Skip to main content
// //

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Feb. 4, 2020.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

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.

Story continues below advertisement

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.

Story continues below advertisement

“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.

Story continues below advertisement

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.

Related topics

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies