Denis Coderre Rejects Pipelines: Hey Let's Do The Sovereignty Shuffle Again
Denis Coderre is the kind of amiable oaf the federal Liberal Party used to hide in harmless sinecures to keep them out of trouble. Even then Coderre tried his best to screw up his mandate. In one particularly sorry turn as an opposition critic, Coderre tried to have hockey player Shane Doan removed as captain of Team Canada, because he might have called a French Canadian lineman a “frog”.
The fact that the slur came from a European player on Doans’s Phoenix team was no impediment to Coderre playing to the folks in his Quebec constituency. He blundered onward in the absence of facts, whipping up the usual grievance poutine in Quebec. Even though Doan was finally exonerated, Coderre skated away from his libel without apology. High sticking is all in the game, you know?
My own Coderre moment came at the start of the Olympic bobsleigh run in Calgary when the MP from Bourassa was told he was going to take a ride down the sheer ice at speeds up to 100 km/hr. As minister of sport, Coderre knew he was obligated to give it a go. The rictus smile could barely disguise his terror. Does the term “old yellow stain” ring a bell? That was Denis faced with real danger.
In any event, Coderre was inexplicably elected mayor of Montreal (which is often the first step to being charged with bribery and glad-handing the Mafia). For a guy who had dreams of the federal Liberal leadership it’s a bit of a comedown, really. Dealing with sanitation workers and traffic cops is hardly like speaking at Davos to the world's elite.
But Coderre is not letting his horizons be restricted by his mandate as mayor of Montreal. So last week he announced, as the spokesman for 80-some-odd municipalities in his region, that the Energy East oil pipe line traversing his fiefdom on its way to New Brunswick wasn’t welcome. Coderre sounded like Neil Young as he described the environmental catastrophe facing the Montreal region should the pipe line rupture. He also whined that there wasn't enough money in it to justify Montreal's discomfort.
This is not to say Coderre believes any of this guff. Hacks like Coderre have only interests, not beliefs. The right set of financial inducements will eventually liberate Coderre from his firmly held position. Because in Quebec politics, the shakedown is the art of the deal.
Whatever Coderre’s parochial requirements, the witless mayor chose a poor time to play the Quebec card. Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall, whose much smaller province (1.03 M. versus Quebec’s 7.9 M) has been sending hefty equalization cheques to la Belle Province ($9.5 B in 2015) for a good while now, delivered a reality sandwich to Coderre.
“This is a sad day for our country,” Wall wrote, “when leaders from a province that benefits from being part of Canada can be this parochial about a project that would benefit all of Canada, including these Quebec municipalities…. Is it too much to expect that these Quebec municipal leaders would respond to this reality with generous support for a pipeline that supports the very sector that has supported them?”
In typical ham-handed fashion, Coderre reminded Wall that he was but a shrimp in the Canadian bouillabaise. “Population de la Communauté Métropolitaine de Montréal: 4 millions... Population de la Saskatchewan: 1.13 millions….” To which Wall responded, “I trust Montreal area mayors will politely return their share of $10B in equalization supported by west.”
And there we have Coderre’s true contribution to Confederation. At a time when the West is smarting from the downturn in the oil patch, the tone-deaf mayor has reminded everyone just what a great racket props up profligate premiers like Kathleen Wynne in the East. Since insolvent Ontario stopped bribing Quebec to stay in the nation, it has fallen to the West to coerce the Coderres into accepting a Canadian union from coast to coast.
In good times, voters in Alberta, B.C. and Saskatchewan are content to look the other way as the former engines of the economy grub for scraps to keep their lifestyles going. But with a tata like Denis bragging on the swell deal Quebec enjoys at a time when tens of thousands are losing their jobs in the energy industry… well, if you wanted to start the separation debate again, you got it.
Westerners are perhaps the most loyal Canadians, but as social media has shown in the wake of Coderre’s folly, there is a breaking point (thankfully Quebec has demonstrated the legal way for a province or provinces to exit Canada).
The notion of the West being the squeaky wheel is risible to the Coderres of Canada. But Denis and his pals should remember that the hand that guides the purse has the power. Evidence of that was shown in the Suez Canal crisis of 1956 when the British and French wanted to invade Egypt to free the canal from Gamal Abdul Nasser’s grasp. British PM Anthony Eden phoned U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower to give him a heads up.
Eisenhower forbade the invasion. A piqued Eden began talking about British interests. Eisenhower then reminded Eden that America held the British debt from WW II and if he wanted the pound sterling devalued by half then go ahead and invade. End of discussion. End of invasion.
The Coderres of the Eastern provinces, awash in debt, might remember the Suez next time they try to put principle ahead of pragmatism. Having lost control of their purse they are no longer in a position to control their destiny.
Bruce's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience with successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also the best-selling author of seven books. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013).