June 30, 2006

Bye Bye Majority, Harper’s Flip Flop on Quebec Nation will Cost Him Dearly

Six months almost to the day after the Tories won Quebec support with Harper’s (in?)famous speech in Quebec City, Harper and his new Cabinet were back in Quebec holed up in a British Fortress handing it right back.

Sitting at Quebec HQ during the last election, we could feel it slipping away in Quebec, and we knew we were gonna get pummelled in Eastern Quebec. However, we did not foresee the 10 seats Harper won. The turning point came December 19th, when Harper went to Quebec City and, as if reading out of a “How-to-Win Quebec” manual, promised Quebeckers everything the Liberals have been denying them for the past 13 years.

Harper let Lawrence Cannon say Quebec was a nation on TV interviews. Harper promised to fix the fiscal imbalance, without saying how he would do it. (it was better than the Liberal position of denying it existed) Harper promised to give Quebec representation at UNESCO (he delivered there, but as we Liberals predicted, it would hardly change a thing). It was a renewed sense of federalism in Quebec. Harper and Charest had play-dates and photo-ops and all was going well. Charest’s numbers were going back up. Then came last week…

Harper was asked if Quebec formed a nation, in the socio-cultural sense of the term, as recognized by Jean Charest and about 95% of Quebeckers, myself included. Hell, even Stephane Dion, great defender of the status quo and denier-in-chief for 6 years, has finally come around and is openly saying Quebec is a nation. (What do you have to say about that Cherniak?).

Harper dodged the question, saying he didn’t wanna debate semantics. Hello, Stephen, didn’t it say in that book that the majority of the debate in Quebec is about semantics? Duceppe and Boisclair jumped on Harper so fast, I was left shaking my head. Another disappointment for Quebeckers. However, this bumbling may have given us Liberals the opportunity we need to bounce back.

The sovereigntists are armed and ready. Jean Doiron, president of the SSJB, the people who throw the big Jean Baptiste party in Montreal, dragged Harper over the coals and drummed up the sovereigntist fever over this latest federalist disappointment. I was there. I spoke with Doiron afterwards. He was surprised to see a federalist at the event. Apparently, as an anglo-federalist, I am brave to come to Parc Maisonneuve on Saint-Jean Baptiste.

The Liberals are in no position to capitalize right now as we are in the throes of a leadership race. However, our choice of leader might be able to turn the tables on Harper. Quebeckers have shown themselves open to Canada by moving away from the Bloc. We must choose a leader who understands Quebec and is able to rekindle the federalist spirit that Harper abruptly disrupted in that British Fortress.

Our leader must recognize Quebec as a nation. This planet has many nations co-existing within the borders of a single state. Canada is a shining example that two different peoples can work together for the betterment of each other. This social experiment will not fail. However, we have to stop denying Quebeckers the obvious truth.

Our leader must recognize the fiscal imbalance and work out a way to resolve it before promising it in a general election. Harper’s glaring mistake is being shown through Jim Flaherty this week. He told provinces to raise taxes. That is the old Liberal line, the Jean Chretien-Stephane Dion line. If Harper had said that in Quebec on December 19th, he would not have those seats in Quebec City. Our leader must find a way to restore provincial transfers (not by tax points) to pre-1995 levels. We must then work out a percentage of spending that the federal government will commit to. No more downloading on provinces. These intergovernmental wars of words must end. (I am officially closing the Benoit Pelletier is a Separatist Club.)

There are 3 main contenders in this race and only two have the credibility necessary to lead the party down this path.

One is a former provincial premier. He knows how federal-provincial relations are managed, and he witnessed first hand how much trouble a province can get into if the federal government suddenly pulls the plug to save its own ass. As if the NDP wasn’t bad enough already they bore the full front of Martin’s fiscal axe in 1995. Bob Rae recognizes Quebec’s status as a nation. He is fluently bilingual.

Another is a journalist and former war correspondent who has seen ethnic nationalism destroy states and their people. He wrote the book on ethnic nationalism and knows full well the dangers of letting sovereigntists monopolize our culture, language, and symbols. He was not in the Liberal denial bubble of the 1990s, which held such a hard-line towards the PQ that we ended up insulting Quebeckers’ intelligence and further polarizing the population. Let’s not forget how close the 1995 referendum was. Michael Ignatieff also recognizes Quebec as a nation. He believes the fiscal imbalance is there. He does not want to pit Quebec City against Ottawa the way Jean Chretien did for so long.

Stephane Dion faces a daunting task regaining the trust of Quebeckers. He was Jean Chretien’s political point man against the PQ throughout these years. The father of the Clarity Act (which for the record, was good) has been the denier-in-chief of many of Quebec aspirations, arrogantly brushing them off in a way that only angered Quebeckers. He sat in Cabinet while the federal government invaded provincial jurisdiction on a regular basis. Now he wants to convince Quebeckers he is a changed man and this is all in the past? We saw this with another Quebec politician. I have much more respect for Stephane Dion than I have for Jean Lapierre but I have a sinking feeling that just as many people will believe Stephane Dion’s new and improved approach on Quebec nationalism as they had for Lapierre’ new and improved views on the Canadian federation.

