Quebec government has own problems, like finances
Bruce A. Stewart
The road map for Pauline Marois, separatist Premier of Quebec, was simple. Take action after action that indicated federalism was a bad idea.
Get indignant when the over the top counter-attacks came, thus raising the popular temperature in Quebec.
Repeat, with foreign trips to demonstrate a Quebec-on-the-international-stage fright or two for Ottawa, until the numbers add up.
Then whip out the referendum.
Even with a minority government, the plan looked good.
Except for one thing. Ottawa yawned and ignored every provocation.
“You don’t spend enough on this”, “you’re robbing us of that”, “your EI changes will force honest Québécois(es) to take work in the West and assimilate” — none of them have received so much as a tiny push-back.
It’s a far cry from the 1990s, when every twitch in Quebec City saw Ottawa’s Liberal cabinet ministers under Jean Chrétien rush to the microphones within the hour, and where the House of Commons would disrupt its business to earnestly debate the latest fantasy out of that cloud-cuckoo-land that is the Parti Québécois.
Stephen Harper’s approach is different. Very different.
Ignore them — “it’s just noise”.
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What makes Harper’s strategy work, of course, is that the Official Opposition New Democrats, with 58 Quebec MPs, are busy ignoring the PQ bleats as well.
Questioning and challenging the government on federal matters daily is their action plan, not standing up and echoing the delusions of Marois.
So much for the claim that the NDP caucus was just riddled with separatists, eh? Or that the party would put Quebec first.
No, the only residual noise in Ottawa playing the response game comes from the tiny Liberal caucus in the corner (which is making even more noise on this issue than the four Bloc Québécois members that survived 2011′s purge).
Apparently the Liberals haven’t been paying attention. Public opinion has strengthened for the Conservatives since Marois began her program of political pot-banging last fall.
In other words, the country is also behind the notion that the children of separatism should be treated as exactly that — little children playing house in their sandbox.
It’s why Ottawa utterly ignored Marois’ recent European sojourn, where she visited all the capitals of separatist movements there. Back in the Trudeau, Mulroney or Chrétien years, such a tour would have seen reams of announcements, press releases and an echoing tour of federal ministers trying to suck the air out of the whole thing.
By ignoring Marois, the PQ Premier was instead set up to be given a very cold shoulder by Scottish Nationalist Premier Alex Salmond when Marois dropped into Edinburgh.
Please note, by the way, that his referendum next year on Scotland breaking out of the United Kingdom had its clear question negotiated with London (not determined unilaterally), and that it’s a damn sight more direct than either the 1980 waffle of René Lévesque or the 1995 “which side is up” question of Jacques Parizeau.
Opposition to the notion of Scottish independence isn’t coming from London (not that Westminster wants to see it happen). It’s coming from Brussels (where Eurocrats are more than happy to say Scotland wouldn’t be grandfathered into the EU but would have to apply and be considered).
The Catalans, too, were completely disinterested in being a backdrop for Marois.
Meanwhile, in Quebec, Marois is having an acute clash with reality — a reality that will eat into her freedom to manoeuvre by the time the snow melts.
The Quebec Libérals have been in the throes of their leadership campaign. Jean Charest’s replacement will be in harness by the spring. (Unlike the Federal Liberals, the Quebec Libérals have a small field — three — of highly qualified and seasoned contenders, and as a result the recurring public debates have actually dug into policy and the candidates’ ability to lead.) Opposition to Marois’ minority government will step up once that race is over.
Meanwhile Quebec’s new third party, the Coalition Avénir Quebec, continues its anti-corruption campaign, proposing measures to weed the endemic problems in Quebec’s institutions (provincial and municipal) out of the system. All this is set against the backdrop of the on-going Charbonneau Commission, whose investigations have already toppled the Mayors of Montréal and Laval, amongst others.
Marois is also discovering the gratitude of the student movements. One of her first acts was to overturn the tuition increases put in place by the previous Charest government. Having crippled university finances, her attempts now to sort that out have the students mobilizing to fight her PQ government just as they fought the Libéral one last year: noisy, obstructively, in the streets.
Quebeckers want another summer of discontent about as much as they want to undergo root canals without anaesthesia.
Then, too, she’s up against reality in another field: the financial one.
Quebec, like Ontario and Alberta, has a pressing financial problem. Wrestling the budget into shape is priority one.
“Normally”, by now, Ottawa would have kicked money their way to offset the endless rhetoric of being hard done by in Confederation. But not responding also includes not sending cash.
Nor is the Official Opposition NDP asking for cash for Quebec. For investment in this and that, yes, but not focused on Quebec, and not tied in any way to the latest indignation put forward in Quebec City.
Broke. Ignored. About to face a reinvigorated Opposition in a minority government. Street theatre gearing up to resume, this time targeting the PQ.
Marois, who was a cabinet minister in the Lévesque government of 1981-85 (as well as the Parizeau, Bouchard and Landry PQ governments from 1994-2003), must be wondering these days why she bothered.
She’ll be able to govern Quebec relatively cleanly and maybe straighten out the finances. But independence?
La rève est mort.