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?

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