Can Paul Martin be stopped?
In a comment two posts down, the insightful John_D finds my arch-Trudeauvianism (Trudeaupianism?) delightfully amusing. I’d be more amused — and delighted — if I weren’t one of about five Trudeauvians left in the country. One such fellow-traveler is Allan Gregg, who has the cover story in the new issue of The Walrus. The piece is called “Quebec’s Final Victory”, and here’s the blurb:
Pierre Trudeau tried to stop a cycle of blackmail, where one province held up the national interest by bargaining solely for its own parish. Paul Martin’s new health health accord is an invitation not just for one blackmailer, but ten.
He’s exactly right, of course. The predicable blackmail started almost immediately, with Danny Williams of Newfoundland doing his best Levesque impression all Fall, right up until last week when the Headwaiter finally caved over offshore oil. Word is that the senior bureaucrats were in full damage control right up to the end, but ultimately the Headwaiter prevailed in his determination to serve drinks in St. John’s.
If he can’t stand up to Newfoundland, do you think there is any chance he’ll be able to say Non to Quebec? The Feds are currently at a negotiation impasse with Quebec over parental leave. Basically, here’s the situation: In 1997, Ottawa set up a national parental leave programme funded through EI. It is a GREAT PROGRAMME. Quebec, of course, resents Ottawa doing something useful, and is currently challenging Ottawa’s constitutional authority to run this programme — the Supreme Court will be getting back to us on this shortly.
Meanwhile, Quebec has decided to set up a BETTER programme, with LONGER leave and NO TWO WEEK WAITING PERIOD. Good for them, no? Except Quebec wants the Federal government to pay for the extra benefits.
That’s right: Quebec wants Ottawa to offer more generous funding to Quebec than to the rest of the country, for a programme that it is simulatenously challenging as unconstitutional.
In a real country (or, even one run by someone like Jean Chretien), the Prime Miinister would tell Quebec to F*** Right Off. But no, instead, the Feds have been “in negotiations” with Quebec since last May, with a deadline of today to reach an agreement. Of course, now there is a crisis. Quebec has decided that Ottawa owes it $750 million in “start up money”, i.e. money to start a programme in Quebec that already exists nationally. Ottawa has — astonishingly — offered $375 million. But that isn’t good enough… Quebec is threatening to walk out on the talks (SOUND FAMILIAR?), and is complaining that, without the full three quarters of a billion, they won’t be able to get the programme running on time or provide the benefits they want.
And get this. The Quebec Minister on the file, Claude Bechard, said yesterday that the Federal intransigence has gone on long enough: “I’m giving them a last chance,” Bechard said. “There’s still a few hours left.”
This is what will henceforth be the negotiating technique known as The Full Williams. Hear that Ottawa? This is your last chance to give us the money, or… or… or what? We won’t set up our version of a programme that already exists? Or… we’ll take down the Canadian flags?
What Canadian flags.
The cover of the new Walrus has the headline: Quebec is Gone. But it isn’t Quebec that is gone. It’s the federal government.