- Reaction score
E.R. Campbell said:The (web site) headline above Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson’s latest offering is: The Conservatives are down and out in Quebec – and know it
Good - and good, in my view.
If the Conservative Party of Canada wants to displace the Liberals as Canada’s natural governing party or even if they just want a rough 50/50 balance à la the Democrats and the GOP in the USA then they must learn that there are two Canadas: Old Canada, East of the Ottawa River, and New Canada West of the Ottawa.
(This (Old vs. New Canada) is not a new idea, nor is it mine. I came across it some years ago in an article by, I think, Michael Bliss.)
The two Canadas are defined by several factors but, primarily:
• One is rich and the other not so much; and
• One is growing and the other is stagnating.
New Canada is rich and getting richer because it is growing faster and it is growing “smarter.” Old Canada is stuck in the mud. New Canada matters - politically, socially, economically – more and more; Old Canada matters less and less.
Québec dominates, almost overwhelms Old Canada; Ontario dominates New Canada.
Right now Old Canada has 107 seats in the House of Commons; New Canada has the other 201. After the next redistribution Old Canada will still have 107 but New Canada will have at least 234.
A party – Conservatives or Liberals - can muster a bare but working majority, now, with only 17 (of 107) seats in Old Canada and 139 (of 201) seats in New Canada – that’s 69% of the seats in New Canada, a significant, indeed major electoral feat, but certainly not unprecedented.1 After the next redistribution the Tories will only need 66% of the seats in New Canada (155 of 234) to secure a majority. In either case that means retaining a virtual stranglehold on the prairies and getting 58% of the seats in Ontario and 63% of the seats in BC – much better than the 48% (ON) and 61% (BC) they (Harper, et al) got in 2008.
But: increasing the Ontario seat haul by 20% is, I think, both easier and more likely than more than doubling the seat count in Québec.
The task will get easier and easier as this new century wears on: Old Canada will become increasingly irrelevant, except as an ongoing drain on the treasuries of New Canada.
Both the Liberals and the Conservatives must learn how to govern without Québec. That doesn’t mean that either party should write off Québec’s 75 seats (or Atlantic Canada’s 32 seats) – each must campaign hard, during and between elections, to buy Old Canada’s votes, but each must adapt to the fact that Québec’s demands for special status will never end and can never be satisfied. Thus, it is prudent for both parties to start ignoring special status for any one province – or to (further) decentralize the federation to a level with which even I would be content.2
Here, by the way, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act from today’s Globe and Mail is Simpson’s column:
The Conservatives are down and out in Quebec – and know it
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
March 25, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
Something quiet but profound has altered the Harper government's political strategy: Quebec doesn't cut it any more.
From day one of the first Harper government, Quebec was the epicentre of Conservative dreams, plans and spending. Quebec had all those seats beckoning Conservative victories. A French kiss, one author described the affair. Some kiss, some affair.
Billion of dollars were transferred from Ottawa to Quebec (and some other provinces) to resolve the invented issue of the “fiscal imbalance.” Prime Minister Stephen Harper made the spot decision to recognize the Québécois as a “nation” within a united Canada. There were speeches and programs and blandishments and emotive words such as “autonomy” used by Mr. Harper. All to woo Quebec.
As in all unnatural relationships, what began in hope degenerated into misunderstandings, then feuds. Who threw the first stone doesn't matter; stones were thrown on all sides.
Mr. Harper and his inexperienced crowd thought that, in the Action Démocratique du Québec, they saw Quebec francophones with similar ideas. So they played footsie with this ADQ crowd, even to the point of Mr. Harper's travelling to Rimouski to appear on a platform with the slippery Mario Dumont. The dalliance infuriated Quebec Liberals, whose boss, Premier Jean Charest, thought Mr. Harper should be playing footsie only with him.
After much caterwauling and nattering from Quebec about the “fiscal imbalance,” Mr. Harper had duly handed over billions of additional dollars for social programs – only to find that a campaigning Mr. Charest had taken the first tranche of the money and announced tax cuts to help his re-election bid. At which point, Mr. Harper hit the roof.
