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Son of a Meech (vol xxv)

This Magazine Staff

Weird, isn’t it, how federal cabinet ministers from Quebec don’t have a problem ceding federal power, authority, and money, to their home province? Paul Martin loves asymmetric federalism backed with side deals and massive transfers for Quebec. Liza Frulla has no problem with Quebec’s Culture Minister speaking on Canada’s behalf at international conferences. Lucienne Robillard, when she can be roused to do her job as intergovernmental affairs minister, praises asymetricalism by saying inane things about “citizen-based” government. Irwin Cotler thinks Quebec is a distinct society (see below). Jean Lapierre helped found the Bloc Quebecois.

On it goes. Since Paul Martin took over, they’ve been delirious over at Parti Quebecois headquarters, because the federal government has been profoundly and effectively taken over by Quebec interests.
Which brings us to the parental leave deal that was finally signed between the federal government and Quebec.
It is totally bizarre: This is a deal that has taken almost 8 years to negotiate, largely because of extremely acrimonious differences of opinion over just how much Ottawa should have to pay Quebec to run a Better Plan Than The Rest of Canada Gets.
Yet I haven’t been able to find a single article in the English press that actually talks about how the negotiations went, and what concessions were made from previous positions, and so on. Unbelievably, the CBC.Ca article linked above doesn’t mention a single dollar figure.
Yet on the front page of today’s La Presse, there is much complaining that Quebec still has to find $250 million to cover its expanded plan, since Ottawa has agreed to transfer $750 million, and the Quebec plan is expected to cost around a billion a year. Additionally, Ottawa has agreed to pay Quebec $200 million in start-up money.
Four things:
1. As far as I can tell, this represents a total cave by the Feds. I could be wrong, and if anyone there actually knows the figures or where I can find them, please let me know. But I recall that $750 million was exactly what Quebec was demanding last month, and that feds had offered $375 million. Can anyone confirm/confute this?
2. Federal Ministers from Quebec are justifying this under their newfound religion of asymmetric federalism. Here’s Lapierre in La Presse (my translation): “Today, we have signed another agreement that demonstrates that we are not obliged to make programmes that apply equally across Canada. I hope that we’ll be signing similar agreements in the near future.”
3. Despite this total cave by the feds, the Quebec government continues to pursue its case in the Supreme Court that the federal parental leave programme is unconstitutional.
Understand? The Federal government completely caved in the financial negotiations, and couldn’t even extract a committment from Quebec to abandon its constitutional claim.
4. They are still celebrating over at the HQ of the Parti Quebecois. But are they happy? Hell no. Here’s PQ employment critic, talking about the new agreement (my translation): “We could say that the solidarity of Quebecers has finally triumphed over the incomprehesible federal obstinacy on this file.”
For eight years, he goes on, Ottawa has refused, for no reason, to provide “hundreds of thousands of parents access to a better parental leave regime.” This refusal will leave “a black mark that will remain an indelible stain [tache indelible] in Quebec Canada relations.”
They win, and are still humiliated.

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