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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Max Mad, Beyond Harperdome

I don't know what party Maxime Bernier thinks he belongs to, but it sounds like a great party

Conservative backbencher Maxime Bernier is launching a scathing critique of the bloated bureaucracy in Quebec and the high debt rate of his home province.

In a speech to be given to Conservative supporters south of Montreal on Friday night, Mr. Bernier argues that Quebec is overly dependent on equalization payments and needs to develop its own sources of revenues.

While Quebeckers have spent decades debating the possibility of Quebec becoming an independent country, he says, “we’ve built a system of economic dependence that’s become more and more elaborate.”

“Let’s be frank: many people in the rest of the country perceive Quebeckers as a bunch of spoiled children who are never satisfied and always ask for more,” he says. “This perception has some basis in reality.”

Now the cynically minded argue that Max is just positioning himself for the post-Harper era. The boy from Leaside has been a dud on the east banks of the Ottawa rivers. Perhaps friend Max can do better. The best way to win Quebec, traditionally, has been to put a francophone as your party leader. The Quebecois love voting for their favourite son. It was the trick that dragged the Liberals out of the political wilderness. A succession of dour Scot and Irish Protestants, talking about free trade and separation of church and state, had simply come across as WASPs meddling in the internal affairs of the province. Enter Wilfred Laurier, talking much the same talk as George Brown, Alexander Mackenzie and Edward Blake, and voila! The church hierarchy might not have been amused by Laurier's Rouge past, and the strong whiff of anti-clericalism that accompanied late Victorian Liberalism, but the rank and file Quebec voters weren't about to vote for dull old Sir Charles Tupper. The favourite son won in 1896 and stayed in for an unmatched four consecutive majority governments. The favourite son formula would work again for St Laurent, Trudeau and lastly Brian Mulroney. Jean Chretien became the first francophone Prime Minister who was unable to carry a majority in his own province. He was a Quebecois who rule because Ontario voted for him almost en bloc for a decade.

The defining event of modern Canadian political history is the so-called Night of the Long Knives. In patriating the Canadian constitution Trudeau had been unable to win the support of Quebec Premier Rene Levesque. It was failure at an impossible task. Levesque had skillfully allied himself with eight other provincial premiers to oppose Trudeau's efforts. When Jean Chretien, then Trudeau's right-hand, engineering a flip of all the Anglophone premiers to patriation, it was a political master-strorke. Levesque cried betrayal and the myth of Quebec being backstabbed by Trudeau-Chretien has become a touchstone of provincial politics, genuflected to by even the "federalist" Liberals in the National Assembly. 

From that night in 1981 the federal Liberals have been a marginal element in Quebec. When Mulroney's Meech Lake Accord failed, the Conservative Party shared the same fate. The emergence of the Bloc Quebecois ended the favourite son advantage. Max cannot sell himself to the ROC as a francophone they can do business with. In Quebec he is appealing to that phone-booth sized minority of small government conservatives. Bar a revolution in the province's politics, something hinted to in Mario Dumont's brief reign as opposition leader in the assembly, Max is preaching to a fairly empty set of choir stalls. Harold Wilson is suppose to have said that a week is a long time in politics. Quebec's sole libertarian politician will have more than a political week to plan for his future. Whatever his faults, Stephen Harper is not going anywhere soon.

Posted by Richard Anderson on April 22, 2010 | Permalink


I wonder how long it will take before he is accused of being "racist" or "francophobe" (if there is such a thing as "homophobe" or "Islamophobe", then why not?). The truth is not welcome in Quebec; in fact it is seldom welcome in the rest of the country.

Posted by: Alain | 2010-04-22 11:00:34 AM

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