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Daniel Dufort: Le casse-tête québécois

Commentary
A man holds a Quebec flag as people gather in a city park on St-Jean Baptiste Day in Montreal, Wednesday, June 24, 2020. Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press.

The following is the third in a series of French-language articles presented in collaboration with the Montreal Economic Institute. The English translation is included below.

En 2015, le Parti conservateur du Canada faisait campagne au Québec en utilisant un slogan voulant que les Québécois et Québécoises soient plus conservateurs qu’on le pense.

Cette année-là, le Québec s’est avéré être la seule région du pays où la formation dirigée par Stephen Harper a effectué des gains, même modestes, alors que ses appuis fondaient dans le reste du pays.

Il est également facile de concevoir que les Québécois et Québécoises soient plus enclins que le reste du Canada à pencher du côté d’un certain conservatisme identitaire qui rejette le relativisme culturel à tout cran et ses diverses incarnations, telles que le « wokisme » ou la cancel culture.

Il s’agit d’ailleurs d’un point dont le stratège politique Carl Vallée faisait une habile démonstration dans un texte publié il y a déjà plus de trois ans.

Mais qu’en est-il donc du Québec par rapport aux thèmes chéris par les conservateurs fiscaux et les libéraux classiques?

Il s’agit d’une question intéressante en ce qu’elle permet de tirer certaines conclusions qui surprendront sans doute bon nombre de lecteurs.

Prenons tout d’abord le thème des soins de santé.

Un sondage commandé plus tôt cette année par l’Institut économique de Montréal fait ressortir que 65 pour cent des Québécois et Québécoises sont en faveur d’un accès accru aux soins de santé privés, alors que seuls 24 pour cent s’y opposent.

Il s’agit, et de loin, du taux d’appui le plus important au pays. En effet, c’est la Colombie-Britannique qui vient en deuxième, avec 52 pour cent.

Qu’en est-il de la tolérance des Québécois et Québécoises pour les importants déficits que cumule le gouvernement fédéral?

Encore une fois, le Québec s’illustre avec le niveau de tolérance le plus faible au pays pour ces excès de dépenses. Parmi les répondants québécois, 64 pour cent estiment que les dépenses fédérales sont trop élevées ou beaucoup trop élevées. L’Ouest canadien suit en deuxième, à 53 pour cent.

Mais le Québec est contre les oléoducs, n’est-ce pas?

Pas si vite. En réalité, un sondage mené l’été dernier indiquait que 61 pour cent des Québécois et Québécoises sont en faveur de la construction de nouveaux pipelines et gazoducs permettant d’acheminer des hydrocarbures vers les ports situés dans l’Est et dans l’Ouest du pays.

De plus, 78 pour cent d’entre nous affirment avoir une préférence pour obtenir notre pétrole de l’Ouest canadien plutôt que de n’importe quel autre endroit.

Je conviendrai que l’engouement des Québécois et Québécoises pour le pétrole canadien n’est pas le plus élevé au pays. Mais le niveau d’appui est manifestement majoritaire.

Ces données sont difficiles à réconcilier avec la réalité que nous observons tous et toutes.

En effet, les Québécois et Québécoises ont de la difficulté à se rallier en grand nombre à des formations politiques qui mettent de l’avant la liberté économique.

Bien entendu, il y a peu de doutes que cela s’explique en partie par la conjoncture politique propre au Québec qui vient diluer les votes des partisans de la responsabilité individuelle au profit de vastes coalitions plus ou moins difformes qui se structurent autour d’une position constitutionnelle allant du fédéralisme au séparatisme en passant par l’autonomisme.

Même avec la troisième voie de l’autonomisme, les effets de toge constitutionnels ont préséance sur les considérations d’ordre pratique comme la saine gestion des finances publiques ou un plan de sauvetage du système de santé.

On pourrait dire que le Québec est l’ultime victime d’une permutation novatrice de la théorie des choix publics, où la question constitutionnelle s’additionne aux multiples groupes de pression.

Il n’en demeure pas moins que, pris individuellement, le Québécois moyen est nettement plus conservateur qu’on pourrait le croire.

En 2011, à l’initiative de son fondateur Michel Kelly-Gagnon, l’Institut économique de Montréal lançait un dialogue Québec-Alberta. Il s’agit d’ailleurs d’une initiative plus pertinente que jamais, étant donné les nombreuses intrusions du gouvernement fédéral dans les champs de compétence des provinces.

L’impératif majeur ayant donné l’impulsion à ce projet est toujours d’actualité : la nécessité de créer davantage de richesse au Canada en permettant la mise en valeur de nos ressources naturelles.

Or, plus que jamais, cette interdiction de maximiser notre prospérité provient des gestes et des décisions délibérées d’un gouvernement fédéral qui outrepasse ses compétences.

