What the Tories need to do in Quebec - Macleans.ca

What the Tories need to do in Quebec

For starters, Stephen Harper may need to share the spotlight


Je t'aime (moi non plus)Amid the gloom of polls placing them behind even the NDP in Quebec, the Conservatives hosted a fundraiser in Montreal in May at the posh Queen Elizabeth Hotel. Some 2,000 people attended the Tory pow-wow, the largest Conservative event in the province in five years. And in case the evening’s theme—”We’re taking root in Quebec”—wasn’t clear enough, Stephen Harper took to the podium to insist rumours of the party’s death in the province had been greatly exaggerated. “They’ll never again be able to say that I wrote off Quebec,” he said. “Our party and our organization are getting stronger in all parts of Quebec, including Montreal.”

Meanwhile, organizers were scurrying across the room, pleading with attendees to keep quiet during the PM’s speech. Despite shelling out $150 for the privilege, diners didn’t appear particularly interested in listening to what Harper had to say. In fact, Harper didn’t even get the evening’s warmest reception. That privilege went to Maxime Bernier.

According to pollster Nik Nanos, Harper has become the “lightning rod of discontent” for Quebec voters. And in order to compensate for the rapidly souring relationship, he suggests Harper should allow prominent local candidates to take his place as the centrepiece in any future election campaign. Bob Plamondon, a longtime Conservative and the author of Blue Thunder: The Truth about Conservatives from Macdonald to Harper, goes even further. He says Harper needs to strike a power-sharing agreement with someone able to countenance the prime minister’s sharply partisan instincts when it comes to Quebec. It’s the only way, Plamondon says, for Harper to avoid making missteps like those on culture and young offenders that are widely credited with sinking his chances of a majority in the last election campaign.

“I don’t think it was so much that those specific policies were abhorred by Quebecers,” Plamondon says, “because in the scheme of government activities, they are relatively minor issues. But they spoke to larger issues—does Stephen Harper understand Quebec and can he be trusted? I think Quebecers drew the conclusion that he’s disconnected from them. They couldn’t identify among Harper’s team a particularly strong lieutenant who had near-veto power over what went on in Ottawa with respect to those matters that are of particular concern to Quebecers.”

So far at least, the Conservatives have opted for another tack entirely. Instead of appealing to Quebecers’ parochial instincts by slapping a familiar face on the Tory brand, they’ve sharpened their attacks against the Bloc Québécois and the Liberals in an attempt to tear down their opposition. This past spring, they launched an ad campaign that attempted to portray Michael Ignatieff as an ultra-federalist snob whose French is spoken with an accent “de France.” And late last month, the Conservatives mailed out flyers to voters in Bloc-controlled ridings that Bloc MPs said accused them of siding with child traffickers. While it may seem counter-intuitive for the Tories to return to the ideological territory that may have played a role in derailing their campaign in 2008, a spokesperson for Conservative MP Christian Paradis, Harper’s Quebec lieutenant, says the party plans to stick with the tough-on-crime pitch to Quebecers.

It’s still early, but neither a breakthrough on crime, nor a complete collapse of support for the opposition parties, nor a move by Harper to share the stage with a prominent Quebec figure (like, say, former ADQ leader Mario Dumont), appears likely. The Tories may therefore have to woo Quebec the old-fashioned way: more power. “Harper still has one arrow left to shoot,” says Tom Flanagan, a political science professor at the University of Calgary and a former campaign manager for the Conservatives. “He’s not yet fulfilled his 2006 campaign platform promise, repeated since then, to limit the federal spending power. That would be popular in Quebec, as well as with conservatives in other provinces who don’t want to see the federal government undertaking new social programs.”

With the spectre of a fall election looming, the pressure will likely mount on Harper to do something—anything—to appease his critics in the province. After all, nearly two months have passed since the fundraiser in Montreal and there are few signs Quebecers are holding Harper any closer to their hearts. The latest Léger Marketing poll puts the Tories in roughly the same shape they were back in May—at just 11 per cent, the Tories are 21 points behind the Liberals and the Bloc and trailing the NDP by four points, which puts the party in line to see most of the gains it made in Quebec in 2006 wiped out. “In a way, it’s a bit like retro hour,” says Nanos. The Conservatives’ fight for relevance, he says, is eerily similar to the one faced when the Progressive Conservatives merged with the Canadian Alliance in 2004. But while their return from Quebec’s political wilderness in the ’06 election may provide some inspiration, the only thing that matters now is whether they can do it again.


