Quebec has had enough
It has turned out to be an interesting election after all‚ not because of the quality of the discussion or brilliance of the leaders and candidates, but because Quebec is finally deserting the Neanderthal Bloc Québécois, and the resulting increased vote to federalist parties is reshaping the electoral map.
As is well-known, the Liberal hammerlock on Quebec from the time of Laurier to the rise of Mulroney enabled the Liberals to win 17, and draw one, out of the 25 federal elections between 1896 and 1984 (a period during which they governed for 66 of the 88 years). Brian Mulroney shattered the Liberals in Quebec in 1984, and when most of his Quebec caucus deserted after the failure of the Meech Lake agreements, and established the BQ, a level playing field was retained between the Conservatives and the Liberals, as neither now had preponderant support in Quebec.
But to the extent there was a kind of two-party system (after the Progressive Conservatives and Reform united), the chances of a majority government were sharply diminished by the almost assured election of about 80 Bloc and NDP MPs. It has been an absurd state of affairs, whereby the second largest province was chiefly represented in the federal Parliament by a party whose raison d’être was the disassembly of the country and the secession of Quebec.
It must be said, to Canada’s credit, that it patiently endured all these antics from a Quebec that, after the death of Maurice Duplessis in 1959, spent 50 years acrimoniously redefining itself with little regard to the inconvenience it was inflicting on the rest of the country. I, for one, chafed at the indulgence accorded the separatists, and was scandalized that it was implicitly accepted that a bare majority in favour of a trick Quebec referendum question that didn’t authorize any substantive change could be interpreted as a vote to break up the country and remove from it the millions of Quebeckers who would vote to remain in Canada. But the quiet patience of Canada, as well as its surging success as a resource economy in a raw-materials-suppliers’ world, have prevailed. Canada has outlasted the almost catatonic narcissism of Quebec, which has given way, not to much enthusiasm for Canada, but to a recognition that the independence of Quebec would be difficult and costly, and that Canada is a more serious concept than the Quebec nationalists had imagined.
The erosion of the Bloc’s support is a belated recognition that it is just a reactionary anachronism, an excrescence of a previous era of dashed separatist hopes. Perhaps the last straws were Gilles Duceppe sending the governments of the world a notice of the imminent secession of Quebec from Canada, and his attack on the Roman Catholic Church — the sole engine of the survival of the French culture in Quebec for nearly 200 years — as an anti-abortion conspiracy.
Quebec will indulge eccentric politicians, such as long-serving Montreal mayors Camillien Houde and Jean Drapeau, and Créditiste leaders Gilberte Côté-Mercier (who claimed to have seen a heavenly apparition at Ste. Hyacinthe), and Real Caouette. But it will not indefinitely indulge an outright poltroon. Exeunt the Bloc.
Though Quebec finally has soured on the BQ, it cannot return without embarrassment to the traditional parties, after such a lengthy dalliance in the independentist asylum. Quebeckers are naturally quite conservative, the descendants of avaricious, hard-scrabble Normans and Bretons, but affect social democracy chiefly as an intellectually presentable method for soaking the Anglo minority within. By moving en masse to the NDP, they can effectively take over that party, and seem likely to provide its next leader, while continuing to sing their pious, dubiously motivated, socialist fables.
The next phase of this very successful, majestically gradual political evolution is already announced: After the proverbial decent interval, the Liberals and no-longer-New Democrats should merge — with the political centrists among the Liberals and Quebec nationalists joining the Conservatives — giving the country two parties, one 10 yards to the right of centre field, and the other 15 yards to the left.
We are entering the final stage of an ineluctable transition from a precarious government of a semi-autonomous dominion based on overseas precedents, to a seamless blend of admirable traditions and spontaneously evolved institutions and allegiances created by and adapted to the special needs and goals of this country. As one who used to become almost apoplectic watching the first ministers self-importantly singing O Canada at the end of another indecisive, merry-go-round federal-provincial conference in the old Ottawa railway station, it is a miraculous consummation.
It would be rank cowardice to close without a prediction and a recommendation: 143 Conservatives, 72 Liberals, 62 NDP, 30 Blocistes, 1 independent (not, unfortunately, Helena Guergis). I have not been an uncritical supporter of the government, and am appalled by its criminal and prison policy. But it has governed responsibly, often with courage, and almost always with crisp professionalism, through heavy political flux and challenging economic times, and I strongly hope that it is re-elected. If anything like my prediction comes to pass, the remnants of the Bloc will rivet themselves to the Conservatives’ coat-tails for four years, and Stephen Harper will have as long a tenure as Borden, St. Laurent, Mulroney and Chrétien, with a chance to rival Laurier and Trudeau. And the newly formed Liberal-Democrats will have enough time to sober themselves out of some of their aberrant socialist nostrums. The capable and judicious Bob Rae could be extremely helpful in that maturation process.
It all looks good from south of the long, thin line of red-tunicked Mounties at the formerly unguarded border.