Why Obama went to Ireland

May 27th, 2011

Between the 19th of May and the 26th, US President Barack Obama went from a rather public falling out with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to toasting Queen Elizabeth II in Westminster. In between, he managed a quick visit to Ireland. It is time to reflect.

sober (adj.):  1. not affected by alcohol; not drunk. 2. serious, sensible, and solemn.

It is unlikely that, in the history of Ireland, the presence of one person on the island for half a day created so many column inches, and Barack Obama’s visit this week – arriving after sunrise and leaving before sunset – went as close to perfectly as both nations’ governments could have hoped. But there was a corporate bounce to boot, most notably for Guinness and the company that owns the black stuff, Diageo, who could not have dreamed of the kind of PR that Obama gave them through images like this one.

The most popular and iconic political leader across the globe was in Ireland drinking with his wife while cracking jokes and seemingly genuinely enjoying himself. For the Irish, this was an almost drug-like occurrence. A natural high, an unpolished euphoria, and maybe even some jobs, somehow, somewhere, would come out of it.

Within a matter of hours, the news arrived that Guinness and Diageo are going to cut jobs in Ireland. People had every right to be ecstatic while President Obama was in town, but only while he was in town. If they still felt high after he left, they ought to notice now that most of it was hallucinogenic. Jobs continue to be lost, notwithstanding the mother of all PR boosts.

And was it not slightly odd, ironic even, that Obama delivered his magnificent speech in Dublin in front of the headquarters of the Bank of Ireland, a bank to which most people in attendance share in having given billions of euro in rescue packages? Was this message of hope not delivered before a symbol of Ireland’s recent failures?

offset (v): 1. counteract (something) by having an equal and opposite force or effect.

It is pretty much accepted by all in the know that President Obama did not just have an Irish audience in mind as he was in Ireland. Rather, his primary concern was likely how the visit was perceived by voters back home in the States. All politics is local, and if it isn’t, most of it is.

A few days previously, Obama had mentioned “1967”, “borders” and “Israel” in the same speech. This was bold. Not ‘go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done’ bold, but more ‘put on your seatbelt, I’m about to go over the speed limit’ bold. In doing so, however, he managed to annoy a large swathe of American voters and the influential AIPAC group.

There will be an election next year, a contest in which Obama has already declared he will run. Obama’s folksy persona in Ireland may stand him in good stead with a fraction of voters. The dots are easy to connect.

The Liberal Party of Canada and Fianna Fáil

May 18th, 2011

This spring that we are soon to exit from has been buttressed by two elections; firstly, in the land of my birth and family, Ireland; more recently, in the land where I now reside, Canada. To borrow Francis Fukuyama’s oft-used phrase, both of these elections were viewed, to some extent, as “The End of History” – moments in which institutions that were regarded (and more tellingly, regarded themselves) as part of the political furniture in their respective states were vanquished.

Around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, Fukuyama wrote that the advent and perceived success of Western liberal democracy might well signal the end of humanity’s sociocultural and geopolitical evolution. Things have not panned out exactly like that, with the post-9/11 decade signalling that history is not about to reach its conclusion without some unexpected hiccups.

The Irish and Canadian elections of this spring saw two parties – Fianna Fáil and the Liberal Party, respectively – humbled beyond what their most vicious nightmares might have foretold. Their hubris was to believe, within their individual states, that they had reached the end of history and had become their nations’ natural governing parties. The Liberals even went so far using “natural governing party” as a synonym for themselves, but the party was reduced to 34 seats in a 308-seat legislature two weeks ago. That’s not the work of a natural governing party.

The most commonly used translation of Fianna Fáil – Soldiers of Destiny – reveals an intrinsic sense of self-worth and belief in manifest destiny within the organisation from the outset. Pride is an essential component of any successful party, but there is a fine line between pride and hubris.

Fianna Fáil and the Liberals both more or less occupied, or attempted to occupy, the political centre within two-and-a-half party systems. Ireland might legitimately be seen as more innately conservative than Canada, which explains the generally more populist right agenda of Fianna Fáil. For the Liberals, the very word – then as now – is something of a blank canvass onto which individuals, political parties, nations and continents can paint a fresh meaning. In the United States, to be liberal is to be firmly on the left. In most of Europe, to be liberal is to be a cheerleader for free market economics while holding progressive social views. In Australia, the conservative centre-right party is called the Liberal Party. When somebody asks, ‘are you liberal?’ I usually answer based on the origin of the person who asked the question.

