Andrew Coyne: It’s that time again, when Conservatives say anything to woo Quebecers

Typical acerbic Coyne commentary on CPC flirting with the Quebec nationalist vote:

Certain things recur eternally, in time with the rhythm of the seasons. Flowers bloom in spring. The swallows return to Capistrano. And the federal Conservatives prostitute themselves for the Quebec-nationalist vote.

Well, that’s a bit strong. Prostitutes, after all, expect to be paid. Whereas the Conservatives’ periodic efforts to sell themselves, their principles and their country to people with a proven lack of interest in all three are as notable for their unremunerativeness as they are for their self-abasement.

The Conservatives have been trying this same act now for several decades, most notably — and destructively, to both country and party — under Brian Mulroney, but in their different ways under Robert Stanfield (“deux nations”), Joe Clark (“community of communities”) and even Stephen Harper (“the Québécois nation” resolution).

Occasionally, they manage to attract some attention in the province that has remained largely indifferent to them since 1891. If they are particularly extravagant in their offerings, as under Mulroney, they may even win their votes — but only for as long as it takes to sink in that there is no support in the rest of Canada for what they are proposing, and no possibility of their being implemented.

At which point the whole exercise sinks in a heap of dashed expectations and accusations of bad faith, leaving the country divided and the Tories in ashes. Until, inevitably, some genius gets it into his head to launch the whole routine again.

As, indeed, some genius now has. There were early warning signs during the leadership campaign, with Andrew Scheer’s efforts to prostrate himself before the dairy lobby on the issue of supply management — a policy that is not explicitly about Quebec nationalism, but which only exists because it has been incorporated into the “Quebec consensus,” and is as such, like others of its kind, untouchable.

There were further hints in Scheer’s expressions of interest, as leader, in the Couillard government’s ruinous plan to leap again into the constitutional bog, this time with a set of demands that include entrenching “the Quebec nation” — not the Québécois, as in the Harper resolution, but the province entier, as national proto-state.

But it wasn’t until last weekend’s gathering of the party in Saint-Hyacinthe that we began to see just how far the Scheer Conservatives are prepared to go down this road. We now learn that among the proposals Scheer is considering including in the platform for 2019 is a federal retreat from responsibility for culture and immigration in Quebec, in favour of the provincial government: a longstanding nationalist demand, and another brick in the wall dividing Quebec from the rest of Canada.

As in a growing list of other fields, MPs from Quebec would be setting rules for the rest of Canada that did not apply to themselves, legislating for other provinces in areas over which Quebec reserved all power to itself. To now we’ve been able to paper over the inequities this implies: the levies Quebec MPs voted to impose on other Canadians under the Canada Pension Plan were until lately the same as those imposed under the Quebec Pension Plan. (They are now slightly lower.) But the principles of federalism can only be stretched so far. At some point they’re bound to break.

And there was this gem. In the name of preserving its autonomy, Quebec has long been the only province to force its long-suffering citizens to file their taxes twice: once to Ottawa and a second, entirely separate return to the province, with a separate set of deductions and credits. The Tories now propose to end this silliness — not, as you might expect, by the province agreeing to use the federal tax base in return for the feds collecting its taxes for it, as in the rest of Canada, but by the province collecting both sets of taxes, then remitting the federal portion to Ottawa.

Wonderful: henceforth, the federal government would be dependent on the grace and favour of the government of Quebec for a fifth of its income — even as the government of Quebec depends on federal transfers for about a fifth of its income. (Would it just subtract its share? Or would the two governments send each other cheques?)

And should there arise some dispute between them? That’s a nice little revenue source you have there. Pity if anything should happen to it.

There’s no actual need for any of this, you understand. There never is. The reason Quebec has its own pension plan is not because Quebecers age at different speeds, but because the government of Quebec fancied the cash — and because the Pearson government, with the Quiet Revolution then at its peak, was too unnerved to say no.

So it is with immigration and culture. Believe it or not, the federal government employs many francophone Quebecers. To the extent Quebec has special needs in these areas, they are quite capable of understanding and addressing them. Meanwhile, the province continues to enjoy the greatest degree of latitude in a country whose provinces generally have more powers than many sovereign states.

