Canada, more than just $ and ¢: Couillard
The presumed front-runner to lead the pro-Canada forces in Quebec says it's time to celebrate more than just the economic benefits of belonging to the country.
Philippe Couillard is one of three candidates vying to become the next leader of the provincial Liberals.
The former health minister says he wants to change the conversation of Quebec federalists from one of pure pragmatism to one that's more idealistic about the country. He says it's wrong to let sovereigntists occupy the idealism terrain while federalists focus only on practical benefits.
"I love the fact that we have managed to bring people together on a vast territory, that we have a shared history and we have much more in common, things that differentiate us, not separate us," the former Quebec health minister told The Canadian Press in an interview.
"You should not base your allegiance to a country only on the economic factors, on fiscal factors — i.e. do you get more money out of it or not."
Couillard has penned an English- and French-language op-ed that reaches beyond Quebec's borders, and beyond recent history, to tout a former Canadian prime minister, Wilfrid Laurier, as an inspirational figure for his party.
He describes the party's 19th century liberal heritage as one of openness — on economic questions like entrepreneurship and international free trade, and on social issues. In that letter, Couillard says those values are inextricably linked to the history of Canada.
Couillard is battling former finance minister Raymond Bachand and ex-transport minister Pierre Moreau for Jean Charest's old job as Liberal leader. Charest resigned after the party lost power to the Parti Quebecois in the September election.
The Canadian Press spoke to all three candidates, who will square off Saturday in the only English-language debate of the contest.
The hopefuls all expressed their admiration for the shared values between Canada and Quebec.
Bachand, who served as finance minister from 2009 until last September, said Quebecers have a deeply-rooted view within their identity that they are also Canadian.
"For many, many years the Pequistes have tried to divide Quebecers in choosing: you're either a Quebecer or a Canadian," he said. "And that is false and it's destructive."
For his part, Moreau said Quebec has common values with Canada like justice, openness and tolerance. He also touted the merits of being linked to Canada's economy.
"You know, Canada is one of the strongest economies among G8 countries," Moreau said.
"Why would we ask ourselves if it's a good idea to belong to this country?"
A McGill University political scientist doesn't think any of the candidates have delivered a message about Canada that is much different than those of provincial Liberal leaders or leadership contestants of the past.
"The reasons they give for pro-Canada really have nothing to do with being Canadian," said Antonia Maioni, an associate professor.
"They have to do with the economic situation, they have to with the kinds of benefits for Quebec industry and trade and all of that."
Maioni agreed that the Quebec Liberals need a "visioning exercise" as means of finding their place in the province.
The next leader will be chosen at a March leadership convention in Montreal.
Photo: Andre Pichette (La Presse)