The striking thing about the election so far in Quebec is that nothing is really changing. If anything changes at all, it could be that the Bloc increases its number of seats by two or three. The Conservatives are having a tough time keeping their present seats, the Liberals are having an even tougher time everywhere outside of Montreal, with the NDP surprisingly increasing their popular support. A recent poll even showed the NDP to be the preferred choice of respondents amongst the three major federalist parties. Although this will not turn into more than one or two seats at most, it was something never seen before in Quebec.
It looks like the Conservatives will most likely form the next government, whether a majority or a minority. In either of these scenarios, Montreal will continue to be irrelevant politically at the federal level, with no Conservatives likely elected there. Quebec City electors, with the encouragement of the city’s mercurial populist mayor, could very well punish the Conservatives for not contributing to the financing of the proposed hockey arena, despite all the other good things that the Regional Minister, Josée Verner, and her colleagues have delivered to the Quebec City region over the past five years.
Montreal has not had a governing party MP since 2005, and no Conservative MP since 1993. The city is not represented at the Cabinet table and this could very likely be the case once again. One would have thought that the leaders and influencers of Montreal would have encouraged Montrealers to support the candidacy of someone of Cabinet material to exercise a voice for them in the halls of power in Ottawa. It has not happened. Larry Smith, the well-known and respected former President of the Montreal Alouettes football club and Publisher of The Montreal Gazette, is behind in his riding on the West Island. Barring a turnaround, Montreal elites will once again be asking themselves why they have little or no influence in Ottawa.
The real fight is between the Bloc and the Conservatives in the regions. Most people in the outlying smaller cities and towns of Quebec are small-c conservative in behaviour and outlook and the Conservatives play to this. The same people are generally nationalistic in outlook as well, however, and the Bloc plays on this aspect, however, with support tempered by the Bloc’s well-known support for bigger government and big-city looking policies. The Bloc is particularly concerned, by the way, with the Conservatives’ pledge to eliminate public funding of political parties, which would be devastating for them. They rely on this virtually exclusively to fund the operations of their Party and their election campaigns.
Francophone Quebecers continue to support the Bloc Quebecois in large numbers. This is often incomprehensible to people outside the Province of Quebec – why Quebecers would intentionally continue to vote to be in opposition. I have my views on why people vote for the Bloc:
- They are part of the 25 per cent or so of the population who are die-hard supporters of sovereignty for Quebec and always vote PQ provincially. This is the easiest segment of Bloc support to identify. Many if not most of these people used to abstain from voting in federal elections, but for the past 20 years have found, in the Bloc, a more activist avenue for their disenchantment with Canada.
- They are part of the relatively large social democratic-leaning part of the Quebec population that believes in big government and are petrified by what they view as a possible right-wing Conservative majority. Anything but this for these people. Many of them would ordinarily vote for the Liberals or the NDP, but see voting for the Bloc as the only possible way to prevent a Conservative majority.
- They are part of an increasing share of the Quebec population, feeling humiliated by the sponsorship scandal and the image it created of Quebec, that would prefer not to be associated with any governing party, so as not be tainted by the corrupting influence of power. To be in Opposition is to be incorruptible, to be good. This, I believe, contributes significantly to the anti-government vote that finds a home in a vote for the Bloc, who will never form a government.
- And last but not least, there is the segment of the population that is not sovereigntist but believes that the Bloc best defends Quebec’s interests in Ottawa – that they deliver the goods for Quebecers. This is the most surprising element of the Bloc support and the one most difficult to understand. The Bloc is in Opposition, has no decision-making power, is not involved in policy making or program decisions. Somehow, the Bloc has managed to convince a large part of the Quebec population that the Bloc represents the most effective avenue for delivering federal policies, programs and money flows to Quebec. This is just not the case, as anyone who knows how government works in Ottawa will attest to.
Unfortunately, no federalist party or politician has credibly succeeded in pointing out this contradiction to Quebecers without appearing condescending or patronizing. This un-truth of the Bloc effectively delivering for Quebecers continues to run its course throughout Quebec, with every attempt to point this out by federalist politicians attracting little else but derision. Until which time a credible message on this comes from federalist politicians, use of this argument will continue to backfire, as it has time and time again.
So, the Bloc will once again win the most seats, the Liberals will hang on in parts of Montreal, the Conservatives may or may not hold on to their existing seats, and the NDP will keep their one seat, maybe win another one, and little will change.
The French language debate this evening will be more important than in years past. With little chance of meaningful growth in the Province for either the Liberals or the NDP, the focus of the audience will be on the performances of Mssrs Harper and Duceppe. Their success will in large measure influence the vote in Quebec on May 2.
Authored by: Tom Creary