery that are a bit more difficult to understand.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister’s territorial dust-up with his Quebec counterpart, François Legault, this week generated headlines across the country and drew considerable scorn from commentators in that province upset at the Prairie premier’s decision to insinuate himself into another province’s politics.
At issue was a full-page advertisement placed by the Manitoba government in Quebec newspapers, describing "21 reasons why you will feel at home in Manitoba" — couched as an appeal for Quebecers to consider a move to Manitoba in search of good jobs and a bright future, but carrying as its not-so-subtle subtext a blunt condemnation of Quebec’s controversial Bill 21, the so-called secularism law that bars anyone working in a public-service position from wearing or displaying religious symbols of any kind.
The ads, which reportedly cost $20,000 to place, list a number of appealing Manitoban attributes and attractions, including sunny skies, polar bears, craft beer, affordable housing, the Winnipeg Jets and "a truly four-season climate," but the punchline — and, presumably, the migration plea’s actual intent — was saved for reason No. 21, which states "Manitobans welcome diversity and know that multiculturalism is a strength for our communities and our economy."
Mr. Legault, who has faced intense scrutiny and criticism from across the country since Bill 21’s introduction, was not amused by the Manitoba government’s broadsheet broadside.
"I think Monsieur Pallister would have been better off putting that money into French services in Manitoba," he said. Pointing out that Quebec’s legislation is moderate in comparison to religious-symbols laws in such international jurisdictions as Germany, Belgium and France, Mr. Legault added, "Is he going to start running ads on those countries?"
Quebec’s opposition parties also piped in. "Mind your own business," Parti Québécois interim leader Pascal Bérubé said. "This is a joke. I’m pretty sure people would rather go to Montreal, Quebec City and elsewhere in Quebec than to live in Winnipeg or Manitoba."
While it’s true Mr. Pallister’s position on Bill 21 is justified — the law is, at its root, repugnantly discriminatory and, some would argue, outright racist — one can’t help wondering what exactly he was trying to accomplish with the Quebec newspaper ads. There’s little chance he had realistic expectations that waves of disaffected Quebecers would suddenly pull up stakes and head for Manitoba in search of jobs as nurses, teachers or civil servants (all sectors which, coincidentally, have been adversely affected by the Pallister government’s budgetary belt-tightening efforts).
So what’s the rationale, then? Was the placement of newspaper ads an inventively cheeky (albeit somewhat expensive) way for Manitoba to express its disdain for Bill 21 in a higher-profile manner than other provinces’ oft-expressed criticism? Or is this belle-province brouhaha perhaps simply further evidence our premier is a guy who feels most in his element when he’s mixing it up with somebody over something?
We should not expect a massive influx of job-seeking Quebecers any time soon. But we can certainly look forward to seeing what transpires when Mr. Pallister and Mr. Legault meet face to face on Monday during an all-premiers gathering in Mississauga, Ont.
It’s a safe bet the meeting’s chairman, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, will not have "getting Manitoba and Quebec to play nice" at the top of his agenda.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.