And so Canada, with a population largely drawn from the old world but an address in the new one, got a chance to create a fresh liberalism, defining it positively as pragmatic centrism with a liberal (excuse the pun) glazing of diplomacy abroad and help for the needy at home, and negatively as ‘not conservative’. The modern mistake of the party comes in two parts: believing that its domination of the 1990s was because it was loved and believing that pragmatic centrism, as defined above, was the permanent will of the majority of Canadians. Now, with a Liberal Party based in the East of the country (12 of the 34 Liberal MPs take their mandate from the smaller Atlantic Provinces) and a conservative government whose strength lies in Ontario and the West, the Liberal Party is also geographically removed from the Canadian centre.

After the 2002 and 2007 elections, Fianna Fáil gave the impression that it believed its version of liberalism was here to stay. Immediately after the 2007 election, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern entered RTE TV studios and essentially stated that the party was now the natural choice for Irish people. And to some extent, he was correct, but the folly was to consider this to be a permanent state of affairs. Fianna Fáil, along with the Catholic Church and the Gaelic Athletic Association, completed a trifecta of loyalties that largely defined twentieth century Ireland. They will not define the twenty first.

And neither will the Liberals, unless they stop tweaking things at the top and think fundamentally about how to become a governing party again, and not necessarily a “natural” one. The roles have been reversed since the consolidation of conservative forces in 2003 and the rise of the NDP in 2011, perhaps making the Conservatives – if anybody has a claim to the title – the natural governing party.

Bin Laden and Hannibal

May 10th, 2011

Did you ever hear the one about the man who smashed a herd of elephants into two skyscrapers? Or the one about the man who flew a fleet of aircraft through the Alps over two millennia ago?

Of course you didn’t, because these are two impossible actions. If we do a little switch around though and talk about the man who flew commercial aircraft into some of the most iconic buildings in history and the man who marched a herd of elephants across a huge frozen mountain range, one immediately knows what and who we are discussing.

The people of Rome and the United States had not considered these feats in advance, as daring, destructive and outrageous as they were. The hours upon hours of amateur video footage from downtown Manhattan on the morning of 9/11 shows people – most of them suited up and commuting to work – standing there watching, trying to figure out the fleetness of events in the world that was now surrounding them; trying to get information while trying to avoid getting information, simply because the reality was so utterly shocking. The most natural reaction – standing with a gaping open mouth – was the most telling.

Bringing elephants over the Alps was not so much a military manoeuvre as it was a propaganda one; it is often forgotten that most of the animals perished on the journey. It did, however, create an aura of invincibility around the man who made it happen and, perhaps for the first time, a national feeling of weakness in Rome. What Hannibal and Osama Bin Laden did was find their enemy’s kryptonite, but that is just the beginning of the extraordinary similarity in their stories.

The Roman Senate rallied after the disastrous battle of Cannae and appointed a dictator (under the Republican constitution, temporary dictators could be appointed in times of national emergency), Fabius Maximus, while the American public gave a massive boost to President George W. Bush’s approval ratings and a renewed mandate in 2004. Both of these mandates were given largely for those leaders to go after public enemy number one: for the Romans, Hannibal; for the Americans, Bin Laden.

Hannibal was in Italy for 15 years. After a series of early victories – leaving parts of the peninsula mass graves of Roman bodies – his campaign stagnated, resulting in retreat. Bin Laden did not personally invade U.S. territory so much as occupy the public consciousness and define American foreign policy around him for a decade. Both men loved being wanted, perhaps even hated, and both became not just political and military leaders, but also brand names.

Death was always so close. Imagine knowing that, of all the people in the world, you are most likely the person who most people would wish departed. The remarkable thing was how they managed to hang around for so long and, perhaps more astonishingly, how surprised people were when news got to them that their nemesis or hero was no more.

Rome believed that the war against Hannibal and the war against Carthage were one and the same thing – kill the man and you kill his quest – and in the early months of the Bush administration, the public relations campaign focused on that same idea. “We’re gonna smoke him out,” said the President. After Hannibal’s death it took half a century for Rome to finally win the war against Carthage, and any U.S. government, present or future, should note that.

