Thursday, January 7, 2016

A response: Quebec and the Liberals

A short time ago, there was a tweet by @ajiwapol whom I follow on
twitter. It said:

Not long ago, "LPC at 51% among francophones" would have been a deeply inconceivable statistic.

I disagree, and not only because the Liberals remained viable (simply unpopular) from about 1996 on.

Lets go back to when Canada was born. The French residents of Quebec, or Quebecois, had a certain view of what was happening. In their mind, Canada was a union of two 'peoples', the Anglo-Canadians, and the Quebecois. This is simplifying (as usual, I'm here to give you the class 101 run down and basis for my thoughts) but does represent the core idea behind their vision of Canada.

For the first few decades, Quebec was fairly 'neutral' politically; in terms of the lack of a marriage to any one political party. Liberals were elected, Conservatives were elected, and Liberal-Conservatives were elected. Only during and after WW1 did Quebecois feel betrayed by the Tories and the Conservative Party. WW2 shook their faith in the Liberals, but not enough to end their like of the party. Diefenbaker was able to win the province, but this was more based on "we are tired of the government" and less "we don't like the Liberal brand anymore"

We need to go all the way to Mulroney to find a Quebec that decided it wanted something that was not "Liberal". Why? There are a few reasons, but the core reason was the new Constitution. Even with a Joe Clark lead PC Party, it is likely the Liberal domination over the province would have been over, and while the Liberals may have won a plurality of the popular vote in such an alternate history election, they would never return to the heights they saw in 1980.

So, what's changed?

We saw the rise of the Bloc Quebecois. To many from outside the province, the Bloc was "The Separatist Party" and represented Quebec leaving the country to form a new, separate, country. However, to many Quebecois, the Bloc was a party that represented them. Quebecois from all across Quebec could count on the Bloc to bring up their issues and represent Quebec. In their minds, this was the perfect answer, to counter-balance the federal parties with one "made for Quebec"

This fell apart when Stephane Dion and Jack Layton tried to form a coalition with support from Gilles Duceppe. Quebecois realized, Canadians will never, ever, support any government that is so strongly backed by a "separatist" party. So, what to do?

An interesting side effect of Harper's decade in government is that Quebec found that on some specific issues, it agreed with Harper. More than that, they saw a government that didn't seem to play the same regional games that past governments did (like Mulroney) and a government unwilling to set one region against another. In effect, the "Pro-Alberta" Harper did not do very much for that province, at least, not as much as it was feared he would do as part of his "Secret Agenda"

At the same time, Jack Layton made Quebec realize that voting NDP was not as useless as they thought, ironically, by convincing them that it was 'only as useless' as voting for the Bloc at worst, and as good as voting Liberal at best.

Now that Justin Trudeau is on the scene, we have an interesting situation we've really not seen in a very, very long time. Quebec, and in fact, Quebecois, feel free to choose from either of the 3 federal parties. We saw a few years of "NDP vs Bloc" and before that, a few years of "CPC vs Bloc", at least, outside of Montreal. Before that, a good decade or two of "Liberal vs Bloc". Now the Bloc is no longer such a danger, such a threat, that in the minds of many Quebecois, it is "Liberal, NDP, or CPC" just as it is everywhere else in the country.

Thanks to breakthroughs by Chretien in Manitoba, Martin in BC, Justin Trudeau in Alberta, as well as McDonough in Atlantic Canada, and Stephen Harper (yes, Stephen Harper) in Quebec, we now, for perhaps the first time ever, have three truly national parties, all of which are actually and honestly capable of winning seats in all 10 provinces.

And for that reason, I disagree with the tweet quoted above. It is not out of this world that such a thing happened, it falls right in with how things are in our new reality.

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