Edmonton Journal, April 29,
Harper playing dangerous political game with Quebec
Conservative-Bloc minority government won't serve
by David Orchard
While the sponsorship affair rages across the
country, it is in Quebec where it burns the hottest –
threatening far more than the Liberal party.
The opposition parties, particularly the
Conservatives, appear prepared to play with this fire
for their own ends.
Polls in Quebec show support for sovereignty at over
50 per cent -- its highest level since the Meech Lake
Accord. The Charest government is very low in the polls
and has been for months. Waiting impatiently in the
wings is the PQ, with its promise of another referendum
"as soon as possible in the next mandate."
Yet the Conservative party under Stephen Harper is
not worried. It is ready to damn the torpedoes and join
with the Bloc to trigger an election. A national news
item, reporting on the lack of concern in the
Conservative party about the dramatic rise in separatist
momentum in Quebec, quoted a top Conservative: "We have
a philosophy of federalism that is more in tune with how
Quebecers see a federal state operating." What exactly
does this mean and of which Quebecers is the
Conservative party speaking?
Everyone can understand the Bloc's eagerness for an
election. They and the separatist movement in Quebec are
going to be the big winners in any early vote. But why
would the Conservatives be prepared to take this risk
The Conservative party is nowhere on the radar in
Quebec and stands virtually no chance of taking any
seats there; nor does the NDP. Like it or not, it is the
federal Liberal party that has fought -- and is seen to
have fought -- to keep Canada intact and it is the only
force on the ground in Quebec capable of doing so.
Harper's claim that Quebecers can or will vote for his
new party as an alternative to Liberal corruption is a
pipe dream. The Conservative party's weakness at the
its support of joining the U.S. missile project and the
war on Iraq, its opposition to the Kyoto agreement, and
its positions in stark disagreement with the vast
majority of Quebec voters on a number of other issues,
doom the party utterly within the province in any near-
term election. Harper's frantic attempt to recruit
separatist candidates to run under his banner does
nothing to change this reality.
As has been the case for years, the fight in Quebec
is between les rouges, the Liberals, and les
independantistes, the separatists.
By triggering an election at this time, well in
advance of any process of sorting the wheat from the
chaff via Gomery, Harper's Conservatives hope to improve
their strength in Parliament. However, if they win a
minority government, they will be able to govern only
through the same method they used to get the election --
namely in alliance with the Bloc.
It's not hard to imagine the bargain a resurgent,
reinvigorated Bloc will drive for their support of the
Conservatives to weaken the federal ability to govern
and set the stage for a winning referendum.
Some Canadians have taken to calling radio open line
shows to say that if Quebec wants to leave, so be it.
The consequences for those of us who love this
country would be not only the loss of Canada's largest
province and the great geographic and strategic gateway
to the continent, but the loss of the very heart of the
nation, with its culture, language, dynamism, and four
hundred years of shared history -- and would be a
near-fatal blow to any hope of keeping the rest of the
Those in a rush "to throw the bums out" would do well
to reflect on the scenario of a minority Conservative
government propped up by a powerful Bloc Quebecois
facing a coming Quebec referendum.
A Bloc controlling 60-odd federal Quebec seats, and a
newly elected PQ with a majority of the provincial seats
will be on one side. Who will be on the other side? Who
will speak for Canada this time? Who will fight and win
this battle for the hearts and minds of Quebecers?
Pierre Trudeau did it in 1980, Jean Chretien in 1995.
Both were leaders of majority governments with
substantial support in Quebec. If Harper imagines that
his words will motivate Quebecers to remain in Canada,
he doesn't know the province very well.
These are the stakes that Harper is prepared to
gamble with, in a manner remarkably similar to Brian
Mulroney's famous "roll of the dice" with the country's
future over a dozen years ago. Now, as then, only a
strong outpouring of opposition from Canadians will stop
Harper's dangerous game.
David Orchard is the author of the bestseller, The Fight
for Canada - Four Centuries of Resistance to American
Expansionism, and ran for the leadership of the federal
Progressive Conservative Party in 1998 and 2003. He
farms at Borden, SK and can be reached at tel (306)