Soft power is powerful

Written by Brenda Schimke

So, we want to be more like Quebec, a distinct province controlling our policing, pensions, gun ownership, carbon emissions and a revised definition of universal health care.

Rather than envying or emulating Quebec, our energies could be better employed by learning Quebec history and appreciating why they are distinct.

We can never be Quebec. Their people are a defeated people.

They were conquered but have chosen not to be defeated.

The Quebecois have fought to keep their language and culture in a country and continent dominated by English.

Some resent that a defeated people have retained so much of their heritage—bilingualism enshrined in the Constitution, a designated distinct society, a legal system based on French civil law, a separate pension plan and limited control over immigration.

Alberta doesn’t have such a heritage; we were never a defeated people.

Alberta was settled by European- Americans and Europeans who couldn’t shake off their nationalities and languages quick enough.

Albeit, the German immigrants made a more valiant effort to maintain their language and culture.

Quebec’s modern-day road has been rocky. They went through the ugly FLQ days, numerous provincial governments intent on separation, and two unsuccessful separation referendums.

They have won their language and cultural preservation but at a high cost.

Quebec and Ontario, Toronto and Montreal were once neck-in-neck in terms of population and head offices. Since the referendums and days of violent unrest, Quebec and Montreal never regained their economic power.

Head offices didn’t return to Montreal and Quebec’s population today is 8.4 million versus 14.4 million in Ontario. Resource companies avoided Quebec. There’s a lesson here for Albertans—businesses don’t like uncertainty, especially political uncertainty.

However, Quebec’s mastery of political gamesmanship is worth our consideration.

The election of Parti Quebecois (PQ) MPs to the House of Commons rises and falls as does their support for Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats.

They keep everyone guessing as to who will get their vote.

Albertans keep nobody guessing!

The Reform Party started as a protest party seeking to harness Western Canada’s power, 32 per cent of the population versus Quebec’s 24 per cent and shift power westward.

The Reform Party quickly morphed into a national Conservative party and successfully governed for 10 years.

The Prime Minister was from Alberta as were the majority of senior cabinet ministers. Yet over time, Harper, Kenney among them, ceded many of their core beliefs, even those around Quebec equalization transfers, having learned that re-election in a diverse country is a balancing act.

Neither the PQ nor the ND ever governed Canada, yet each have used their strategic power to gain many of their core values—specifically, the PQ as it relates to language and culture and the NDP’s emphasis on universal health and social programs.

Unlike Quebec, Alberta’s fight is primarily to get a larger slice of federal money and stop the federal government from giving so much money to those we deem as ‘laggard’ provinces.

Unfortunately, money as a motivator is a shaky foundation from which to build Western solidarity. Western provinces do not share common spending goals.

Ideologic fights to attack the federal government garners support at the 3,000-foot level, but not at the program level.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and New Brunswick Premier Blaine Hicks played with the ‘Conservative fab 4’ bashing the feds at every opportunity until Covid-19.

Now playing nice with Ottawa is much more important than ideology. Saskatchewan and Alberta have chosen to stay the course.

This editorial is not a criticism of Alberta’s priorities or Albertans values. It’s just an observation that other provinces are much better at soft power while Premier Kenney continues to use the sledgehammer approach.

Schimke has lived and worked in Alta., B.C. and Ont. and visited and spent time in all 10 provinces.


Brenda Schimke

ECA Review

About the author

Brenda Schimke

Schimke is a Graduate with Distinction from the University of Alberta with a BCom degree. She has lived and worked in Alberta, BC and Ontario.