Posts Tagged ‘Quebec

Why Trudeau’s Alberta Comments Just Don’t Matter

- November 24th, 2012

Justin-Trudeau-handout

It was nice of Justin Trudeau to apologize for comments he made two years ago in a Quebec TV interview that “Canada isn’t doing well right now because it’s Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda. It doesn’t work.”

 

Of course, he wasn’t actually apologizing to Alberta (which wouldn’t really accept an apology from a guy named Trudeau anyway). He was apologizing through Alberta to voters in B.C. and Ontario and elsewhere who were hurt that nice young Justin would show any signs of divisiveness or latent (or not-so-latent) regional bigotry.

 

So he had to apologize if only to show everybody outside Alberta that he’s really a good guy and just sorta misspoke himself, saying “Alberta” when he meant to say “those rednecks in the Harper government (and their supporters).” I know, I know — it’s just a semantic difference (a third of Albertans don’t vote Conservative), but words hurt and Justin Trudeau had to show he’s not that kind of intolerant bully, kicking oil sand in poor little Alberta’s face.

 

Ostensibly, Trudeau’s apology (made in B.C., not Alberta, of course) was supposed to recoup some of the damage done to the supposedly surging campaign of Liberal candidate Harvey Locke in the Calgary Centre byelection being held on Monday.

 

Despite the little-engine-that-could storyline being promoted, it was doubtful Liberal Locke could pull off an upset over Conservative candidate Joan Crockatt — even before Dalton McGuinty’s evil brother David put the shiv in by telling oil-sands-shilling Tory MPs they should “go back to Alberta” and stop pretending to work for the interests of all Canadians in Ottawa.

 

Such towering tempests. Such tiny teapots.

 

Look, even if Liberal Locke managed to pull off the upset, it would give the Grits a grand total of ONE MP in Alberta. Couple that with the ONE MP the Liberals currently have in Saskatchewan and the ONE MP they have in Manitoba and you understand how completely irrelevant the Canadian landscape between the Ontario and B.C. borders is to the Liberal Party’s hopes of climbing out of the parliamentary root cellar in the next federal election (tentatively scheduled for Oct. 19, 2015).

 

No matter what happens over the next three years, the Liberals will be hard pressed to win more than five or six of the 56 parliamentary seats up for grabs in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba in that election. The future of the Liberal Party of Canada will be fought for and won or lost on different battlefields than on those Plains of Stephen.

UPDATE: Because of redistribution based on the 2011 census, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba will have 62 seats up for grabs in the 2015 election, not the 56 in play in the last federal election. More about this a little later, but the redistribution doesn’t change the basic electoral landscape.

 

It’s pretty much the same situation faced by the federal NDP, which I described in a blog post at the beginning of the summer entitled “Why NDP Leader’s Oil Sands Attack Is Smart Political Strategy.”

Tom-Mulcair

Thomas Mulcair had come under vicious political and media attack at the time for daring to suggest that the Harper government was mollycoddling the Alberta oil sands industry, was giving it an easy ride on carrying the full financial burden tied to the environmental legacy of oil sands development and was hurting other elements of the Canadian economy with an unrealistically strong Canadian dollar caused by the Alberta oil industry’s thusly discounted production costs.

 

All those points sound like the screeching of satan’s spawn to Albertans but could well find a receptive audience in other parts of Canada if the economic benefits of the oil sands are not felt strongly enough in non-Alberta regions of the country come October 2015.

 

Did I mention that the NDP currently has a grand total of THREE MPs in all of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba? The socialists have almost as little to lose as the Grits in the Prairies.

 

Given the audiences Mulcair will actually be trying to reach during the 2015 election campaign, an all-out attack on rich, arrogant, selfish, isolationist, unneighbourly Alberta and its  swamps of oil is probably an excellent strategy. With polishing and refinement, it will certainly be some part of the NDP election arsenal.

