Sunday, April 16, 2006

Conservatives and Quebec

I have seen numerous references in the media to the notion that the Conservatives plan for a majority (in the Saturday April 15 Globe for example) next time hinges on making large gains in Quebec. It is not clear what expectations are for Ontario but they are comparatively less optimistic. This strikes me as quite bonkers on their part. As the numbers from the Environics poll suggest, a Conservative majority seems to be a remote prospect anyway. However, a closer look at the poll’s seat gains for the Cons show that they are largely in Ontario. They gained 4 points in Quebec and 5 in Ontario compared to the election but in Ontario that sends them into first place with an 11 point lead. That naturally produces huge seat gains – from 40 won on election-day to a hypothetical 61 – whereas in Quebec they would pick up only 2 seats. The fact is the Conservatives have further to go in Quebec than in Ontario and Quebec nationalism stands in the way.

Not only is there a hard core of nationalist voters in Quebec who won’t support the Conservatives, but Quebecers are more socially liberal than other parts of Canada including Ontario, more supportive of Kyoto, while Harper cuts programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and more sceptical of the Afghanistan military commitment. I am not certain that the Conservatives’ back room strategists genuinely think this way, although Harper’s courting of Quebec implies that they take it seriously, but the numbers just don’t add up.

The wishful thinking in their approach to a number of policy issues, such as global warming, seems to be reflected in the Conservative party’s political strategy. The old Mulroney coalition was always intrinsically unstable and Conservatives were deeply divided back then between Quebec and the west on Quebec’s place in the federation. The divisions would reappear except that the nationalist wing of the Mulroney Conservative party in Quebec has its own highly successful nationalist political party now in the BQ. Will Quebec embrace the other values of the Conservatives for the sake of making a little progress on fiscal imbalance? I don’t think Harper should count on it.

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