Why Bloc likely itching for Spring election

17. Actualité archives 2007

The Bloc Québécois clearly wants an election sooner rather than later, a wish that makes an election campaign in the first half of next year a near-certainty.

By tracing an early line in the sand on the amount he wants to see transferred to Quebec next year as part of a deal on the fiscal imbalance, Gilles Duceppe has just about locked himself into a plan to vote against the 2007 budget.
While a spring election probably suits Stephen Harper's planning, you have to wonder why Duceppe wants one so badly. It has never been his style to paint himself into a corner.

If he is acting out of character, it is because, with every passing week, his MPs are getting more heat for keeping the Conservatives in power.

Only last spring, Duceppe had reason to fear that the Tories would overtake the Bloc in the next election. But now he is more concerned that a backlash against Conservative policies will send his supporters straight into the embrace of the next Liberal leader.

This fall, Michael Ignatieff, Stéphane Dion and Bob Rae all have more presence in Quebec than Harper's ministers. None of the Quebec members of the Conservative cabinet has emerged as a strong voice. On the contrary, there are reasons to question their influence.

If they had any of the latter, they would have stopped the minority government from proceeding with some of the cuts announced last week. If the Conservatives wanted a lot of bang for the relatively few bucks saved in the process, they certainly achieved their purpose. In Quebec, that bang was overwhelmingly negative.

A government that had solid intelligence on Quebec would have known that literacy has been a big deal in the province since Jacques Demers, the last coach that brought the Stanley Cup to the Montreal Canadiens, wrote a book about life without basic reading and writing skills.

It would have thought long and hard before eliminating the federal Courts Challenge Program that has allowed francophone minorities across Canada to assert their constitutional rights.

Not so long ago, the program financed an Ontario legal battle to keep Montfort, the only French-language university hospital west of Quebec, open. It has not escaped attention in Quebec that the federal ministers who killed the program last week used to be part of the Ontario government that tried and failed to close down Montfort.

More than six months into his tenure in the Senate, Michael Fortier has yet to select a riding to run in.

It is not for lack of trying; for weeks, the party has been looking for a good riding for the government-appointed public works minister.

The search is taking a long time because none of the ridings in and around Montreal looks promising for a Tory candidate. If Fortier had to run in one of the seats on his short list tomorrow, his career in federal politics would come to an end.

As Harper's former campaign co-chair and as someone who was offered a shortcut into the cabinet, Fortier has no option other than to follow through on his commitment to run in the next campaign. But the high-profile Quebecers the Conservatives are courting for the next election are under no obligation to sign on as sacrificial lambs.

It will be hard for anyone of stature in Quebec to go into an uphill election under the triple burdens of the extended Afghan mission, the abandoned Kyoto Protocol and the plan to scrap the long gun registry. But it will be even harder to find successful Quebecers who want to run for a party that caters to a social conservative wing.

If there is one mix that tends to repel Quebec voters, it is that of religion and government. Talk of a "Defence of Religions Act" will do even more damage to the Conservatives in Quebec than their opposition to same-sex marriage itself.
These days, it is easier to list the ridings that the Liberals will likely hold or take in Quebec in the next election than to find the seats that would make up the difference between a minority and a majority for the Conservatives.

Duceppe is worried that Harper's Quebec window may turn into a Liberal back door - and the Prime Minister should be too.
Chantal Hébert's national affairs column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. chebert@thestar.ca.

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