Who is Stephen Harper? A brilliant tactician, a defender of the Canadian Wild West, a friend to Quebec, a champion of parliamentary democracy, the embodiment of a re-birth of conservatism North of the 49th parallel, a strong leader that puts his country and convictions above politics, or is he perhaps just another politician hell bent on holding on to power at all costs? If his decision to prorogue parliament until January 26, 2009, is any indication, it may be the latter.
His Quebec city speech, known as la main tendue, or speech on open federalism December 19, 2005, gave a significant number of Québécois a sense that les bleus understood their distinct cultural reality. Harper hinted at giving Quebec a seat of its own at UNESCO, while entertaining the idea that the Québécois make up a nation of their own within Canada. Quebec voters, including soft nationalists, finally had a federalist alternative to the Liberals.
On election day January 23, 2006, Harper squeaked into power with 36.27% of the popular vote and just 124 seats, 31 seats short of a majority. His mandate was seen to be little more than a temporary substitution, while the ailing Liberals sat in the penalty box. But Harper succeeded, early on, through his ability to differentiate his “new government” from its perceptibly corrupt and disorganized predecessor. He also built bridges between his Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois.
On at least 15 occasions, including a throne speech and two budgets, it was the Bloc Québécois that propped up the Harper government, allowing it to pass legislation and survive votes of confidence. He put forth a Bloc-friendly motion recognizing that “Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.” Without such a sensitive approach he may not have won the election, and without extending an olive branch to the Bloc Québécois, his government could have fallen before it really stood.
On December 1, 2008, when it first seemed probable that the government would fall at the hands of an united Liberal-NDP-Bloc opposition, the prime-minister fought back hard. In his cynical and repetitive rhetoric, sovereigntists (BQ) became separatists, social democrats (NDP) became socialists, it was said that the Liberal Party was about to enable the break-up of the country and with an assist from finance minister Jim Flaherty, the coalition agreement was likened to a “deal with the devil.” They fear-mongered . It landed with the Canadian public. Then, he prorogued parliament. Despite the damage that he has caused himself in parliament and in Quebec, it would appear that his survival instincts are still intact.
There has not been enough consideration in the mainstream media that a coalition government including the Liberals, NDP, to be supported on votes of confidence by the Bloc Québécois, and in consultation with a strengthened Green Party, is actually a more accurate representation of the Canadian electorate’s will than the 37.65% of the national vote that the Conservative minority government garnered. Consider: 26.26% (Liberal) + 18.18% (NDP) + 9.98% (BQ) + 6.78% (Green) = 61.2% of Canadian voters.
Couldn’t a partnership between two main federal parties with support from the main sovereigntist one, actually benefit the whole country? Couldn’t these groups work together ? Don’t these groups represent the diversity of the country more completely’? Canada is not a nation of two solitudes anymore. Isn’t this arrangement more amenable to a democratically healthy Canada and to a more enlightened recognition of Canada’s historical bi-cultural aspect?
The sovereigntist element of Quebec has cleanly lost two referendums. In the fall of 2008, le Parti Quebecois lost another provincial election and the share of the Bloc Québécois vote decreased for the second consecutive federal election. There would appear to be no impending threat of the break-up of the country. What really is the main concern of Bloc Québécois voters?
It is not reasonable to consider that, for the time being, the sovereigntist party more completely understands and represents the interests of Quebec than any federalist option based outside of it. But 24 years ago, the Progressive Conservative Party, under Quebec-born Brian Mulroney, nearly swept the province due, in large part, to its recognition of Quebec’s distinct society status.
Does Harper’s stance that the Québécois do, in fact, form a nation within a united Canada tempt separation more or less than a coalition agreement between sovereigntist and federalist parties? Stephen Harper has passed legislation with support from the Bloc, now the Liberals and NDP want to do the same. Is it just a different group of politicians hell-bent on getting to power at all costs?