Further betrayals arrived. Mr. Charest, having pocketed the billions for the “fiscal imbalance,” sent his Finance Minister to announce at the beginning of the federal campaign that, no, Quebec's “demands” (Quebec is always demanding) had not been met.
With every Conservative candidate campaigning on having settled the “fiscal imbalance,” it was quite a blow to their credibility to hear Mr. Charest declare the matter unfinished. Of course, Mr. Charest had many other grievances and gripes that needed attention. So much for giving Mr. Harper a break in Quebec.
Then came the relatively minor squalls over culture and juvenile sentencing that blew up in the campaign. They betrayed the Harperites' lack of touch when dealing with Quebec sensitivities, as well as Quebeckers' preference for de facto sovereignty-association that they manifest by refusing to participate in governing Canada while demanding more from it through the Bloc Québécois. Then came Mr. Harper's attack on “separatists” during the coalition farce last December.
The Conservatives are now down and out in Quebec, and they appear to know it. The Liberals, through no serious efforts of their own, are on the rise.
Conservatives don't wake up trying to figure out how to placate and impress Quebec, that game having failed. Instead, they seem to have understood that any majority will come with improvement in Ontario and British Columbia.
A more solicitous attitude has been shown by the Harper government toward Ontario, where the recession has hit harder than any other part of Canada.
Ontario's unemployment rate is now higher than Quebec's. Ontario's manufacturing sector, especially its automotive heart, is staggering. Ontario is hollowing out; its fiscal position is eroding sharply (more sharply than Quebec's); tomorrow's budget will spill red ink.
And yet, here's the dilemma: Despite a staggering economy, growing unemployment and a fiscal nightmare, Ontario taxpayers, via Ottawa, are still going to ship billions of dollars to Manitoba, the four Atlantic provinces and Quebec.
Last week's Quebec budget had $8-billion in equalization payments, amounting to 12 per cent of total revenues. Notwithstanding this bonanza, and the fact that payments had almost doubled, the budget contained a chapter complaining about how unfair equalization was to Quebec. Call it Gallic gall.
New Brunswick's equalization payments, announced in a budget a week ago, amounted to 18 per cent of total revenues. No whining there, mercifully.
Part of Quebec's complaint was the Harper government's cap on equalization's growth, a change that will help Ontario, the paymaster that can't afford the bill any more but can't get up from the table without paying it.
Equalization will not go away, not even in my idealized version of Confederation, and Québec will continue to need a substantial amount, but the proportion of New Canada’s wealth that it must “share” with Old Canada will steadily decline over the decades.
Although Ontario is, for the moment, a sort of sick man of Confederation, it has the potential to return, soon, to being the economic engine of Canada – helping it to return to its accustomed place can earn electoral gratitude for a national political party.
Finally, immigration is changing the face of Canada and neither Québec’s historic grievances not its claim to a distinct status resonate with new Canadians as they did with earlier generations.
It is possible to govern without Québec; it is time the Conservatives took stock of the option. New Canada is the key to electoral success.
1. John Diefenbaker captured 78% of the seats in 1958, Brian Mulroney got 75% in 1984 – so 68% is not beyond the realm of possibility.
2. And I would be happy with a very loose confederation of five provinces (British Columbia (consisting of the current BC and the Yukon), Saskatchewan (formed form the existing AB, SK, MB and, remaining as territories, the North West Territories and Nunavut), Ontario (as now), Québec (as now but with “territorial” status for the Ungava peninsula) and Atlantic Canada (formed from NL, NS, NB and PEI (with Labrador as a territory). In my federation the national government would have exclusive rights over fiscal and monetary policy (including securities regulation), foreign and defence policy, constitutional issues, domestic and international trade and commerce, telecommunications and broadcasting, customs (including import standards) and immigration, interprovincial transport and not much else. The provinces would have exclusive control over health and social services, education, aboriginal matters, and, and, and … ad infinitum.
