April 2, 2008

Harper Takes A Necessary Gamble

Jean-Pierre Blackburn opened a can of worms this morning when he mentioned the possibility of re-opening the Canadian Constitution if the Conservatives were to be elected to a majority government. Most pundits agree that if Stephen Harper were to get a majority government, the lion’s share of new seats would be in Quebec.

Blackburn’s sortie is no accident. We all know that Stephen Harper keeps a pretty short leash on his ministers so this is Harper’s way of finding out how much he can gain in Quebec while measuring the amount of convulsions Canada’s English media will have at the mention of the word Constitution.

Many people know I am a major advocate of re-opening the constitution, especially if it is done the way Trudeau did it, with consultations, chance for amendments, and not done by 10 premiers in a smoke-filled boardroom.

I will note one thing here. Pierre Trudeau, in his opposition to Meech Lake, said amending the Constitution is something that should happen once in a generation. We are approaching 26 years since 1982, and now that we have 2 parties in Quebec City open to this idea, this is an opportunity to really put the sovereigntists in a pickle.

What should the other parties do?

The NDP was always a proponent of this, so expect Tom Mulcair to stand up on his chair and yell at the top of his lungs how wonderful this is, especially if the Liberals oppose it.

The Bloc can’t really be opposed to negotiations, which will only take place if they get decimated in an election. I don’t wanna be Gilles Duceppe right now.

As for “poor” Stephane Dion (h/t Liza Frulla), his original opposition to the nation resolution gained him much support among English Canada’s media and bagged him many votes as the fiasco erupted just days before Super Weekend. His cautious attitude also earned him the respect of Gerard Kennedy, and maybe even his delegates once Kennedy fell off the ballot.

If Dion supports this, he is turning his back on all the people who elected him leader. He also gives himself a fighting chance at regaining some ground in Quebec.

If he opposes with the Constitutional “boogeyman” argument comprised of fear tactics, a Justin Trudeau speech about his father, and a slew of angry English media pundits, he sacrifices his chances in Quebec, but gives himself a fighting chance to remake ground in Ontario and elsewhere across the country.

Stephen Harper is already halfway across the street with the constitutional issue, having passed the motion about the nation and having made overtures to the two federalist parties in Quebec.
Stephane Dion may have finally found a wedge issue to go into an election with, but if he does, he will be turning his back on his home province, proving right all those who called him a traitor for the last 15 years.

Ce serait un beau risque pour Stephen Harper...mais un risque potentiellement mortel pour Stephane Dion…


21 Commentaires:

Blogger Mark a dit...

I don't see it in such black and white terms as you, but for the sheer sport of it, I'll play along.

Let me get this straight:

If you turn your back on the perceived majority view in your province you are a traitor.

But if you turn your back on the confirmed majority view of your country you are a... hero?

4/02/2008 5:24 p.m.  
Blogger KC a dit...

Still waiting to see hear how Harper expects to get the rest of the country to agree to such a chance--as he clearly does as per the constitutional amending formula. Contrary to what you quite clearly think Antonio the rest of the country have their own wishlist and aren't just going to bend over for change to please one province. Harper and Charest are going to need the support of the other provincial governments before this is even worth talking about. Until then its just posturing.

4/02/2008 8:10 p.m.  
Blogger KC a dit...

Great point Mark. Lets not forget how OVERWHELMINGLY disapproving the polls in English Canada were when the nation resolution was passed. Fortunately (from a federalist point of view) this time those voices will be hear by provincial premiers who wont want to touch this with a ten foot pole. They've got more important matters to tend to.

4/02/2008 8:15 p.m.  
Blogger Dan McKenzie a dit...

"he will be turning his back on his home province, proving right all those who called him a traitor for the last 15 years."

At what point do we have to continue being polite about comments like these?

Dion has done more to keep this country united, for the benefit of Quebecers, and all Canadians, than any of the small-minded goofs who would even consider calling the man a traitor, combined.

4/02/2008 9:49 p.m.  
Blogger Mark a dit...

First, kc, much as I appreciate your agreement, I resent the use of the Term English Canada. English Canada does not exist. There is no such thing.

