Here’s something to remember: Yves-François Blanchet is not trying to promote national unity.
When Alberta Premier Jason Kenney picked up on things the Bloc Québécois Leader said on Wednesday about the oil patch and started blasting back at Quebec, it was no skin off Mr. Blanchet’s nose. He is a separatist. When it comes to the parts of Canada getting along, he’s not here to help.
Yet Mr. Kenney, and a few other western Canadian politicians like Calgary MP Michelle Rempel, took the bait. They fired back. “How dare you,” the response more or less said. “We pay Quebec’s bills.”
Mr. Blanchet doesn’t have to worry a jot about what Albertans think. Mr. Kenney can fire a few easy shots at the Bloc Leader, even if le tout Québec gets blasted in the process. And it is easy for this to go on and on.
We saw a national disunity wrestling federation smackdown, with Mr. Blanchet and Mr. Kenney firing shots, a social-media pile-on and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer opining that what Mr. Blanchet said was insulting and divisive and it is Justin Trudeau’s fault because the Prime Minister has used divisive rhetoric about the energy sector.
Headlines declared the Kenney-Blanchet spat was an Alberta vs. Quebec dispute, but on close examination, it turns out Mr. Blanchet is not, in fact, the premier of Quebec. And he has declared his own disinterest in Canadian unity. “I’m not the one that will fight to have a nice, beautiful and united Canada,” he said on Wednesday.
There’s no sign Mr. Blanchet woke up on Wednesday planning to rile Albertans. He met with Mr. Trudeau, and his public message afterward was that the Bloc will not be obstructionist. But when asked what advice he has for folks in Alberta and Saskatchewan seeking autonomy, he flippantly said he might be tempted to help if they wanted a green state, “but if they’re trying to create an oil state in Western Canada, they cannot expect any help from us.”
If the reaction from Mr. Kenney and others hurt his feelings, it didn’t show. The sovereigntist movement won’t suffer if Albertans and Quebeckers feel insulted by each other. Ms. Rempel’s Twitter response was curt: “Your province is literally funded by our energy sector. If you’re so concerned about our industry, feel free to send that $12B you get every year from us back. #hypocrite.”
(The facts aren’t really important in this, but for the record: Quebec will receive about $13-billion in equalization payments this year from the federal government. Albertans do pay, on average, more in federal taxes than people in other provinces, so in that sense, they subsidize the federation. According to Statistics Canada, about 14 per cent of federal revenues come from Alberta, so in theory, Albertans contribute about $1.8-billion to Quebec’s equalization payment.)
Of course, Albertans are frustrated. And Albertans and Quebeckers really do see issues of oil development and pipelines differently. Quebec Premier François Legault also annoyed Albertans last December when he said Quebeckers would not accept a new oil pipeline across the province.
It is worth noting a few things. No pipeline across Quebec is actually proposed. There was one plan, Energy East, which was withdrawn, but Quebec didn’t block it. And while Mr. Legault has insisted the Quebec public would not accept an oil pipeline, he has been far more open to a controversial proposal for a pipeline carrying western natural gas.
Both Mr. Kenney and Mr. Legault have their own politics. Mr. Legault is a nationalist under pressure to look like he is standing up for Quebec autonomy and fighting climate change. Mr. Kenney wants to echo Alberta’s frustrations, and the feeling that the country has taken the west, and its energy industry, for granted.
That could easily turn into more disunity smackdowns. The whole dispute is ripe for all sides to take offence, for one province to fire blame at another. But Mr. Legault hasn’t deputized Mr. Blanchet to speak for Quebec. And when he shoots off his mouth, Mr. Kenney should not treat the Bloc leader as he does. Because he’s not rooting for Canadian unity.
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