When we consider the Québec provincial election, and the current attitude that the press seems to be taking towards the prospects of a Parti Québécois victory, it’s useful to remember the title of this blogpost.
Of course, Ms. Marois will not see it that way. She will conveniently ignore the fact that the coat of arms on her passport is that of Canada and not Québec; she will not draw attention to the fact that should she fly to the States, the border inspection people are paid from the budget of Ottawa rather than Quebec City. Instead, if you press her, in all likelihood she will declare herself une pure québécoise, dedicated to the welfare of her “nation.”
Which, of course, is her mistake.
Ms. Marois’s anticipated confrontation with Ottawa has an implicit base: the assumption that a resident of her province is either a Canadian, or a Quebecker; a true definition of identity, in the sovereigntist’s eyes, cannot be both. That may have worked in the past, with the previous Chrétien years, because the federal side found it easier to deal with the Péquistes by not challenging that assumption.
Stephen Harper, on the other hand, has a different position, both philosophically and strategically.
- In 2011, he demonstrated that a majority government in Canada can be achieved without Quebec. The upcoming redistribution of seats will make that status a stronger reality, which means that one weight that Quebec could hold over Ottawa is gone.
- With the world still trying to move past the 2008 recession, and with the Eurozone crisis still flaring up in the news, Harper can also argue the case for reduced government spending at all levels, confronting the Péquistes with the reality that independence is going to be too expensive to pursue.
- Mr. Harper is also what you might call a strong constitutionalist, which we’ve seen in his approach to health care funding: in areas where the Constitution grants the provinces jurisdiction, he’ll keep the federal role to the absolute minimum. This means there are areas where Ms. Marois may waste energy in planning a fight, only to discover that nobody’s there.
Or, put another way: if you think like Ms. Marois, then the PQ will have the edge over Ottawa; if you think like Mr. Harper, your perceived “weakness” can actually be turned into a strength.
A lot of conventional pundits and politicians have consistently been made to look silly by the Harper government, simply because they failed to appreciate the way he thinks. Unless she starts to appreciate the Harper point of view — which regards Quebec as an important subset of that entity called Canada, but is still a subset nonetheless — Pauline Marois’s tenure on her chosen stage is likely to be abruptly short, retiring from the scene not as a triumphant patriot, but a chastised Canadian.