War-gaming a PQ government in Quebec
That’s the subject of Paul Wells’s latest.
Stephen Harper doesn’t announce many of his most important meetings. He routinely meets one-on-one with provincial premiers without either party mentioning the encounters to reporters. And from Stephanie Levitz at Canadian Press comes news that he met Brian Mulroney and, separately, Jean Charest last week. …
Harper’s tiny Quebec caucus makes as many brave noises as it can, but I know the prime minister is spooked by the prospect (not the guarantee, because of course there is none, but the non-negligible possibility) of a Parti Québécois government returning to power within 15 weeks.
Various branches of the federal government have quietly been discussing possible responses to a PQ victory. During the recent French election, one of Harper’s main concerns was PQ claims that François Hollande would rekindle a cozy relationship between French Socialists and Quebec separatists. (Polarity on that file has switched a few times over the years. De Gaulle was no Socialist and François Mitterrand, who was, was no fan of the PQ. But Jacques Chirac astonished everyone by becoming a good friend of Jean Chrétien’s, and Nicolas Sarkozy was so tight with the Desmarais clan that the PQ is coming off the chilliest five years it’s ever known in France. So the PQ has been hoping a Hollande victory would bring a thaw.) I’m told Harper was greatly reassured by his first long conversation with Hollande, at Camp David last month. But France’s attitude was always going to be peripheral. Hollande doesn’t get a vote. …
As for Harper: try this thought experiment. Imagine Albertans taking it into their heads to do something, and Tom Mulcair trying to talk them out of it. That’s a decent proxy for Harper’s clout in Quebec: the NDP share of the popular vote in Alberta last May and the Conservatives’ in Quebec were nearly the same.
So if Pauline Marois became premier and decided to try her luck, she’d face a worn-out Jean Charest with no young Jean Charest to back him up; and a Prime Minister with half the seats and voter appeal that Jean Chrétien had when he nearly lost the 1995 referendum. What’s that leave?
Why, Tom Mulcair. By some measures, the most popular politician in Quebec. A few New Democrats were already crowing Friday evening on Twitter at the prospect of Mulcair emerging as Captain Canada in some new confrontation. And that would indeed be fun. But early on, his stance on the Clarity Act and the NDP’s Sherbrooke Declaration would get noticed by the 64% of 2011 NDP voters who live outside Quebec. … Mulcair … would watch his party snap like a twig. …
[If Marois] wins an election and then gets bold or reckless, Harper won’t have much of a political hand. He will have the Clarity Act, the Constitution and customary international law, all of which break decidedly in favour of a united Canada. But those are all handy guides for steering through a hell of a political mess. Once you need them, you’re already in the mess. No wonder Harper is renewing strategic acquaintances.
I say this: for all the complaining one hears, French is very well protected and, that being so, Quebeckers like being in Canada.
The only way that province is leaving is if the rest of the country gets together and holds a referendum on kicking them out.
The Conservatives DO need to buck up in Quebec, but that’s because a second majority is hard at the current levels of Quebec support. It took winning the rest of Canada in a Mulroney 1984 fashion to get the first one, and you can’t count on that particular bolt of lightning striking twice.
Update: Other comment — all these regionalist bleats are paper tigers. Same goes for “Western alienation”.
Now that they’ve seen that (1) there can be a Western Canada-based leader and party elected to government, and (2) the piece-meal dismantling of traditional Canadian symbols that they disliked has been pushed back against (hello, Royal Canadian Air Force!), there really aren’t that many real complaints.
Yes, there are bad policies — equalization, for one. But those are best dealt with through the political process.