The author is vice-dean and professor of political science at Campus Saint-Jean. His most recent work is Right-wing and populism. Canada – Quebec – United States (PUL, 2020). In the fall, he will publish the collective work Evolving Provincial Rights, 2015-2020 (PUL, 2021).
The question of the moderator Shachi Kurl, president of Angus Reid, gave rise to reactions which monopolized a few days of campaign. First, it must be admitted that the question was clumsy in the sense that not only it was worded in a funny way, but above all it was put only to the head of the Bloc Quebecois, Yves-Francois Blanchet. We would have liked to hear the other chefs speak live on the subject. Kurl subsequently defended herself by saying she had to ask the question since there were viewers “in Lethbridge, Fort St. John, Brandon, Manitoba” waiting for an answer. To tell the truth, it is rather a category of voters who hoped for this question.
Indeed, it is especially on the left side of the political spectrum that the question was expected, as in 2019 moreover, even if the right was also expressed on the subject. Let us recall the call of Conservative Prime Minister Brian Pallister, who had paid for an advertisement with 21 reasons (November 2019), to invite Quebec officials outraged by Bill 21 to come and settle in Manitoba. But this invitation from the Manitoba premier had been somewhat of a lonely act that his Conservative counterparts had neither followed nor supported. What interests Jason Kenney, and one can suspect that the same is true for a large part of the Conservative base in the West, is not Bill 21, but many other subjects, including equalization. If Jason Kenney has praised in the past the will to Francois Legault seeing Quebec do without equalization does not prevent it from proposing a referendum on the issue to Albertans next October. From this point of view, one can think that the promise ofErin O’Toole to introduce an Equalization and Transfer Fairness Act is far more appealing to the Conservatives than discussions on Bill 21. In fact, a tour of leading right-wing commentators in the West confirms this impression, because few of them noticed or commented on the question put to the Bloc leader.
Going back a few years, we can in fact observe that when the Quebec governments put forward legislative initiatives in the area of identity such as Bill 21, the reactions were significant within the Canadian left in the west of the country. For example, when she was Premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley was careful to specify that she disapproved of Quebec initiatives as well as those of the Liberals of Philippe Couillard that of the Caquist government of François Legault.
Thus, after a meeting of health ministers held in Edmonton (October 21, 2017) and attended by the Quebec minister Gaétan Barrette, she said that the Liberals’ Bill 62 on religious neutrality was a “sad day for Canada”, that it targeted “marginalized women” and even reflected Islamophobia. And it was once again a “sad day for Canada”, says Rachel Notley on her Twitter thread (June 17, 2019), when the CAQ used the gag order to pass its Bill 21.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi told CBC (October 2, 2019) that he was “terrified” by this law. In fact, for the left, the denunciation of Bill 21 is also a product for internal consumption, aimed at embarrassing the Conservative premiers, as NDP leader Andrea Horvath did in Ontario with a motion in November 2019, and the one in Saskatchewan (Sam Meili) who criticized (December 2019) Premier Scott Moe for not having denounced Bill 21, obviously discriminatory for the New Democrat.
For the moment, the provincial NDP leaders have better things to do, preferring by far the criticism of the Conservative premiers for the difficult management of the pandemic rather than thinking about this debate. However, it is difficult to say whether the issue will exert an influence outside Quebec. A few progressive voters, especially on the Ontario side, might find that on this issue, Justin trudeau appears, all things considered, more credible than the Conservatives who have already announced that they do not want to challenge Bill 21 in court.