Two men from the other side of the (known) world, living over two millennia apart, attacked a rising superpower where it did not think it might be attacked, in doing so creating a new kind of nationalism whereby the enemy united around their government and retaliated by going to the other side of the world to wage war. A bounty on both their heads and their faces and names etched into the consciousness of one and all. The assignment of blame for complex organised actions ultimately was placed upon one individual, and the initial aim of war was to get that individual, dead or alive. When they were found, it was someplace in the East and they were shown to be vain, paranoid, and ultimately human.

First Article in The Irish Times

April 25th, 2011

You may remember that a couple of the earliest posts on this site referred to an article I was asked to write by the Irish Times. Well, that article is in today’s Irish Times and also online here. It’s the first time I have been published in what I would consider to be a mass-selling newspaper or a paper “of record”. Given that it is now two-and-a-half months since submission, I am pleasantly surprised that this article saw light of day. They even used a snazzy photo of downtown Montreal taken from what I think is the south-facing slope of the mountain. Enjoy!

Here comes the Sun King. Everybody’s laughing. Everybody’s happy.

April 21st, 2011

A CTV news segment this evening focused on ‘The Royal Wedding’. “How to get those extra style points on the perfect hat,” said the newsreader before the report. The previous item on the news was an exclusive interview with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, two weeks before a federal election. The wedding segment was longer than the interview.

Wake up Canada. You have been doing this for over 150 years now. You are more important and more intelligent than this.

Let’s go back to mid-1800s. If you ask Canadians today how Ottawa became the national capital, they would likely say that Queen Victoria chose it. The fact that she did not seems to be irrelevant. There is a part of Canadians — an otherwise largely bright and creative bunch — that is happily wrapped up in these falsehoods. In reality, Ottawa had been chosen as capital as much as a decade before Confederation. Montreal, Quebec, Kingston and Toronto were either too Protestant, too Catholic, too geographically peripheral or too fractious, respectively. Ottawa, on the cusp of anglo- and francophone Canada, seemed a good compromise. Macdonald and Cartier had settled on it and, after some domestic political dancing in the early 1860s, advised Queen Victoria to pick Ottawa in what was essentially a rigged competition. For advised, read instructed.

But Canadian history prefers the benign, servile version. Artificial nations — and by that I mean nations that are not formed out of a long-standing resident ethnicity in the area but rather by people (or rather peoples) from all over the place — seem to need a creation myth in order to justify their own existence. Rome had Aeneas. Much of the population of Israel believes itself to be God’s chosen people. The Tea Party, among other groups, in the United States is trying to accentuate the creation myth that that country was founded as a Judeo-Christian refuge or utopia. Canada’s creation myth, with the emphasis on mythical here, is a Royal one. But it needn’t be. As is often the case, the truth — the story of a democracy defining itself upon a series of compromises — is far more interesting.

And of course the wedding of William and Kate Middleton is being pre-packaged as a “fairy tale”. They really do love each other, we are constantly being told. This is stated over and over in order to banish the monarchists’ great fear: another Royal wedding where the words ‘love’ and ‘respect’ for the bride seem to be an afterthought on the part of the Prince. Actually no, Charles didn’t seem to give any thought at all to those supposed prerequisities for marriage.

I hope that the upcoming wedding is indeed based on love and respect, but that would make it the exception rather than the rule. The Royal/Windsor family detests marriage in any loving sense of the word. Remember that it was the reigning monarch, Elizabeth II — a woman to whom even convinced republicans seem determined to fawn over — who forced her younger sister to give up the man she loved because he happened to be divorced, even though he was a war hero. “Mindful of the Church’s teaching that Christian marriage is indissoluble, and conscious of my duty to the Commonwealth, I have resolved to put these considerations before any others,” she stated. If you believe the following statement that she “reached this decision entirely alone,” you will believe anything. In fact, it’s a contradiction of the preceeding statement because, as she says, she reached the decision via religious edict.

And so Canada, beautiful Canada, you can do better than this. You can start by amending the story of the birth of your nation and its capital as a story of democracy, intelligence, leadership and compromise, or you can stick with servitude and the colonial mindset. Then you can arrange your newscasts in a way that gives more airtime to exclusive interviews with potential prime ministers and not to segments about hats. Aptly, the subject of Ignatieff’s interview was the potential of him and his party to compromise with others. It could have been fifteen decades ago and a discussion about potential capital cities. Alas, the story of the next couple of weeks will probably be the wedding, much like the myth-history of a Royal choice of capital.

For some reason, Canada is embarrassed by its democratic process. Canada can do better.

He was a working man, Great White North way, now he’s hit the big time in the USA

April 11th, 2011

“You’re it!”