To buy into the notion that our Canada = Quebec + English Canada is a misinterpretation of our history, and our constitution.

It may very well be that in 1840 there was a "Lower and Upper Canada", or an "English and French Canada". But the country we live in today is much larger. And use of the term English Canada as the other part that is not Quebec ignores the reality that Aboriginals and Acadians, and fancophones in Ontario, Metis in Manitoba, etc. are neither Quebecers, nor English Canadians, but are clearly among our founding peoples.

Anyway, more importantly, if you accept that Dion must act in the interests of perceived public opinion in his home province, then should Harper be held to the same standard in his home province? What about everyone else.

The fact is that the laundry list of Quebec's minimal demands is not acceptable to the other provinces, at least not without some serious simultaneous concessions going the other way.

Remember, every constitutional round that we have had in this country since 1948 has been instigated by and for the purpose of accommodating the desires, real of perceived, of Quebec. I have absolutely no problem with that. It's perfectly logical. The unique nature of Quebec, its institutions, its language and its history and culture within the North American context give it every reason to take a little more time and a little different effort to get it right.

The only caveat I would add is that after several such rounds of discussion (including, I might add the negotiations leading up to 1982) in which all other provinces were told (and rightfully so) that their interests would simply have to wait, I think a re-opening of the constitution will open the floodgates to a host of other demands, many of which Quebec will view as worse than the status quo. With a firewall government ensconced in Alberta, a nationalist Premier in Newfoundland, and an Ontario government watching its relative economic status decline in the federation, the stakes are incredibly high.

For the sake of a symbolic gesture that betrays the historic reality of this country, it simply isn't worth it.

But hey, as we've learned repeatedly, any risk is worth a few seats or a few delegates to some...

4/02/2008 11:19 p.m.  
Blogger Antonio a dit...

thats a bit unfair mark

first of all, I have said time and again I prefer an open process where everybody makes their case, with no promise of an agreement made beforehand. you catn raise expectations. That was mulroney's biggest downfall.

If quebec wants, they should be prepared to send stuff the other way. Mulroney's insistence that you need unanimity sank meech lake as well.

im all for an open process with no promises. I just think putting our head in the sand is not the answer

4/02/2008 11:56 p.m.  
Blogger KC a dit...

Antonio - Even if we accept that unanimity isnt required--7+50 is. I'd like to know where even THAT level of agreement can be achieved without some sort of tit for tat.

4/02/2008 11:58 p.m.  
Blogger Antonio a dit...

thats why you make it an open consultative process

if premiers are being dumb, put it to a national referendum with 7/50.

there are lots of ways to have a discussion. but we need to take our head out of the sand.

4/03/2008 1:08 a.m.  
Blogger Mark a dit...

Sure - an open an consultative process. I can agree with that.

But an open and consultative discussion does not commence with threats to separate, should not feature historical revisionism as a necessary premise, and ought to include a genuine assessment of the contradictory and overblown arguments used in Quebec about how bad the 1982 agreement was.

If it is grounded in "Night of Long Knives" mythology, then it simply isn't done in good faith and stands no chance of success.

4/03/2008 8:23 a.m.  
Blogger Antonio a dit...

mark you have 2 federalist parties in quebec. At least you arent negotiating with a separatist government in Quebec City

4/03/2008 9:18 a.m.  
Blogger Mark a dit...

Yes. But Bourassa was also a federalist, and his position was no different.

That being said, I think Charest has a far better understanding of the rest of the country than Bourassa did.

Fingers crossed, I suppose.

4/03/2008 10:14 a.m.  
Blogger Scott Tribe a dit...

Was Trudeau considered a traitor for standing up to the nationalists ad separatists?

Perhaps in nationalist and separatist circles, but that means little to me or the rest of Canada. Nor should Dion be concerned with those types who hate him for his Clarity Act - and that includes the Liza Frulla types.

4/03/2008 10:25 a.m.  
Blogger David Graham - cdlu.net a dit...

Antonio, admit it: You are a separatist.