What the Tories need to do in Quebec

  1. Since Quebecers are the smartest voters in all of Canada, I have to figure they got to the right conclusion about Harper before the rest of Canada knew Le Grand Guy is political coo-coo.

    • I think Danny Williams and Newfoundlanders were ahead of Quebecers on that conclusion.

  2. I think more scissors kicks of that quality can't hurt!

  3. http://www.985fm.ca/chmp/audio/audioplayer.php?ur
    Start at 7:15

    Apparently, journalists were supposed to enter the room during Harper's speech (that lasted 30 min) and then go home with nice pictures of the crowd. However, Jean Lapierre was present during the whole event and explains that the people there were more interested in the food than the speech because a lot of tickets were simply given away. Basically, a lot of people present were trying to get a free supper.

  4. This is pretty much the same old PET rhetoric. It fails to recognize the legitimacy problem of a constitution that was never ratified by the provinces. At the end of the day, we are left with a constitutional ground zero that poses a severe lingering problem, with an amending formula that cripples any chance of fixing any of the severe structural problems with our country. The Conservatives were wiped out in 93 because of the unpopular introduction of GST and NAFTA, both of which have proven to be fundamental to turning Canada's economy around from the rather desperate circumstances that were left from the very reckless Trudeau regime.

    • Ed,

      Are you saying the Harper conservatives will raise taxes to turn the economy around from the "rather desperate circumstances that were left from the very reckless [Harper] regime"?

      • Pretty much.

        Though there are other ways to get your economy out of a downward spiral.

    • 9 out of 10 provinces did ratify the constitution. As for the legitimacy of the document in the eyes of the public, the charter of rights is so popular that no provincial boss has ever had the guts or stupidity to invoke the notwithstanding clause but then Trudeau understandably had a very low opinion of provincial politicians and probably assumed they were to gutless to even temporarily overide the charter

  5. A strong Quebec lieutenant or two, is definitely what Harper needs. I don't see that happening though.

  6. Harper and Ignatieff are facing the same thing, something Trudeau and Mulroney never had to face – the BQ. I disagree with Jeffrey Simpson on almost everything except for his statement that francophone voters in Quebec have taken a vacation from national politics. Conservatives and Liberals cannot "win" against the Bloc because the Bloc has a huge advantage – they never have to think about what voters in Ontario or Alberta or BC think about their policies toward Quebec. Nor do they ever have to worry about gaining or keeping power.

    The Bloc is not fading away, in fact, it seems stronger than ever, freed from fundraising due to the $1.95 per vote Federal subsidy. There will be no Liberal resurgence against the Bloc off the island of Montreal. The CPC will hang on in pockets like the Beauce and rural surrounds of Quebec City, but no breakthrough. New policies won't work, nor will a Quebec "lieutenant". The Bloc looks entrenched for a generation. No joy in Quebec.

    CPC hopes for a majority rest in GTA and urban Ontario. They only need 12 more seats nationally from their 2008 win….

    • Your views are shared by those who do not adhere to the" Hegalian Theory",at their own misfortune.
      Harper has always presented a precise and well thought out precept from his early days, the only concern Conservatives
      should have is reading to much into the national media pitch.The writers are and have been subjected to the constancy
      of Liberal Governments and the simplistic manner of running the country year after year as they grew to like the
      preferred status.The liberalized press, in the very early days, just fooled the readers into printing the news that was
      fed to them by the the STAR, The GLOBE& MAIL and like minded papers, the advent of television broadcasters,
      all based in Toronto, which remains, indubitably the most appropriate location by tradition.

      The problem with that is they,the media, refuse to accept that the party is not as it was in the past and until they,the
      publishers and TV producers accept this fact the Conservative Party,under Mr.Harper will prevail. Kaboomer

    • "Conservatives and Liberals cannot "win" against the Bloc because the Bloc has a huge advantage – they never have to think about what voters in Ontario or Alberta or BC think about their policies toward Quebec. Nor do they ever have to worry about gaining or keeping power. "

      That's true but there is one way, in my opinion, that the Bloc can be taken out of play in Quebec and that is with the removal of Gilles Duceppe as leader of the Bloc. The fact of the matter is that Gilles Duceppe is the Bloc and there are no credible replacement for him at the moment. Duceppe is an enormously talented politician and he is solely responsible for the Bloc's post-Bouchard success.

      With him gone, the federalists would have a chance.