UPDATE: Electoral district redistribution based on the 2011 census will increase the number of ridings in the 2015 election to 338 from the 309 in last year’s election. The redistribution will give Ontario, Quebec, B.C. and Alberta more seats while leaving Atlantic Canada, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the territories with the same number they currently have. Ontario gets by far the biggest upward bump; Quebec the least. B.C. and Alberta each get six more ridings. I’ll give you the new numbers — with the current numbers in brackets — but the changes don’t affect the main thrust of the next few paragraphs which use the old numbers: 1.) The Liberals and NDP would like to increase their representation in the Prairies but both could still theoretically form a majority government without a single seat from Alberta, Saskatchewan or Manitoba, and 2.) Ontario, more than ever, will be the battleground where the 2015 federal election is won or lost.

Here are the numbers: Atlantic Canada 32 (32), Quebec 78 (75), Ontario 121 (106), Manitoba 14 (14), Saskatchewan 14 (14), Alberta 34 (28), B.C. 42 (36). The three territories will continue to have 1 MP apiece.

 

When push comes to shove, Alberta’s 28 federal ridings will have absolutely no impact on how either the Liberals and the NDP fare in the next election.

 

B.C., by comparison, has 36 seats. Even if you add Saskatchewan’s 14 seats and Manitoba’s 14 seats to Alberta’s 28, the combined Prairie total of 56 seats hardly compares to Quebec’s 75 seats and is barely half of the 106 seats in Ontario.

 

The 32 seats in Atlantic Canada will likely split much as they did in the 2011 election (14 Conservative, 12 Liberal, 6 NDP) but even a strong surge one way or another won’t make a significant difference to the final standings.

 

The real battle for control of the Canadian government and for the future of Canada (and the future of the Liberal Party of Canada, for that matter) will be fought in Ontario, Quebec and B.C.

 

So you can comfortably ignore the doomsayers proclaiming that Justin Trudeau has (perhaps) fatally wounded his Liberal leadership hopes by insulting Alberta. Alberta is meaningless to Trudeau’s fate in either the party leadership race or the general election of 2015. As I said before, he just has to make nice with people who hate his family name for the optical benefit of his real supporters elsewhere in Canada.

 

What Trudeau was actually doing in that 2010 Tele-Quebec TV interview was not Alberta bashing but sucking up to Quebec. Don’t forget: in 2010, Justin had only been an MP for two years, was still generally thought of as a green, elitist, protected boy by many political pros and voters inside Quebec and elsewhere.

 

That interview was part of Justin’s low-key, folksy campaign to prove himself a real Quebecois, a native son of Quebec and a regular guy able to joke around and take a tumble down a flight of stairs without missing a beat. Here’s another bit of that same interview on YouTube. It worked: Trudeau is now one politician most Quebecers would like to go out and share a beer and bowl of poutine with. After establishing his bona fides in Quebec, Justin took his genial charisma show on the road and has done an excellent job of charming the rest of Canada … even Alberta (or at least the third of Alberta that doesn’t vote Conservative through thick and thin).

 

The Liberal party machine is still in terrible disarray in Quebec, but Les Rouges have a much better chance of bouncing back with Justin Trudeau as their leader than with anyone else. They do have such a long way to go, though, with a sad little rump of only eight Quebec MPs now — almost as few as the Conservatives and Bloc (and the Bloc’s disastrous finish in the 2011 election just shows how quickly political fortunes can change).

 

Quebec is also going to be a major test for the NDP. It will be impossible for the socialists to hang on to the 58 Quebec seats that miraculously fell into their laps in 2011. How far they fall there will determine whether the NDP can challenge to be seen as a party capable of governing or whether they will be thrust back down to perpetual third-party status.

 

But (of course) Ontario is the greatest battleground with the greatest prizes to be won — or lost. With only 11 MPs in Ontario now, the Liberals fell the furthest but also have the most potential for making a huge rebound in 2015.

 

The real problem for both the Liberals and NDP is the vote-splitting that allowed the Conservatives to come up the middle in so many Ontario ridings.

 

So don’t worry about Justin Trudeau and his Alberta “problem.” He’ll do just fine, whatever Alberta thinks of him.

