To absolutely no one’s surprise, the writ has dropped in Quebec and a provincial vote called for April 7th. Wasting no time, Pauline Marois announced before a press conference in la capital (Quebec city) that the reason for the election was that the opposition was blocking bill 101, The “Quebec Charter of Values” and the government’s latest proposed budget.
The Charter, of course, was never properly debated by the National Assembly, mainly because the PQ was more interested in drumming up support for the measure by holding pointless and often farcical public consultations involving assorted nationalist cranks, crackpots and the odd expert on reasonable accommodation. Nonetheless, Mme Marois has the other party leaders over a barrel on the issue, forcing all of the parties including the quasi-sovereigntist, left-wing, Québec Solidaire (QS) and the pseudo-federalist, right wing, Coalition pour L’Avenir de Québec (CAQ) to adopt their own versions of a heavy-handed secularism agenda.
The real question for national unity is how the various federalist parties will position themselves vis-à-vis the key issues of the election, especially on the Charter question. The Green Party did release a very brief statement outlining Elizabeth May’s views on the Charter.
Let’s begin with obvious: the Bloc Québecois (now reduced to 4 MPs after the angry divorce with Maria Mourani over her moral objections to the Charter) is still a force in Quebec politics. They have the easiest time of all the parties in terms of supporting their friends in the PQ to win a majority and selling the more controversial aspects of their platform. No need to go any further with our analysis.
But here’s where things get interesting, the NDP is the de-facto new voice of Quebec in Ottawa, with the vast majority of their seats in the House (58 of 100) coming from Quebec. At first glance, the NDP should have no trouble differentiating itself from the pro-charter parties in Quebec, given that their leader, Tom Mulcair, unequivocally denounced the bill and made it clear that he and his party would fight the law tooth and nail, even musing about funding court challenges if it ever came to pass. Where things get trickier for the NDP federally (their provincial wing only exists on paper, at this point) is on some of the other bones of contention in this election. It should be interesting to see how the party reacts (or doesn’t) to allegations made in a recent report released by the Marois government that the Feds have been shafting Quebec to the tune of $830 million dollars in health care transfer payments. Given the NDP’s position on greater autonomy or “asymmetry” for Quebec within Canada, it might be under pressure to criticize the Feds and join Marois and other Quebec politicians in their calls for compensation.
There’s also the sticky matter of the Quebec government’s recent announcement that they will be engaging in energy exploration in some of the most ecologically sensitive regions of Quebec. Though natural resources are a provincial jurisdiction, the Greenish New Democrats, and their chief (who was Environment Minister in the last Quebec Liberal government) are generally more inclined toward renewable energy sources and fighting climate change, and must find a way to come to terms with this dramatic about face by the PQ, which once remonstrated about the tar sands, climate change and the Feds betrayal of their commitments to the Kyoto protocol.
The Liberal Party has been making inroads in Quebec politics of late (largely on the coattails of Trudeau The Younger) and will also be very reluctant to be seen as meddling in the internal politics of the province. Though they ostensibly have a horse in this race , the Liberal Party’s Phillipe Couillard, the reality is that the two parties rarely see eye to eye, especially on questions of national unity (one area where the Trudeau brand is still quite toxic in the eyes of many Quebec francophones) and are technically no longer affiliated. Though, the precarious popularity of their leader in Quebec did not stop Trudeau from making a strong statement against the Charter and risking further alienation with his provincial counterpart Phillip Couillard, who has gained a reputation as something of a ditherer (the Quebec media have dubbed him Phillip-flop). Couillard has changed his position on the Charter and lost the support of one prominent member of his caucus in the process. That said, the two men do share a desire to see the Province of Quebec reconciled with the 1982 Constitution one day, which remains a third rail among Quebec nationalists both on the federalist and separatist sides.
Finally we come to the Harperites and the Conservative Party agenda in this election. At this point it seems that the Tories have written off ever making their breakthrough in Quebec. With only 5 MPs representing Quebec in the government, they have proven that they can carry on with their business without any substantial support in Quebec. They also have no obvious allies on the current political scene with the ADQ gone and the former federal conservative turned Liberal Premier of Quebec, Jean Charest now history .
Though the CAQ and Legault may seem like the natural choice for Harper conservatives, they are not overly fond of Legault’s Parti Quebecois roots. Worse yet, in politics anyway, Legault’s ship is sinking faster than the titanic with two of his most prominent lieutenants (Dr. Barette & Jacques Duchenau) having already abandoned the party. Barette twisted the knife further by defecting to the Liberals last week. No one wants to be associated with a loser in politics.
But perhaps the biggest obstacle to supporting the CAQ or any other party in Quebec for the federal Conservatives, remains their vocal opposition to the Charter in any way shape or form. Evidently, the issue is a divisive one for the federal cabinet with the majority of Ministers taking a strong, even strident, stance against what Minister Jason Kenney called the ‘Monty-pythonesque’ situation in Quebec (always a popular reference in French Quebec.) While Minister for Infrastructure and senior Quebec adviser in the government, Denis Lebel, dismissed the issue as one of ‘provincial jurisdiction’ and said that it was not upsetting to him in the least. That may well be, but the election in Quebec is bound to upset and frustrate many of the folks on the Hill in Ottawa before things come to a close in April.
Other articles by David DesBaillets
Snowden leaks have shown Canadians how CSEC and their government
My Weekend With Trudeau (JT to his friends)
Was the Canadian Government involved in a TransCanada cover-up?
Trudeau’s Senate Gambit
Confessions of a lefty Jewish Canadian on Harper’s visit to Israel
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