Skip to main content

Tom Mulcair: Trudeau is sleepwalking us all towards making Quebec a de facto separate state

With inflation at record levels, potholes in every road, a health system cracking at the seams, public school buildings that are mildew laboratoires and repeat ministerial offences under the Ethics Act, Francois Legault has decided that his safest campaign theme for the fall was an old classic: Quebec Pride!

Québec Solidaire leader Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois knew what he was talking about when he compared Francois Legault to former Quebec Premier Maurice Duplessis. His “Union Nationale” party-dominated Québec politics for decades. He knew how to choose his enemies, the better to rile up and conserve his base. Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec is the slightly updated version.

Where Legault has chosen to concentrate his anti-religious crusade against Muslim women, who are singled-out by the discriminatory Bill 21, Duplessis had set the precedent by going after Jehovah’s Witnesses.


For Legault, as for Duplessis before him, outsiders should be viewed as a threat.

The Duplessis era is called, in many history books, the “Grande Noirceur”: The Great Darkness. It was followed by a flowering of accomplishment known as the Quiet Revolution. An opening up of Quebec after those years of darkness. With Legault, we’ve been watching the premier of La Grande Noirceur, Partie Deux.

François Legault wants to use ethnic nationalism to drive voters to the polls in the Fall and he knows it’s a tried and true formula. After scuppering minority religious rights with the infamous Bill 21, Legault has had a repeat performance with the newly minted Bill 96, that attacks minority language rights.

He is also intent on getting full jurisdiction over immigration, in particular to restrict the family reunification category in Quebec.

Just prior to the last election, in 2018, Legault participated in one of those classic interviews where each party leader is asked the same questions. Legault was candid: separatism in one fell swoop hasn't worked. He was going to take a step-by-step approach and those steps consisted of wresting full control of language, culture and immigration from the federal government.

Like Doug Ford, François Legault is strongly occupying the centre-right and seems set to coast to an easy victory in the fall. He has every reason to be confident. The polls are strongly in his favour. The four opposition parties are perfectly divided. He rules the roost and he knows it.

Unlike Doug Ford, however, Legault has been actively, and intentionally, courting controversy. He wants to do battle against the English-speaking community of Quebec, to help him hold onto the Parti Quebecois votes he stole in the last election. It’s a winning formula and Legault doesn’t need any encouragement to fight “Les anglais”.

Former Official Language Commissioner Graham Fraser famously quotes Legault, at his nomination meeting, as telling an activist, about the anglophones, that he hates them “as much as you do.”

His language minister, the robotic Simon Jolin-Barrette, has piloted new legislation (Bill 96) that was crafted to ensure court challenges that will inevitably lead to its being eviscerated.

For example, the law unilaterally changes the BNA Act and purports to remove the equality of English and French before the courts in Quebec. The same equality rights are guaranteed for franco-Manitobans.

The Supreme Court cases dealing with both Quebec and Manitoba minority language rights now are a rock solid part of Canada’s constitutional edifice.

When, decades ago, Quebec claimed jurisdiction to decide the question of access to English schools, the federal government intervened and charter rights prevailed. The Quebec law was struck down.

So too with regard to the language of signs. Quebec had a rule that not only required bilingualism, it made it illegal to add an English version. That too was struck down by the courts and once again, the Attorney General of Canada played a key role in the litigation.

Legault is getting a free pass. His desire for full jurisdiction over language, culture and immigration is being met with a whimper by Justin Trudeau and his hapless Attorney General, David Lametti.

They both know that this is a battle that Legault wants with Ottawa. Unfortunately for all of us, Trudeau is so terrified of Legault, that Ottawa is left play acting. Don’t expect to see the same thing we saw after previous attacks on minority language rights: a strong federal government doing its job. Trudeau and Lametti are hiding under their desks.

After Bill 96 was adopted, all Trudeau could sputter was: one day I might have to do something when this thing gets to the Supreme Court!


Why wait? Bill 96 is comically unconstitutional. It would allow language police to raid businesses, without a warrant, to seize computers or cell phones to check for the illegal use of English. The usual Charter guarantees against unreasonable search and seizure have been suspended by Legault’s use of the notwithstanding clause.

Trudeau could easily refer Bills 96 and 21 to the Supreme Court for a ruling as to their constitutionality but is frozen in fear and won’t act.

In the past, Canadians could count on a federal government which understood that protecting minority rights was a way of guaranteeing everyone’s rights.

Trudeau is sleepwalking us all towards making Quebec a de facto separate state within Canada and Legault is getting close to achieving his lifelong goal of independence without resistance.

Tom Mulcair was the leader of the federal New Democratic Party of Canada between 2012 and 2017. Top Stories


Stay Connected