Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Leftover Turkeys - Oct 15

I'm actually rather surprised Mr. Harper and the Conservatives did so well. In this article stratfor suggests this win will embolden the separatist movement in Quebec. Actually, that's nothing new. We've been dealing with that problem since confederation.

Johnny Cash

Canada: Risky Strategies and a Conservative Victory
October 15, 2008 | 1814 GMT

The Conservative Party of Canada has been returned to power, albeit with a much stronger minority, election results released Oct. 15 show. But in his electoral bid, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper might have reinvigorated the cause of Quebec separatism.


The Conservative Party of Canada, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has won Canada’s Oct. 14 election, results released Oct. 15 show. Though the Conservative Party fell short of winning a majority in parliament (which requires 155 seats), the 143 seats (up from 126) it did win give it almost 50 percent more seats than its main rival, the Liberal Party, which placed second with 76 seats. The Bloc Quebecois came in third place with 50 seats, while the New Democrat Party (NDP) placed fourth with 37 seats.

In winning the election, however, the Harper government pursued a strategy that might have far-reaching consequences in Quebec.

After the election, the Harper government has more seats than it had before, and it probably will be able to govern effectively — at least in the short term — as if it were a majority party. By contrast, the main opposition Liberal Party went from 103 to 76 seats and is facing calls for new party leadership. The NDP experienced a sizeable gain (up from 29), but its 37 seats still make it a small opposition party.

Harper’s win will allow him to carry on with existing policies. These include maintaining Canada’s military commitment to Afghanistan through 2011 (whether the Harper government will be able to extend the mission beyond that date remains in question), as well as managing Ottawa’s budget surplus to deal with fallout from the global economic crisis and a slowing economy.

But in the process of campaigning, the Harper government introduced a threat to Canada’s confederal system of government. In an effort to win a majority, Harper campaigned heavily in Quebec, a province whose internal politics are historically dominated by concerns for the survival of the province’s Francophone identity. Harper, an Anglophone Canadian who was born in Toronto and spent his adulthood in the western province of Alberta — a province as decentralist and anti-Francophone as one gets in Canada — aimed to gain the Quebecois vote by appealing to the province’s character as a “nation” (as he did in a speech in Quebec City on July 3).

Identifying Quebec as a nation distinct from Anglophone Canada is the strategy Quebec separatists have used to gain support for their goal of separating the province from the rest of Canada and becoming an independent state. Harper’s recent predecessors from both major Canadian political parties — including Paul Martin, Jean Chretien, Brian Mulroney and Pierre Trudeau — all hailed from Quebec. They took a strongly centralist approach to the province, facing significant resistance from the province’s Francophone separatists.

Harper’s reaching out to the Quebecois “nation” threatens to undermine his predecessor’s legacies of federalism. The separatist-seeking Bloc Quebecois can be expected to use the 50 seats it won as a platform to champion pro-Quebec causes. Should Quebecois politicians propose another referendum on independence (one held in 1995 fell just barely short of a majority), they will have Harper’s usage of the term “nation” — by an Anglophone prime minister no less — to support their campaign.

Harper is not about to govern over the end of Canadian unity. But regionalism in Canada is clearly strengthening. The conservatives themselves had to regroup in the 1990s, bringing together remnants of the former Progressive Conservative Party as well as what was then the Reform Party of Canada (a Western regional party that morphed into the Canadian Alliance) to become a force in Canadian politics after the Progessive Conservative Party’s disastrous loss in 1993 elections. The Liberal Party, which appeals to very few voters west of Ontario province, might have to similarly regroup and create a new coalition to make a credible run for power again. Getting all the factions within the Liberal Party to agree on a new leader will be a first order of business.

The Harper government will likely counter any separatist challenge the old-fashioned way — by throwing money into Quebec and keeping it a loose, first-among-equals province. But that strategy risks having other provinces demand their share of federal monies, or, in the case of energy-rich Alberta, demand greater autonomy and a reduction in the share of its taxes that goes to Ottawa.

The net result of the Oct. 14 election might enshrine Ottawa as the arbiter of Canadian foreign and defense policy, while leaving economic and social policies to be determined at provincial government levels. This means coordination and cooperation among Canadian provinces could begin to unravel.

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