During the first season of the classic TV show, Gilligan’s Isle—a series about seven people trapped on a desert island—the theme song introduced the cast as: “Gilligan, the Skipper too, a Millionaire and his wife, a movie star, and all the rest”. In the second and third seasons the producers corrected their “all the rest” by including the other two main characters, “the Professor and Mary-Anne”. Why the Professor and Mary Anne were left out of the original incarnation of the song, I don’t know. After all, they were staples of the show, and there were only 7 characters (and the radio) anyway.
As I prepare to launch my campaign to stand as the Liberal Party candidate in my home riding next year, I’m careful to keep up with what Mr. Trudeau is saying and doing. A recent speech he gave to the Quebec caucus gave me pause. I fully agree that the flaws of the last decade included the party’s focus on retaining power rather than helping Canadians, which inspired Michael Ignatief’s lovely comment in the final, desperate days of the election in 2011, where he said you shouldn’t vote for Harper or Layton, only for him. Dark days which I am not proud of. However, I believe there is another issue that Trudeau touched upon in his speech. In an attempt to win back the Quebec caucus (with only 8 Quebec seats), Mr. Trudeau swore, “Not only will Quebecers be present in my government, they will be listened to. It won’t just be a prime minister from Quebec, but there will be ministers from Quebec in strong positions.”
Here is another issue. Yes, it’s wonderful that we would have a Prime Minister from Quebec, and obviously we want Quebecers to be listened to along with every other Canadian. Certainly, Quebecers will hold prominent positions in cabinet, hopefully more prominent than in Harper’s. However, I fear that Mr. Trudeau could be accused of promising to have a cabinet dominated by Quebecers. That is something that his detractors will try to highlight, and something that those of us running in ROC (the rest of Canada) have to face. Quebec has a privileged place in Confederation as it is, and, despite her hardships of the present, Quebec has historically been well favoured in the eyes of ROC. Moreover, a lot of prominent policy is tied to Quebec or Ontario. There’s a reason there is hardly a Liberal west of Winnipeg at present. There’s a reason that there aren’t too many Liberals in Ontario right now.
Listen to Quebecers, of course, but don’t ignore the rest of the country. Quebec is one province with 75 seats in the House of Commons, 24 seats in the Senate, and 7 million people. There are 28 million Canadians who live outside of Quebec, and over 12 million in Ontario alone with her 100 plus seats.
The Conservatives have accused Trudeau of favouring Quebec, and statements like the above give credence to their propaganda. I think Mr. Trudeau is the right person to lead the country in the next election, and I do think that he can ensure that all Canadians are heard and that all the provinces are represented in cabinet appropriately. However, although he needs to assure Quebec that they will be listened to, he also needs to do the same thing with the rest of the country.
Much like Mary-Anne and the Professor, I fear that some Canadians—particularly politicians, academics, and ordinary people—treat Canada as a country of only two parts: Quebec and all the rest. It’s like there aren’t another 28 million people living outside of Quebec in nine other provinces and three territories. Canadians who speak English, or French, or both, or something else besides the two. This is what happens in my McGill courses in the Institute for the Study of Canada. We learn all about Quebec in these courses that are supposed to teach us about the entire country, or parts of the country. I’ll be running in Ontario. Obviously I will represent the people of my riding, but I will also be standing up for all people in Canada. This narrow view of our country is outdated and inappropriate. If we expect change in the next election, we have to dispense with the “and all the rest” mentality. The Professors and Mary-Annes like us are important to this island of Canada too. Just as much as Quebec. We can’t forget that.