Malgré les préjugés qui persistent parfois entre les résidents de ces deux provinces, il n’en demeure pas moins que les Albertains et les Québécois ont toutes les raisons de dialoguer et de mieux se comprendre. Après tout, si on se fie aux sondages, le fruit est mûr pour une alliance de cœur et de raison.

The Quebec puzzle

In 2015, the Conservative Party of Canada was campaigning in Quebec with a slogan proclaiming that Quebecers are more conservative than we think.

That year, Quebec ended up being the only region in the country where Stephen Harper’s party made any gains, albeit modest ones, while its support shrank in the rest of the country.

It’s easy to imagine that Quebecers are also more inclined than the rest of Canada to lean toward a certain identity-based conservatism that rejects all-out cultural relativism and its various incarnations, such as wokeism or cancel culture.

This is actually a point that was ably demonstrated by political strategist Carl Vallée in a piece published over three years ago already.

But how does Quebec measure up when it comes to some themes near and dear to the hearts of fiscal conservatives and classical liberals?

This is an interesting question and one that leads to certain conclusions that may surprise many readers.

Let’s start with health care.

A poll commissioned earlier this year by the Montreal Economic Institute found that 65 percent of Quebecers are in favour of increased access to private health care, while only 24 percent are opposed.

This is by far the highest level of support in the country. British Columbia comes in second with 52 percent.

What about Quebecers’ tolerance for the huge deficits the federal government is accumulating?

Once again, Quebec is out in front, with the lowest level of tolerance in the country, as 64 percent of Quebecers think federal spending is too high or much too high. Western Canada is in second place with 53 percent.

But when it comes to pipelines, surely Quebecers are opposed, right?

Not so fast. In fact, a poll conducted last summer showed that 61 percent of Quebecers favour the construction of new oil and gas pipelines to transport hydrocarbons to ports in Eastern and Western Canada.

Moreover, 78 percent of us say we prefer to get our oil from Western Canada than from anywhere else.

Admittedly, Quebecers’ enthusiasm for Canadian oil is not the highest in the country. Still, the level of support represented is clearly in majority territory.

These data are hard to reconcile with the reality that we see around us.

Indeed, Quebecers have trouble rallying around political parties that promote economic freedom in significant numbers.

Of course, there’s little doubt that this is due in part to Quebec’s particular political context that dilutes the votes of fans of individual responsibility in favour of vast, more or less misshapen coalitions structured around one constitutional position or another, from federalism to separatism, passing by autonomism.

Even with the third way of autonomism, constitutional questions take precedence over practical considerations such as the sound management of public finances or a plan to save the health-care system.

It could be said that Quebec is the victim of a novel permutation of public choice theory, in which the constitutional question is an additional factor, on top of all the usual lobby groups.

It nonetheless remains the case that, individually, Quebecers on average are more conservative than we might believe.

In 2011, on the initiative of its founder Michel Kelly-Gagnon, the Montreal Economic Institute launched a Quebec-Alberta dialogue. Indeed, this initiative is more pertinent than ever, given the federal government’s numerous intrusions into provincial jurisdictions.

The main impetus for this project at the time remains relevant today: the need to create more wealth in Canada by allowing the development of our natural resources.

More than ever, the restriction on the maximization of our prosperity stems from the actions and deliberate decisions of a federal government that is overstepping its authority.

Despite the prejudices that sometimes still linger between the residents of these two provinces, the fact remains that Albertans and Quebecers have every reason to engage in dialogue and try to understand each other better. After all, judging by the polls, the time is ripe for an alliance of the head and the heart.

Mike Bechthold: 80 Years ago, 340 Canadians Died at Juno Beach on D-Day. May we never forget their sacrifice

Commentary
Soldiers from 9th Canadian Infantry Brigade landing at Bernières-sur-Mer on the afternoon of D-Day. (LAC ZK 1083-3)

“You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.”

– The opening lines of General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s message to the Allied soldiers, sailors, and airmen about to participate in the D-Day landings.

Eighty years ago today, soldiers of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division landed in Normandy, France as part of the D-Day operation to liberate Europe from Hitler’s monstrous tyranny. They were among the first Allied troops to land, playing an integral role in the largest movement of men and machinery in the history of the world. The Canadians were assigned the “Juno” sector as their landing site, one of five beaches assaulted that day. They were given a role out of all proportion to their size, and they did everything asked and more that day.

When Canadians think of D-Day, many default to cinematic depictions of the battle. When we watch Tom Hanks and his U.S. Rangers land on Omaha Beach in Saving Private Ryan, we feel like we are next to them. Shells explode. The sound of bullets pinging off metal shocks, almost as much as the visceral scenes of death and destruction at the water’s edge. You feel like this is as close as you can come to knowing what it was like to land on D-Day. Yes, Steven Spielberg’s epic war film captures well the American experience on a slice of the beach at Omaha. But this was not the Canadian experience.

