Quebec's gain, Harper's pain and Ontario's drain

(...) the Parti Québécois, which, like its federal cousin the Bloc Québécois, will always demand more money and power for the province, pending secession.

HARPER - le vrai visage anti-québec

Digesting the results on election night, talking heads of Quebec's political class were discussing how re-elected Liberal Premier Jean Charest would need to make "gains" for the province in the next four years.
The reason: the better than expected showing of the Parti Québécois, which, like its federal cousin the Bloc Québécois, will always demand more money and power for the province, pending secession.
"Gains," of course, precludes the idea of enhanced participation by Quebec in Canada, or a greater contribution to Canada. In the parlance of Quebec, "gains" means all take and no give, a discourse that Mr. Charest himself has artfully employed. With certain variations, this parlance is used by all political parties operating in Quebec, federal or provincial. During the last federal campaign, Mr. Charest published a list of 13 demands, or "gains," defined by more money, power or both. He also fired a missile into the Conservatives, declaring (contrary to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's assertions) that the "fiscal imbalance" has not been solved.
Relations between Mr. Charest and Mr. Harper are chilly to cold.
Mr. Harper, friends relate, was justifiably furious in 2007 when Mr. Charest grabbed $700-million transferred by Ottawa as part of the "fiscal imbalance" deal, then announced a tax cut in the last week of that year's election campaign. Nor did Mr. Harper appreciate being sabotaged by Mr. Charest in the federal campaign.
Mr. Harper had thought the $700-million would be spent on health or something tangible, since that's what the Quebec National Assembly had said the money was needed for in a unanimous resolution.
Mr. Charest was angry that Mr. Harper had tied his federal party to the Action Démocratique du Québec, even going to ADQ leader Mario Dumont's riding for a joint rally. The ADQ was the provincial Liberals' political adversary. Mr. Charest was not amused.
Mr. Charest obviously and deliberately hurt Mr. Harper's Conservatives with his complaints and demands during the federal campaign, thereby of course aiding the Bloc Québécois, but the Conservatives also hurt themselves.
They ran the campaign from Ottawa, where top brass proved tone-deaf to Quebec. Out the window went all their buttering up.
When Quebec turned its back on the Conservatives, a lot of party members, including MPs outside the province, were angry and perplexed. They had swallowed hard while this buttering up went on, but were told it would bring a majority.
Mr. Harper put additional Quebec-friendly policies in the party platform - fettering the federal spending power and presenting something called a Charter of Open Federalism. Would he dare to proceed with these initiatives now, with the annoyance in his caucus? These measures might be popular in Quebec, but the Premier of Ontario (and presumably most Ontarians) would oppose both.
Blasting "separatists" served him wonderfully in parts of English-speaking Canada when he was rallying public opinion to save his government last week; it badly hurt the Conservatives in Quebec.
Analysts who parsed Monday's Quebec election results believe the PQ benefited from that rhetoric. The party did better than the pollsters had suggested, picking up additional support at the last minute, courtesy of a reaction against Mr. Harper.
So Quebec is no longer where the Conservatives can find their majority. The party's attention will now be focused more on Ontario, where 70,000 manufacturing jobs just disappeared and from where billions of dollars continued to be siphoned to more easterly parts of Canada.
Ontario has a lot more seats than Quebec, and a lot more winnable ones for the Conservatives than Quebec. But there's a litmus test ahead for Mr. Harper. The redistribution of seats based on the last census ought to give Ontario another 21 seats, seven for British Columbia and five for Alberta.
The Harper government, afraid of a widening gap of seats between Ontario and Quebec, had introduced legislation giving Ontario just 10 more seats, instead of the 21. The Conservative platform spoke of moving "towards" accurate representation by population.
The sneaky language suggested that the Conservatives were going to try to pull a fast one on Ontario. Mr. Harper has already blown it in Quebec; he should know better than blowing it in Ontario too.

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