 

 

As for apologizing, I don’t recall ever hearing Stephen Harper apologize for his 2001 open letter to Ralph Klein urging the then-premier “to take the initiative, to build firewalls around Alberta, to limit the extent to which an aggressive and hostile federal government can encroach upon legitimate provincial jurisdiction.”

Stephen-Harper-Grey-Cup

The future prime minister of Canada had so many nasty things to say about the federal government back in 2001:

 

In our view, the Chretien government undertook a series of attacks not merely designed to defeat its partisan opponents, but to marginalize Alberta and Albertans within Canada’s political system.

 

If the government in Ottawa concludes that Alberta is a soft target, we will be subjected to much worse than dishonest television ads. The Prime Minister has already signaled as much by announcing his so called “tough love” campaign for the West.

 

… a misguided and increasingly hostile government in Ottawa …

 

(T)he government in Ottawa will be tempted to take advantage of Alberta’s prosperity, to redistribute income from Alberta to residents of other provinces in order to keep itself in power.

 

Now read Justin Trudeau’s 2010 comment again:

 

“Canada isn’t doing well right now because it’s Albertans who control our community and socio-democratic agenda. It doesn’t work.”

 

I really don’t see why Justin Trudeau should be apologizing for his remarks (he also said Quebecers make better prime ministers than Albertans — a funny, funny line) if Stephen Harper never apologized for his much harsher attack on All Parts Of Canada That Aren’t Alberta.

 

But then Justin Trudeau is a genuinely nice guy  — and knows some fights are just a complete waste of time and energy. Trudeau, me’thinks, has bigger fish to fry.

 

 

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

 

Here is the full text of the open letter Stephen Harper and five other Alberta academics and policy wonks sent to Ralph Klein demanding “firewalls” to protect Alberta from the heathen hordes of Other Canadians at the gate. I’ve boldfaced the sections from which I took the previously used quotes

“An Open Letter To Ralph Klein”

(published in The National Post on Jan. 24, 2001)

 

Dear Premier Klein:

 

During and since the recent federal election (Ed.: Jean Chretien won his third majority in the Nov. 27, 2000 election), we have been among a large number of Albertans

discussing the future of our province. We are not dismayed by the outcome of the election so much as by the strategy employed by the current federal government to secure its re-election. In our view, the Chretien government undertook a series of attacks not merely designed to defeat its partisan opponents, but to marginalize Alberta and Albertans within Canada’s political system.

One well-documented incident was the attack against Alberta’s health care system. To your credit, you vehemently protested the unprecedented attack ads that the federal government launched against Alberta’s policies – policies the Prime Minister had previously found no fault with.

However, while your protest was necessary and appreciated by Albertans, we believe that it is not enough to respond only with protests. If the government in Ottawa concludes that Alberta is a soft target, we will be subjected to much worse than dishonest television ads. The Prime Minister has already signaled as much by announcing his so called “tough love” campaign for the West.

We believe the time has come for Albertans to take greater charge of our own future. This means resuming control of the powers that we possess under the constitution of Canada but that we have allowed the federal government to exercise. Intelligent use of these powers will help Alberta build a prosperous future in spite of a misguided and increasingly hostile government in Ottawa.

Under the heading of the “Alberta Agenda,” we propose that our province move forward on the following fronts:

• Withdraw from the Canada Pension Plan to create an Alberta Pension Plan offering the same benefits at lower cost while giving Alberta control over the investment fund. Pensions are a provincial responsibility under section 94A of the Constitution Act. 1867; and the legislation setting up the Canada Pension Plan permits a province to run its own plan, as Quebec has done from the beginning. If Quebec can do it, why not Alberta?

• Collect our own revenue from personal income tax, as we already do for corporate income tax. Now that your government has made the historic innovation of the single-rate personal income tax, there is no reason to have Ottawa collect our revenue. Any incremental cost of collecting our own personal income tax would be far outweighed by the policy flexibility that Alberta would gain, as Quebec’s experience has shown.

