Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Harper’s Quebec constitutional foray, and where’s Rona?

I find it interesting that this

The Harper government is telling Quebec that if the Conservatives win a majority in the next election, they will look to reopen the Constitution and give more meaning to their recognition of Quebeckers as a nation.

Emphasizing the Conservative receptiveness to “Quebec's historical demands,” Labour Minister Jean-Pierre Blackburn raised the possibility of winning 30 to 40 seats in the province, up from the current 11.

“The recognition of the Quebec nation wit
hin Canada allows us to think that we can put some meat around it, and that a majority government is more able to do a number of things, while being respectful of all of the provinces,” Mr. Blackburn said in an interview.

…comes just a few days after this:
Mr. Dion also appointed Gerard Kennedy, who will run in a Toronto riding in the next election, as intergovernmental affairs critic. It is a potentially contentious move because Mr. Kennedy, who threw his delegate support behind Mr. Dion in the December, 2006, leadership contest, had not backed the idea of the Québécois as a nation within Canada.

I suppose the timing could be coincidental, but I suspect it’s not. It will be interesting to hear Gerard’s first public comments on this. And speaking of intergovernmental affairs, interesting that the Conservative minister, Rona Ambrose, is no where to be heard from in this story. Instead it’s a senior Quebec minister, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, making the comments.

I wonder if Blackburn gave Ambrose a courtesy phone call? Hopefully Rona keeps her mouth shut; we all remember what happened to her predecessor when Harper first brought-up this Quebec as nation nonsense:
The federal Parliament formally recognized Quebecers as a "nation united within Canada" Monday night, but it came with a high cost for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who suffered his first resignation from cabinet over the divisive move.

Michael Chong, the minister of intergovernmental affa
irs and sport, prefaced his resignation by telling reporters he continued to have faith in the government, the Conservative party and the prime minister. But he charged Harper's recognition of Quebecers as a "nation united within Canada" smacked of what he called "ethnic nationalism."

"The reason why I got involved in politics is my belief in this nation we call Canada. I believe in this great country of ours and I believe
in one nation, undivided," he said. "This is a fundamental principle for me, not something on which I can or will compromise. Not now, not ever."

While Michael made a move of principle, opting to resign when he was cut-out of a matter squarely within his ministerial responsibilities and asked to defend a position he disagreed with, I suspect Rona will want to keep the car and driver instead. And it’s not like she hasn’t been busy.

Why, look at these media releases for 2008:

Well, maybe 2007 was a busier year:

OK, well, maybe not. It’s probable telling though whose picture is on the front page of the ministry Web site, and whose is not:

Maybe some enterprising member of the parliamentary press gallery will track down Michael Chong down in the hallways and ask him for his thoughts on Blackburn's promise. Anyone?

Anyway, back to the Conservatives; constitutional musings , which have generated quite a bit of blogsphere reaction. I thought the nation motion in 2006 was supposed to be the end of it, was that not what Harper told us? I think the only person that wanted to re-open the constitution for this, at least back then, was Michael Ignatieff.

Anyway, even if I favoured putting this in the constitution, and I don’t, it would never work. You couldn’t do just this one thing. You need to get the other provinces to support it. You can ask them to give this to Quebec and ignore the Senate inequality concerns of the West, the seat distribution concerns of Ontario, and other issues. We’d quickly get bogged down again in the constitutional moray and that’s not the priority of Canadians.

This is all just politics, of course: the Conservatives sense Liberal weakness in Quebec, and they’re looking to gain ground. It’s a continuation of their fighting with the BQ for the soft nationalist vote. It’s akin to Russian roulette though, because every vote Harper gains in Quebec by pandering to soft-nationalists is going to cost him one in the West. And that’s if he can convince Quebecers he’s serious. The BQ and PQ are going to constantly be moving the goalposts, and will use any failure to meet them as a betrayal of Quebecers, stoking the separatist fires.

And whatever Harper does, they’ll just raise the stakes higher. We saw that in 2006 with the nation motion. Duceppe was pleased as punch with how it played out, and his next demand was ok great, now let’s constitutionalize it. Now that Harper is doing that, I wonder what the next demand will be?

To square the circle, frankly I’m glad Gerard Kennedy, with his lack of support for the nation motion, is now our intergovernmental affairs guy. I think he’s actually the right person for us on this file.

We can’t compete with the BQ and the PQ for the soft-nationalist vote in Quebec. But there is an opening in Quebec, and in the rest of Canada, to be the strong federalist champion. It has been a traditional Liberal role, but it’s one we’ve gotten away from since the aborted Paul Martin era began. Let’s pick that federalist mantle up again.

If we do we’re appealing to a segment of Quebec the other parties are ignoring, and a segment that actually thinks positively of Stephane Dion. We need to get those voters back; if we do we’ll hold our own there. And we’ll gain ground across the rest of Canada as well.

We’ll have to wait and see what play gets called though. It's not without risk, but as Warren says it could galvanize the party. So for god's sake, don't wuss-out yet again.

Anyway, I leave you with these comments from Stephane Dion the leadership candidate on this issue back in 2006:
"People are all mixed up about this." Dion says. "It’s a very interesting discussion at a seminar of political science, but the moment you talk about putting that in the Constitution and you blame the other candidates for being afraid to raise the issue, then legitimate questions come: If you are a nation, what am I, mashed potato?"

"Now all of a sudden, the burden of proof is back on our shoulders. We need to deliver this mysterious constitutional change that will change Canada into a Federation of Nirvana through a magic word that everybody would agree upon. It will not work. Keep the burden of proof on the separatists."

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Forward Looking Canadian said...

On Rona Ambrose, I work in Intergovernmental Affairs and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who has ever taken a meeting with her or anyone on her staff. IGA is run from the PCO folks up to Kevin Lynch. Amrbose figures none into this equation.

Jeff said...

That sounds about right. Still, as I said at least she still gets the car and driver, so not a bad deal for her.