'So Quebec nationalists are insulted by the sponsorship scandal, are they?" a friend was saying the other today, getting more wound up as he spoke. "Well, tell them that, until they return every dollar Canadian taxpayers have given them in funding for their separatist cause, they can stop the griping."
His point is one seldom raised: Isn't it a little strange to help finance a party whose raison d'être is to destroy the country?
Over the years, the federal government has given millions of dollars to the Bloc Québécois for its staff, its offices, its research, its election campaigns -- and millions more for its MPs' salaries.
Good taxpayer money. Money from working Canadians donated to the separatist cause. Stranger than fiction, some might say, and dumber, too. They keep insulting us. We keep paying them to do it.
It was this kind of lenient attitude -- kowtowing to the antagonists -- that helped create the sponsorship fiasco. Ottawa let the Bloc rise with hardly a whimper and helped fund it. Ottawa let the secessionists control most of the levers in the 1995 referendum. Fighting back, Ottawa decided it had to get more funding to Liberals in Quebec. The money-laundering scandal began.
Tolerance can be said to be one of this country's great attributes, but tolerance run amok can backfire. Democratic rights must be revered, but there are limits to such rights. Should the Bloc, which stands for the breakup of the federation, be bankrolled by that federation? Isn't allowing for its existence enough? Is it necessary to also pay for their members' mortgages, laptops and Florsheim shoes?
Put an end to the gravy train, my friend suggested. In meeting the separatist threat, the federal side invoked Plan A (appeasement) and Plan B (battling back). Now, he said, it's time for Plan C: cutting off the supply lines. Not one more cent from Ottawa.
Not the worst idea to have come along. But it wouldn't work. Legions of the politically correct would scream that it would be anti-democratic, that it would create an enormous backlash and refuel the separatist movement.
That's what they cried in response to Plan B when the Chrétien government brought in the Clarity Act. That's what they feared when the same government, supporting the partitionist movement, declared that "if Canada is divisible, Quebec is divisible, too." There was no backlash.
We're at an important juncture now. As a result of the sponsorship scandal, Gilles Duceppe and company feel as though they have gained the upper hand and that the federalist side, suffering pangs of guilt, will be forced back into the appeasement mode and start coughing up more concessions. Just what everybody needs. More years of debilitating unity debates.
That's the danger. But Ottawa need not fall into that trap.
While there is no excusing the skulduggery, the scandal story needs to be kept in context. Many Quebeckers are insulted. But they may want to look at how the rest of Canada feels; this was hardly their doing. As was so often the case, it was an internal francophone feud between the Chrétien crowd and Quebec nationalists.
From the perspective of Western Canadians, for example, it is kind of odd to hear Quebeckers complaining of being insulted when it is a Quebecker who has run this country almost every year for the past four decades. On the matter of scandals, no province takes a second seat to Quebec. The politician who wrote the book on corruption was the Quebec nationalist premier Maurice Duplessis. The government of René Lévesque helped clean up the system, but, in the last referendum campaign, the separatists were up to their old tricks. There's evidence of ballot-box fraud and the berating of ethnics.
Perspective shows there is a lot of blame to go around and many who can feel affronted. To see Mr. Duceppe acting as though he is so hard done by is a bit rich.
Since 1993, this man, whose goal is the fracturing of Canada, has been issued more than a million dollars in cheques from the Government of Canada. He keeps insulting us. And we -- until there's Plan C -- keep paying him to do it.