Stephen Harper wonders how bad his luck can get in Quebec

A midnight blogpost about what the PM was thinking when he called Mulroney

Stephen Harper doesn’t announce many of his most important meetings. He routinely meets one-on-one with provincial premiers without either party mentioning the encounters to reporters. And from Stephanie Levitz at Canadian Press comes news that he met Brian Mulroney and, separately, Jean Charest last week. Why? Levitz’s sources have a hunch:

A provincial by-election in Quebec last week saw the sovereigntist Parti Quebecois win a riding that’s been held by the Liberals for 46 years.

It suggests the party’s strength is growing as support for the current Liberal government melts from the heat of sustained student protests and a provincial election is expected in the fall.

If another national unity debate springs from a PQ victory, Harper would be in an enfeebled position relative to his predecessors: his Conservative party polls in the low teens in Quebec and there is no effective spokesperson for federalist forces in the governing party.

The sit-down with Mulroney signals how skittish the federal government is about their continued failure to connect with Quebecers.

It’s a good guess. Harper’s tiny Quebec caucus makes as many brave noises as it can, but I know the prime minister is spooked by the prospect (not the guarantee, because of course there is none, but the non-negligible possibility)  of a Parti Québécois government returning to power within 15 weeks.

Various branches of the federal government have quietly been discussing possible responses to a PQ victory. During the recent French election, one of Harper’s main concerns was PQ claims that François Hollande would rekindle a cozy relationship between French Socialists and Quebec separatists. (Polarity on that file has switched a few times over the years. De Gaulle was no Socialist and François Mitterrand, who was, was no fan of the PQ. But Jacques Chirac astonished everyone by becoming a good friend of Jean Chrétien’s, and Nicolas Sarkozy was so tight with the Desmarais clan that the PQ is coming off the chilliest five years it’s ever known in France. So the PQ has been hoping a Hollande victory would bring a thaw.) I’m told Harper was greatly reassured by his first long conversation with Hollande, at Camp David last month. But France’s attitude was always going to be peripheral. Hollande doesn’t get a vote.

The people who do get a vote haven’t been voting Conservative and they personally dislike Jean Charest. Take Charest first. The Charbonneau commission is broadcasting daily reminders of endemic corruption in the construction industry. Charest may yet win an election, but if he doesn’t he’s a deeply unpopular leader whose relationship with voters will have changed entirely since the 1995 referendum.

As for Harper: try this thought experiment. Imagine Albertans taking it into their heads to do something, and Tom Mulcair trying to talk them out of it. That’s a decent proxy for Harper’s clout in Quebec: the NDP share of the popular vote in Alberta last May and the Conservatives’ in Quebec were nearly the same.

So if Pauline Marois became premier and decided to try her luck, she’d face a worn-out Jean Charest with no young Jean Charest to back him up; and a Prime Minister with half the seats and voter appeal that Jean Chrétien had when he nearly lost the 1995 referendum. What’s that leave?

Why, Tom Mulcair. By some measures, the most popular politician in Quebec. A few New Democrats were already crowing Friday evening on Twitter at the prospect of Mulcair emerging as Captain Canada in some new confrontation. And that would indeed be fun. But early on, his stance on the Clarity Act and the NDP’s Sherbrooke Declaration would get noticed by the 64% of 2011 NDP voters who live outside Quebec. I watched Alexa McDonough in 1999: she was all Quebec’s-right-to-decide-its-fate and 50%-plus-one-is-a-sufficient majority until the week Chrétien brought in the Clarity Act, and then the phone started ringing with messages from home. She didn’t have Quebec MPs, so McDonough was able to turn on a dime and vote for Clarity. Mulcair’s hand is different and he would watch his party snap like a twig.

Look, I might as well admit right away that I’m indulging nightmare scenarios. Charest might yet win; François Legault’s centre-right not-really-separatist new party might get lucky in a weird vote split and take power. As for Marois, my impression is that once elected she’d be the paperest paper tiger since Bernie Landry. And it’s not a bad day for Canada when the PQ is in power in Quebec and tearing itself apart over points of doctrine.

