[lg policy] Election Ringside, April 21: An orange game-changer in Quebec?
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Fri Apr 22 14:13:17 UTC 2011
Election Ringside, April 21: An orange game-changer in Quebec?
Election Ringside is a daily e-mail exchange for The Globe and Mail
between strategists Tom Flanagan and John Duffy. Check in every
weekday afternoon during the 2011 federal election campaign for their
insights and opinions about the campaign as it unfolds.
From: Tom Flanagan
Sent: Thursday, April 21, 2011, 10:22 a.m. ET
To: John Duffy
Subject: Election Ringside
Parlons Québéc! Given your Liberal and my Conservative background, I
think we've focused too much on our two parties and missed the NDP
surge in Quebec, which is the most interesting story of the campaign
thus far. If the NDP is truly in first place in Quebec, as reported by
CROP, that is really big news and a possible game-changer for Canadian
politics. I don't think anyone saw this coming. All the talk in the
first part of the campaign was about the NDP decline. So much for the
perspicacity of the punditi, and all the other nattering nabobs of
Tell me why the NDP is surging in Quebec at this time. I have
absolutely no idea. The only thing I can point out is that the
Liberals took a run at the Bloc in 1997-2000, and then the
Conservatives had their try in 2006-2008. I guess there's a pool of
Bloc voters who aren't really separatists, and they're running a
slow-motion beauty contest to see if any of the federalist parties
suit their fancy. Both the Liberals and Conservatives ultimately
failed in their bid to displace the Bloc; who knows whether the NDP
will have long-term success?
From: John Duffy
Sent: Thursday, April 21, 11:16 a.m. ET
To: Tom Flanagan
The NDP are surging in Quebec, to be sure, but also elsewhere. Still,
you ask some pretty good questions about Quebec, and I'll do my best
to contribute on that score. Both the Liberals in 2000 and the
Conservatives in 2006 and 2008 took a run at the same voters - soft
nationalists who wanted a way out of the federalist-sovereigntist
political impasse. These were folks who voted for Brian Mulroney in
1984 and 1988 and came loose with the collapse of the Meech Lake
accord. My sense if that the NDP is drawing much of its growth from a
different group: younger, more progressive and more eager to change
the terms of debate.
In that sense, it's hopeful. Quebec politics appears to be showing
increasing signs of normalizing, and the NDP surge may be another one
of those signs. Quebec politics has never been the same as that of the
rest of Canada, or North America for that matter. The particular
imperatives of la survivance have always come ahead of the left/right,
or Whig/Tory, or government/market discussion that shapes politics
elsewhere. Even the left/right debate in Quebec has some unique
twists, such as the role of the church, or attitudes towards the U.S.,
which relate to Quebec's exposure towards the French-speaking,
Since the upheaval of the Quiet Revolution - an epoch-maker in
Quebec's 400-year history - the politics of la survivance, as
expressed in the existential debate over sovereignty, made Quebec's
political scene even less normal than usual. Lately however, with the
original revolutionaries departed and their followers mostly retired,
several events indicating political normalization have begun popping
up. One of them was the pro-market interventions of former premier
Lucien Bouchard and others Pour un Quebec Lucide in 2005, and the
counter-manifesto from the left, Pour un Quebec Solidaire. More
notable was the surge of the right-of-centre ADQ in the 2007
provincial election, which put the PQ into third place. The drift of
the federal BQ from a separatist force to a regional lobby group
located in parliament is a third such signal. Most recently, former PQ
minister François Legault has launched a new movement, Coalition
Quebec, which seeks to gather all supporters of market-based reforms
in the province, regardless of their past histories on the national
So I'd add this week's NDP surge to that list. It's been building for
a while. For some time, Jack Layton and others have sensed that the
fading relevance of the sovereignty issue has weakened the appeal of
the Bloc, and left an opening among urban progressives. The concept
was successfully put to the test in the 2007 federal by-election in
Outremont, where Thomas Mulcair gathered enough progressive votes from
all sides to snatch the Liberal stronghold, and hold onto it in 2008.
