Put an end to Gilles Duceppe's free ride

Minoritaires en voie d'assimilation, quel beau destin canadian!

Peter G. White - Just when most Canadians — including, it would appear, Lucien Bouchard — were assuming that all is quiet on the national unity front, two ominous new developments have occurred.
First, Premier Jean Charest’s Quebec Liberal party has sunk to a new low in the most recent polls, significantly behind the opposition Parti Québécois. Alleged political payoffs in the construction industry, and a provincial budget that introduces a $25 fee for doctor visits and increases university tuition, have brought the government’s disapproval rating to an astonishing 77%. Someday, the Parti Québécois will return to power, and it may be sooner rather than later (the last election was in 2008).
Second, in Ottawa, Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe has found a new battle cry.
The forthcoming redistribution of House of Commons seats will reduce Quebec’s percentage share from 24 to 22. Given the projected growth of Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, with Quebec’s population remaining static, this is a trend that is likely to continue indefinitely. Mr. Duceppe claims that with Quebec having less and less influence within Canada, it may just as well become a separate country.
The best way to respond to these trends is for the two main federal parties to strengthen their presence in Quebec, instead of leaving the field to the Bloc, which holds 50 of Quebec’s 75 federal seats. The greater Montreal region, for example, didn’t return a single Conservative, and so is not directly represented in Stephen Harper’s Cabinet.
As the governing party, what should the federal Conservatives do to elect more MPs in the province of Quebec?
In the four years since its first election victory in 2006, Harper’s Conservative government has done a couple of major things to woo Quebecers. The most important initiative was to have the House of Commons recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada. The so-called fiscal imbalance was largely settled, and is off the front pages. And the Prime Minister frequently uses his excellent French on television and in his visits to Quebec, which are always appreciated.
Yet this strategy has failed to work for the Conservatives. In the 2008 election, the party appeared weak in defending French culture when the government cut some federal funding to arts and cultural groups, and many Quebecers thought the Conservative platform with regard to young criminal offenders was unduly harsh. Neither of these issues would appear to be particularly momentous. However, they served as the catalyst for many Quebecers to conclude that their underlying suspicions of the Conservatives were valid.
The obvious response that Bloc MPs in opposition can do nothing constructive for their constituents appears to cut little ice with their supporters. The fact is that many Bloc MPs are good constituency members, efficiently addressing the concerns of their electors. After all, they have little else to do.
Meanwhile, Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe is free to run a virtual full-time election campaign, at taxpayers’ expense, concentrating on only 50 or so ridings instead of the 308 the other leaders must cultivate. His constant politicking is virtually uncontested, with only the Prime Minister being able to rival him in media attention. But Mr. Harper has many other things to do and can devote little time to campaigning in Quebec.
The only way in which the Conservatives can increase their representation in the province is by devoting more time and effort to campaigning there between elections. There needs to be a full-time squad of French-speaking MPs and Senators taking on Mr. Duceppe relentlessly, and refuting his claim that only he can properly defend the vital interests of Quebecers. (Remember the effectiveness of Stéphane Dion’s public letters to Bernard Landry.) Quebecers need to believe that the Conservative government takes seriously their legitimate concerns about language and culture, as well as jobs and health care, and that they need proper representation in the federal Cabinet and the government caucus to ensure that these concerns are addressed.
National Post

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