Noone else would call Stephane Dion a traitor. There is no such thing as a soft nationalist. There is only one thing soft nationalist thugs want and it is separation -- and protection money from Canada until they get it.

4/03/2008 10:32 a.m.  
Blogger Antonio a dit...


I will be very clear....

If Stephane Dion rejects a call for constitutional discussions for the sole purpose of gaining political ground outside of Quebec, through the use of fear tactics against the concept of constitutional negotiations, he is a traitor, in my eyes.

Pierre Trudeau negotiated in good faith, had consultations, and made a calculated decision that levesque wouldnt agree to anything hence the deal with the 9 other premiers.

It is now 26 years later people. It is time we revisit this thing. If Harper is doing this for political points in Quebec and not because the country needs this discussion to be had, then Harper is betraying his base by selling out to Quebec.

4/03/2008 10:58 a.m.  
Blogger Antonio a dit...

I will add, that in the midst of the Tory backtracking yesterday, DIon was correct in saying, I will see what is proposed first before commenting....which is exactly what I would expect someone to say.

4/03/2008 11:00 a.m.  
Blogger Mark a dit...

Where do you get the premise that Dion is rejecting this in order to gain ground elsewhere?

If anything the man is being consistent. He isn't instigating this. He may reject it because (a) it's the right thing to do and (b) he's not an opportunist like Harper or Mulroney.

Just because he rejects something does not give yo the right to attach a motivation to his rejection.

Similarly when I say oppose the nation resolution it doesn't give anyone the right to say I am anti-Quebec. I just want my nation recognized, too.

4/03/2008 12:48 p.m.  
Blogger Antonio a dit...

saying the constitution is perfect is putting your head in the sand

4/03/2008 1:22 p.m.  
Blogger Dan McKenzie a dit...

Thinking a constitution COULD be perfect is putting your head in the clouds.

4/03/2008 2:04 p.m.  
Blogger Antonio a dit...

the only way the sovereigntists ill ever be defeated is if an agreement is reached that the majority of quebecers accept.

then they can whine all they want but wont have much of a leg to stand on

4/03/2008 2:41 p.m.  
Blogger KC a dit...

That agreement HAS to be principled though. I'm fine with principled constitutional change that has a coherent philosophical underpinning that pleases most or all of the provinces. What bothers me about the dominant vision of constitutional change espoused by soft nationalists in Quebec is the complete lack of principle. It is so transparently self interested vision. It envisions a Quebec that is singled out for its specialness, given complete autonomy in its "water tight compartment", yet demands (as of right) astronomical transfer payments from other provinces that are increasingly unwilling and unable to pay them.

That strikes me as profoundly unprincipled. Say what you will about separatists but true separatists at least have a consistent view of Quebec's powers and responsibilities--we get the power but we pay our own way too. Power are co-extensive with responsibility. The true federalists are also principled in their vision of Canada as a social union. The federalist conception holds Canada to be an entity of its own right that has legitimate power, and thus responsibility for the provision of social services. Once again power and responsibility are coextensive.

The soft nationalist view however is totally incoherent and self centred. Power is separated from responsibility. We get all the power, but someone else is responsible for paying for much of the power. THAT I cant accept.

The soft nationalist position is not only inconsistent, its also impractical. It insists on having its demands met but is unwilling to compromise. It is a self-centred viewpoint that sees the interests of one province as paramount and those of others as second tier. There will not be constitutional reform in this country without that. The amending formula--unanimity or 7/50 require it. There are good reasons why Meech and Charlottetown were so unsuccessful--namely that they were wholly lacking in compromise for the legitimate grievances of certain groups, regions and provinces.

Im happy to talk constitutional reform. Im excited about the idea of real constitutional reform, but principle and compromise are (perhaps paradoxically) pre-requisites for success.

4/03/2008 4:20 p.m.  
Blogger Mark a dit...

"the only way the sovereigntists ill ever be defeated..."

They've been defeated every time so far.

Democracy and the rule of law are two wonderful ways to defeat sovereigntists.

PS - who said the Constitution was perfect? Where did you pull that straw man from?

4/03/2008 8:11 p.m.  

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