Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Quebec Bashing: Harper Reverts to his Reform Party Roots

When biographers write the story of the rise and fall of Stephen Harper, they will surely show how he evolved from the man who wanted to erect a firewall around Alberta to the leader who was prepared to recognize Quebec as a nation within Canada. And then addressing his fall from power, they will reflect on how Harper turned against Quebec and returned to his Reform Party roots.

At the height of his career, Stephen Harper dreamed of a decentralized Canadian federation in which government played a smaller role, with the market making the basic decisions in society. Such a Canada would fold naturally into an ever closer socio-economic, maybe even political, union with the United States. Recognizing Quebec as a nation made sense within that weltanschauung.

On his way up, Stephen Harper was happy to meet with, and compose letters to the Governor General, with Gilles Duceppe, as well as with Jack Layton. On September 9, 2004, with the leaders of the Bloc and the NDP he co-signed a letter to Her Excellency, the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson that said: “We respectfully point out that the opposition parties, who together constitute a majority in the House, have been in close consultation. We believe that, should a request for dissolution arise this should give you cause, as constitutional practice has determined, to consult the opposition leaders and consider all of your options before exercising your constitutional authority.”

As long as the Bloc hated the Liberals, Harper was prepared to regard its MPs as people who wanted to de-centralize Canada just a little more than he did.

Lately though, as Stephen Harper sees it, the ungrateful Quebecois have bitten the Conservative hand that has been feeding them. In the recent election, the Conservatives hoped to seal the deal for a majority by gaining a swath of new seats in Quebec. Instead, Harper’s assault on cultural spending and his proposal that young offenders convicted of serious crimes do time in penitentiaries, provoked a backlash in Quebec. The Conservatives won only ten seats there.

Now that the Bloc has decided to support the proposed Liberal-NDP coalition government, Harper has put away the velvet glove and unveiled the mailed fist.

Yesterday, Stephen Harper’s performance during Question Period in the House of Commons was a disgrace. To hold onto office, and to deny the House the opportunity to vote on a motion of non-confidence, Harper said he will never relinquish the keys of power to a coalition that relies on the support of the Bloc. So what if a few years ago, he was prepared to do precisely the same thing.

He’s now moved to new and very dangerous ground. Yesterday, he virtually denied that Bloc MPs were entitled to perform their parliamentary functions and to have a say in the governing of the country. Since 1993, the Bloc Quebecois has been a major party in federal politics. In every general election since then, the Bloc has won more seats than any other party in Quebec.

At present, support for sovereignty in Quebec has fallen to a ten year low. By agreeing to support the coalition, the Bloc has undertaken to put sovereignty on the back- burner for the next eighteen months so that the government of Canada can grapple with the economic crisis. Surely, pragmatic arrangements of this kind are precisely the way ahead for a Canada that will always include Quebec.

In questioning the legitimacy of Quebec’s MPs, it is Stephen Harper who is endangering the unity of the country.

Fortunately, though, this desperate gambit will not save Harper’s hold on office. (He’s reminding me increasingly of Humphrey Bogart in The Caine Mutiny. Someone should give Harper some steel balls to roll around in his hand during his next appearance in Question Period.)

At the end of his time at the helm of government, as future biographers will note, Stephen Harper has gone back to the ideology of the old Reform Party. The Reformers thought the Quebecois had too much power in Canada and they didn’t even present candidates in the province during federal elections.

How can Conservatives concerned with the long-term future of their party even contemplate allowing this man to remain their leader?


Rick said...

Excellent commentary. As always. Thank you. We need to keep these facts and perspectives flowing.

Scott in Montreal said...

Good points here. This isn't the first time Harper has called into question the legitimacy of the BQ votes. Recall the Leader of the Opposition in June, 2005:

Because (legislation to allow gay marriages) is being passed with the support of the Bloc, I think it will lack legitimacy with most Canadians," Mr. Harper said on Monday. "The truth is most federalist MPs oppose this."

Anonymous said...

His strategy will work. Harper sees no votes in Quebec, but votes elsewhere. He's right. His jingoism is winning him support in English Canada. He'll persuade the GG to prorogue Parliament and go on his merry way while the coalition implodes under the leadership of the congenitally maladroit Stephan Dion.
Maybe it should. The NDP now supports the war in Afghanistan while the Liberals are cunningly slithering away from their commitments on social spending. Ah, life under the Liberal Big Tent!

Diane/Morris said...

Re: "....Stephen Harper dreamed of a decentralized Canadian federation ...... Such a Canada would fold naturally into an ever closer socio-economic, maybe even political, union with the United States. Recognizing Quebec as a nation made sense within that weltanschauung." (James)

I know that some have taken this view, and Harper's behaviour suggests to me he sympathizes with it, but I'd like to know if there is some actual reference where Harper expressed this attitude (book, article, etc.)

Thank you.