Ottawa – Yves-François Blanchett is not a defender of Canadian unity, but the bloc's leader Quebecoise has few words of support for those seeking greater independence for Western Canada.
Speaking to reporters after meeting with Prime Minister Justin Justin Trudeau on Wednesday morning, Blanche said he did not believe Canada was currently experiencing a crisis of national unity. He argues that Alberta and Saskatchewan are only trying to force the federal government's hand in an effort to gain greater support for the oil industry. "And on that issue, my enthusiasm is obviously very limited," he said.
Concerns about Western alienation came to light in Ottawa on Tuesday, after Trudeau met with Conservative leader Andrew Heather and Saskatchewan's Prime Minister Scott Mo ahead of a December 5 throne speech. d just heard "more of the same" from the prime minister. Sheer said it was not up to the Conservatives to support the government.
By contrast, Blanche received a rather co-operative tone Wednesday, saying he expects the Quebec Bloc to agree with the government on many parts of the throne's speech. "There are elements that can fit almost everyone in parliament," he said. "And if that's the case, I don't get asked if I'm trying to play political games, trying to find problems when there are none. If it's good, it's good. "
The bloc remains "firmly convinced that Quebec will do better as its country," Blanchett said. But he did not want to draw any parallels between Quebec's sovereignty and growing calls from Western Canada for greater autonomy. "Is the desire to independently extract oil from western Canada a motivation to seek independence? Let them ask that question, "he said. "But obviously, this is not the motivation to get enthusiastic support from the Quebec Bloc."
Under Blanchett, the bloc has stressed the fight against climate change as a top priority and opposes the development of the pipeline, including the expansion of Trans Mountain. "If they tried to create a green state in western Canada, I might be tempted to help them," he said. "If they try to create an oil state in western Canada, they can't expect any help from us."
While only a minority of Albertans really want to get out of Canada, Alberta Prime Minister Jason Kenney is gearing up for various measures to boost the province's independence. Last weekend, he announced a "fair deal" panel that would examine whether Alberta should raise its own taxes, set up its own pension plan or create a provincial police force.
Although Blanche seemed reluctant to build bridges with Western Canada, he made it clear that the Quebec Bloc intends to work with the liberal minority government "in good faith" to advance Quebec's interests. Ahead of the meeting, Trudeau said he was looking forward to discussing "common priorities", including in fighting climate change, the cost of living for the elderly, arms control and protection of supply management.
"We will have talks that we disagree with, but that will be done because I think Canadians expect different parties in parliament to work together constructively and that is exactly what I intend to do," Trudeau said.
Blanchett said he believes the government "will avoid the worst possible conflict zones" in a speech from the throne. "I expect a speech on the throne that will be able to bring together people from all political stripes," he told reporters after the meeting.
Asked about Bill 21, which Blanchett often used to attack the Liberals during the campaign, the bloc's leader had little to say on Wednesday. He declined to detail details of his discussion with Trudeau about Quebec's secularism law, which bans religious symbols for some public employees, including teachers and police officers. He said he did not believe it would be a "problem" in throne speech.
During the campaign, Trudeau was the only federal leader left open to intervene in the legal challenge of Bill 21, though Conservative and NDP leaders also opposed the law. Blanche positioned the bloc as the only party to support Quebec's secularism. "We will not compromise on the fully legitimate authority of the National Assembly of Quebec to pass a law on secularism," he said Wednesday.
The Quebecoise Bloc has dropped its relevance during the last election, winning 32 of Quebec's 78 seats, out of just 10 in 2015. The party profited from a renewed sense of nationalism in the province and dissatisfaction with Trudeau and Fair. The Liberals won 35 seats in Quebec, which is less than 40.
Trudeau met with all opposition leaders this week as he prepares to rule in the minority parliament. With 157 seats in the House of Commons, 13 shy of the majority, it will need the support of at least one other party to pass the throne speech and future legislation. The NDP and the Quebec Bloc are probably the parties that provide that support. Trudeau will meet with NDP leader Jagmet Singh on Thursday and with former Green Party leader Elizabeth May on Friday.
• E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter: Maura Forrest