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Harper’s false promises

by Archives April 8, 2008

Don’t even bother with the West’s economic expansion; it seems that no matter what happens in Canada, it’s always all about Quebec. And that’s the way it should be, because we’re the only province that knows how to complain, threaten and negotiate correctly.
Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party announced last Wednesday that if Quebec hands over the seats they need to form a majority government in the next federal elections, the province would be rewarded with a reopening of the Constitution. Not to mention the possibility of adding to the meaning of Quebec’s two-year-old identity as a nation.
Like many of his predecessors, Harper finds himself in a position where he has to pretend he cares about Quebec’s existential crisis, while not angering other provinces or creating too many false aspirations – and all this for only a couple of seats.
Right now, the Bloc Québécois has 48 of the province’s 75 seats. The Conservatives and Liberals are tied at 11 each. Nobody cares about the leftovers. It would be sensible to think that Harper would be satisfied taking over Stéphane Dion’s seats (which, let’s face it, shouldn’t be a difficult task), but now the Conservative government is hoping to steal some of the Bloc’s ridings.
By vaguely promising to recognize Quebec as a nation in the Constitution, Harper is stating that he’d do anything for the seats, except actually act out his pledge. If the Conservatives were serious about putting their ideas in motion after the election, they would have clearly specified exactly what powers they would be giving Quebec.
The truth is that Harper doesn’t care at all about Quebec’s identity. He will say anything to attract the province’s sympathy, as long as we play along. All he wants is to portray his party as being a viable alternative to the Bloc, one that is federalist, yet pro-Quebec.
And he’s doing this by going down the Constitutional road, a dangerous and thorny path, as Brian Mulroney proved repeatedly. Even the Quebec provincial government is reluctant to talk about national unity these days, but maybe that’s just because it’s headed by Jean Charest, who’s afraid of pretty much everything he has ever encountered.
Quebec, as a province, couldn’t care less about the symbolism of being a nation. When Harper announced in 2006 that we’d now be considered a nation, people didn’t even bother raising their Labatt’s in celebration. It means absolutely nothing to tell Quebecers they’re a nation if they already think they’re a country. However, what Quebec does care about is the Constitution, so Harper isn’t playing his cards wrong yet.
Just go down to any high school history class in Quebec and you’ll hear the same story, “Then everybody met IN SECRET during la nuit des longs couteaux, and signed the Constitution while we weren’t there. They obviously were laughing at us behind our backs (pause for swearing). But Lévesque defended our honour by refusing to sign.”
So all a politician needs to do now is whisper the word ‘Constitution’ and everyone in Quebec tunes in, partly because we’re afraid someone will be clever enough to figure out another way to stab us in the back. In theory, it’d be nice if Quebec was part of the Constitution, but this probably isn’t the way most Quebecers thought it would be done – as bait for a majority Conservative federal government.
For his part, Dion accused Harper of having a “secret agenda” and giving Quebec a “special deal.” Dion is just one of those people who would really benefit from never speaking again. Harper doesn’t have a secret agenda, simply because he’s not smart enough to even partially dissimulate his real intentions. And maybe Dion should start offering Quebec special deals of his own, because in case he hasn’t noticed, his party isn’t doing so well here.
Dion might accuse Harper of threatening Canada’s national unity by toying with the idea of nations-inside-nations-inside-countries, but it turns out Dion is the number one threat to national unity. In fact, an unofficial poll (conducted by me) proves that one hundred per cent of Quebecers would like to separate themselves from Dion. He’s bad for our image and even we mock his ability to speak English (that’s a really bad sign).
And Harper knows this. Here’s his train of thought, “Canada looks at me. I look at Quebec. They look at Dion. That means everyone’s looking at Dion, and nobody likes what they see. They might even be annoyed and slightly disgusted.” So, yes Stephen, if you just keep talking about Quebec, you can have Dion’s seats, but the Bloc’s are another issue.
The way that Harper got his 11 seats in the first place in what used to be the land of “We hate Conservatives” was by promising to fix the fiscal imbalance (which he did) and to boost transfers of funds to the provinces (which he’ll never increase to the point that Quebec will stop complaining about being robbed). But really taking on the Bloc will require more than a few symbolic promises, it’ll need commitment.
Quebecers love the Bloc because they feel the party has their best interests at heart in a place where everyone seemingly dislikes the whole province. Yes, it has something to do with the party’s sovereigntist position, but it is more about loyalty and having our own delegation in Ottawa.
If the sovereigntist movement really is stagnating in Quebec, people won’t stop voting for the Bloc, because the Bloc is Quebec, even if we’re only a province, or a nation, or whatever Harper wants to call us. Bringing down the Bloc will be a long, complicated process, unless of course by a fluke of nature Pauline Marois ends up as the party’s leader. Then yes, sovereignty and the Bloc will be dead and beyond the point of possible resuscitation. So maybe Harper should start praying for that.

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