Make up your mind, Steve


After spending the better part of his visits to Quebec flexing the Conservative party’s nationalist muscle, Stephen Harper has apparently decided his party should run an election campaign based on national unity. According to La Presse‘s Joël-Denis Bellavance, the Tories now have their sights set on the federal Liberals’ turf in Quebec, even though they’ve been treading on the Bloc’s for the past two years. (See: nation motion, fiscal imbalance, “true” nationalism.)

“During the next election, Quebecers will have to make a choice. They will be able to choose between the party of separation (the Bloc Québécois), the party of centralization (the Liberal party) or the party of the nation (the Conservative party),” says a Conservative strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The Conservatives think this strategy will translate into seats not only in Quebec, but in Ontario as well. “Historically, the party of national unity has done well in Ontario,” says the strategist.

If the Conservatives have indeed shifted their sights from Quebec’s so-called “soft nationalist” vote to its ardent federalist counterpart, the results of the latest CP/Decima-Harris poll might have something to do with it. On the surface at least, it seems to confirm a steady downward slide for the Bloc. At about 30% support, the Bloc doesn’t appear to have much more than its core supporting it, meaning there isn’t much low-hanging fruit for the Conservatives to pick.

Still, more than two years after their breakthrough, Harper’s Tories still haven’t figured out where to focus their energies in Quebec. At first, they put their eggs in Jean Charest’s decidedly mainstream federalist basket. Then, after the provincial election, they went after the ADQ’s more militant, autonomist base. However, they’ve since been careful to distance themselves from the free-falling Mario Dumont and, now, in yet another change of heart, they may very well be flirting with province’s federalist vote once again. The only thing that seems certain: Some 30 months into their game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey in Quebec, the Tories are stagnating, stuck at 24 per cent in the polls. It’s certainly respectable, but is a viable, consistent platform on Quebec really too much to ask for?


Make up your mind, Steve

  1. Yes.

    Next question.

  2. Perfect timing and strategically sound although anyone with a modicum of appreciation for strategy should have seen this months ago – these by-elections are looking to be very exciting and that is for sure. I used to play chess a lot as a kid and one of my favourite moves was giving away my queen early in the game and making it look very amateurish and downright stupid unless you looked a little closer because within a few moves I would setup a gambit where my knights would be positioned (with a bishop or rook backup) so that I would either checkmate you quickly if it was a tournament game or setup a split where I would check your king and then take your queen and there was nothing you could do about it. It blew me away how many people got greedy for my queen – politics is much like chess and that is take to the bankable!

  3. Harper is taking a page out of Rove’s playbook: attack your opponent’s strength.

  4. Sounds to me like a Neapolitan campaign – a different flavour each time, depending upon how you slice it.

  5. The Conservatives under Stephen Harper made a breakthrough in Quebec on January 23rd, 2006. capturing 10 seats. They did so by offering a “third way” between the centralist trudeauist position of the federal Liberals and the sovereignist Bloc Quebecois. They’ve since delivered on that third way. One result of this has been the consistent slide of the Bloc and Parti Quebecois popular support in the past two and half years.

    There has been an unhealthy symbiotic relationship between the sovereignists and the federal Liberals: they needed each other to stay relevant. The Conservatives under Harper have made that unhealthy relationship obsolete . While he deserves some credit, particularly with his masterful “nation motion” in Parliament, he was able to do so because he has followed Mulroney’s legacy. Without Mulroney, Harper may not have succeeded. Clark never caught on in Quebec, he got 2 seats in 1979.

    Looked at in this historic light, I would say that Harper has been entirely consistent. The Parti Quebecois is the third party in Quebec and the Bloc Quebecois’s support has never been so low. Sounds like someone’s doing something right.

  6. The latest numbers from the Ipsos-Reid poll out today show the following numbers in Quebec:

    Bloc 34%
    Cons 25%
    Libs 25%

    If the Bloc slips a few more points in a campaign, and it’s hard to see them gaining momentum, the federal parties will do very well next election. All federalist parties should be happy about this.

    You get the sense though that many Liberals would prefer the days of brinkmanship where it was the Trudeau way or the highway. In 1995, as we all remember, Quebec came within a whisker of hitting the road. That’s why I call the Trudeau Liberal/Sovereignist symbiotic relationship unhealthy.

  7. It must chew these Albertans up inside to have to sit there and try to kowtow to whatever flavour of Qeubec sentiment they preceive this week.

  8. “During the next election, Quebecers will have to make a choice. They will be able to choose between the party of separation (the Bloc Québécois), the party of centralization (the Liberal party) or the party of the nation (the Conservative party),” says a Conservative strategist who spoke on the condition of anonymity.”

    Um, which nation?

    You may be reading more of a shift into this than is actually there.

  9. On re-reading the quote Mr. Coyne uses above, it strikes me it’s not the sort of thing a strategiest should have to anonymize. In fact, it sounds like a speech a party member could make. Was he speaking on condition of anonymity as a matter of course and an innocuous quote just happened to be what was taken from it, or does control over messaging extend so far you can’t even recite the party line under your real name?

  10. Sounds like a faux ‘tough’ stance on a part of the country where someone’s tea leaves show the boat leaving the dock…
    For those blue koolaid drinkers- Pour it stronger!

  11. @Andrew: I agree, the nation pitch is likely in line with the Tories’ previous sloppy kisses to nationalist Quebecers. What I found more curious was the suggestion they would try to sway hyper-centralist Ontario voters with a more aggressive federalist stance.

    Either the Conservatives plan on talking out of both sides of their mouths throughout the campaign, pitching one brand of federalism to Ontario and another to Quebec; or they haven’t yet figured out which approach will net them more seats and aren’t really committed to one view over the other. Either way, it strikes me as straight-up pandering.

  12. Hey Andrew : This could be an excellent message though I would add a slight modification to that of : Conservative = The Party of the Nations! see strong Quebec within a United Canada and includes the First Nations. Thank You as this is brilliant! I am going to mention this one to the powers that be – excellent!

  13. Is there any truth to the rumours going around about the PLQ giving a hand to the CPC in the upcoming by-elections?

    Inquiring minds would love to know.

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