  7. Dear Political-pundit,
    once again you are just repeat PET rhetoric. If you do not recognize the legitimacy problems of a Constitution that was never ratified by Quebec, then you have a very different notion of Canada than I do. This is not seccessional myth, it is fact.

    Mulroney was sent packing for a number of reasons, constitutional fatigue – not the constitutional amendments he attempted – being one of the lesser reasons. His biggest failure was in not proclaiming the Charlottetown Accord when he had the chance – he had met the requirements of the amending formula – when Wells and Filmon decided to play self-interested petty politics. Your version of history is amusing though. Full marks for creativity, a welcomed twist after leading with that mundane 'politics of appeasement' rhetoric.

    • Ed:

      After all these years, numerous court actions involving the new Charter, and a seeming fear of using the notwithstanding clause, I have to think the legitimacy of the document is pretty well settled.

      Quebec has a long history of abstaining from Federal accords, National health reporting structures and other forms of inter-provincial cooperation. Yet they continue to strike individual deals with the feds and provinces as they see fit, on things like dairy quotas, food inspection and agreements to allow outside workers across the borders. Their continued presence within Confederation, and their willingness to use constitutional structures to try to get out of it (see 1994) solidifies legitimacy each and every day.

      • You could make the very same argument for unsettled first nations land claims. It doesn't make the absence of treaties legitimate.

        • I don't think the two are comparable. Quebec is a single, centralized political structure.
          "First Nations" refers to 600 reserves, 12+ political structures, half of the "Status Indian" population living off reserve and competing provincial and cultural groups attempting to claim the position of spokesperson for the whole.

          As well, many of the claims before the courts are based on treaties, not a lack thereof. The courts are, in their own ponderous way, considering the legitimacy of these treaties, and trying to translate them into modern numbers and maps. There are no court challenges as to the validity of the Constitutional agreement.

          • 'court challenges' speaks to legality, not to legitimacy.

            If you don't see the legitimacy problem with Quebec not signing off on the Constitution, we really don't need to take the discussion any further. It is my view that it creates a legitimacy problem.

  8. There is nothing left to add. Very well said.

  9. Let's face the facts. The Conservatives – and please, call them that, they are no longer Tories. The Tories were the party of Diefenbacker, Clark, Mulroney… not these crooks running Ottawa now – anyways, them, they will never charm Quebecers, they should just give up, all retire to the oil sands of Alberta, and let the Liberals run the country for a while. Let's go back to the good old days of the 1990s.

  10. The brow furrowing question always seems to be what can Canada do for Quebec. I would like to know what can Quebec do for Canada. If they vote for a secessionist party at the federal level should that not result in sanctions such as limitations on rights available to Quebecers like the right to travel, live and work in Canada outside Quebec or to obtain a Canadian passport? If Quebecers retain the right the right to secede do we not also have the right to reconstitute the country without them? If that province can accumulate federal powers at the provincial level can we not correspondingly limit the rights of Quebecers to participate at the federal level? There has to be a quid pro quo. Federalism in Canada is not an endlessly stretchable elastic and Quebecers can't have their cake and eat it too. Their rights end where our nose begins.

    • Cash, your problem is that you see the Bloc as a separarist party while most of the Quebecers who vote for them see them as a regional party. Most of those who vote for the Bloc would also vote against separating from Canada. This is a known fact. I would also remind you that Quebec is a sizeably contributor to the Federal public purse given the size of its population. I know that the ROC has the tendency to see Quebec as the only province guilty of extortion from the Feds but the reality is that just about every province do the same.

      • Do not call us the "Rest of Canada" as if we are an inconsequential remainder. We are the majority and we are paying the bills. If you want to distinguish us from Quebec call us Loyalist Canada. It has a ring to it and tells it like it is. And I would remind you that Quebec takes more from federal coffers than it pays. And "just about every province" as you put it, has not had two referendums on secession.

        But I think we should show some respect and take Quebecers at their word. They are, after all, not idiots. The Bloc is an explicitly secessionist party. Quebecers voted massively for the Bloc. Basically, I think it is profoundly unjust and unfair that Quebecers be compelled to be part of a country they do not feel at home in. I would not feel at home in a country that was 75% French speaking. And we should not be such tremulous, whining, ninnies in dealing with Quebec. We have a country to run. Actions should come with consequences attached. If we act like a punching bag we will be treated like one.

        • "Québecers voted massively for the Bloc"….ummm, what by you constitutes "massively"? They have never had a majority of the vote and last time were in the 30s. I wonder why so many people in the other 9 provinces seem to want to punish the overwhelming majority of Québecers who vote federalist by giving in to the wishes of the separatist minority. That's not democracy and it's not 'loyal'.