But if she wins an election and then gets bold or reckless, Harper won’t have much of a political hand. He will have the Clarity Act, the Constitution and customary international law, all of which break decidedly in favour of a united Canada. But those are all handy guides for steering through a hell of a political mess. Once you need them, you’re already in the mess. No wonder Harper is renewing strategic acquaintances.

 




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Stephen Harper wonders how bad his luck can get in Quebec

  1. Paul, any thoughts on Justin Trudeau’s potential as “Captain Canada”?

    • Your question answers itself, no? God help Canada if Trudeau is our point man.

      Quebec is not separating, I don’t know why our political class take this seriously. Surely separatism is a spent force in Que, bolshie baby boomers have not created their own nation yet and they are unlikely to do so in future now they that they are old and dying off.

      Separatist movement constant melodrama to receive more $$$ and power than other provs and rest of Canada should stop playing the game.

  2. If Quebec is leaving, I am moving to the province. French does not scare me. We Canadians should be encouraged to learn it and more – Spanish, for example. Most Europeans and Asians have 2 if not more languages. Moreover, it would get me away form
    the current direction that Federal Government. is moving.

    • Remember an old Aislin comic with the punchline “Besides, we can’t sell the house…”?

    • Taking a page from Justin Trudeau, are you? Loyalty to your country solely based upon the party you support?

      • I owe no allegiance to my country or to any political party. If a political party seized power and passed laws, such as seizing the property of persons of a certain religion or ethnic background, I would definitely want to leave. A lot of Canadian ancestors left behind a country for those reasons or for political reasons , the Loyalists for example.
        I am not implying that Stephen Harper would want to make me leave Canada!

      • loyalty to the country based on DEMOCRACY

    • Even if you lived in Quebec now and were 100% bilingual and your children lived 100% in French, from the point of view of government services, you are an anglo. Riverside is not a frankophone and will never be.

    • If you hate Canada so passionately, why wait for Quebec to separate to leave? I hear now’s a great time to move to Europe.

  3. Well I hope the PQ wins so we can get this over and done with. I suspect Harper’s hand will be just fine with a united Canada saying la la whatever.

  4. Quebec isn’t leaving. If they’d really wanted to, they’ve had plenty of opportunities to since 1976.

    French is well protected. The notwithstanding clause protects their language laws if ever future courts strike them. The federal government is bilingual enough, and there seems now to be a convention that the PM must be bilingual.

    Only way this marriage is breaking up is if the rest of Canada gets together and votes to kick Quebec out.

    The same is true, incidentally, about “Western alienation”. All these regionalisms are paper tigers.

    • With, as Paul Wells states, ‘ the Clarity Act, the Constitution and customary international law, all of which break decidedly in favour of a united Canada, how could the rest of Canada get together and vote to kick Québec out? This works both ways. The place of Québec within Canada is not a matter for voting, strictly speaking – if it were, Quebec would have been kicked out a long time ago! In the end this is a legal issue. A referendum is a ‘consultation populaire’ the result of which of course carries a lot of political weight, but is non-binding from a legal standpoint.

    • The notwithstanding clause is not in force and hasn’t been for many years. The current language laws are – to the extent they have been tested in court – fully constitutional.

      • Courts change. What is viewed as self-evidently constitutional one decade is struck down in the next. Ordinary citizens understand this at some level.

        Thus, the notwithstanding clause is what finally guarantees that Quebec legislators will have the final word on stuff like the sign laws.

      • It’s very unlikely the nwsc is fully formant rather than seldom invoked. It’s not like disallowance that hasn’t been used in like 100 years, it’s merely been used seldom in the last 30. And recall it has to renewed every five years or the law goes back to being unconstitutional. So parts of bill 101 was unconstitutional, but then s. 33 made them valid anyway, but after five years they became invalid again.

        And it’s not like the legislature rushes to accomodate the new wording of laws. If you read the Criminal Code abortion is still there, even though it can’t be enforced because of the Morgentaler decision. Heck, Kenney decided to play games by undertaking a deliberately unconstitutional action by demanding muslim women take off their veils when taking the citizen oath – he knows that removing a veil, although humiliating and disrespectful, is easier than taking the years and $ it would take to get the matter to court.

        • In constitutional terms, there is a fully developed and recognized convention against using the disallowance power; no such convention exists in regards to the notwithstanding clause.