But then, the interest of Quebec’s political class in protecting the province’s jurisdictional turf seems to ebb and flow. At times, they are only too happy to have the feds intervene — for example, when it comes to covering the costs of the current influx of asylum seekers. Or, in perhaps the most brazen recent example of have-it-both-ways federalism, in the Coalition Avenir Québec’s suggestion that, should it form a government, it would exclude immigrants who did not pass its “values” test — but stick Ottawa with the job of kicking them out of the country.

I get why provincial politicians behave this way. I have no idea why their federal cousins are so eager to enable them. Or rather no, I know exactly why. Certain things recur eternally, after all.

Ms. Payette and Mr. Scheer: Science and religion can – and should – co-exist: Peter McKnight

The most balanced commentary I have seen on the GG controversy by McKnight, a former Templeton-Cambridge fellow in science and religion at the University of Cambridge:

My horoscope warned me that I’m likely to offend everyone today, so here goes: Governor-General Julie Payette is wrong. And so are her critics.

In a speech attacking anti-scientific sentiments in society, Ms. Payette riffed on astrology and climate change skeptics and, in the interest of complete self-immolation, tackled religious belief by saying: “We are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process.”

As many critics have charged, Ms. Payette’s language was impolitic to say the least. Her incredulous “oh my goodness” suggests she’s shocked – shocked, I tell you – that anyone might think God had something to do with life. But I’ll leave it to others to discuss the proper decorum for a governor-general.

I’d rather discuss science and religion. And on the former subject, I’m not even sure of what science Ms. Payette was referring to. That “random process” business sounds like evolution by natural selection, which, as any biologist can tell you, is as well confirmed as any scientific theory.

Or perhaps she was referencing the origin of life, which is the province of abiogenesis, not natural selection. And as any biologist can also tell you, abiogenesis is not nearly a settled matter.

But here’s the rub: As scientists work on abiogenesis or any other scientific theory, they won’t appeal to divine intervention – because they can’t. Science, as the study of the natural world, permits consideration only of natural causes – causes involving matter, energy and their interaction. Scientists must therefore resist any appeal to supernatural causes, be they God, karma or voodoo.

This approach, known as methodological naturalism, has proven tremendously successful, allowing us to predict and control much of the natural world. But it doesn’t mean that supernatural causes don’t exist; it only means that science must, by its own choosing, remain silent about the supernatural.

And indeed, many scientists who are faithful to the methodological naturalist approach are also faithful to God, because they recognize that the supernatural lies beyond science, that when science tries to squeeze God out of the equation, it is overstepping its bounds. This, it seems, is Ms. Payette’s faux pas: She may know a lot about science, but she evidently doesn’t know where science ends.

That’s only half the story. Ms. Payette’s critics make the same mistake, from the other side. Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, for example, spoke of “faith groups who believe there is truth in their religion” and opined that “respect for diversity includes respect for the diversity of religious beliefs.”

Now where to begin with that? How about here: Mr. Scheer is effectively equating respect for people with respect for opinions. That’s more than a little ironic coming from a conservative: Remember when the left was rightly ridiculed for promoting exactly this sentiment – “viewpoint discrimination” – which means we must accept all opinions as equal?

But more to the point, if religion is going to use its theories to explain the natural world – to overstep its bounds and compete with science on its own turf – then it ought to be criticized, for criticism is essential to science. Unfortunately, though, if the United States is any example, the prohibition on viewpoint discrimination has taken hold. So we see “religious freedom” laws that demand equal time for evolution and creationism in science classes. After all, these are two opinions about the nature of life, and all opinions are equal, right?

Religious freedom laws are, of course, disastrous for science. But the attempt to compete with science on its own turf, the failure to recognize where religion ends, is also detrimental to religion: It presents an impoverished view of God, one where the divine becomes part of nature rather than something transcendent, something beyond the natural world. And worse, it draws religion away from the big questions that lie beyond science, the moral and metaphysical questions that have preoccupied the religious for millennia.

Rather than engaging in turf wars, as Ms. Payette and Mr. Scheer seem destined to do, perhaps we should consider how science and religion can co-exist and, indeed, complement each other. Science, after all, teaches us about the nature of life, about what we are and how we came to be, while religion teaches us about the nature of living, about who we are and how we ought to behave. And we need both. In their rightful places.

via Ms. Payette and Mr. Scheer: Science and religion can – and should – co-exist – The Globe and Mail