May 20, 2004
The battle for Quebec has begun. And it's all Ontario's fault. If Prime Minister Paul Martin had iron-clad support in Ontario, he wouldn't be obsessing over Quebec.
Yesterday's Ipsos Reid-Globe and Mail-CTV poll shows that Liberal support in Ontario stands at 49 per cent, the Conservatives at 27 per cent and the New Democratic Party at 17 per cent. This would give 90 seats out of 106 to the Liberals. But if the Tories hit 30 per cent or more, they could hope for 20 to 40 seats.
That's not exactly quicksand for the Liberals, but it is potentially shaky ground. Martin could face the anger of Ontarians who saw health-care premiums jump to $900 a year from $300 in Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty's recent budget. Ontario also has a $6-billion deficit while Ottawa has surpluses.
With more such banana peels, numbers could shift in Ontario just enough to put the Liberals in minority-government territory.
It's a different ballgame in Quebec. While Tory Leader Stephen Harper might not be seen as the redneck monster Martin says he is, the battle is shaping up for the moment between the Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois. And guess who's winning?
According to yesterday's Leger Marketing poll done for The Gazette and Le Devoir, the Bloc stands at 44 per cent, the Liberals at 35 per cent, the Tories at 10 per cent and the NDP at seven per cent. But among francophones, the Bloc has a sizeable lead of 20 points which could give it 50 to 60 seats out of 75.
The desire to oust the 11-year-old Liberal regime, drowning in the aftermath of the sponsorship scandal, or at least punish it with minority status, fuels impressive support for the Bloc.
Given that Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe's party cannot form a government and that no one expects a referendum soon, it poses no threat. Sovereignty is hardly mentioned in the platform with the main themes being integrity and the more traditional defence of Quebec's interests. That makes it safe even for diehard federalists to support it.
Coupled with the anybody-but-the-Liberals feeling, it prompted Action democratique du Quebec president Guy Laforest to make quite a sortie. First, he said, get the Liberals out. Second, get the Conservatives in. Third, the only way to achieve this in Quebec is to vote Bloc. End of story.
Even prominent provincial Liberal organizer Marc-Yvan Cote says he doesn't know which party he'll vote for. As for Jean Charest, he dances a painful dance between his own bad numbers that partly reflect on Martin, his natural dislike for the federal Liberals and the rope that ties his party to Martin's.
Siding openly with the federal Liberals doesn't come naturally to many people here. Even the bland, no-name Liberal ads headed for Quebec have no mention of the infamous ''L'' word. It's all ''L'equipe Martin.''
Another hint of this can be found in the Leger poll. When asked how they'd vote if they were sure the Liberals would form a minority government, support remains unchanged. No one's tempted to switch to the Liberals to save them from that fate.
But the most telling phenomenon of all is that while most Canadians in other provinces are shopping for a party that can govern, many Quebecers, including federalists who plan to vote Bloc, no longer even consider the need for Quebec MPs to be part of the federal government regardless of which party forms it. That in part helps explain why the alternative so far is the Bloc and not the Conservatives.
Quebec's real political weight within any federal government has become so relative that voting en masse to remain in opposition is neither here nor there.
After all, the enduring fiscal imbalance and the sponsorship scandal, prompted by the so-called war on separatists, happened in a government headed by a Quebecer surrounded by many senior Quebec ministers.
So did the patriation of the Constitution in 1982 and the death of Meech Lake Accord, which couldn't be stopped by a Conservative government headed by a Quebecer and a host of homegrown ministers.
It's partly this realization that makes Jean Lapierre's incantatory plea to exercise ''power'' fall on deaf ears. What power? The one that gets an agreement on parental leave because the Liberals are getting desperate here? What's the difference between being powerless in government and being powerless in opposition?
No one has expressed what lies behind this marginalization better than Peter Donolo, Jean Chretien's former communications director. In Maclean's magazine, he wrote that Quebec is now an indistinct society. ''More and more, the distinct society is distinctly Canadian.''
So is that the power Lapierre is talking about: the power to be distinctly Canadian? Sovereignists are not alone in refusing that. Many francophone federalists do, too.
That's why many Quebecers could vote in the next federal election in a very distinct way indeed.
Quebec voters are eager to Bloc the Liberals
May 20, 2004