          • exactly.

    • If Canadians truly want national unity, there can be no such thing as “bilingual enough”.

  5. Separation, yeah right…Quebec youth already think TROC should pay for all their education!

  6. Oh yeah… Quebec is going to “separate”… again… maybe we should be forced to spend 100′s of billions of tax dollars forcing french language legislation on an English speaking nation, whether we want it or not, it’s certainly not up to us to decide… on the other hand, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

    • Speaking more than one language is a great help against Alzheimer’s and other age related diseases of the brain…

      • so is doing suduko…. what’s your point? I don’t think that would cost 100′s of billions.

        • Seeing how you spell “sudoku”, perhaps they should spend those billions on teaching you how to write.

        • If nothing else, an unexpected benefit to the national mental health…

        • Wait, what? Hundreds of billions?

          What’s your source for that number?

          • The Canadian Government keeps the costs of the “bilingual” racket, con game under a veil of strict secrecy… Jack Jedwab at the Association of Canadian studies estimates the costs of forced french to be somewhere in the vicinity of 1.3 trillion dollars… and counting. The french language industry operates in a clandestine shadowy manner and the federal Government restricts access to the actual costs.

          • Si l’état vous a forcé à apprendre la langue française, je présume que vous la parlez très bien. Vous l’écrivez aussi?

          • Was die who jetz? Pferd sprechen sie franzosisch? Wir haben wiisen, sie franzosisch sprechen zu lassen. Krise, welche Krise?

          • AlphaSie verwechseln Deutsch für Französisch. Scheint mir Sie nicht gezwungen waren, überhaupt Französisch zu lernen.

          • Wenn ich wollte arbeiten für die Bundesregierung hätte ich Französisch zu lernen. selbst wenn ich nicht Französisch lernen, Ich bin gezwungen, dafür zu bezahlen, ob ich will oder nicht.

      • “and other age related diseases of the brain”

        Like ignorance, arrogance, belligerence, lots of diseases in ‘ance.

  7. If Quebec wants to separate, Harper is their dream opponent.

    • Remember before the 2011 election when political pundits declared separatism was dead? Many in the social media predicted that wouldn’t last long under a Harper majority.

      BTW, Justin Trudeau’s remark that he might prefer to live in a separate Quebec than Harper’s version of Canada may have raised the ire of the right-leaning English media. But in Quebec (and in fact the rest of Canada) his words resonated among many people, separatist and non-separatist alike. Those who jumped to the conclusion that he made a rookie mistake failed to see what was really going on.

    • You hatemongering Dipper deviates just can’t stop spewing your malevolent propaganda now that you can sniff power. You’re all going bonkers.

      • Whoa there Copernicus, set your sails for mellow out. There’s no Armageddon on the horizon. Jesus…

  8. Speaking of of endemic corruption, do you think restitution to the Canadian taxpayers of the money good ole Brian stole was discussed…?

    • That was not Canadian tax money, that was Schreiber’ own German money. Adscam was taxpayers money and hasn’t been repaid by Chretien, so let’s not twist the facts.

      • I mean the 2.1 millions he received from the Government of Canada in a libel judgement on the Airbus scandal. Just search the details, you’ll find the truth…

      • You’re speaking of the taxable money he received from Schreiber that he chose to keep hidden while he sued the Government of Canada for libel and obtained a huge settlement from Canadian tax payers. It was much later that he admitted to receiving money from Schreiber and received another “sweet deal” from Canadian tax payers. So let’s not twist the facts.

    • YOU MEAN OF COURSE good old chretien.When are the Liberals going to pay back their leadership loans..And when does the Liberals pay back the stolen millions from the sponsorship scandal.

      • The Gomery Commission(Commission of Inquiry into the Sponsorship Program and Advertising Activities) instituted by former PM Martin(a Liberal) was wide and thorough in scope. The inquiry(Oliphant Commission) instituted by PM Harper(a new Conservative) was very narrow in scope and did not cover the time when Mulroney was in power. Further, due to it’s limited scope(drawn up by the later Harper appointee; current Governor General, David Johnston) it was dragged on to the extent that the principle witness was later extradited to Germany. Therefore no useful conclusion could be reached. Brown bag Brian has yet to repay the 2.1 million’s. He’s so mad at Harper calling the inquiry, that he has not renewed his Conservative party membership…

  9. it isn’t “luck”, it is simply well deserved

  10. A hunch . . . A guess . . . That’s how the media operates nowadays but wants readers to take everything as the gospel truth. How sad.

