Tory wins in Quebec hard to fathom

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Feb 5 16:40:47 UTC 2006

>>From the Toronto Star, Feb. 4, 2006. 10:53 AM

Tory wins in Quebec hard to fathom
Party goes from no seats to 10
Takes four in Quebec City alone


Robin Sears was surprised. Two days after the federal election, the
Toronto consultant and New Democrat backroom veteran flew to Quebec City,
and watched groups of voters meet in a building on the Grande Alle and
talk about the Conservatives. It was a focus group, and the participants
were first-time Conservative voters, most of whom had backed the Bloc
Qubcois in previous elections and who had decided in the final days of the
election campaign to vote Conservative.

"You could have knocked me over with a feather," Sears says. "They were
expressing not just respect for Stephen Harper, but affection. There was a
grandmother who said, `My dreams died with Rene Levesque. Voting for Mr.
Harper is the first time I have felt good about politics since then.'"
Sears was not the only one who was astonished. The Conservative
breakthrough in the centuries-old city known as "la Vieille Capitale" was
the surprise of the election.

This represents a dramatic change in Canada's political dynamic. Senior
ministers from Toronto and Montreal dominated Liberal governments, and
even Brian Mulroney's Conservative government, primarily an alliance
between small-town Quebec and Western Canada, had senior ministers from
Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Now, Quebec City will join Calgary,
Edmonton, Winnipeg and Ottawa as the urban power bases for the Harper
government. Astonishingly, almost as many Quebecers voted Conservative
906,741, to be precise as did Albertans: 930,817.

But Quebec City is very different from Montreal: overwhelmingly
French-speaking, more family-oriented, more conservative, and with a
military and federalist tradition that is not as present in
French-speaking Montreal. Even Conservative candidates in Quebec City were
taken aback when they were swept into office four of them winning city
seats, another four in ridings across the river on the south shore of the
St. Lawrence. Two other Conservatives won elsewhere in the province.

"Honestly, I am surprised and very proud," Daniel Petit told reporters on
election night, after he defeated popular Bloc MP Richard Marceau in
Charlesbourg-Haute-Saint-Charles. Unlike the higher-profile winners in the
province, like Lawrence Cannon in Pontiac, Jose Verner in
Louis-Saint-Laurent, Maxime Bernier in Beauce, and Jean-Pierre Blackburn
in Jonquiere all of whom Harper had mentioned during the French-language
debates the other six candidates flew below the radar. "I had a terrific
team," joked Sylvie Boucher, who defeated Bloc MP Christian Simard in
Quebec City's Beauport-Limoilou riding. "It consisted of two daughters and
a family friend."

And Luc Harvey, the 41-year-old businessman who won in the affluent city
constituency of Louis-Hebert, defeating Bloc MP Roger Clavet, said he had
12 volunteers five of whom worked on the campaign full time compared to
the 500 to 600 who worked for Clavet. In the last 10 days of the campaign,
the Bloc got a sense that something was happening, and scrambled to try to
do something about it. The result was full-page ads in Quebec City
newspapers proclaiming: "We won't let Calgary decide for Quebec." A
stylized cowboy hat was pictured beside the word "Calgary."

Clearly, it didn't work. But why? What led four Quebec City constituencies
to turn away from the Bloc and elect Conservatives, none of whom had been
elected before? For the past two weeks, that question has stirred up a
debate over "the mystery of Quebec City," and "the Quebec City enigma."
Marceau, the defeated Bloc MP, even quoted Winston Churchill on Russia,
saying Quebec City was "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma."
Harvey scoffs at this.

"I'll tell you what the enigma is: It's that there are still people who
voted Liberal in Montreal! It's that (Liberal cabinet minister) Jean
Lapierre is still there! That's the mystery," he says. It is a debate with
a number of strands, and different narratives. There is a political
narrative: Harper, noting the fact that Verner had done well in her
suburban Quebec City riding in 2004, hired her on his staff, and began
travelling regularly to the Quebec capital. On Dec. 19, he made a
much-noted speech there, where he said "I extend my hand to Quebec,"
proposed to address the fiscal imbalance and offered Quebec a place at
international forums like UNESCO.

