Where are all the Quebecers at the convention?

For all the French heard on the floor the gathering could be in the Yukon

Course à la chefferie du PLC

When will the Quebecers show up? For all the French heard on the floor and in the corridors at the federal Liberal convention yesterday, the convention could be taking place in Whitehorse instead of Montreal.
Delegates are supposed to pay for their own travel and accommodation, so some from other provinces delayed their arrival to save money. And some might not show up at all before the deadline for registering at 9 a.m. today.
But about half of the Quebec delegates live within commuting distance of the Palais des congres. And yet almost all the delegates who spoke from the floor in yesterday's policy plenary spoke in English, and most identified themselves as coming from other provinces.
The Quebecers could have easily dictated the party's policy program, since no more than 200 delegates showed up for the plenary, out of more than 5,500 eligible to vote at the convention. The party would not disclose registration figures before today's deadline. The policy plenary lasted only half the scheduled three hours.
"We're not at the PQ here," said one Quebec reporter to another used to the intense debates over punctuation marks in the program of the Parti Quebecois.
This is supposed to be both the Liberal Party's regular, biennial policy meeting as well as a leadership convention. But the latter has eclipsed the former, especially once the Quebec wing's resolution recognizing this province as a nation was withdrawn.
So the new policy of the official opposition party in the House of Commons represents not so much the will of the party as its apathy.
The absence of Quebec delegates from the policy plenary contrasted with the disproportionate influence the party's Quebec wing has exerted over the leadership campaign. The Quebec wing has actually been more like the tail wagging the dog.
While Quebec has 23 per cent of the country's population, the Quebec wing had about 19 per cent of the party's national membership of about 200,000 eligible to participate in the leadership process.
And of the 37,570 Quebec members, MP Denis Coderre claimed 10,000 for his Bourassa riding association alone. That leaves an average of fewer than 400 members for the remaining 74 Quebec associations.
Each association could send 14 delegates to the convention. But as the National Post's Graeme Hamilton reported, some Quebec associations had fewer than 100 members elect their delegates. In one of the "rotten boroughs, " the 14 delegates were elected by only two members.
But although weak in numbers, the Quebec wing set the agenda for the leadership campaign when, in late October, it adopted a resolution that the party recognize Quebec as a nation. Once it did that, recognition predictably became the only issue that mattered.
The resolution, intended as a quick fix for the party's electoral problems in Quebec, backfired. Also predictably, it was immediately and overwhelmingly rejected in English Canada; why the Quebec wing thought it might be otherwise, when English Canada has been unable to accept the idea of recognizing Quebec even as a "distinct society" in the ill-fated Meech Lake constitutional accord, remains a mystery.
The Quebec wing's position became a handicap for Michael Ignatieff, the Quebec wing's favourite leadership candidate, who was also the only candidate to have called for recognition.
Recognition was supposed to give the Liberals an advantage over the Conservatives in competing for soft-nationalist votes in Quebec. But when Prime Minister Stephen Harper stole the idea, he got the credit in French Quebec and left the Liberals scrambling to catch up.
But recognition continues to divide the Liberal Party and handicap Ignatieff. Because he is perceived to have initiated the debate on recognition (even though the process leading to the Quebec wing's adoption of its resolution was already under way), he became French Quebec's favourite candidate.
Now, if he loses the leadership, it might be seen in Quebec as a rejection by English Canada of Quebec itself.
So instead of improving the party's position in Quebec by proposing the resolution on recognition, the Quebec wing might have actually worsened it.

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