    • Yeah, that’s why they used the words “hunch” and “guess”. Couldn’t outsmart a clever fellow like you, though.

  11. Any chance that if Charest goes down Mulcair does the Captain Canada thing, like Charest himself did during his Captain Canada phase, and leave his Party leadership in Ottawa to run for the Leadership of the Quebec Liberals?

    • When Mulcair is at 38% in the national polls? No way — the man thinks he can be the next prime minister. And he just might be.

      Charest, by contrast, led a fifth-place party.

      (That said, wouldn’t put TOO much stock in current polls – Dion and Ignatieff had similar leads in their early days at Stornoway, too.)

  12. Harper & Co. are the sneakiest bunch of worms that have been in power in this country in decades. If there was ever an argument against a majority gov’t Harper & co. are it. I am an anglophone Quebecois – as “pur laine” as most francophones in this province but Mr Harper makes me embarassed to call myself “Canadian”. The separatists in Quebec never had a better ‘accidental’ friend than Steven Harper. He promised that after he was elected we wouldn’t recognize this country – he wasn’t kidding lol Harper & co. have already kicked this country back to the dark ages. When they are done we will be living in caves, running around lighting torches from the stream that used to be water but now flows with the latest Enbridge/Encana/?????? pipeline leak. They aren’t cutting their own pensions – only ours

    Get a grip folks

    • And we’ll probably have to carry our water like the ancient Egyptians, too.

    • You are just spewing unadulterated hate-filled rubbish propaganda in your attempt to smearmonger PM Stephen Harper with your malevolent mendacity. You deviate Dippers are so flummoxed that you can’t see clearly through your blood-filled eyes. You are really a pathetic bunch outside of the bedroom.

      • Deep breath. Now exhale. And again. And again. Keep that up for awhile, okay? No talk, just breathe.

      • Observant; one can only assume by your last sentence that you like Harper need to lookin everybody else ‘s bedroom so you know what to do in yours.

  13. If the PQ does win, I could see it being a boon for Harper. He really can’t lose anymore seats in Quebec, but he might be able to win a few more in the ROC if he’s seen to be taking a hard stance towards the separatists. Nobody really believes anybody in Quebec *actually* wants to separate, they simply want to use it as a threat to extort more money from the federal government.

  14. Canadian history and values were shape by Quebec as much as by as any other region in Canada, the only fool that is playing the divide and conquered card is harper.

    Corporate Raiders like the “harper side show freaks” should stick to the oil patch from which they came, leave the politics to real politician’s NDP not the CPC political economic hit men.

    • Please explain in full what Harper did that you see as “divide and conquer”… instead of just throwing out that spurious accusation? Where is the “division” other than Mulcair accusing the West of causing the “Dutch Disease” in Ontario??

      • Mulcair just pointed out what Harper has been up to. The division is already in place and Harper continues to drive the wedge deeper.

        • Yeah, like Mulcair’s not being a crass opportunist himself, stirring up hatred towards Alberta for political gain. Mulcair’s being every bit as much of an opportunistic, Macchiavellian a___hole as Harper is.

          • And? So? Is that it then?

  15. Thank God of Quebec. If they separated there would be nothing standing in Harper’s way.

    • Oh yeah, I forgot about Evil Lord Harper’s ultimate plan to enslave us all, then slaughter us all and process our remains as a food source for the interplanetary alien overlords that he secretly represents.
      It’s reassuring to know that at least you can see The Truth that is Out There.

  16. Please. Harper has already proved he doesn’t need Quebec to have a majority and I just love the idea of a Bloq/NDP/PQ dog fight (cat fight?) with the country looking on. That can only lead to another Tory majority. Go for it boys and girls!