Charlie Martin, a company sergeant-major with Toronto’s Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, was one of the first Canadians to sink his boots into the sand of Juno Beach. But, he was not part of a horde of soldiers storming armaments. Instead, as his small landing craft approached the seaside village of Bernières-sur-Mer, he recalled that he had, “never felt so alone…Hollywood filmmakers would typically show support planes overhead, the Channel crowded with destroyers and battleships, the shore full of assault boats, beach masters and all that kind of thing. Not so with us.”

Besides, the 30-odd men in his boat, all he could see was a landing craft over 100 metres away on either side, barely visible through the mist and smoke. When his vessel eventually beached on the shore and the ramp dropped, Charlie charged at the  Nazi defenders. As machine gun bullets flew past and mortar bombs exploded around them, soldiers dropped dead. But Charlie kept on going. He felt it was him and his men alone against the Nazis. It was a world away from Tom Hank’s Oscar-nominated portrayal. It ended up being a costly day for Charlie’s regiment. The Queen’s Own Rifles suffered the highest casualties of any Canadian unit on D-Day. Sixty-one men were killed and 82 were wounded.

The Royal Winnipeg Rifles fought their way ashore at Courseulles-sur-Mer, where 57 Canadians died and another 71 were wounded.

By the end of the day, the Winnipeg regiment’s B Company had destroyed three concrete artillery bunkers and 12 machine gun nests. Only Captain Phil Gower and 26 of his men remained standing. It was less than a quarter of those who had landed hours earlier.

Across Juno Beach and the battles inland that day, 340 Canadians were killed, 574 wounded, and another 47 taken prisoner by the Germans.Including losses from the Royal Canadian Air Force, the total number of Canadian D-Day casualties equals 381 soldiers and airmen killed, 584 wounded, and 131 captured.  These terrible losses were only exceeded by the Americans at Omaha. Despite the high losses, the Canadians advanced further inland than any other troops that day. Over the next week, they defeated and destroyed a series of German armoured counterattacks seeking to push the Allies back into the sea.

An Ipsos poll conducted five years ago for the 75th anniversary of D-Day showed that while 62 percent of Canadians could correctly identify what D-Day was, and nearly 70 percent knew Canada was a participant, only 34 percent could identify the year and, most troubling, one in four (24 percent) admit that they were not sure who the Allies were fighting against. With a poor understanding of these basic elements, this doesn’t give me much hope that Canadians truly understand the importance of this anniversary.

Why does it matter?

Canada was forged in the fire of the Second World War. It has arguably shaped who we are as a nation and as a people more than any other event in our history. Canadians served around the world in almost every theatre of operations. On the homefront, the nation mobilized to support the war effort. Women gained rights and freedoms that had long been denied to them. After six long years of conflict, Canada emerged as an economic and international power, and by its effort and sacrifice, made a difference in the world.

From a population of only 11 million in 1939, more than one million Canadian men and women served in uniform. Hundreds of thousands more served on the homefront in factories producing trucks, guns, and ammunition, or by toiling away in the fields, forests, and mines, to supply the war economy.

The cost was high. Some 42,000 Canadians never returned home. They are buried in France, England, the Netherlands, the Far East, or other locations around the globe. Many have no known grave and their names may be found on memorials to the missing and within the Books of Remembrance in the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Thousands more returned home with broken bodies and minds.

The Canadians killed on the 6th of June were all volunteers, as were the vast majority of those who served during the war. (Men were conscripted for service in Canada and some made it overseas by October 1944 where they made a small, but important, contribution.)

Their motivations for joining the military varied. Some sought adventure or escape. Others valued a steady job, a regular paycheque, or knowing where their next meal would come from. But all volunteered knowing that bad things were happening around the world, and they needed to do something to help.

As someone who studies history professionally, I often hear it said “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” I don’t believe that history repeats itself, but a similar observation, often attributed to Mark Twain, resonates strongly with me: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

Our world today faces countless conflicts that could easily blow up into a much larger war. You know the places: Ukraine, Gaza, and the South China Sea among others. As I write this, a Canadian battlegroup sits in Latvia guarding against the possibility of invasion. Canadian troops are training Ukrainian soldiers to defend their homeland, supporting the UN in Africa, working with coalition forces in the Middle East, or conducting maritime security and counter-terrorism operations in the Arabian Sea.

All Canadians should be proud of what our military accomplished on D-Day, where Canadian troops led the way ashore and played a role out of all proportion to our size in helping to liberate France. It was an important mission then. Understanding our past can help Canadians understand how (and why) our nation must contribute to global security today.

Wherever you are today, spare a thought for the hundreds of Canadians killed storming Juno Beach and give thanks that their sacrifice gave us a better world today. But also ask the question: what would happen today if there was a similar threat to world peace? Are Canadians still ready to stand, fight, and die for what they believe in? 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the RCAF, Canadian Armed Forces, or the Government of Canada.