• Start preparing now to let the contract with the RCMP run out in 2012 and create an Alberta Provincial Police Force. Alberta is a major province. Like the other major provinces of Ontario and Quebec, we should have our own provincial police force. We have no doubt that Alberta can run a more efficient and effective police force than Ottawa can – one that will not be misused as a laboratory for experiments in social engineering.

• Resume provincial responsibility for health-care policy. If Ottawa objects to provincial policy, fight in the courts. If we lose, we can afford the financial penalties that Ottawa may try to impose under the Canada Health Act. Albertans deserve better than the long waiting periods and technological backwardness that are rapidly coming to characterize Canadian medicine. Alberta should also argue that each province should raise its own revenue for health care – i.e., replace Canada Health and Social Transfer cash with tax points as Quebec has argued for many years. Poorer provinces would continue to rely on Equalization to ensure they have adequate revenues.

• Use section 88 of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Quebec Secession Reference to force Senate reform back onto the national agenda. Our reading of that decision is that the federal government and other provinces must seriously consider a proposal for constitutional reform endorsed by “a clear majority on a clear question” in a provincial referendum. You acted decisively once before to hold a senatorial election. Now is the time to drive the issue further. All of these steps can be taken using the constitutional powers that Alberta now possesses. In addition, we believe it is imperative for you to take all possible political and legal measures to reduce the financial drain on Alberta caused by Canada’s tax-and-transfer system. The most recent Alberta Treasury estimates are that Albertans transfer $2,600 per capita annually to other Canadians, for a total outflow from our province approaching $8 billion a year. The same federal politicians who accuse us of not sharing their “Canadian values” have no compunction about appropriating our Canadian dollars to buy votes elsewhere in the country.

Mr. Premier, we acknowledge the constructive reforms that your government made in the 1990s – balancing the budget, paying down the provincial debt, privatizing government services, getting Albertans off welfare and into jobs, introducing a single-rate tax, pulling government out of the business of subsidizing business, and many other beneficial changes. But no government can rest on its laurels. An economic slowdown, and perhaps even recession, threatens North America, the government in Ottawa will be tempted to take advantage of Alberta’s prosperity, to redistribute income from Alberta to residents of other provinces in order to keep itself in power. It is imperative to take the initiative, to build firewalls around Alberta, to limit the extent to which an aggressive and hostile federal government can encroach upon legitimate provincial jurisdiction.

Once Alberta’s position is secured, only our imagination will limit the prospects for extending the reform agenda that your government undertook eight years ago. To cite only a few examples, lower taxes will unleash the energies of the private sector, easing conditions for Charter Schools will help individual freedom and improve public education, and greater use of the referendum and initiative will bring Albertans into closer touch with their own government.

The precondition for the success of this Alberta Agenda is the exercise of all our legitimate provincial jurisdictions under the constitution of Canada. Starting to act now will secure the future for all Albertans.

Sincerely yours,

Stephen HARPER, President, National Citizens’ Coalition;

Tom FLANAGAN, professor of political science and former Director of Research, Reform

Party of Canada;

Ted MORTON, professor of political science and Alberta Senator-elect; Rainer KNOPFF, professor of political science;

Andrew CROOKS, chairman, Canadian Taxpayers Federation;

Ken BOESSENKOOL, former policy adviser to Stockwell Day, Treasurer of Alberta.

 

* This letter represents the personal views of its authors and not those of any organizations with which they are or have been connected.

Why NDP Leader’s Oil Sands Attack Is Smart Political Strategy

- June 20th, 2012

Mulcair-in-Commons

Let’s get a couple of things straight right off the bat:

 

1. I used the word”attack” intentionally. Although Thomas Mulcair and the NDP insist they are not against the Alberta oil sands themselves (just the way the Harper government currently allows them to be operated), Mulcair’s stance is very much an attack on the status quo of the oil sands.