    • You forget Harper has alienated many in the Maritimes too with his changes to ei and the Fisheries Act. Newfoundland has never voted for Harper’s Conservatives since he ticked them off in 2005. He has alienated many in BC because of his environmental policy; and now his single-mindedness toward the west risks alienating Ontario, especially if the economy there doesn’t turn around soon. I don’t see Harper’s majority anywhere in the cards at the rate he’s going.You have to win more than Alberta and Saskatchewan to have a majority. Where is that support going to come from? I’d like to see someone who can unite the country. Sadly there is no leader in Ottawa right now who can do it.

      • “his single-mindedness toward the west risks alienating Ontario,”
        Yeah, I mean, just look at the billions in bailout money he arranged for the auto industry. All he cares about is Alberta.
        Ooops, never mind.

        • How’d that work out for him? $5 billion in taxpayer money and he got no reassurances that GM or any other auto company would be staying in Ontario. GM said “Thanks for the $5 billion, we’ll use it hire workers down in the States. Thanks for paying for our downsizing in Windsor.” I think the auto bail out of 2008 is not something those who support Mr. Harper want to bring up with voters in Ontario.

          • I wasn’t mentioning it because I thought the bailout was a fabulous idea. The jury’s still out on that. I mentioned the bailout to (successfully)refute your ridiculous assertion that Harper only cares about the West, at Ontario’s expense.

          • And I did not say that Harper has alienated Ontario– yet. I said he only risks alienating Ontario. His policies of the last year have all been geared toward the West. The Omnibus Budget Bill should have been called “The Western Canadian Oilsands support Bill.” Every policy was geared toward that. Maybe the one this fall will tackle the dire economic circumstances of central Canada– and it better.

          • “The Omnibus Budget Bill should have been called ‘The Western Canadian Oilsands support Bill.’ Every policy was geared toward that.”
            Well, you certainly have a unique, iconoclastic take on the Omnibus budget bill. Every other critic of the bill — including the opposition parties and the full-time Harper-Haters who frequent these comment boards — has insisted that the problem with the bill was that it consisted of an immense amount of completely unrelated, disconnected stuff all stuffed into a single bill (with the result that the bill was an opaque, incomprehensible tower of babel). You, on the other hand, seem to think it was solely and narrowly concerned with one and only one thing — support for the oil sands. Interesting.

          • Fisheries act changes will allow deep water oil tankers into BC coastal waters without having to meet accountability standards of the former regulations under the act
            Environmental policy changes meant to reduce standards and accountability at the Federal level which governs cross border initiatives between provinces, which in turn makes way for northern gateway pipeline expansion cross the Alberta/ BC border. Pipeline will go through Aboriginal land held under the Canadian Crown, which gets the Federal government around provincial regulation regimes in Alberta and BC nicely for the other half.
            EI changes which encourage more workers to head out west to fill the worker shortage.
            I’ll give you cutbacks to the federal civil service as being more of a money saving issue than specifically geared toward the Oilsands. Still, having read the budget, these connotations are quite clear. And let’s face it; it’s not like the Federal government hasn’t been honest about their intentions with Canadians in that respect. They want this pipeline. They will get it. These changes make it easier for the Conservatives to do just that. In fact they are the preconditions necessary to do that.

  17. Doesn’t anyone else see the disconnect here? Harper has done nothing in the last year which anyone in Quebec can support or agree with. Harper has no policy on Quebec and never has had one. He has ignored the disatisfaction of Quebecors toward his government for years. Now he goes and cries on Mulroney’s shoulder, and wonders what he has done wrong. Quebec has different values than Harper’s Conservatives; he’s not going to win their support no matter what he does. It’s his own fault for saying **** you to Quebec for so long. In fact it’s begining to look like Harper’s values are increasingly out of step with most other Canadians too. Ironic Mr. Harper is consulting Mr. Mulroney, and there’s a good chance he an his party will will share Mulroney’s fate after the next election call.

    • Please enlighten us… WHAT DOES QUEBEC WANT NOW??!!!

      • Probably nothing more (at this point) than to toss out Charest’s Liberals and hope the next lot is better

  18. Europe is about to have a new “world war” (an economic catastrophe/implosion), 100 years after it committed suicide with WWI, and 200 years after the Napoleonic Wars (an offshoot of which we are celebrating this year). Got to admire the regularity of European stupidity and self-destructive tendencies! -).

