Wednesday, September 16, 2009

BQ and the separatists' need to forestall a fall election

It's simply bad for the cause. The big cause: Quebec separation. That's why Bloq Québecois leader Gilles Duceppe's MPs will prop up the Harper government and support the upcoming Ways and Means vote on Friday.

That's also why I suspect the Bloc will keep the Conservatives afloat until at least the first week of November (once the Montreal municipal election is over). Because the real reason former Parti-Québecois cabinet minister Louise Harel jumped into the race for the mayor's chair - under the Vision Montreal banner - is so the separatist movement could establish a strong organizational beachhead on the populous island where all the "money and ethnic votes" flourish. And to do that, first they have to help ensure she unseats incumbent Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay - himself a former Quebec Liberal leadership hopeful with strong ties to many in the Charest government.

A little Quebec politics background here: Harel has worked her whole professional life for the PQ and the separatist cause, having joined the party in 1970 at the age of 24. She got elected in 1981, back when René Lévesque was party leader, and went on to serve in both Parizeau's and Bernard Landry's cabinets; including a stint as interim party leader in the National Assembly.

While you won't find a hint of separatist policy (nor any mention of her impressive PQ and separatist bona fides) on the Vision Montreal website, make no mistake about the true motive here: Installing a separatist municipal government with strong PQ ties into Quebec's largest city would serve a similar purpose to the raison d'etre of the BQ: organizational and ideological support that each party can leverage off of between their respective elections.

And any government of Harel's will have at least one eye trained on promoting Quebec separation at any given opportunity. For if the last 40 years of Quebec history teaches us anything, it's that you can take the politician out of the ostensibly separatist party, but you can't take the separatist drive out of the politician.

And with the notable exception of former Vision Montreal leader (and Paul Martin Liberal) Benoit Labonté, who allowed himself to be bumped down a notch from party leader to become Harel's right-hand man, most of the candidates recruited by Harel have similarly strong separatist credentials. For example, yesterday I received a full-colour glossy pamphlate in my mailbox promoting former PQ MNA Elsie Lefebvre as a Vision Montreal candidate for city councillor in the Villeray arrondissement (or district). And how about former Bloq MP Réal Ménard, brought on board by Harel last June to run for mayor of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve borough?

So how does this all fit in with Duceppe's propping-up of the Harper government? Well, voter apathy in municipal elections - the conventional wisdom goes - is not helped one iota by a concurrent national campaign competing for the public's (and media's) attention.

That said, Harel needs to bring up the issues and stir up voter anger towards her opponent. That's her greatest hope for dislodging him in what has become a two-way race. Especially since her history with the PQ does not in any way endear her to the overwhelmingly federalist and entrenched Liberal-supporting constituency of the island.

Because traditionally, Montrealers return their mayoralty incumbents to power unless and until they get really fed up with them. Getting us fed up should be easy, given the rampant allegations of wide-spread corruption within the Tremblay administration. But if a federal campaign comes along in the meantime, that makes Harel's job a whole lot harder. And if she loses, then the possibility of a new (de facto) separatist government lording over Montreal island becomes that much more distant; with the goal of separating from Canada as elusive as ever.

The over-arching separatist strategy, therefore, is best served spending the next 11 weeks quietly putting all three parties' volunteers and support to that purpose - not fighting another federal campaign wherein they will need to concentrate on helping the Bloq maintain their seat count against the ambitious Liberals and Conservatives.

Simply put, there is absolutely no need for the separatists to bring down Harper's government right now, since it would only serve to hamper the separatist cause (not to mention Harel's personal ambition).

I'm surprised Jack Layton is letting all his party's political capital seep away, given this reality. His base must be furious with him, especially considering the Conservative government is comfortably safe without NDP support ...until November at least.

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