 

2. This piece is not about the rights and wrongs of oil sands development. Don’t come at me with long screeds on how the oil sands are the economic engine of Canada or how Big Oil and a lapdog federal government are engaging in environmental vandalism: It just doesn’t matter in this context. Oh, those issues will be debated ad naseum in the next three years, but right now I’m talking solely about whether or not it is GOOD POLITICAL STRATEGY for the NDP to attack the Alberta oil sands.

It is. And here’s why:

 

Oil-sands-Syncrude_plant

A few relatively mild comments on CBC radio last month made New Democratic Party Leader Thomas Mulcair the Most Dangerous Man in Canada™ (for a while anyway, until Luka Magnotta became a household name).

 

Mulcair must be doing something right to arouse that much clamourous indignation.

 

From a long-term strategic perspective, he is. Mulcair has picked a battleground and intends to push. The game is on.

 

That recent flurry of ruffled feathers and regional hubris was just a sideshow, but a bit of the underbrush needs to be cut back before we can clearly see what this situation will mean when it really counts — at the next federal election (tentatively scheduled Oct. 19, 2015).

 

Let’s let the CBC’s Rex Murphy lead the charge for a while. Here are a few things Murphy has had to say about Mulcair in heated commentaries last month:

 

“It is the most divisive debut of any opposition leader I can recall and potentially very dangerous to Confederation.”

 

and

 

“These remarks have been his biggest mistake since becoming national leader.”

 

and

 

“This game of playing one part of the country against another — which effectively is what Mr. Mulcair’s statements do — is of no value to anyone.”

 

and

 

“(A) deliberate, antagonizing and quarrelsome bent toward a whole section of the country … Blaming a prosperous region for the temporary weakness of Central Canada is willful shortsightedness.”

 

Joining Rex Murphy in the attack on Mulcair were (not surprisingly) members the Harper government and (perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not) Liberal Interim Leader Bob Rae, who accused Mulcair of having double standards over issues that affect Quebec and Western Canada.

 

The premiers of Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C. piled on, appearing to deliberately misinterpret Mulcair’s direct challenge to the prime minister to take great offence on various levels of personal, provincial and regional pride.

 

What beastly, nation-destroying things did Thomas Mulcair actually say to warrant this volcano of vitriol and venom?

 

Not much, actually, and nothing he hasn’t been saying for years.

 

His basic argument was that he wants the Harper government to enforce long-standing laws it is sworn to uphold, for the good of the people of Canada now and in the future.

 

Really. That was the central thesis of his remarks to interviewer Evan Solomon which ran on CBC Radio’s The House on Saturday morning, May 5.

 

Here’s a link to the interview  (the whole programme, actually) if you’d like to hear exactly what was said for yourself. The Mulcair interview starts at the 9:00 mark and goes to 17:30.

 

Solomon brought up “the Dutch disease” issue, noting that Conservatives were attacking Mulcair for mentioning it in an article published in the March 2012 issue of the journal Policy Options.

 

The discussion swayed into the Alberta oil sands around the 12-minute mark when Mulcair said, “The point I’m making is not that we should be against development  of the oil sands, but it has to be sustainable development.”

 

And then he launched into an attack on the Harper government for not enforcing Canadian environmental protection laws in regard to the oil sands and hammered on a “Polluter Pay, User Pay” theme.

 

“The way we are exploiting and developing the oil sands is causing an imbalance in our economy,” Mulcair said.

 

The core thesis was that Big Oil should be paying more now to cover the future costs of Alberta oil sands cleanup and that, because the oil industry is not paying a realistic price to extract and sell that oil, the Canadian dollar is artificially inflated, which in turn has a negative impact on the Canadian manufacturing sector’s ability to sell our goods abroad.