    The problem(s) of Canada and Quebec amount to a hill of beans.

    Quebec actually might be the beneficiary of massive French immigration from France as the economic calamity unfolds.

    It will be bad here too, but not as bad as it is going to be in Europe.

    • 15% of the French population is muslim, and their unemployment rate is staggeringly high now. I can see laine pur French fleeing to Canada if the EU implodes.

  19. This is an attempt to “scare” anti-separatist people of Quebec into voting conservative. That’s the game the conservatives play. They propose imaginary problems on sensitive issues to get people all uptight and worked up, then they propose themselves as the only solution. They are just trying to manipulate the public into devotion to them. It’s a tactic. They always emphasize the jobs they create, not the ones they abolish. The jobs they create are low wage jobs which by the way are filled 30% by imported workers (legal but not protected by wage laws even in the federal sector now thanks to the Omniscam budget implemention Bill).

    • Now they’re lining up with the separatists. Of Course, shift it the other way… What a machine… “The Oscillator”

      • Haha, it blows no matter which way it turns.

  20. Same old, same old… Unfortunately, Quebec isn’t going anywhere, but the con game of “separation” has worked so well in the past, why not try it again, and again. Enough is enough… time for the tribalists and their media proxies to come up with another con game… this one has run it’s course.

  21. Harpo’s™ “bad luck” in Quebec is entirely of his own making.
    Ever since coming to power he has ignored Quebec and its citizenry.
    Under the bus, so to speak.
    Now he’s running scared over a possible separation crisis which he does not
    wish to participate in.
    Too little, too shallow, too late.

    Harpo’s™ “bad luck” in Quebec is entirely of his own making.
    Ever since coming to power he has ignored Quebec and its citizenry.
    Under the bus, so to speak.
    Now he’s running scared over a possible separation crisis which he does not
    wish to participate in.
    Too little, too shallow, too late.

    Harpo’s™ “bad luck” in Quebec is entirely of his own making.
    Ever since coming to power he has ignored Quebec and its citizenry.
    Under the bus, so to speak.
    Now he’s running scared over a possible separation crisis which he does not
    wish to participate in.
    Too little, too shallow, too late.

    • Sorry about that….

  22. If Quebec separated, who would they sponge off of?

  23. How much insight does MBM offer really? He had Liberal allies in power in QC for all but one of his years in office and used pequistes as his ground troops in two elections! I supported Meech at the time but surely the lessons of that time are to never go down that road again. Here’s hoping Legault siphons PQ votes not just Liberal ones.

  24. Mulcair has already started the splitting of Quebec from the RoC with his blatant attack on Western Canadian resource development, accusing them of causing the “Dutch Disease” on Eastern Canada.

    Harper is concerned about mad dog Mulcair’s divisive approach to Canadian unity, so he consulted with Mulroney and Charest to share his concern about malevolent Mulcair. Harper is trying to save Canada because he can foresee the looming divisions being fostered by the NDP.

    • What a load of bullshite.
      Mulcair is planting seeds in vote rich Ontario, and if Ontario turns it’s back on Harper, it’s bye bye majority.
      Your Harper is pure like the driven snow routine does my grandkids no good when it comes to the environment. Malevolent Mulcair! HAH!

  25. Please KICK us out for good, and then everybody will be happy. You always complain that we get too much money , well its your system that is desing that way and we are fed up with it too. You think that comming one day out of years of disrespect will make us change are minds, how shallow and narrow minded do you think we are?It might work in the west but not here. And please don’t say you love us and all that …cr… we read your blogs and comments everyday, and their’s no love or respect in it, so kick us out for good!!! Some of have remarks about Quebec not being viable province and all that , well stop trying to hold us prisoner of your charming federation and lets us go or kick us out. You’ll get your billions back the rest will be for historians to juge. So Harper stay home we don’t need you or want you. And by the way i’ve voted no twice for separation but now i’m done, the constant nagging about who we are and the hate spilling into these blogs all year long, when ever at Quebecers, that did it for me. I rather face the consequences of separation than get it day in day out from the ROC.

    • What is this, the passive aggressive stance on separation? Are you a teenager, begging to be set free? Smarten up.

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