Friday, September 7, 2012

Separatism, round III

So the big buzz in Canada this week is Pauline Marois’s somewhat lacklustre win in the Quebec election Tuesday night.  Jean Charest put in a much better performance than anybody expected but just couldn’t defeat the ABC (anybody but Charest) factor.  Too bad because he was a good man.  He is likely responsible for the failure of the last separation referendum. 

I’ve been a long time federalist.  I don’t subscribe to what is becoming an increasingly common sentiment in western Canada – namely “Let the bastards separate and see how they like it”.  Balkanization is never good.  We’ve managed to keep this country together for going on 150 years so it seems that there might be some strong reasons to at least try to hold it together for a few more.  At the same time I don’t think the solution is to roll over and give the PQistes everything they ask for.

I had a very informative conversation in the departure lounge in Calgary a couple of weeks ago.   The woman sitting next to me turned out to be one of those idiot students that has been revolting in Quebec over the summer.  She was on her way to visit someone in L.A.  We both ended up getting the third degree from U.S. Homeland Insecurity and then recognized each other at the bar. 

I asked her directly what the hell the students think they are entitled to given that their tuitions are already dramatically lower than any other region of the country.  Initially I thought her answer was sensible but as I thought about it more I came to believe that it was more informative than reasonable.  Her logic for continued bargain basement tuition levels was that Quebecois pay higher taxes than any other Canadian jurisdiction and therefore expect more from their government.  OK, sort of makes sense, right?

Not a prayer does it make sense.  Rather what it does is highlight the entitlement culture that prevails in Quebec.  She simply had no understanding of how dependant that province is on the rest of the country for support and I confirmed that through further questioning.  So how do we go about keeping them in confederation without giving away the store?

Quite simply I think we elect a strongly strategic Prime Minister with a western focus and an economics major.  What a bit of good luck, we already did that.

Here’s what I think we know:

  • Quebec gets more than it gives.  Quebec currently receives over half of total equalization payments in this country
  • At a maximum, 37% of Quebecois support separation (sum of the popular vote for Quebec Solidaire plus PQ).  That compares with 45% in 1994, immediately prior to the last referendum.
  • There’s little political risk for Harper to take a hard line stance on Quebec’s demands.  The Conservatives won 5 seats in Quebec the last time around and we all know that Smilin’ Jack swept the province.  Not wishing him any ill but Smilin’ Jack won’t be able to help the NDP next time round.

I can’t say that I know that Quebecois like to vote strategically but I think that’s a fair conclusion and I think its also fair to say they screwed up last time.  Voting against Ignatieff, Harper and Duceppe simply gave Quebecois a bunch of unknown clueless Layton acolytes.  My guess is that less than 1/2 of them ever get re-elected, let alone in the 2015 contest.  Meanwhile Harper, ever the master strategist, has a chance to present the case to Quebec that they are both:

  • Better off in Confederation, and
  • Better off with seats on the government side of the house.

I think we’re going to have a fun 3 years and I intend to sit back and enjoy the show.  Oh and one other thing that I think we know is that Pauline Marois is not even close to the calibre of her predecessors, she sure as hell is no Rene Levesque.

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