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Couillard takes calculated risk on the Constitution. But why now?

Welcome back, old friend.

Or are you?

Premier Philippe Couillard’s decision to relaunch the constitutional debate to repair the errors of the past and obtain recognition of the Quebec nation begs the question.

Why, and why now, when Quebecers and Canadians have moved on to other things and would probably rather sit in a dentist’s chair then relive this sterile old feud?

“Quebec has changed, Canada has changed and I think we can reopen the dialogue,” Couillard argued at an elaborate news conference kicking off an exercise he can’t promise will actually yield results.

“Canadians and Quebecers live well today. I’m not painting any dramatic picture here. But there is this misunderstanding. We’re just saying, let’s talk and understand each other because we’ve drifted apart.”

“The constitutional fruit may not be ripe, but that doesn’t stop us from launching the dialogue of spring,” added Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Jean-Marc Fournier, turning poetic.

It was classic political lowballing. In other words, after years of failed constitutional talks to the point the C word is taboo in many circles, Couillard is popping a message into a bottle and casting it onto the waves.

He admits he has no idea what he’ll get back. In fact, Couillard says he doubts any other Canadian premiers at this stage want to sit down and talk turkey at all.

“They’re not there,” Couillard said, adding the days when premiers head off to a chalet on a lake to discuss constitutional reforms until somebody cries Uncle and they send white smoke up the chimney are long over.

He’s right about the mood, all right. The government didn’t even have a chance to release its new 200-page position paper before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — in one sound clip walking up the stairs of the House of Commons — threw cold water on the exercise.

“You know my opinion on the Constitution,” Trudeau told a Radio-Canada reporter. “You don’t reopen the Constitution.”

The incident didn’t go unnoticed in the provincial capital, with Parti Québécois leader Jean-François Lisée going on the attack.

“It’s not respect that we got this morning from the prime minister of Canada,” he told Couillard in question period as he started a typical PQ dissection of a government plan. “It’s contempt.”

But there were other bad vibes.

Far off in Saskatchewan, Premier Brad Wall, not known as a friend of Quebec these days, responded with a snippy tweet in which he said Quebec is not the only one with issues.

“If Quebec wants to reopen talks on their place in Canada and the constitution, we should also discuss a terribly flawed equalization system,” Wall said.

So why is the premier going down this path?

First, Couillard — who turns 60 June 26 and is nearing the end of his mandate — is a man with personal convictions, aware of his place in the history books.

Even if he considers himself, above all, a pragmatist, deep down he can’t ignore the fact Quebec was the only province not to sign onto Canada’s Constitution in 1982, which flies against the long-held view that Canada was created by two founding nations. Couillard says it should have included a third, the First Nations.

Successive premiers — Robert Bourassa being the most celebrated — have tried to correct this error to no avail. Couillard, who is personally popular with other politicians in the federation, sees this as his chance to make a difference, and has stepped up to the plate as he promised he would in his leadership campaign.

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SOURCE: Philip Authier
Montreal Gazette

BCNN1 • June 2, 2017

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