 

Ignoring the current imbroglio and the rights and wrongs of various positions as they exist in June 2012 (because they will be long forgotten by the time the next federal election rolls around in October 2015), here’s an analysis of why Mulcair has picked a high-grade battle issue from a strictly pragmatic, real-politik strategic perspective:

 

1.  This is an issue with staying power and growth potential.

 

As Mulcair told the Globe and Mail during the May hubbub:

 

“You realize that it’s not a three-day debate, it’s not a three-week debate, it’s not a three-month debate, it’s a three-year debate … We’ll just keep coming back with what the real issue is. The real issue is polluter pay. People in Alberta believe that polluters should pay. People in Saskatchewan believe that polluters should pay. People in B.C. believe that polluters should pay. It’s a consistent thing across Canada.”

 

And this is what he told Tom Clark of Global News around the same time:

 

“This is a fight we’ve been looking for. We see this as a defining element of the next election campaign in Canada.”

 

Mulcair may be under attack right now, but his position is one that will stand up to scrutiny — not against oil sands development, just Tory mismanagement and lack of oversight — and one that can grow stronger with time.

 

2. Mulcair is focused and he’s not going off-message.

 

“My fight is with Stephen Harper’s Conservatives,” Mulcair told Global News. “So when some of them started suggesting I was anti-Western Canadian, which, of course, I’ve never even talked about, my reaction was, ‘Look — let me deal with the person who’s responsible for the problem I’m describing.”

 

“We’re leaving the largest ecological, economic and social debt in our history in the backpacks of young people and we’re telling them they’ll pay for it,” he told CTV News. “We’re going to be the first generation in Canadian history to leave less to the next generation than what we ourselves received if we continue this way.”

 

3. Mulcair really doesn’t care how his message plays in Alberta or Saskatchewan — it’s all about Quebec and Ontario … and B.C.

 

He’s making nicey-nice with the Western premiers right now, but that’s just for show and doesn’t matter — except for B.C. where Liberal Premier Christy Clark will be replaced by a majority NDP government on May 14, 2013 if pretty much every poll taken in the province in 2012 holds up (although Clark says those polls are fatally flawed). Don’t forget: B.C. is the province of David Suzuki as well as Christy Clark.

 

Mulcair was quick to add in forestry and fishing — primary B.C. sectors — as well as manufacturing when he talked about industries hit by an inflated Canadian dollar.

 

The NDP has a grand total of one (1) seat in all of Alberta and Saskatchewan (Edmonton-Strathcona). In the next federal election, the NDP could pour more money into Alberta and Saskatchewan than it will spend in the rest of Canada and it might gain them only one or two more seats. That situation is not going to change for a long, long time despite Saskatchewan’s historic legacy as the home of Tommy Douglas and medicare. So, in a strategic electoral sense, It doesn’t hurt the NDP at all to alienate Alberta and Saskatchewan — as long as that stance translates into support for the party further east (and west, in B.C.).

 

Eighty of the NDP’s 102 seats are in Quebec and Ontario. Throw in B.C. and you’re talking 92 of 102 seats.

 

That enormous, unexpected, unbelievable bulge of 59 NDP MPs from Quebec is the party’s Achilles heel — it could recede in 2015 just as easily as it magically appeared last year.

 

So a primary battle cry that is both ecologically hip and implies that reining in the excesses of Western Canada will benefit Eastern Canada is a platform that will sell well in Quebec. And, if Ontario’s manufacturing sector continues to decline over the next three years, the “Dutch disease” mantra may have a stronger resonance —it doesn’t have to be right, it just has to feel right in the gut of someone who’s on the edge of losing his or her job.

 

To put it another way, Alberta has become too successful and too single-minded for its own good. That economic power (which turned regional alienation into regional arrogance) and a blanket electoral loyalty to the Conservative Party also make Alberta a target. Because, even though Albertans now have great economic and political clout, the political power exists only because riding-rich Ontario decided in the last election to side with Alberta’s view of the world. Ontario being Ontario, the pendulum could just as easily swing to the left in the 2015 election if Ontarians think they’re being left behind economically.

 

If the NDP can make a breakthrough in Ontario and hold two-thirds of their unexpected Quebec support from the last election, you could be talking Prime Minister Mulcair in 2015, not Prime Minister Harper.

