Laval-les-Îles MP Raymonde Folco has been expelled from the Liberal opposition shadow cabinet and stripped of her position as the party's critic for official languages by Liberal leader Stéphane Dion. The expulsion comes as Dion tries to maintain control of the Liberals, who have been in a widening tailspin since last year when the leadership race was won by Dion.
Folco had been an outspoken supporter of Michael Ignatieff, a Dion rival, during last December's leadership race. As the Liberals' fortunes have sunk even lower recently, while those of the Conservative government have risen in the opinion polls, she made the mistake of being openly critical of Dion to the media, telling journalists in Montreal three weeks ago that the Liberals were in trouble because of Dion's lack of popularity in Quebec and his inability to change.
During her time as languages critic, Folco is said to have been an outspoken advocate in parliamentary committee meetings for the rights of Quebec's anglophone minority. The demotion means she is now virtually the only Quebec Liberal MP without a job as a critic on a caucus committee in Ottawa. Dion said she will continue to take part in committee work and to sit as a Liberal MP. But the position of official languages critic will now be filled by Mauril Bélanger, an MP from eastern Ontario and a former Liberal official languages minister. Considering Folco's advocacy for Quebec anglos, Dion's actions may alienate some members of that community from him even more than now.
Although Dion is well-regarded by most federalists because of his rigidly anti-separatist stance, hardline anglo-rights activists distrust him implicitly because of the soft approach they accuse Dion of having taken towards Quebec's language legislation, Bill 101. Citing a news story in which he was quoted more than a decade ago, when Dion was first elected to Parliament, some go so far as to suggest he embraced Bill 101 when he casually referred to it as "a great Canadian law." Prior to committing himself to federalism, Dion was a Quebec sovereignist and campaigned in 1976 on behalf of the Parti Québécois.
Caught off guard
In an interview last week, Folco told TLN that she was caught off guard when she made her widely-reported comments about Dion's leadership. "I hadn't been so outspoken," she insisted. "There was a caucus meeting in Montreal two weeks ago and as I was going into the meeting some of the media caught me and asked me a number of questions and I answered. And one of the questions, well the media just sort of caught me.
Everybody knew — Folco
They asked me about Mr. Dion being accepted in Quebec, and I said it's true that Quebecers are not moving towards Mr. Dion," Folco added. "I didn't say anything that nobody knew. In fact, Mr. Dion himself had come out a week of so before saying he knew that he wasn't going doing very well in Quebec. It was general knowledge and I didn't think that it was going to make such a big fuss. However, it made a big fuss so there it is." Folco had supported Ignatieff since early 2006, around the time leadership candidates were first presented to Liberal party members.
Wagered on Ignatieff
She said at the time that she believed he had the best chance of becoming prime minister if he were elected leader. Last November, a month before the leadership convention, she told an audience at the Young Israel of Chomedey synagogue that she was aware how displeasing her support for Ignatieff was to Jewish people. Ignatieff was on the defensive, having made statements saying Israel had committed war crimes.