Demagoguery in politics sometimes slips into dangerous accusations of bias in the courts. But Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet exhibits a bigger problem: he doesn’t seem to believe in the rule of law.
Mr. Blanchet wasn’t the only Quebec politician to express outrage when it emerged that a federally funded program chipped in $125,000 to help a school board challenge Quebec’s Bill 21, which bars some public servants, such as teachers, from wearing religious symbols. Quebec Premier François Legault declared the funding “insulting,” even though it does nothing more than help an organization put a legal question to the courts.
Still, if that were all, you could chalk those complaints up to a desire to blame Ottawa for thwarting the will of Quebeckers. But in Mr. Blanchet’s case, it is not a one-off. Apparently, it’s not just a Quebec-Ottawa thing, either.
Mr. Blanchet has jumped into questions that are outside the Bloc’s usual Quebec nationalist wheelhouse in ways that suggest a mistrust for the impartiality of courts in Canada, and the rule of law generally.
Last week, he hinted that the Federal Court of Appeal had ruled against First Nations seeking to block the expansion of the Trans-Mountain pipeline because the judges were appointed by the federal government.
It was not simply a suggestion of systemic bias – that Ottawa writes the laws so the system is tilted in favour of the state and against First Nations. He was suggesting judges are in the bag because the feds appoint them.
It was a note of conspiracy sounded in a disingenuous way. He dropped broad hints, but wouldn’t say it straight up – he pointedly noted that the federal government appointed the judges in the TMX case, but when he was asked outright if he was alleging bias, he dodged the question, and bristled.
One might point out there is evidence that argues the opposite – after all, the same court quashed the cabinet’s approval of the pipeline expansion in 2018, sending Ottawa back to fix flaws in consultations with Indigenous nations, causing Justin Trudeau’s government a lot of embarrassment and costing billions.
But let’s face it, Mr. Blanchet wasn’t making a case about the court’s bias. He was engaging in a conspiracy-minded wink. It is increasingly common in politics to suggest that’s just the way things work. Mr. Blanchet seems to suggest anything else is naive.
In a leadership debate during last fall’s election campaign, Mr. Blanchet argued that it was stupid for Canada to arrest Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou, in response to a U.S. warrant. Why? Because China is strong.
“When you’re facing a powerful foe like China, you don’t try to show biceps if you have only tiny biceps,” the Bloc leader said. “And this is something that has to be learned.”
To be fair, other smart folks argued that Canada shouldn’t have angered China by arresting Ms. Meng. Mr. Blanchet put the case so bluntly, it is hard not to see the problem: It cedes the rule of law to the will of the strong. One hopes that Canadians and Quebeckers don’t learn precisely the wrong lesson from the Chinese school of hard knocks.
Mr. Blanchet, however, appears to believe that’s the way things must work. And that they already do.
In the case of Bill 21, he was angered by the news that the English Montreal School Board received $125,000 from the federally funded Court Challenges program, set up to fund Charter of Rights cases against governments.
When Alec Castonguay, a journalist with L’actualité, tweeted that the program is operated independently by the University of Ottawa, Mr. Blanchet replied, “Is that information, interpretation, or what the government wants us to believe?”
In the end, one would think that Mr. Legault’s and Mr. Blanchet’s political outrage over the funding should defeat itself because it underscores that challenges to Bill 21 won’t be decided by politics, but in the courts. The Quebec government pre-emptively blocked most constitutional challenges to the legislation by invoking the notwithstanding clause, and one school board with 36,000 students is trying to carve out a modest loophole by arguing that the bill clashes with its own constitutional guarantees.
That should underline the fact that Ottawa doesn’t really have the power to overrule Bill 21, and challenges be decided in an impartial court. It’s disturbing to hear a political leader suggest that there is no such thing.