“No, you’re it!”

I’m certain you remember playing tag or chasing back in the day, though these days I’m sure they have tag on Xbox. Adults can play too; you only have to see the accusations between Harper and Ignatieff that one and the other are “un-Canadian”. Conservative blogger ‘BC Blue’ gives the standard party line that Ignatieff ”lived the previous 34 years out of Canada before coming back just to be Prime Minister,” with the Liberal leader seen by many as some sort of Anglo-American rather than a pure Canadian. (And these slurs are often made by the same people who berate pure laine québécois for being ethnocentric and small-minded . . . pot, meet kettle).

A few days ago, Ignatieff himself accused the Harper/Conservative team of being “un-Canadian” following the removal of a woman from a Conservative rally in London, Ontario because she was found to have ‘liked’ the Liberal Party on Facebook.

All of this has triggered some thoughts and questions for me. Firstly, if I am an Irishman living in Canada, am I less Irish than if I spent these months and years in Ireland? This had never occured to me before. I don’t believe so, but perhaps in the eyes of others I have become less Irish. I find that kind of spooky. In case the insinuation here was not obvious enough, I don’t believe that Mr Ignatieff is any less or any more Canadian for having lived about half his life abroad.

Secondly, and slightly off topic, the whole issue has made me a realise a certain paradox going on south of the border. More conspicuous than charges of un-Canadianness (or maybe it’s because they say it louder), slurs of so-and-so being “un-American” are made so often it hurts, usually, but not always, spoken or written by those on the right against big government-progressive-liberal-commie-nazis, or whatever label they wish to throw up. The United States, land of the first amendment and Tom Paine. If someone says something “un-American”, this is by definition a contradiction in terms. In fact — and here’s your paradox — the only un-American thing that one can do is to accuse another of being un-American! It’s millions of Oedipuses all running amok with loudspeakers.

Moving back up North now, and Ignatieff would do well not to engage in charges of Harper, the Conservatives or anyone else being un-Canadian. It cheapens debate and brings him down to their level. It’s not un-Canadian, it’s just uncool.

Got a good reason for taking the easy way out

March 27th, 2011

Are Liberals the new Conservatives? Now that Michael Ignatieff has ruled out coalition as a means of forming a government, it seems that the Liberals are getting used to the opposition benches. Macdonald and Harper aside, Canada’s political history has generally been a case of Conservatives being too comfortable with losing, and now it seems that Iggy is catching that same disease. On the other hand, leaving policy aside for a moment and concentrating solely on political tact, Harper has clearly been reading the Liberal playbook.

“Whoever leads the party that wins the most seats on election day should be called on to form the government,” said Ignatieff this week. If the party that won the most seats formed the government in Ireland, for example, Fianna Fáil would have been in power without a single break from 1932 to 2011. “That is our Constitution. It is the law of the land,” he went on to say. Not so. Those are the conventions of politics in Canada, not the laws. If that was constitutionally the case, he would not have had to answer questions about coalition. It would seem as though Ignatieff has failed to take into account some fundamental shifts that have taken place in Canadian politics over the last couple of decades:

Firstly, Canada looks bound to minority government for the foreseeable future. One of the underlying aims of the Bloc Québécois on its creation twenty years ago was to prove that the Canadian Confederation was ungovernable by making minority government a permanent fact of life in Ottawa. This was delayed by the Conservatives’ stupefying defeat in 1993 that led to a Liberal majority, but minority government now appears to be a permanent fixture. With a first past the post electoral system, the Bloc can take around 50 of the 76 Québec seats with only 40% of the vote in the province, about 9% nationally. This requires any other party to take close to two thirds of the remaining seats in order to form a majority government which, this time around, is just not going to happen. And it won’t happen any time soon. There is no Trudeaumania or Mulroney sweep about to happen, nor a Kim Campbell around for any party to capitulate.

Secondly, and with the above point in mind, federal politicians need to see the permanency of minority government not as a hindrance but as a challenge to be accepted, perhaps even enjoyed. Minority government and coalition (and remember that with such a large, diverse country any successful parties must be  coaltions in themselves) ought to be seen as utterly Canadian. This country is a compromise, not a monolithic state where one faction dominates. Rather than presenting traditional conventions as consitutional “laws of the land”, Ignatieff and the Liberals need to embrace the idea that the country, founded largely on principles of compromise, is greater than their party or any other party.

