Speaking for Canada

Here’s a little Canada quiz. Who said this?

“French will survive if Quebecers cherish it and want to preserve it; it will flourish if Quebec becomes a freer, more dynamic and prosperous society; it will thrive if we make it an attractive language that newcomers want to learn and use. Not by imposing it and by preventing people from making their own decisions in matters that concern their personal lives.”

Did Pierre Trudeau utter those stirring words? Sir John A.? Jean Chretien?

None of those men said that. But you can easily picture any one of them doing so. How about this equally memorable quote:

“It’s important that Quebec remain a predominantly French-language society. And ideally, everyone in Quebec should be able to speak French. But we should not try to reach this goal by restricting people’s rights and freedom of choice.”

Did John Diefenbaker say that? Stephane Dion?

No. The author of those words — words with which every true federalist, Liberal or Conservative, should emphatically agree — was former Conservative cabinet minister Maxime Bernier. And when he used them last week — first on a Halifax radio station, and then in the pages of a newspaper — he was mocked and defamed throughout Quebec, and across official Ottawa.

For the sin of criticizing Quebec’s blinkered language law, Bill 101.

An official spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office conspicuously distanced the PMO from Bernier’s remarks, stressed the Conservative MP does not speak for them, and sniffed the Harper regime “respects provincial jurisdiction.”

Even, apparently, if the jurisdiction in question has repeatedly trampled on the Constitution and individual rights — as both the Supreme Court of Canada and no less than the United Nations have pointed out in the past.

The Liberal Party wasn’t much better, and arguably worse. One MP likened Bernier to Sarah Palin, while a nameless member of Michael Ignatieff’s senior staff actually said the following: “Distancing (the government from Bernier’s remarks) isn’t good enough. Mr. Harper needs to be clear in denouncing Bernier’s comments.”

The government needs to “denounce” Bernier? Really? For saying, belatedly, what Trudeau and Chretien effectively said many times and many years earlier? Trudeau, for one, called his home province’s cloistered language laws “a slap in the face” to federalism, and in 1978, even ordered that the government cover the court costs of citizens who wanted to challenge Quebec’s restrictive language laws.

My former boss, Chretien, meanwhile, told a cheering Montreal audience in 1981 — as he was working to repatriate the Constitution, and constitutionalize the principles within Dief’s Bill of Rights — the following: “I think that the freedom of the individual (in choosing which language he wants to be educated in) is still the best one.” Sounds a lot like Maxime Bernier, doesn’t it? Yes, it does.

Don’t get me wrong: As a liberal, and a Liberal, I carry no brief for Maxime Bernier. His libertarian views — for example, that humans aren’t responsible for climate change — are often kooky. His occasional recklessness — such as leaving Top Secret documents with his ex-girlfriend, a former Hells Angels moll — isn’t very encouraging, either.

But even a broken clock can be right a couple of times a day. And, on this issue, Bernier is more than right — he’s courageous. And he deserves the support of everyone who believes Canada, if it is to survive, must be built on a foundation of equality and mutual respect.

Why? Because Canada and Canada’s interests are not served when cloistered thinking dominates.

Because our laws, and the Constitution which give our laws legitimacy, must reject xenophobia — and not ever embrace it.

The vision of Canada (and Quebec) that Maxime Bernier referred to last week is the vision Liberals and Conservatives once held, too.

It was the right vision.

For turning their back on that, and for “denouncing” Maxime Bernier, they should hang their heads in shame.

In both official languages.

— Kinsella is a lawyer, blogs at warrenkinsella.com and will appear regularly on Sun News Network

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