 

4. What’s wrong with divisiveness, anyway?

 

Let’s rewind Rex Murphy:

 

“It is the most divisive debut of any opposition leader I can recall and potentially very dangerous to Confederation.”

 

Let’s rewind even further to 2000, when Stephen Harper had this to say:

 

“I, too, am one of these angry Westerners … We may love Canada but Canada does not love us … Let’s make (Alberta) strong enough that the rest of the country is afraid to threaten us.”

 

Well, maybe fear is a legitimate basis for a good relationship — but I think even Rex Murphy would have trouble defending the paranoia of that 2000 Harper statement as less divisive than “Polluters Pay.”

 

Harper also advised then-premier Ralph Klein to build a “firewall” around Alberta to protect it from the depredations of ROC ( that’s the Rest of Canada if you don’t remember Alberta’s 1990s separatist rhetoric.)

 

But regional tension and economic envy and sibling rivalry have always been part of the Canadian mosaic. It’s nothing new, it’s constantly evolving and — so far — we’ve survived and thrived (relatively speaking).

 

5. The unspoken element of jealousy.

 

This is a subtext of the “divisiveness” issue. Nobody will actually talk about it (at least in public) but regional jealousy will always be there in the national debate: You have more than I do, I want what you have, and I don’t like you because you have what I want.

 

It’s a terrible worm in Canada’s gut but to deny it is to deny reality. The best leaders in Canada’s history recognized it was there and did their best to control it (none ever did completely) by trying to get Canadians to think in terms of national good instead of provincial and regional well-being. But when the divide between haves and have-nots (in both economic and political terms) becomes too great, the worm turns nasty.

 

We’ve seen Quebec use its electoral numbers to lash out in that situation. And Atlantic Canada would have done so over the past half-century if it could — but it just didn’t have the political numbers and so was forced to suffer in sullen resignation. The Conservatives are now in power in Ottawa because Harper was able to harness that worm in the West over the past decade and subdue it, at least temporarily, in Ontario. It’s hard to think of used-to-have-it-all Ontario in those terms, but the worm is there now.

 

If that worm is still in Ontario’s gut in three years time, the big numbers there spell trouble for Harper and Alberta. In Quebec, the NDP could very well ride a wave of resentment and jealousy into another strong showing. Nobody will actually talk about something as petty and base as jealousy, but recognizing (and accommodating) that unspoken element could be the hidden key to the NDP retaining a substantial part of its very fragile support in Quebec and making gains in Ontario.

 

Most voters wouldn’t admit the motivating factor of jealousy even to themselves. But if it’s there, they will find an issue to support, even an excuse, to feed that worm. And make themselves feel better, if only for a while.

 

6. It’s now a two-way fight between the NDP and Conservatives. The Liberals have been marginalized in the debate.

 

I’m not sure what Bob Rae was thinking when he joined the attack on Mulcair for being somehow anti-West. One or two or three years down the road, this debate is going to clarify along the lines of Big Business Profit versus Common Canadian Good (if the NDP has its way — and I think they have a good chance of pounding home their message.)

 

The Conservatives are going to be on the big business side of the proposition because that means prosperity, jobs and security. The NDP are going to be on the other side of the equation because the oil sands offer enough financial leeway that they can sell a game plan offering (less) prosperity but ecological and generational responsibility at the same time.

 

And where are the Liberals in all this? Nowhere. Yapping around the edges of the debate without a clearly defined profile.

 

If environmental responsibility and a legacy mandate become the central issues of the 2015 election, the Liberals will be left in limbo, trying desperately to create a relevant position. They sure aren’t doing that right now.

 

7. And it all comes down to how the economy is going in 2015.

 

We’re not talking about the well-being of corporations or Charles CEO — we’re talking about Johnny and Jacques Paycheque. The bottom line of the oil companies and the banks won’t matter. What will matter will be the bottom lines of Canada’s working families — especially in Quebec and Ontario.

 

If the economic engine of the Alberta oil sands is not able to create jobs and security in Ontario and Quebec over the next three years, then the NDP message is going to find fertile ground in those riding-rich provinces.

