Philippe Gohier, Macleans.ca Tuesday, January 16, 2007 -
Over the coming year, Quebecers will likely find themselves at the polls at least once and maybe twice. In both cases, sovereignists will face off against leaders who've forged an unlikely pact - Jean Charest and Stephen Harper making no secret of their cooperation on the fiscal imbalance file.
It's a turn of events that has to be making both the Bloc Québécois and the Party Québécois nervous. If Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty use their upcoming budget to alleviate the perception of a fiscal imbalance between Ottawa and the provinces, they will effectively have silenced the sovereignists' loudest complaint against Ottawa. La Presse reported on Tuesday that the Tories' second budget is slated for March 20 and includes as much as $2-billion in increased transfers to Quebec.
Meanwhile, a potential deal between Charest and Harper on the issue would sever one of the few policy ties that binds the PQ and the Bloc outside their sovereignist agenda. So it should come as little surprise that Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe and the PQ's André Boisclair were looking to forge less vulnerable links this past Sunday, when they brokered a deal to focus their parties' campaigns on a set of common themes.
"They don't agree, as we do agree, on every issue," Duceppe said of the many parties on the federalist side. "We're used to working together and mostly we've had pretty good results."
Fittingly, given the public's sudden interest in all things environmental, the most prominent issue on which Duceppe and Boisclair plan to publicly agree will likely be Kyoto.
Before taking over the intergovernmental affairs portfolio, then-environment minister Rona Ambrose begrudgingly came to the conclusion that "Quebecers love their environment." Now, Duceppe and Boisclair appear intent on renewing the sovereignist agenda so that it reflects that love.
"In a sovereign Quebec, we wouldn't have this debate over fiscal imbalance, the Kyoto protocol would be implemented," PQ Leader André Boisclair said on Sunday, previewing what will surely emerge as a dominant campaign message.
Before Duceppe and Boisclair had even announced their plans to cooperate, their stance was bolstered by the release of a report suggesting the Quebec government would fall short in meeting its emissions-reduction targets - and that it would do so for lack of federal funding.
On Saturday, Le Devoir reported that the province is not on track to meet its Kyoto commitments. According to a revised climate change plan released on Friday by Quebec Environment Minister Claude Béchard, it will have reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 10 mega-tonnes in 2012, the deadline by which participants are supposed to have reduced emissions to 6% below 1990 levels. For Quebec to meet that requirement, it would actually have to reduce its total emissions by 14 mega-tonnes.
The failure to meet Kyoto targets is already being partly blamed on the Conservative government's ongoing refusal to fund provincial emissions-reduction programs. In May 2006, the Quebec National Assembly unanimously passed a bill urging Ottawa to live up to its Kyoto commitments, as well as fund Quebec's emissions-reduction efforts to the tune of $328-million. Harper has yet to deliver that money and the province has not announced any plans to find alternative sources of funding.
There are few guarantees, mind you, that the sovereignists' attempt to branch out will be a success. Last December, Duceppe launched a clumsy foray into foreign policy, threatening to topple Harper should he refuse to review the military mission in Afghanistan. In the end, Duceppe's call went unheeded - none of the other federal leaders took the bait - and Duceppe was forced to backtrack.
And the environmental field is quickly becoming a crowded one - Stéphane Dion repeatedly intimating that the Liberals' campaign will revolve around it, the NDP looking to stake out the same ground by pushing for an overhaul of the government's Clean Air Act and the Green Party's profile and public support both on the upswing.
Duceppe and Boisclair have said they expect a provincial election in Quebec shortly after the Tories submit their long-awaited second budget, and well before a federal vote. Evidently, Duceppe has come to believe that the budget could find enough support to allow the Harper government a temporary reprieve from a non-confidence motion.
If so, the Duceppe-Boisclair alliance's first opponent would be a premier whose public support over the years has ranged from lukewarm to virtually non-existent. Still, with Ottawa firmly behind Charest's re-election campaign, all bets are off. And with Duceppe and Boisclair having to suddenly re-invent themselves as tireless campaigners for the environment, they may find that they'll need more than each other.
Guess who's going green
Can Duceppe and Boisclair find common cause in fighting global warming?