Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Quebec Election, the day after

Jean Charest has proven that a politician can win and lose at the same time. He won the most seats but it was a near run thing including in his own riding and he took a hammering from the electorate. The only thing that saved his bacon was Mario Dumont. If he had not done so well we would be looking at a PQ government today and possibly a majority. Make no mistake, this was not an endorsement of Mr. Charest, his government, or federalism. The result is that Mr. Charest has been mortally wounded. If he sticks around the Liberals lose the next time, which will probably be within a year to 18 months.

Mario Dumont won but I do not envy him his next task. His near victory last night will attract alot of media glare onto him and his party, including the seperatist press who are not happy he usurped the PQ. Expect them to make his life Hell for the next few months. In addition, he has to take a bunch of political neophytes and mold them into a viable government in waiting within a year. That is difficult at the best of times but it will be even more difficult because his caucus and his party have their share of wingnuts who the media will just love to focus on.

The PQ lost but they were not destroyed. Writing their political epitaph is a little premature. Seperatism is not dead in Quebec and as long as that is the case the PQ will always be a force to be reckoned with.

As far as the implications of last night for the federal scene everything has been thrown for a loop.

Mr. Harper's Quebec strategy suffered a major failure last night. Despite all that he did for Mr. Charest over the last year, from the nation vote to the recent budget the PLQ could only muster one-third of the vote and the Quebec National Assembly is now dominated by parties whose devotion to Canada is conditional to non-existent.

In addition, Mr. Harper's actions this past year, culminating with a budget that could have been written by Mr. Charest, has inextricably linked Mr. Harper and Mr. Charest inside and outside Quebec. That is not good news for Mr. Harper because Mr. Charest has become a millstone around his neck. He is going to have a difficult time severing that link and it will probably cost him.

As well, several commentators have argued that Mr. Dumont's rise is great for Mr. Harper because they are a natural fit ideologically. It is true but Mr. Harper better be careful. Mr. Dumont stood shoulder to shoulder with Parizeau and Bouchard during the last referendum and he has never repudiated his desire for Quebec separation. He has just "softened" it a bit and renamed it "autonomy" which if you look closely looks alot like Rene Leveques' idea of sovereignty association. In addition, Mr. Dumont's brand of conservatism has a nasty streak to it. During this election he played to the fears of pur laine francophones who believe the Frenchness of Quebec is being eroded by immigrants, particularly those of colour.

Those two factors hold a trap for Mr. Harper in the broader Canadian context if he gets too close to Mr. Dumont.

In short, Mr. Harper does not have anybody in Quebec it can turn to for support in the next election. Mr. Harper will be running away from Mr. Charest as fast as he can and he will have to keep his distance from Mr. Dumont so as not to alienate voters in the rest of Canada who may not like him consorting with a known seperatist and a possible bigot.

I am not certain about the implications of last nights events for the Bloc. Last night separatists and soft nationalists decided to support an alternative to the PQ. Fortunately for the Bloc no such alternative exists at the federal level. Unfortunately for the Bloc, Mr. Harper has taken some of the wind out of their sales with regard to the Bloc's constant whines about Quebec being the victim of the federal government and federalism. Without them, the Bloc may not be able to come up with an election platform that resonates with Quebecers.

The Liberals come out of last night's election relatively unscathed. Mr. Dion has no ties with either Mr. Charest or Mr. Dumont. That means he will not have to deal with any of the baggage that comes with them. It also means he will not have anybody to turn to for support in the province either but I would argue that being a native son would mitigate the negative effects of that somewhat.

As well, there is a very good chance that the Quebec part of the next federal election will not feature yet another tired debate about separation, a fiscal imbalance, or Quebec's place in Canada. Quebecers indicated last night that they do not want to talk about the first topic and Mr. Harper has taken the other two off the table for the foreseeable future. So the topics of conversation during the next election could very well be the same in Quebec as the rest of the country, namely, the competing policies from the various parties regarding the environment, crime, Afghanistan, social policy, health and child care. In that situation the Liberals are at least on a level playing field with the Conservatives and I would argue that they might even have an advantage in key areas of the country, including Quebec.

Last night was a bad night for federalism and it could change the dynamic of the upcoming federal election is a way no one thought possible a month ago.


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