FRANCOPRESSE – The new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada (PCC), Erin O’Toole, announced on September 8 the composition of his shadow cabinet. Alain Rayes replaces the Nova Scotian Chris d’Entremont as critic for Canadian Heritage and Official Languages. Quebec’s concerns figure prominently in Mr. Rayes’ perspectives on official languages.
Bruno Cournoyer Paquin – Francopresse
In an interview with Francopresse, Alain Rayes mentions that the project to modernize the Official Languages Act requires a “coherent, ambitious response, which would meet the needs of Quebec, this desire to protect its French, but also to protect Francophones across the country.”
He immediately adds that the project to modernize the Law should happen as soon as possible, but that in order to do that “the government should make Parliament work.”
A Quebec-first perspective on official languages
“Quebec has a project to strengthen Bill 101 in sectors of federal jurisdiction, so there is work that will have to be done by our leader [Erin O’Toole] in the proposal that will be made for the next election to take into account the demands of the Government of Quebec, ”explains Alain Rayes.
The new official opposition spokesperson for Canadian Heritage, Official Languages and Quebec Economic Development refers here about by Quebec Minister Simon Jolin-Barette, at the end of August, signaling the intention of the Quebec government to table a bill that would subject organizations of federal jurisdiction located in Quebec to Bill 101.
Asked about this at a press conference last week, the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, replied: “We will always be there to defend the particularity of the French language in Quebec and across the country. We will always be there to defend our official languages, particularly those who live in minority situations. We will always be open to having conversations with Canadians on the best ways to do that. And the reflections will continue. ”
Alain Rayes confirms “wanting to be a good player” to work with Quebec in the realization of this project. “There is a meeting that happens very soon between our leader [Erin O’Toole] and the Premier of Quebec, François Legault. Our first approach is very open, we find it quite legitimate for the Government of Quebec to do everything possible to protect French on its territory, it is the very basis of the identity of the Quebec people. ”
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Towards a two-pronged strategy
Political scientist Frédéric Boily, professor at the Saint-Jean campus of the University of Alberta, says he is somewhat surprised at Mr. Rayes’ so affirmative language, especially since Minister Jolin-Barette has not yet formulated specific requests to the federal government. That said, he adds, Alain Rayes reiterates a position of the Conservatives dating from the last election campaign.
For his part, the new official languages critic specifies the need to respect federal and provincial jurisdictions. “We’ll see what the intention is [des élus québécois], how far they want to go, how we can go about getting there. But we understand this desire and we are going to find ways of working with them, we want to work in collaboration, we respect provincial jurisdictions and we believe that there is a field in which we can work together in this project ”, says Alain Rayes.
A position that could turn against the Conservatives according to Frédéric Boily: “How to explain this application of a Quebec law on federal companies? In the name of what should the other provinces accept this departure from the Official Languages Act unflinchingly? I can already imagine opponents of Official Languages Act say that they do not understand why we are doing this umpteenth “favor” in Quebec. ”
For Professor Rémi Léger, from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, “if the Conservative Party wants to rally Francophones outside Quebec, it will have to propose targeted and concrete measures; its vision of official languages will not be able to limit itself to strengthening Bill 101 in Quebec. ”
He adds that their strategy could develop in two ways, one in Quebec and the other in the Canadian Francophonie. “A two-pronged strategy would be the recognition that it is French that must be protected in Canada, and that the measures required are not the same in Quebec and outside Quebec,” he explains. A strategy that would help the Conservatives distinguish themselves from the Liberals, who rely on the protection of French outside Quebec and English in Quebec.
A shadow cabinet that achieves regional balance
The shadow cabinet sees Manitoban Candice Bergen become deputy leader of the opposition, while Gérard Deltell is named parliamentary leader of the CPC. It can be noted that Pierre Poilievre retains his role as spokesperson for finances and that the former chief, Andrew Scheer, remains in an official position as spokesperson for infrastructure and communities.
Frédéric Boily observes that by composing his shadow cabinet, “Erin O’Toole has succeeded in finding a certain balance between all the regional dimensions of her Party, by entrusting responsibilities to Quebeckers, but also on the side of her Alberta deputation. , Michelle Rempel, in particular. ”
And this regional dimension takes precedence over the reward of “loyalists”, adds Frédéric Boily; Erin O’Toole did not send the message to social conservatives that their support for his candidacy in the leadership race would translate into more influence in the Conservative cabinet. “Some MPs were rewarded, but that’s not the message he wanted to send.”
The political scientist adds that this is a successful public relations exercise for Erin O’Toole, who wants to change the perception of the CCP under Andrew Scheer, that of a party frozen in old positions; although there are still issues, like western alienation, that he must overcome.
Historically, “western alienation” has been the sense of the Prairie provinces, particularly Alberta, of being excluded from national politics in Canada, which would be dominated by Ontario and Quebec. Ottawa’s policies are therefore often seen as being imposed by a central power outside them.
The issue of western alienation, according to Professor Boily, is proving to be a double-edged sword for the Conservatives. The question can make them win votes in the region, but “it becomes harmful because it can escape them, we could see movements or parties come and eat away at the conservative votes” by capitalizing on this alienation.
This would force the Conservatives “to take positions where they are a little more active in defending the West, and that may pose a problem for them” elsewhere in the country. “Talking about pipelines can be difficult to sell in Quebec and Ontario,” concludes Frédéric Boily.