Listening to Philippe Couillard backtrack on the Liberal's previous position about unequivocally voting against Bill 14, it's hard to believe that the Liberals are any different from what they were before under Jean Charest.
After winning the leadership, Couillard told reporters that the Liberals will now examine Bill 14 clause by clause, and give it due consideration, maintaining the previous government's policy of appeasing language hawks.
"New Liberal Party leader Philippe Couillard is taking a softer line on the Parti Québécois' new language bill than his party took before his arrival...It's a sad commentary that both Jean Charest and Phillippe Couillard, as committed federalists as you will find in the political ranks of French Quebec, consider that pandering to language militants still necessary.
...At his first news conference since taking over the party Sunday, Couillard faced a barrage of questions from reporters on a range of subjects.
But it was when the language issue came up that he made the nuance.
While explaining that the Liberals still oppose the proposed legislation — Bill 14 — they are nevertheless listening, he said.
"If amendments are presented, we have a responsible parliamentary team," Couillard said at the Liberal's Montreal headquarters on Waverly Ave.
"They will look at the amendments and study them." " Link
It is not.
For too many years, a minority of militant separatists have shaped the debate of Quebec's future, framed on language and language alone.
The narrative, repeated ad nauseam, is that Quebec is threatened by English and that without heavy-handed constraints on liberty, the province is destined to follow in the steps of Louisiana, anglicized and assimilated, French to become a distant memory in but a few short decades.
It is of course utter and complete rubbish, but the language argument has been laced with so heavy a dose of guilt, that even a Jewish mother would blush at the shameful manipulation.
And so Quebecers have been told that seeing an English sign in public or learning how to order breakfast in English is a sin before the Gods of language purity, a betrayal of the clan.
The unremitting and relentless repetition of the mantra has left the majority of Quebecers cowered and afraid, so much so that they are afraid to speak out, lest they be ostracized as heretics.
And here we are.
Both Jean Charest and Phillippe Coullard were and are, simply afraid to challenge the militants on language and it's too bad, since they can win the public debate.
A solid federalist leader who would have the guts to say out loud what most Quebecers are thinking, that is, that Quebec's language reality is not what militants profess, would upset the tiresome debate.
Unfortunately we will not get it, the Liberals believe that pander they must, lacking the intestinal fortitude to challenge the paradigm and move away from the language issue and onto the problems that most Quebecers want their government to address.
Do I like the Liberals? Not particularly, but more so than the PQ.
If I had my druthers, I would wish them to defeat the PQ and form a government, they are most assuredly, the lesser of two evils.
In that regard I can humbly offer Mr. Couillard some advice, advice which he will surely not heed.
New leaders of any political party enjoy a brief honeymoon that only the smartest of the newly appointed take advantage of.
Remember that Francois Legault reached about 40% in popularity after the creation of the CAQ. Had there been an election in the weeks following, he would have been elected Premier with a majority government.
Couillard is sure to benefit from a bump in popularity over the next month or two, enough of a bump to beat the PQ.
If the Liberals are smart, they'd quickly work to dump the PQ government, voting unreservedly against anything the PQ puts forward in the National Assembly, thus placing the pressure squarely on Francois Legault's CAQ, to either support the government like a willing 'bitch,' or trigger an election that the Liberals can win.
It would be, to say the least, a satisfying reversal of fortunes.
It appears that Couillard is seeking the safe route, plodding out an offend-nobody political strategy, pandering to language militants and biding his time, seemingly in no hurry to win his own seat in the National Assembly or to send the PQ down to defeat, triggering a provincial election.
As in life, the safe and expedient route is not usually the wisest course, where fortune and success favor the bold.
I am reminded of the lesson of Operation Shingle in the Battle of Anzio in World War Two, where the allies made a successful surprise amphibious landing in Italy. The commanding officer, a certain General Lucas, preferred to take the time to entrench his forces against an expected counterattack. The initial landing achieved complete surprise and the Germans were vulnerable, the road to Rome virtually undefended.
Instead of moving out and attacking, the general decided to consolidate his beachhead and marshal his forces, giving the Germans enough time to prepare and mount an effective counterattack.
The general was ultimately replaced, with Winston Churchill commenting that "I had hoped we were hurling a wildcat into the shore, but all we got was a stranded whale!" Link
I am very much afraid that Couillard is acting the beached whale, too timid to press the attack while the advantage is his.
Political strength like military strength is relative to that of your foe's. Although the Liberals could use some time to build up force, the PQ is actually more vulnerable now than later.
With the PQ about even with the Liberals in the polls, the potential Couillard bump over the next little while can provide the margin of victory.
But even if the Liberals win, Anglos and Ethnics should not be deluded that there will be an about-face in minority rights policy. Remember that the egregious Louise Marchand was a Liberal party appointee and she and the OQLF were allowed to run roughshod on their watch.
The language militants and separatists are reeling over the repercussions of 'Pastagate,' the latest agonized and funny-if-not-sad pronouncement by Gilles Duceppe claiming that Pastagate was actually an Anglo plot by restauranteurs to undermine the OQLF. Link
I don't know how long it will take the hapless pasta chasers to realize they are absolutely right in believing that Anglos indeed launched an attack on the OQLF, we shamelessly stipulate to that fact.
It is called push back, something that the PQ and language militants have demonstrated an abject horror over.
Pastagate has proved that despite the odds, defending our rights is an eminently achievable goal.
We need to push back much harder, making the price of language oppression much too expensive.
The Liberals are better than the PQ, so I wish Mr. Couillard good luck, but if we want to preserve and advance our own rights, we have to do it ourselves.