Hug it out, federalists

Paul Wells explains why Stephen Harper called Thomas Mulcair

(CP photo)

(CP photo)

The news that Stephen Harper spoke to Thomas Mulcair this week about the Quebec election is encouraging and shouldn’t be surprising. Although, yes, it’s a bit surprising: the Harper who consults and who considers unfamiliar perspectives hasn’t been much on view lately. But he’s been spotted a few times in the past. In 2006, before he introduced the motion recognizing “the Québécois” as a nation within a united Canada, the prime minister made a bunch of calls, including one to Stéphane Dion, but none to any other Liberal leadership candidate.

Then as now, it was possible to imagine Harper had some devious motive. Maybe he wanted to lay a little PM mojo on Dion so he could win the Liberal leadership and lose the next election! Maybe he’s talking to Mulcair now as a way of diminishing Justin Trudeau! But it’s at least as likely, and to me quite a bit likelier, that he made both calls out of simple interest in what he’d hear.

Mulcair faced Marois for 13 years in Quebec’s National Assembly, during a period when government and opposition changed hands. Their ridings were in suburbs north and south of Montreal Island; between them, roughly, Philippe Couillard got elected in Montreal and served as a cabinet colleague of Mulcair’s. There aren’t 20 people Harper could call who’d have a better read on both protagonists in this election campaign. Justin Trudeau doesn’t know either leader a quarter as well. That may sound like I’m picking favourites, but it’s also just true. If you want advice on playing guitar, don’t call me.

More generally, it would be good if supporters of the various national political parties were a little less eager to point-score over their differences on dealing with Quebec separatism. There are certainly differences. Mulcair has said he won’t state a preference, even between sovereignists and federalists, in the current Quebec provincial campaign. He’s long been categorical that a simple 50% + 1 majority in a secession referendum would be a clear enough result to trigger secession negotiations. Liberals don’t like either position, and many believe they will seriously hurt Mulcair’s chances in the next federal election, especially outside Quebec.

But maybe this particular attempt to turn Mulcair’s words into Liberal votes could wait until after the Quebec election. If Marois’s PQ wins a majority, there’ll at least be an extended period of anxiety over whether she’ll parlay that win into a third secession referendum. The leaders of all federalist parties — Conservative, NDP and Liberal in Ottawa, Liberal in Quebec City, maybe even François Legault’s CAQ party — will need to coordinate closely on strategy. To say the least, they haven’t been in the habit of coordinating lately.

And if Pauline Marois spirals into oblivion and loses the Quebec election badly, it’ll still be a good idea for leaders of political parties to talk about important issues, away from the glare of theatrical combat, now and then.


Hug it out, federalists

  1. This is nothing but pure political posturing. My suggestion to Mulcair is, be carful when your dealing with the devil, because you could end up under a bus at anytime, if harper threw his best)nigel) under a bus, be carful TOM. The Grits are going to be the winners here, neither Harper or Mulcair had the balls to consult with Trudeau on any of these important issues(Ukraine&quebec)(the grits know more about Quebec than tom and steve put together), Tom should be consulting with the grits, not Harper. This little love affair between Harper and Mulcair is because they both hate Trudeaus guts, and Tom may find out down the road that he will get sucked into a vacuum like jack Layton did in 2006, because Harper is trying to make Trudeau irrelevant, and this will backfire on the cons and the dippers. Trudeau can now say Tom and Steve are now drinking from the same water hole. Harper is using Tom, and Tom is taking the bait. The only time harper looks like a statesman, is when his numbers are dropping in the polls(its called pandering). if the cons numbers were up, do you really think we would be having this discussion today, I DOUBT IT !

    • Sounds about right to me.

    • It may also have a bit to do with Mulcair’s and Harper’s common association, years ago, with groups fighting for anglo rights in QC – Mulcair with Alliance Quebec and Harper with the National Citizens’ Coalition.

      Above all, Mulcair is the leader of the official opposition.

  2. The problem is that all this conciliatory behaviour is coming at a time when the conservatives have been told by many people that their attacks on Trudeau are not working, and the conservatives continue to trail the liberals in the polls. A week ago Harper was playing petty politics with the diplomatic mission to Ukraine, and a few days later he is consulting Mulcair. It’s actions like these that lead people to believe he is playing petty politics again.

    I am not saying you are not correct, just pointing out if people jump to a different conclusion, there is a good reason for that.

    In any event, as far as I am concerned it is too early to draw conclusions on his motives. Time will tell…

  3. One aspect you haven’t dealt with here Paul is what this does to TM’s switcheroo on being willing to work with the kid. Not that that is automatically mutually exclusive or anywhere near as important at this time as getting good advise to the PM. That’s all good. No problem. Since this is politics why not throw in a side bet….Mulcair gets to bask in the glow of 2nd banana privilege[LoL] while giving a sly finger to Justin. In addition the big guy gets to play national Dad[ who doesn’t favour one kid over another?] and chessmaster…’see me make them dance. I can close the gap between Grizzly and Joostang any time i wants. Just let me get at Vlady so i can make BO look bad!’
    None of this as important as getting insider dope on Marois…clearly Tom is that man. But Tom should watch out he doesn’t crow too much about this. He’s on record as wanting to work with the kid…for now anyway.

  4. Harper is doing the right thing on this file which is good enough for me. Of course he is a politician, so he benefits if he is seen to be doing the right thing.

    Indeed, if we (the people!) simply made it in every politician’s interest to do the right thing all the time, democracy would work much better … even with very flawed politicians.

    • How could we do that?…oh right, refuse to vote for one or the other of them, or pull our party donations.
      I’m sure your right, but we are never going to see the end of pols doing what’s right only if they absolutely must if there’s no political upside for them
      I’m still reeling from the display of pretzel posturing that Mulcair has recently put on. He’s for 50+1, he’s not for the clarity act.He’s for Canada, but only if it’s on QC’s terms. He’s not for working with Trudeau; it now transpires he was misquoted…somebody put the not in there. He’s going to advise the PM; he’s going to stay neutral in this election but he’s the biggest baddest federalist still alive or in office…and no one is allowed to forget that…unless it’s the RoC.
      I’m not sure i can handle any more dancing on the spot while passively sitting still, and bench pressing his 500lb politcal resume all at once. This guy makes Harper look like a man of principle.

      • I agree with you. While I tend to be aligned with the NDP philosophically, I see Mulcair as a left wing version of Harper. Not only in personality and political ruthlessness, but also in that they allow ideology to dictate policy.

  5. The HuffPost says he did call Trudeau, but Trudeau unlike Mulcair kept the secret!

    • Thanks for the heads up on that….according to KCM, he called all the premiers too. Apparently, they can keep a secret too.


    Hmmm, owe Harper a sincere apology. The more I get to see mulcair ‘s ego on display the less I like. He only had to keep a little secret after all. Is it too much to ask of someone who’s neutral?