COLUMN: Duhaime – Harper isn’t a threat to national unity

- June 28th, 2012

Harper an effective federalist champion

by Eric Duhaime

Quebec has historically been the key battleground to win or lose a federal election. Since the arrival of the Bloc Quebecois in Ottawa 20 years ago, however, the political weight of Quebec has drastically declined.

If you look at the efforts of the political parties who are all trying to court voters in La Belle Province these days, you might think the good old days are back.

The New Democrats have a new leader, a Quebec politician, at their helm.

The Liberals are dreaming of Justin Trudeau as a leadership candidate.

Even the Conservatives are making new efforts to jumpstart a change of heart.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper came to Montreal two weeks ago and met his predecessor Brian Mulroney and Premier Jean Charest, purportedly to figure out what’s going on here and what’s the best strategy vis-a-vis an upcoming potential Parti Quebecois victory.

It led some analysts, including Maclean’s columnist Paul Wells, to conclude that Harper would be in deep trouble if faced with a premier, like Pauline Marois, who calls a referendum on sovereignty. Wells even noted that Harper’s popularity in Quebec is worse than Jean Chretien’s in 1995. It would make Harper the nightmare leader of an eventual No camp.

New Democrats already see Thomas Mulcair as the next Captain Canada in the projected sequel of our constitutional black-and-white movie.

To arrive at such conclusions, one would need to put policies and principles aside.

I happen to believe Harper has arguably been the best and most underestimated federalist champion, compared to his predecessors over the past 50 years.

What currently makes the separatist movement weaker than ever in Quebec is in large part his responsibility. What he has been doing in Quebec has not boosted his personal numbers but has certainly reduced the feuds between Quebec and the Rest of Canada.

He put the Quebec question on the back burner without trying to buy votes, but simply by being true to his own political views of a decentralized confederation. When there is friction between the feds and Quebec City, Harper will often tell Quebecers that the feds are fine if we manage our own problems.

For example, unlike Harper, a Liberal or a New Democratic government would have never agreed to sign a deal with Quebec so the province could be the only one to collect the GST for the Canada Revenue Agency — and be financially compensated for it.

What exacerbates tensions more than anything in Quebec is not the prime minister’s province of origin or mother tongue, but his views of federalism. Mulcair, like Trudeau and Chretien before him, is an Ottawa-knows-best politician.

But let’s not be misled for too long by the battle for Quebec. It will only be a side show when the next federal election comes in 2015. Conservatives might be currently investing in Quebec to make sure we focus our attention on that specific part of the country while they politically “own” the rest of it.

Categories: Contributor Columns

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