There was a time not so long ago, when the arrival on the scene of a provincial government as overtly unfriendly to Quebec, or at least to its political class, as that of Alberta’s Jason Kenney’s, would have caused major ripples across the province.
It is hardly unknown, especially in Quebec, for party leaders to spend entire campaigns — as Kenney just did — taking shots at the prime minister of the day.
But political watchers would be hard-pressed to find in provincial election campaigns a rhetoric as adversarial to other provinces, and in particular to Quebec, as that which fuelled Kenney’s narrative.
The closest recent analogy could be Lucien Bouchard’s 1995 referendum warnings that should Quebecers opt to remain in the federation, they would be exposed to “an icy wind from the right,” courtesy of the likes of Ontario’s then-premier Mike Harris.
By all indications, Bouchard’s dire predictions did not keep very many Quebecers up at night.
At this juncture, the same could be said of Kenney’s veiled threat of reprisals on the equalization front absent Quebec’s compliance with Alberta’s pipeline ambitions.
If anything, among the premiers, it is Ontario’s Doug Ford — with his cavalier approach to the rights of his province’s Franco-Ontarian minority — who has so far best managed to get under the collective skin of Quebecers.
Tuesday’s swearing-in of Kenney’s government and the premier’s move to make good on the promise to proclaim a law that would — should it hold up in court — allow Alberta to cut off oil and gas shipments to B.C. in retaliation for its opposition to the Trans Mountain expansion was a non-event in Quebec.
The fact that Kenney is a rare Conservative premier who is totally comfortable in French means he has also been able to deliver his message directly to Quebecers over the course of post-election media appearances.
But Quebecers happen to have a lot of first-hand experience with the gap between the fighting words of a premier and his or her actual capacity to win federal-provincial battles.
That being said, there are reasons why Legault would have cause to want to make friends with his new Alberta counterpart.
First and foremost is Kenney’s superior federal expertise.
As Legault demonstrated with his dirty oil comment on his maiden appearance on the first ministers’ stage last December, the Quebec premier has much to learn if he is to build productive alliances with his provincial partners.
And then Kenney does not only speak French. He also knows more — for having spent time in the province over the years — about the lay of the Quebec political land than his federal leader, Andrew Scheer, or for that matter, the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh.
That is not to say that Legault and Kenney will come to see eye-to-eye on the resurrection of the contentious Energy East pipeline project.
That particular ship has probably sailed too long ago for its course to be successfully reversed.
By now, resistance to the notion of resuscitating TransCanada’s defunct bid to link the oilsands to the East Coast is about as widespread in Quebec as opposition to enshrining the province’s distinct status in the Constitution is in many quarters of Canada.
But if the past is any indication, a rocky start does not always herald an unhappy future.
After he became premier, Bouchard got along famously with Harris.
Their governments remained on very different policy tracks. While Harris kept busy shrinking the place of government in Ontario’s social fabric, his Quebec counterpart presided over a pharmacare initiative and a child care program that endure to this day.
But the two premiers found a lot of common ground against then-prime minister Jean Chretien.
Despite their relationship’s inauspicious beginnings, it is too early to dismiss the possibility that peace could break out between Kenney and Legault.
Chantal Hebert is a columnist with Torstar Syndication Services.