Every time Gilles Duceppe goes to Quebec City, he says something completely stupid. Earlier this fall he proposed a light-rail link between the provincial capital and New York City, a concept for which no commercial demand has ever existed, and which no serious federal or provincial politician has ever discussed with American counterparts in state capitals or in Washington. This would all be pursuant to Quebec achieving sovereignty by the year 2015, a date he just pulled out of a hat.
Then last week, Duceppe continued his charm offensive in area code 418, where the Conservatives made their breakthrough in January, winning eight of the 10 seats in the region. With an eye to the military base at nearby Valcartier, which will be rotating troops to Kandahar as the main relief next summer, he warned Prime Minister Stephen Harper that the Bloc Quebecois would not be "accomplices to an obtuse government that stubbornly maintains the current course."
What Duceppe was saying was that he wanted the Canadian presence in Afghanistan changed from a military to a humanitarian mission. Of course, it is the security perimeter that provides the shield for aid and reconstruction, but don't bother troubling Duceppe with the facts.
He has his mind on the deployment of the Royal 22nd Regiment, the Van Doos, and he has visions of francophone soldiers coming home in flag-draped coffins. Which raises the rather sensitive point of whether the Bloc has supported the mission up to now because it is English-speaking Canadians bearing the brunt of the casualties. This is not the road Duceppe is going down, but nevertheless this is where it leads.
Back in Ottawa, La Presse reported last Thursday that "Bloc strategists have circled Feb. 15 on their calendar as the date for tabling a motion of censure against the minority Conservative government." If adopted, the report continued, Harper would visit the governor-general and get a five-week writ for an election on March 23.
Not so fast.
Opposition motions are debated on opposition days. The party House leaders haven't discussed, let alone allocated, opposition days for the session, which resumes at the end of January.
As for a motion of censure being interpreted as a motion of non-confidence, that's complete nonsense. There are only two types of motions that can bring down a government, a clear question of confidence of the kind that brought down the Martin government a year ago, or the defeat of the government on a budget or a money bill. A lack of confidence or a lack of money. That's what it takes.
The government gets to interpret whether all other kinds of motions can be read as questions of confidence. And Stephen Harper has already blown off the possibility of a motion of blame being interpreted as confidence.
As he has also pointed out, the House has already debated and voted on extending the mission in Afghanistan to February 2009.
So even if the Bloc uses an opposition day, at a date yet to be determined, and even if both the Liberals and the NDP supported such a motion, it would not result in the defeat of the government, unless Harper chose to regard it as a question of confidence.
A motion of censure on Afghanistan would not trouble the NDP, whose policy is to support Canada's troops by bringing them home.
But it would cause significant problems for Stephane Dion if he tried to whip the Liberal caucus in support of a Bloc motion. Michael Ignatieff and Bill Graham, among about two dozen Liberals who voted in favour of extending the mission in a free vote last May, would undoubtedly demand the same again. Dion is among the former ministers who voted in favour of the redeployment from Kabul to Kandahar, only to vote against it when it came up for renewal last spring. If he forced his line on this issue, he would risk losing the party's former interim leader, and former defence minister, as well as the leadership candidate he defeated on the final ballot at this month's convention.
In other words, a motion from the Bloc could mean a lot more trouble for the Liberals than the Conservatives. It would mean huge trouble for Dion if he insisted on a united-caucus vote.
And why is Duceppe making such threatening gestures before the budget, which will contain measures to address the fiscal imbalance, a deal both Harper and Jean Charest need to announce before either goes to an election?
Charest needs that help. Duceppe might be afraid Charest will get it. Most of all, he might be afraid Andre Boisclair would lose to Charest if a Quebec election is held first, which wouldn't be good for him going into a federal campaign a few months later.
All of which has nothing to do with Afghanistan, except with playing electoral politics on the backs of our soldiers.
Some honourable members: Shame, shame.
Playing politics with soldiers
Duceppe can't bring down the government with Afghanistan motion but he wants to curry favour with the Quebec City region