Mr. Layton and Mr. Mulcair worked hard to widen the beachhead in the
last election, and while they expanded the NDP's support, they did not
break through. Now it seems that the NDP, buoyed by Mr. Layton's
strong debate performance, is capitalizing on both the staleness of
the Bloc's campaign and ongoing Liberal weakness as regards both the
perception of the leader and the brand.
That's the optimistic scenario anyway, at least if, (a) that's what's
really happening; and, (b) you think that Canada benefits from a
normalized Quebec political scene.
From: Tom Flanagan
Sent: Thursday, April 21, 2011, 1:35 p.m. ET
To: John Duffy
Thanks, John. Very enlightening.
I've been thinking about this since my early-morning post, and I've
been struck by similarities at the level of practical politics between
what the NDP is doing now and what the Conservatives tried to do. In
both cases, a party that appeared to be totally marginalized in Quebec
committed itself to gaining ground there. The party adopted policies
designed to appeal to a segment of the Quebec electorate. The leader
made it a priority to improve his French, recruit good candidates, and
spend lots of time in Quebec.
There was a long frustrating period of slow, almost imperceptible
growth, and then a moment when the flood gates seemed to open. For the
Conservatives, it was Stephen Harper's speech in Quebec City in
December, 2005; for the NDP, it was Mr. Layton's performance in the
recent French leaders debate. Our attention is drawn to the magic
moment, but there wouldn't be same impact without all the previous
groundwork. It's encouraging in the sense of showing that patient,
strategic politics can work over a period of time. I think there are
lessons here for a potential Liberal recovery in the West.
From: John Duffy
Sent: Thursday, April 21, 2:47 p.m. ET
To: Tom Flanagan
I'm right with you about patient, thoughtful work and how long it can
take to pay off. Someone smart once wrote a book about it, called
Waiting for the Wave. Mr. Layton has waited a long time, and now is
We'll see how well he holds up. These kinds of surges can carry
parties to where they suddenly come under intense scrutiny for which
they are ill-prepared. Many a wave has been stopped dead when the
media applies the standards of a contender to a party that has been
heretofore a mere protest vehicle. Put another way, I wonder how many
Randy Whites there are in the Quebec NDP candidate list.
And while I don't know the answer to that one, I do know that the NDP
appeal to Quebec is couched in very nationalist terms. Mr. Layton
proposes to subordinate all language policy, including federal, to
Quebec's controversial language law, Bill 101. This continues an
approach that was taken in 2008, when the NDP in Parliament supported
a BQ motion to that effect. Much more worrisome, Mr. Layton in the
leaders' debate last week has also gone so far as to offer reopening
the Constitution to accommodate Quebec demands. This will attract
scrutiny, and perhaps generate some real voter concern. We'll see how
Mr. Layton handles it.
Specific policies aside, the world of the NDP in Quebec is definitely
a walk on the wild side for anglophones. It's not the
cross-fertilization in Quebec's left-politics scene between NDP types
associated with Mr. Mulcair and more overtly sovereigntist figures.
It's the whole way of looking at things. To spend time, for example,
examining their meeting place in provincial politics, Quebec
Solidaire, is to enter the world of the European far left, a place
thoroughly unfamiliar to mainstream Canadian political views. I'm not
sure the NDP's political associations in Quebec aren't going to become
an issue in and of themselves.
So the question here is not really going to be what an NDP government
would do, so much as what kind of NDP is seeking votes across the
country. Quebecois voters may be comfortable with a federal NDP that
resembles Quebec Solidaire, promises to reopen the constitution and
has far-out candidates. Voters in places like Burnaby, Winnipeg, Sault
Ste. Marie and Halifax less so. On candidates, on policy specifics,
and on the whole tenor of his offering, Mr. Layton will have to turn
in a second bravura performance for the remainder of the campaign in
order to keep his wave together.
Tom Flanagan is professor of political science at the University of
Calgary and a former Conservative campaign manager.
John Duffy is founder of StrategyCorp and a former adviser to prime
minister Paul Martin.
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