  11. What the Tories need to do in Quebec?

    Hmm. Maybe, I don't know, try not to tick so many people off?

  12. Don't really know why these experts from Quebec or otherwise fail to mention the reason Harper is not liked in Quebec and that is for his unrelenting and often brutal character assassinations of people like Dion, and now Ignatieff, or anything that has a Liberal label. Also what is seen as… well lets say fogging the truth. We don't trust him nor his right wing ideology. His comments in French, and then in English are filled with discrepancies.

    Mr. Harper had a very well received persona in Quebec while in opposition, and part way through his first term. His accountability, transparency, fairness and change assertions went over very well along with his ability to speak the language But all that has changed and I fear for the worst in what relates to Mr. Harper his government and aspirations in relation to Quebec..

    We may not have considered Mr. Dion as a favorite son, but they way he was maligned by the Conservatives did not and does not sit well with Quebecers. So you see it is not simply one or two things that turned Quebecers off. All of those negative things culminated into defining Mr. Harper – A blind partisan leader that cares not about anything else other than win at any cost. So anything he now says to Quebec is seen as "patronizing". Let the truth be told.

  13. You confuse 'legal' with 'legitimate'.

    You also confuse Mulroney's approach to constitutional amendment – that being a consensus model versus PET's unilateral preference – with some mystical search for majority support in Quebec, a majority he already had. Meech Lake was 87, Mulroney won a majority in Quebec in 84.

    Thanks for your recognition that history is interpretive, agreed.

  14. "“I don't think it was so much that those specific policies were abhorred by Quebecers,” Plamondon says, “because in the scheme of government activities, they are relatively minor issues. But they spoke to larger issues—does Stephen Harper understand Quebec and can he be trusted? I think Quebecers drew the conclusion that he's disconnected from them. They couldn't identify among Harper's team a particularly strong lieutenant who had near-veto power over what went on in Ottawa with respect to those matters that are of particular concern to Quebecers.”

    FINALLY!!! Someone gets it. I'm so tired of hearing ROCers say that it was the cuts to culture that sank the CPC in Quebec.

  15. Political Pundit,
    you can write as many volumes of political rhetoric, interlaced with specially selected events, as you wish, but it will not change the fact that Quebec has never ratified the constitution. You like to frame that fact in a peculiar manner, calling it a Quebec veto, the very same way Trudeau framed it, for obvious reasons.

    Trudeau's arrogance that his vision of Canada and Quebec was the only relevant vision, has caused lasting effects on our country. His arrogance never allowed him to gain Quebec's approval. Political-pundit frames that by saying that all provinces but Quebec have ratified. Unfortunately, Quebec is the tricky one – DOH. Even a Supreme Court that contained 7 of 9 Trudeau appointees recognized that there was a legitimacy problem, hence their instruction to get back to the bargaining table. Once again, Trudeau's arrogance failed the process. I have lived my life in Vancouver, I have been to Montreal once, I am no Quebec secessionist, quite the contrary, yet it is easy for me to see the legitimacy problem.

    If there still remains any reckless and destabilizing force, it is in the continued pettiness of mind demonstrated by people holding the Trudeau myth, rationalizing that Quebec need not sign off on the Constitution. It is the mind of the tyrant that believes that you must take a hard line approach with minorities. It is a pettiness of mind that likes to call minority representation a 'corrupt' political process. It is this pettiness of mind that tries to make ridiculous links of Quebec with Hispanic Americans. It is this same pettiness of mind that likes to use strong arm tactics, and then label minority positions as 'blackmail'.

  16. Hey "Ed Sweeney" Thanks for telling me why I was happy to see Brian Mulroney get his ass kicked out of office. The only problem is that you are wrong because I got involved in politics because of Meech. You sound like a Liberal….always telling Canadians what they want.

  17. I'm wondering if any national party can win Quebec. Since the latter part of Chretien's rule, Quebecers have become a "demandeur" province by voting Bloc. In a sense they have achieved Sovereignty Association.

  18. Voting "Bloc" in Quebec is a luxury no other province has….Quebecers can vote "neither of the above" to the Conservatives and the Liberals. I don't see anything Harper can do to change this.


    BYE BYE LABELLE….QUEBEC. Beatiful Province…UGLY PPL.
    Arrogant QC'ers….I worked with them, they think are above us Anglos….