If Ignatieff goes through the motions and does not begin to think more radically or progressively, he will lose and a third Harper-led government will ensue.

I don’t want to spoil the party

March 24th, 2011

Some thoughts on the imminent Canadian federal election.

Stephen Harper is a highly intelligent man whose detractors often make the error of thinking that he is not.  Like John A. Macdonald, Harper’s goal is to build a national coalition within one party and then stay in power for as long as possible, but Harper has managed to do this by balancing the wishes of former Reform Party supporters and Easterners while attracting the odd independent or Liberal by throwing a centrist curveball into the policy mix. His aim is to keep his party’s poll number somewhere north of 30%, knowing that this is likely to keep him in office. That is his overarching policy to which everything else is secondary. As I have mentioned in previous posts, however, the Conservatives are sometimes given to small outbursts of emotion, and this week it is Harper himself who may have put his foot in it with his very own Jocasta moment.

That Globe and Mail article says this: ‘Harper said Wednesday that while the Bloc Québécois remains popular, it no longer has a real mission. He predicted that Quebec will soon understand that the Bloc has given up hope on achieving sovereignty and voters will begin looking for an alternative.’

Remove ‘achieving sovereignty’ and you have a pretty good summary of Harper’s own position. As I see it, however, voters will not look for an alternative just yet. If there is a change in government, it will not be as a result of a significant change in the number of seats won by the four parties but rather by the NDP and Liberals agreeing to some sort of coalition with support from the Bloc. I don’t think the Bloc will formally enter a coalition; its whole raison d’être is to be a caretaker opposition party until its own success makes its entire existence unnecessary. To form part of the government of the state from which it is trying to detach itself would then appear absurd. Hence, my money is on a third consecutive Harper-led Conservative minority government.

On CBC News tonight I saw Michael Ignatieff respond to a question about the possibility of a coalition. He said that there’s a blue door and a red door and those are your only real choices. This tried and, for some reason, trusted method of presenting a false choice to the electorate will probably not work precisely because it is a false choice. Of course, the red door (the Liberals) is meant to represent peace and fairness, but, be that as it may, those ideas have not been communicated as well as they could have been by Ignatieff. By presenting the choice in this way, Ignatieff does not represent change in any meaningful sense of the word.

For change, voters might look at the NDP and Jack Layton, who would do his prospects of an increase in seats no problem at all if he answered questions on his health (Layton has been diagnosed with prostate cancer). Like Charles Kennedy, Brian Cowen and John McCain before him, Layton is at some stage going to have to deal with this issue so that he can start dealing with questions relating to policy.

I’m looking forward to this campaign and will be writing about it quite often. Keep stopping by!

“I feel fine”

February 17th, 2011

The French language has an emotional intensity far beyond that of English. When you accidentally bump into someone in a supermarket you are not sorry, but desolated. The play you went to last night was not good or great, but formidable. French ploughs the emotional extremes, as shown by the love affair with the subjunctive mood that French people seem to have. They would never use such a benign word as ‘nice’ to describe anything.

But that’s the French, as in those for whom France is called home. In the last couple of weeks in Quebec I have heard a response to the question ‘ça va?’ (‘how are you?’) that one would never hear in France; I know this because a couple of Parisian friends have told me so. Whereas French people usually define how they feel in the most expressive terms, Quebecers often define themselves by what they are not. ‘Pas si pire’, they say. ‘Not so bad’. Defining how you are by how you are not is not very French and sounds odd and quirky when done in the French language. If anything, it’s a very Irish thing to do – a relic of a time when the closest thing to going to a mental health therapist was confession.

So why would Quebecers respond to ‘how are you?’ by saying ‘not so bad’? I have a theory.

Like the Irish, Canadians are defined internationally and, to a lesser extent, domestically by what they are not. Canadians are not Americans, and the Irish (well, most of them) are not British. As if to prove the point, a good chunk of Canadians sow a little maple leaf flag onto their luggage when travelling. ‘Yank I ain’t!’, screams the square inch of cotton (and probably with good reason). Canadians and Americans might share a continent, but they don’t necessarily share a mindset.

Zooming in a little more, Quebecers don’t necessarily share a mindset with either Americans or fellow Canadians or even with themselves. Emotions? They’re for wrapping up with lashings of tape and stuffing somewhere between your heart and your mouth, never to be heard. And you know that famous ‘gift of the gab’ that Irish people are so famous for? It’s only there to avoid talking about actual feelings. Emotions? Lock ‘em up and throw away the key while you tell us another story about your uncle. Defining what you are by what you are not is not exclusive to identity – it can also influence the use of language.

