In his Saturday National Post column, John Ivison dismissed the Conservative party's campaign slogan, "Here for Canada," as "insipid." Well, it may read as insipid in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver, but from my perspective here in Montreal, the slogan is refreshing and even courageous. "Canada," you see, is to many Quebecers a dirty word.
For a truly "insipid" slogan, look no further than the BQ's "Let's talk about Quebec" (Parlons Québec). As if any bloquiste has ever talked or cared about anything else but Quebec. The Bloc's mandate is to promote separatism, but separatism is moribund here, so the Bloc's campaign literature is notably devoid of any reference to it. Their slogan is not only insipid, it's hypocritical.
The Liberals' slogan here is: "Quebec has the power to change things." Generally, the only "things" Quebec seems interested in using its power to change is the number of dollars it gets from the feds. To this cynic, the slogan seems not insipid, but curiously ambiguous. Statement or (wink) promise?
Anglophones in Quebec are almost entirely clustered in a few Montreal-area ridings. Except for the anomalous 1984 Conservative wave, anglos tend to vote robotically Liberal, when they vote at all: Only about half of registered voters in anglo-dense ridings turn out on election day, as opposed to two thirds of voters in similar demographic regions that support the BQ.
I understand why nationalist francophones vote for the BQ. Their presence ensures continual courtship of Quebec by the other parties, and material rewards. But why do Quebec anglos keep voting for the Liberals, who take them completely for granted and ignore their special needs? The anglos seem to believe they will be punished by a sudden rise of referendum fever if they abandon the party of Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
On the contrary, embracing a majority Conservative government would banish the blackmailing BQ to the political fringes where it belongs. Anglos can help make that happen. Will this be the election where anglos finally wake up from their deep slumber and vote their interests?
Certainly the last two elections have seen an upward numbers creep for Tories: Since 2004, the Conservative vote in Trudeau's old riding of Mount Royal, one of the safest Liberal seats in Canada, has tripled from 9% of the vote to 27%, and Irwin Cotler's mega-wins there have shrunk to mere wins. This election, Mount Royal's Conservative candidate, Saulie Zajdel, a former city councillor, is apparently giving Cotler a real run for his money.
If there is a Quebec anglo riding that's been even safer for the Liberals than Mount Royal, it is Westmount-Ville Marie, where I live, represented by Liberal Marc Garneau. The former astronaut is solid on scientific matters, but has no personal history in Westmount and has done nothing to advance anglophone interests.
In the 2008 election, Westmount-Ville-Marie fielded a feisty municipal politician with heart and commitment, but not a hope in hell of winning. This time around, the Conservative candidate in Westmount-Ville Marie, Neil Drabkin, is no sacrificial lamb. He's a proven political commodity with long ties to the riding, and deserves anglos' support.
A bilingual native Montrealer, Drabkin first got involved in politics after law school, working on underdog Gerry Weiner's campaign in the 1984 election. Weiner and a cadre of other Conservatives in anglo ridings were swept into power on Brian Mulroney 's coattails. He went on to work in Ottawa as Weiner's policy advisor on immigration and citizenship.
Drabkin ran for office in Mount Royal and lost in (for Conservatives) the catastrophic election of 1993. After that, he worked as a federal prosecutor, practiced immigration law and enjoyed success as a radio talk show host and opinion journalist.
For the last five years, Drabkin has been Stockwell Day's chief of staff, working on the portfolios of Public Safety, International Trade and the Treasury Board. Drabkin is widely credited by insiders for helping Day shed a façade of political pranksterism that was branding him as a political lightweight, and project the real integrity, statesmanship and high productivity the superficial cuteness had obscured.
I had coffee with Drabkin Monday morning. He told me he senses a shift away from anglo automatism. In the old days, Drabkin says, a voter would tell him, "You're an incredible candidate. But I vote Liberal." Today, people are saying: "I have voted Liberal all my life, and I want you to know that I am voting Conservative this time."
You want a slogan that isn't insipid? How about: "Let's talk about Quebec anglos" because "Quebec anglos have the power to change things" and that's why "Quebec anglos are here for Canada." It has a certain "je ne sais quoi," don't you think?
Time for Montreal anglos to shed their robotic Liber
"Canada," you see, is to many Quebecers a dirty word.