OTTAWA—Call it a love letter to Quebec.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer made an impassioned pitch to voters in that province Tuesday night, delivering a major speech in which he pledged to be an ally of French language, culture, and to stay out of the way of the province’s nationalist government in Quebec City.
In the home-stretch of a campaign that has seen the rise of Bloc Québécois support and his own lacklustre debate performance criticized by Quebec pundits, Scheer brought his wife Jill and their five children to a rally in La Prairie, on the south shore outside Montreal.
Flanked by a team of candidates he said he had Quebec’s interests at heart, Scheer said it’s not just him who’s tried to “seduce Quebec.”
“It’s Quebec that’s seduced me and my family.”
With that Scheer launched into a laundry list of promises directed at Quebecers that he said reflect Quebec values. He reached back to what he said were the “ beautiful years of Conservatives under Brian Mulroney” in Quebec, and promised the return of Quebec’s “blue” team to power in Ottawa. He pledged to work with Premier François Legault. And hearkened back to the slogan and rallying cry of the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s, when francophone Quebec gained greater political control.
“And as prime minister, my message to Quebecers will be simple : when we speak about Quebec powers? Yes. You are masters of your own house. Masters of your culture, masters of your institutions.”
Scheer said the protection of French as an official language is “at the heart of my platform.”
He said he would financially support a francophone university in Ontario (a measure that was initiated by the Ontario provincial Liberals, later cut by Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and only revived after public outcry.)
Scheer said he would expand protections for minority languages with a new tribunal responsible for oversight of a yet-to-be overhauled official languages act.
“The Quebecois nation must continue to move forward,” said Scheer, adding that’s why he was making a “political offer” that reflects the will of Quebecers.
In his first talks as prime minister with Legault, Scheer said he would agree to several of Legault’s demands, including having Quebec administer and collect taxes on a single income tax form for provincial and federal taxes; reviewing a Quebec-Canada agreement that would give Quebec more say on immigration matters; improving the temporary workers program; working to resolve labour shortages in the province; giving Quebec more autonomy in cultural affairs; and guaranteeing that a minister responsible for economic development would be a Quebecer.
He slammed the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau, saying premiers should be resolving disputes among themselves “over a good coffee, not in front of judges.”
But Scheer never mentioned the key court challenges were launched by conservative premiers who attempted to invalidate Trudeau’s carbon-price-and-rebate scheme. The federal government’s right to impose a carbon levy was vindicated by two courts so far.
And Scheer played up his own determination to sit on the sidelines of Quebec’s controversial secularism law, saying voters have never heard so much talk about “federal judicial intervention in the decisions of the National Assembly” (as Quebec’s provincial legislature is called).
In fact, no federal party has said it would intervene in the court challenges at this stage, although the Trudeau Liberals and Jagmeet Singh’s NDP have not ruled out acting to supply arguments as intervenors if the court challenges against the law, known as Bill 21, ever reached the Supreme Court of Canada.
Scheer reiterated that he would not intervene as prime minister in any legal discussion in the courts about whether Quebec’s prohibition on religious symbols worn by provincial public servants unjustly discriminates against the religious and expressive freedoms of certain religious minorities.
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His biggest, and riskiest, sales pitch came when the Conservative leader promoted his vision for a national east-west energy corridor as a “win-win” solution for Quebec, because the province could export its hydroelectrical power to more markets.
Yet Scheer also insisted it would be a way that Quebecers could get access to “oil from home instead of oil from the U.S. and Algeria,” — an argument that has failed thus far to persuade the province to buy in to new pipelines across its territory.