Thursday, February 02, 2006

Dion and La Belle Province

As I've blogged previously I think Quebec will be critical to the Liberals and the Conservatives in the next election, and I think Stephane Dion could be the man to turn things around there. So does Chantal Hebert, and she puts it far more eloquently then I ever could. But since the view has also put forward that Dion is Typhoid Mary in Quebec, I wanted to expand on my thoughts on the topic as well, and talk a little policy.

I won't claim to be a Quebec expert, not by a long shot. During my five years in Ottawa I crossed the river to Hull (now Gatineau I'm told) four times: twice to the Museum of Civilization, once to an Olympiques game and once on a late night trek to procure spirits at a d├ępanneur. I also visited Montreal three times, for games by the Canadiens, Expos and Allouettes.

I have followed unity issues from afar though, like most Canadians. The Liberal Party has had two very different approaches to separatism and Quebec post-1995, and unsurprisingly, the schism comes back to the Jean Chretien/ Paul Martin rivalry. Chretien and Dion brought-in the Clarity Act, made a reference to the Supreme Court and were clear in spelling-out the real consequences of separation. When Martin took over he had dreams of wiping-out the BQ, and with BQ co-founder Jean Lapierre as his Quebec lieutenant they repudiated the Chretien approach and the Clarity Act, going to the Brian Mulroney, soft nationalist, appeasement route. Obviously sponsorship skews the results, but I think it clearly wasn't working.

So that's the historical snapshot as I see it. What about today? Clearly the Conservatives aren't going anywhere in Quebec, and the BQ, even if reduced, will always be a player. There are now two federalist voices in Quebec, and that's a good thing for Canada.

The Conservatives benefited from sponsorship to be sure, but they also took the Mulroney soft nationalist approach. More so however, they played the appeasement card by buying into the fiscal imbalance myth. If they fail to deliver on it I think their potential for growth in Quebec is stunted. Quebecers are expecting results, and he's about to learn the provinces are insatiable in their demands for federal cash.

The Conservatives will remain however the provincial rights, soft-nationalist voice. I think they'll sap more votes from the BQ than from the Liberals. That's why I think the Liberals need to forcefully mark their territory as a strong, passionate defender of federalism, a strong Federal government, and a strong Canada. We need to return to the Chretien/Dion approach to federalism, and who better to lead that approach than Dion?

You say he's not popular in Quebec. They said that about Chretien too. But not popular with who? Not popular with the separatist intelligentsia elite, and they're not going to vote Liberal anyway. He took his riding with 59.8 per cent of the vote, so some people seem to like him. With the BQ and the Cons on the decentralization side, and with sponsorship (hopefully) now moving behind us, I think there is a large base of support to be gained for the Liberals as that strong voice for federalism.

The fundamental question we as Liberals need to ask ourselves and the debate we need to have is this: which approach do we favour? And I hope it doesn't become bogged-down in leftover leadership rivalres, because national unity is too important for such nonesense.

Vive le Canada!

P.S. I came accross this CBC Sunday transcript of an interview Dion did during the campaign on unity and The Clarity Act. He's obviously trying hard not to call Jean Lapierre a dumbass.

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Anonymous said...

Stephane Dion is a very good man. But can he communicate to all Canadians? He seems to be a bit in an ivory tower guy, and his English needs work. If he travelled all of Canada and could meet everyone face to face, he would have a chance. But what about across the floor of the House and in scrums?

A BCer in Toronto said...

I don't think his English is a big issue (remember Chretien?) and I think he'd be great in the house and in scrums. One on one, on the hustings he may need a little work, but nothing that can't be overcome IMHO.