Best answer to the Quebec question? A majority

Things will change only when someone is able to win a majority without substantial Quebec support.

Élection fédérale 2009

Angelo Persichilli - Here we go again. With an election (or at least the chance of one) around the corner, the media have already started the guessing game about Quebec. "There isn't anything in the two federalist parties right now that a lot of Quebecers would be attracted to," a political scientist from Montreal told a national newspaper this week.
If we go to the polls, there are many issues to talk about: the economy, Afghanistan, the environment, immigration, just to mention a few. We might agree or disagree on them, but most people know what the issue is and where they stand.
What's difficult to understand is what the "Quebec" issue is all about.
Fine, Quebecers are not attracted to Stephen Harper, Michael Ignatieff or Jack Layton and they "feel comfortable" with Gilles Duceppe. But the question is not who they like, but what they want. Do they want to separate? No, or they wouldn't vote for the federalist Liberal Premier Jean Charest. Do they want to stay in Canada? You might think not, or they wouldn't vote for sovereignist Gilles Duceppe. Is anyone else confused?
If I understand correctly, they didn't vote for Harper last year because he wanted to put 14-year-old criminals in jail and because he cut $40 million from Canadian (primarily Quebec) cultural funding. Is it possible that without those two decisions Harper would now be heading a majority government? I don't think so, because Harper is just too right wing for Quebecers' liking.
What about the Liberals? Stéphane Dion was on the left and an environmentalist, an issue that seems close to the heart of Quebecers (as if other Canadians don't care about the environment). But wait a moment, Dion also was the guy who wrote the Clarity Act to make it harder for the separatists to do their job, and that's not good for Quebec voters.
Furthermore, the Québécois are still upset with the Liberals over the sponsorship scandal. I don't understand why they should be more upset than other Canadians – we're talking about Canadian money, after all.
So with an election approaching fast, we once again risk spending time guessing which Canadian leader is most loved in Quebec.
This might not be a deep political thought, but is it just a coincidence that Quebecers never feel comfortable with leaders from outside the province?
Is it a coincidence that they dislike Harper, Ignatieff and Layton but feel comfortable with Gilles Duceppe?
I believe Quebec voters are comfortable with the Bloc not because they want to separate but because it's very convenient to have their own party in Ottawa that cares only about their interests. The Liberals, the Conservatives and the NDP are national parties that care about all of Canada, not just Quebec. No one who leads a national parties could ever cater to Quebec interests the way a Bloc leader can.
This will be a reality until Canadians elect a majority government. In fact, the strength of the Bloc in Quebec derives from the existence of a minority government in Ottawa and the conviction that no party can form a majority government without strong support in Quebec.
Things will change only when someone is able to win a majority without substantial Quebec support. That's not impossible. Harper missed the mark last time only by a dozen seats, and next time, if Ontario is given another 21 MPs, any party might aim at a majority without strong Quebec support.
At that point, the Bloc's influence will be reduced to zero and it will fade from federal politics. It almost happened during Jean Chrétien's three back-to-back majorities. Duceppe and his party were slipping because the Quebec electorate felt excluded from the federal government. They returned when the feud between Paul Martin and Chrétien almost destroyed the Liberal party.
What followed was seven years of weak minority governments for Canada and a strong Bloc for Quebec. Quebec's electorate likes it, and I don't blame them. But if Harper and Ignatieff want a majority government, they will have to look elsewhere.
Angelo Persichilli is the political editor of Corriere Canadese. His column appears Sunday.

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