 

And that is why Stephen Harper is afraid of Thomas Mulcair — or should be, if he isn’t already.

 

If the Conservatives could form a majority government in 2011 with less than 40% of the popular vote and only five of the 75 seats in Quebec, surely it would be possible for the NDP to form a majority government in 2015 with only one or two of the 42 seats in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Thomas_Mulcair_wiki

The next federal election will be determined by whether the Conservatives can hold on to their gains in Ontario and/or the NDP can hold on to their gains in Quebec while improving their position in Ontario.

 

One way or the other, the Alberta oil sands are going to determine how voters in Ontario and Quebec cast their ballots in 2015.

 

If, in the end, the 2015 election boils down to something as crude as the Conservatives representing the dreams and power of the West and the NDP representing the fears and needs of the East, then the numbers favour the NDP.

 

No matter what, Thomas Mulcair did not make a political blunder by attacking the Alberta oil sands. Whether you agree or disagree with him, you have to admit it makes perfect political strategic sense for Mulcair and the NDP to stake out that position.

 

It will be an interesting three years.

 

Quebec Students Win: What Happens Next

- May 27th, 2012

The Quebec student strike against the Charest government’s plans to increase tuition fees is over — and the students have won.

 

Oh, there are still meetings and negotiations and roadblocks and stumbles and flare-ups and shouting and tears and more marches ahead, but the path and the end result are now clear. It’s just a matter of getting there.

 

When student leaders and government representatives sit down at the negotiating table on Monday afternoon, there will be only two significant points on the real (secret) agenda: 1. Rolling back the planned tuition hikes and 2. Allowing Jean Charest and his government to save face by appearing to have not caved in to the Vietcong, I mean students.

 

Because this is Jean Charest’s Vietnam and he (through his minions) is negotiating a defeat, not a compromise.

 

There is a third item on the agenda — the repeal of the hated Bill 78 anti-demonstration law. But that won’t take more than a few minutes to wrap up because the Charest government knows it gambled and lost playing the tough guy and wants to make nice with the pot-banging electorate as quickly as possible.

 

Many, many things can go wrong in the next few weeks and the situation still has the potential to get very ugly. But if the student leaders and the Charest government both get what they’re after in the coming days, here’s what could — and probably will, at the end of the day — happen:

 

Both sides will claim victory because (for the students) tuition will be frozen or any increase will be just a token amount and (for the Quebec government) the $216-million-a-year savings the government would have reaped from the tuition increase  will still be found (they will say).

 

How can those two apparently contradictory outcomes be reconciled?

 

I certainly don’t have any inside line on the Quebec government’s thinking (nor would I want one, frankly; a gruesome locale) but I’ve seen enough cornered politicians scrambling for a bolthole to hazard a guess:

 

A tripartite commission composed of representatives from the student unions, university and CEGEP administrations and the Quebec government will be set up to find, oh, somewhere in the range of $216 million a year in savings from the province’s annual $4-billion-plus post-secondary education budget.

 

It really doesn’t matter what the actual dollar or percentage amount is or what, exactly, the deadline is for the commission’s report. Because it will all be for show, a way for Jean Charest to walk away from the table with head held high and his boyish, wavy locks (he’s getting a little old for that, don’t you think?) blowing in the breeze.

 

There will be a Quebec provincial election in the next year or so and, if polls are any indicator, there’s a very good chance that Jean Charest will not be the premier of Quebec after that election.

 

In which case, the Quebec budgetary deficit and student tuition fees and all the rest of that frappe will no longer be his concern. Charest will take a nice, long vacation before assuming his duties as Canada’s next ambassador to France.

 

If he’s unlucky enough to win re-election, well, commissions have a habit of having their report deadlines pushed back.

 

And that, kids, is the way I see it.

 

The best thing to come out of this situation? A new generation of tough, cool, articulate politicians seems to be emerging in the ranks of Quebec’s student leaders. Lucky them. Where’s Ontario’s crop of pot bangers? Sigh.