More, reproduced under the Fair Dealing provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act from the Globe and Mail, this time from John Ibbitson, who appears to be swinging towards some of the positions I have enunciated in the past:
1. It is possible to win and govern without Québec ~ not against Québec, just without either pandering to it or depending upon it for electoral success; and
2. There is a divide, which I have called (not my phrase) “Old Canada” (East of the Ottawa River) and “New Canada” (the five provinces West of that river) ~ which Ibbitson calls the “Pacific province(s).”
Quebec’s profound isolation
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Aug. 03, 2011
News that the NDP’s interim leader was, until recently, a card-carrying member of the Bloc Québécois reinforces a new and troubling truth: Quebec’s voice is weaker in Ottawa today than at any time in the past half-century – which is bad for Quebec and dangerous for the country.
The fading of Quebec in federal politics is not a temporary event. It has been going on for years and will continue for years to come.
If the federalist answer to Quebec separatism is to enmesh Quebec within the federal fabric, that answer is failing.
Unless and until Jack Layton either returns or retires, Nycole Turmel, former separatist supporter, is the leader of the NDP, including its 59 Quebec MPs, almost all of them rookies. This NDP caucus is the principal voice of French Canada in the House of Commons. The province is virtually silent within the governing Conservative caucus, which has just five Quebec MPs.
The federal election revealed that it is indeed possible for a party to form a majority government without Quebec’s support. But it revealed much more.
Ontario is now a Pacific province. Its major cities have large Asian-Canadian populations; India and China matter far, far more to its economic future than Britain or France; its voters vote the same way as westerners.
The days when elites in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal shaped the national agenda are well and truly past. The funeral was held May 2. The new consensus is between Ontario and the West. Quebec is outside that consensus.
This is an enormous change. For nearly 40 years, from Pierre Trudeau to Paul Martin, every elected prime minister but one was from Quebec. (The exception was Joe Clark’s government, which fell after just six months.) But in 1993, Quebeckers chose the Bloc to serve as their voice in Ottawa. Effectively, they left government and joined the opposition. In May, the province repudiated the separatists and embraced socially democratic federalists. But as Quebeckers experiment with first one opposition party and then another, their influence steadily wanes.
It’s not just about politics. Demographics also plays a role. Because Quebec has a low birth rate and brings in relatively few immigrants – at least compared with Ontario and British Columbia on a per capita basis – its share of the national population has steadily declined, from 29 per cent in 1961 to 23 per cent today. The Conservatives will introduce legislation this fall reapportioning the Commons to give Ontario, B.C. and Alberta their proper share of seats, further diluting the French fact in Parliament.
The national agenda has changed as well. The debt crisis of the 1990s drove the federal government away from an emphasis on greater social justice, a core Quebec value, and toward fiscal conservatism. So the federal government’s priorities don’t match Quebec’s priorities.
Finally, the principle of horizontal fiscal transfers is in jeopardy. Queen’s Park, for example, has made it clear that Ontario, with its manufacturing sector turning into a rust belt, can no longer afford to send money beyond its borders. Ontario is now the second-largest recipient of equalization payments, leaving relatively less federal largesse for Quebec.
With the province lacking a strong voice in government, with its share of the national population and economy declining and with the subsidy tap in danger of being shut off, the importance of Canada to Quebec and Quebec to Canada gets steadily harder to defend.
All this could change. The NDP could become an effective champion of Quebec’s interests and perhaps, one day, the government of the land. The next prime minister – Conservative, NDP or Liberal – could as easily come from Montreal as from Calgary.
On the other hand, perhaps the next prime minister will be the first since Lester Pearson unable to speak fluent French. Maybe her second language will be Mandarin.
If so, then the next time Quebeckers ask why they’re a part of this country, what will the rest of us tell them?
Québecers are free to ask, “why they're a part of this country,” and they are free to leave if they really want that. But the old question “what does Québec want?” is not longer important. That's what has changed; Québec is a province, ”comme les autres,” neither more nor less. If that is not suffiecient reason to be Canadian then, sadly, ”Sayonara.”
This, I suspect, may be the ballot question for 2015: which direction - back to the East (our European roots) or forward to the West - is best for "New Canada?"