For us to win, we have two alternatives. They are starkly different from one another. Both can take down Stephen Harper. I have chosen one. Quebeckers will choose theirs as well.

10 Commentaires:

Blogger robedger a dit...

Recognition of a so-called 'fiscal imbalance' is the legitimization of a separatist myth used to break up Canada. It inflates expectations by the provinces, increases pressure from the public and creates unreasonable, unaffordable demands.

There are some who think that we should play the same game that Harper did last election: pretend that a fiscal imbalance exists, and pander to the soft seperatist vote. If we do that and win, we'll be in the exact same position that Harper is in now: trying to 'fix' a fiction.

Harper courted Quebecers during the election campaign by promising to fix the fiscal imbalance, though he never defined it then or since. But in the Harper government's first budget there wasn't a penny for the fiscal imbalance and in recent days federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has suggested the fiscal imbalance has largely been fixed.

Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff are playing into the hands of separatists by pretending that there is a fiscal imbalance.

If the two of them are not going to play the same game as Harper then they have a duty to define what the so-called fiscal imbalance is and to tell us how much it will cost to solve it.

If they want to pander to win an election, raise expectations in Quebec just to dash them, and in the long run fan the flames of seperatism, that is a direction that Liberals should not support.

6/30/2006 12:42 PM  
Blogger Antonio a dit...

Rob if you read my previous posts, I have defined it as the restoring of pre-1995 levels of transfers with no strings attached and the pegging of the rate to inflation.

Yves Seguin has also defined the number at 40 billion over 5 years but as Charest has acknowledged, that number has since been reduced by some of martin's accords with the provinces.

6/30/2006 1:02 PM  
Blogger Kyle Carruthers a dit...

What does "no strings attached" have to do with fiscal imbalance?

6/30/2006 1:31 PM  
Blogger robedger a dit...

Though I disagree with your notion of the so-called 'fiscal imablance', it is not your notion that I feel needs to be fleshed out. Iggy and Rae must tell us what their definition is.

6/30/2006 2:23 PM  
Blogger Antonio a dit...

Kyle, the notion of no strngs attached is to ensure that there isnt another blatant invasion of provincial jurisdiction by the federal government.

6/30/2006 2:44 PM  
Blogger Kyle Carruthers a dit...

ahhhh, thank Antonio. Clearly our desired conception of federalism differs drastically. The feds should play a role in setting an overall social framework in Canada.

As for "infrigning provincial jurisdiction", that is kind of a loaded expression. The federal spending power (including the power to attach strings) is constitutionally tried and tested. If the provinces want the power laid out in 91 and 92 of the 1867 Constitution Act, then why shouldnt the feds be able to exercise the powers they had in 1867--namely reservation and disallownace?

Conditional grants are a great way for the feds to stay involved in Canada's social life without using draconian measures like reservation and disallowance.

Given the vastly differing views of Liberals on important question for Canada--federalism, our role in the world, etc.--sometimes I wonder how we all ended up in the same party.

6/30/2006 3:23 PM  
Blogger Manitoba Liberal a dit...

I'll take Kennedy. Someone with no tainted history like Ignatieff or Rae and can approach the issue without the baggage of past statement hanging off of him.

6/30/2006 3:48 PM  
Blogger Manley Man a dit...

The provinces if they don't want strings can reject federal money on mass, and raise their taxes. The people wouldn't stand for the federal government just pocketing all the extra money suddenly lying around, and would be forced to cut taxes.

But would any Premier or block of Premiers ever do this? To reflect their power under the constitution? Never!

Also, since no anon comments, do we really need word verification?

7/02/2006 3:09 PM  
Blogger Raphael a dit...

... Eeeehhhh dude... Je ne pensais pas devoir rappeler ça à un fédéraliste, mais en 1995 50,5% (ou 4 je ne me souviens plus) on voté non. DONC, une partie des ces gens sont d'accord avec Harper quant au statut national du Québec et une autre partie s'en battent les roubignoles (pour rester poli) et vont plutôt flasher sur des mesures un peu démagogique, comme la réduction de la TPS (que les conservateurs rappeleront que les Libéraux n'ont pas eu le courage d'abolir comme ils l'avaient promis).

enfin, je dois dire que ce blog est beaucoup plus intéressant quand nous ne sommes pas en période électorale.

7/04/2006 12:42 PM  
Blogger James Bowie a dit...

Good post.

What bugs me most about Harper's flip flop on the Nation Question is the day he chose. You don't go to hte St. Jean Baptist parade, the national celebration of Quebec, if you're not willing to acknowledge that Quebec is a nation.

You also don't go to the Santa Claus parade and deny the existance of Santa Clause. Situations like this make me wish I was a cartoonist.

7/05/2006 10:38 PM  

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