Laval University political scientist Rejean Pelletier wrote that in
addition to wanting representatives at the cabinet table, Quebec City
suffered from what he called "the syndrome of the abandoned region"
because it had little federal government investment. There is also a
sociological narrative: Quebec City is divided between the settled,
established Upper Town of public servants and academics and the poorer
Lower Town, where the economy is shifting from a dying industrial base to
a growing, but still-unstable, high-tech industry.

Sociologist Gilles Gagne told a radio audience this week that the city was
suffering from de-industrialization, and that those at the top of the
hill, with job security including unionized government workers were
increasingly resented by those without. "Quebec City has always been a bit
different," says Simon Langlois, a sociologist at Laval University. "It is
less cosmopolitan than Montreal, very French-Canadian; it is the capital
of French-Canada, and was a religious capital. People have a very acute
sense of politics. They are close to power."

He points out that the Yes vote in the city in the 1995 referendum was
significantly lower than in other French-speaking parts of Quebec, and
that the Parti Qubcois lost seats there in the last provincial election.
But Harper's December speech was significant, Langlois says. "The symbolic
recognition is very important. He spoke in a way to touch the
nationalist's heart. He used a discourse of recognition and he gained some
important ground."

Laval political scientist Guy Laforest found Luc Harvey's victory on
election night hard to watch. Laforest, a former president of l'Action
democratique du Quebec, ran in the provincial riding three years ago with
a much larger organization than Harvey's, and lost to the Liberals. "That
was tough! Really tough!" he says with a rueful laugh. "But the fact that
they (Conservatives) could win Louis Hbert and Charlesbourg with such
small organizations. ..." Liberal candidate and former deputy chief of
staff to Prime Minister Paul Martin Helene Scherrer argues that the
Conservatives won Quebec City seats because they showered the city with
promises: the Pont de Quebec would be repainted; the airport would be
expanded; the zoo, threatened with closure, would be saved.

Harvey dismisses this, saying that Scherrer had simply failed to deliver
for her city. And the new MP says many voters told him how much Harper's
French had improved. "Several people said he had made a big effort to
improve his French, compared with the last time," Harvey says. "I think
they appreciated that.  And for Mr. Harper, the fact of having learned to
speak French much better allowed him to understand francophones better."
Leaving aside the issue of whether Quebec City's vote reflects a riddle,
enigma, mystery or syndrome, what do the results mean for the Harper

To begin with, it means there will be Conservative MPs who speak no
English, and others who have never worked in a non-French-speaking milieu.
Suddenly, language policy will become a much more practical reality for
those who have seen it as a Liberal plot. And, in contrast with the Quebec
Conservatives who were elected with Mulroney in 1984 and 1988, many of
these MPs really are conservatives.  Several come from the Action
dmocratique du Qubec, others from the old Progressive Conservatives. They
are comfortable with a more conservative agenda than were Mulroney's
Quebec Tories. Harvey, a father of four, argues that one of the things
that made a difference was that the Conservative candidates were ordinary
people with families.

"These are people with values," he says. "Several people said to me, `I'm
voting for the guy with four children.'" More broadly, the election of 10
MPs from Quebec, including the four from Quebec City, is an indication
that French-speaking Quebecers have not given up on federalism. This, in
itself, was a blow to the Bloc Qubcois and Parti Qubcois arguments that
independence is inevitable. Laforest argues that the sovereignty movement
enjoyed the fruits of an artificial wave of support caused by the Liberal
scandals, which enabled them to repeat the mantra that there would be
three periods: a Bloc victory, followed by a PQ victory, followed by a
referendum victory.

"The bubble has burst," he says.

Canada is still in the game in French-speaking Quebec, even if the
Liberals are not. But a much more traditionally federalist view,
respecting provincial jurisdictions, rather than a centralist view of
Canada is now predominant. However, Harper will be under considerable
pressure to deliver the goods.  The Liberals and the Bloc have both vowed
to keep his feet to the fire, and on Thursday, in a speech in Quebec City,
former PQ leader Jacques Parizeau predicted that he would be unable to do
so, since English-speaking Canada would not stand for it. The challenge
for the Harper government will be to meet the expectations in Quebec that
the Harper campaign has created. Additional articles by Graham Fraser

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