Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Quebec Liberal Front-Runner: Let's Speak Differently about Canada

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Quebec Liberal Front-Runner: Let's Speak Differently about Canada

Article excerpt

Canada more than money for Quebec: Liberal hopeful


MONTREAL - 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, all of whom described their attachment to Canada in interviews with The Canadian Press.

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.

"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 said.

"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."

He says it's time to stop letting sovereigntists occupy that idealism terrain while federalists focus only on the practical benefits of Confederation.

"You see, the problem is that the separatist or sovereigntist discourse has always been based on a dream by definition. It's something that never happened, obviously, so it's by definition perfect and it's very nice and everybody's going to be happy and there will be no conflicts," Couillard said.

"Whereas federalism is today's reality and reality by definition is also made of tension and frictions and difficulty sometimes around specific issues.

"So my point also was to raise the level of the federalist discourse to the level of ideals, so we are on the same playing field as sovereigntists."

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 celebrates the party's 19th century liberal heritage as one of openness -- on economic matters, like entrepreneurship and free trade, and on social issues like cultural tolerance. In that letter, Couillard says that tradition is 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.

While the party has occasionally been staunchly nationalist, even briefly flirting with Quebec independence in the past, its modern iteration has been increasingly pro-Canadian. All three leadership hopefuls conveyed their admiration for the shared values between Canada and Quebec. …

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