As many as 40% of French-speaking Quebecers have Irish ancestry on at least one side of the family. So here is my theory: ‘pas si pire’ is a direct translation of ‘not so bad’ that began with the Irish in Quebec using an intensely outwardly emotional language with a way of thinking that was introverted and secretive. Thoughts? Perhaps you’re too secretive to comment . . .

Sont des mots qui vont très bien ensemble, très bien ensemble…

February 8th, 2011

In the past 24 hours, two curious little events have brought the issue of the French language and the Conservative Party of Canada right back into the media radar.

First, there was Prime Minister Stephen Harper giving a joint press conference with President Barack Obama in Washington. The usual pleasantries were exchanged, beginning with Obama saying that their relationship was not only strategic, but also based on friendship. Harper replied in English, agreeing with that sentiment. For American viewers, this is what they heard before American news networks cut their coverage of the press conference: “Well, first of all, thank you, Barack.  Both — thank you for your friendship both personal and national.  And thank you for all the work you’ve done and all of your people have done to bring us to our announcement today.”

So why would the news networks, and I mean not some of them but all of them, panic and cut to studio discussion of what is going on in Egypt? It’s because Harper suddenly began a lengthy monologue in French. Uh-oh. Harper is perfectly cabable of speaking English; in fact English is his mother tongue, with his fluency in French being a more recent acquisition following more cumbersome efforts two decades ago as a Reform Party MP. So why did he give the lion’s share of his speech in Washington in French, in doing so forcing Obama into making bad jokes and leaving a bunch of journalists twiddling their thumbs?

The answer can be given in a simple way or a more complex way. First, the simple way. Harper is Prime Minister of a minority government that currently holds only 10 of 75 seats in Québec, the only province with a predominantly French-speaking population. These are facts. Another fact is that the last federal election was in 2008, so every day that passes is one day closer to another round of voting. Harper knows that grabbing, say, a dozen or 15 Québec seats at the next election could be the difference between remaining as Prime Minister or not. That’s the simple explanation, but it’s not as straightforward as that.

The major federal parties in Canada have come to realise that it is not clever politics to have a unilingual leader. Rightly or wrongly, leaders need to be not just bilingual, but conspicuously so. They need to slip some French in while in Saskatoon and slide a bit of English in there while in Québec City. The Conservatives, Brian Mulroney aside, have traditionally been inept – sorry, suicidal – when it comes to the sensitive politics of language. What would you think if I told you that George Drew, Conservative leader in 1950s, actually called French Canadians “a defeated race” and labelled the Quebecois “French Canadian bastards”? Does that sound like good politics to you? Since the 1980s, Harper has moved from the Drew school of thinking to a far more pragmatic style of leadership. That’s why he gave his speech in Washington in French. Sure, the vast majority of viewers and people in the room had no idea what he was saying and probably thought ‘oh look, here’s some Canadian again with his fancy French that I cannot understand,’ in doing so reinforcing the widely-held view in the USA that Canada simply does not matter. But Harper had only one constituency in mind during that press conference, and it wasn’t Obama or CNN viewers, but rather Canadian voters. More specifically, Quebecois voters. That’s what makes him such a formidable politician – he is simply magnificent at knowing who he wants to speak to and staying in power.

That same weekend, however, Harper’s Québec lieutenant, MP Maxime Bernier, told a Nova Scotia radio station that there is no need for Bill 101 in Québec. This Bill is the one that, among other things, legally established French as the predominant language in business, economics and politics in the province in the 1970s. It is the main reason why I have always thought of the Parti Québécois as ‘un parti conservateur de la gauche’ – a left-wing conservative party. The Bill works in a zero-sum sort of way, with the tipping of the scales in favour of French being at the expense of English, and can be seen as reactionary. Many Quebecois embrace this reaction. So was it good politics for Bernier to publicly oppose the now-entrenched Bill 101 on the same weekend that Harper forewent the opportunity to butter-up an American audience so that he could appeal to Québec voters? Indeed, did Harper and his team decide to go French in Washington so as to limit the damage that Bernier might have done? Do the two cancel each other out? Are the Conservatives going to mess up on Quebec forever? Whatever the case, conservative commentator Tasha Kheiriddin credits Bill 101 for saving Canada even though she doesn’t actually like it. So there you go.