Wellington-Halton Hills MP Michael Chong resigned his cabinet post suddenly Monday over Prime Minister Stephen Harper's increasingly controversial resolution to formally recognize the Quebecois as a nation within Canada.
Chong, 35, quit as intergovernmental affairs minister responsible for the unity file and now sits as an ordinary MP, which allowed him to refrain from voting for the resolution that passed overwhelmingly in the Commons Monday night. Cabinet ministers were ordered by the Prime Minister to vote with him. Chong, who also held the minister of sport portfolio, called the resolution "nothing else than the recognition of ethnic nationalism, and I cannot support."
"I also believe that recognizing the Quebecois as a nation will provide the sovereignists with an argument that they will use to confuse Quebeckers in any future debate on sovereignty," said Chong. "They will argue if the Quebecois are a nation within Canada, the Quebecois are certainly a nation without Canada." "I believe in one nation, undivided called Canada," Chong said. "This is a fundamental principle for me, not something on which I can or will compromise. Not now, not ever. While I'm loyal to my party and to my leader, my first loyalty is to my country."
Chong said he reflected on his view of the resolution for several days trying to see if he could reconcile voting for it, but he couldn't. His resignation was a dramatic turn of events, stunning his caucus colleagues, several of whom were pondering late into the day Monday whether to abstain from the vote over their own personal doubts on the issue. In the end, many who had privately voiced concerns, bit their tongues.
The resolution passed 266-16. Fifteeen Liberals and Halton Independent MP Garth Turner voted against the resolution Chong stressed that Harper was presented with a difficult dilemma by the Bloc Quebecois. "I do not fault him for what he felt he had to do," said Chong, who portrayed his decision as one based solely on principle, but also admitted he hadn't been consulted by Harper when he was crafting his solution to the quandary posed by the Bloc motion. He said he believes in the uniqueness of the French fact of Canada. " I also believe that this is best accomplished through the policies of official bilingualism and multiculturalism. Above all that, it is done not through retreating into our solitudes, but rather by engaging each other through a common civic nationalism," Chong said. --With files from Torstar News Service