Last Friday's Globe and Mail ran a detailed story on the long overdue electoral reform;
"Democratic Reform Minister Steven Fletcher is in the advanced stages of preparing legislation that would reshape the House of Commons, adding dozens of seats to the three fast-growing provinces that are now seriously underrepresented." Globe and MailThe move to redress the serious imbalance in the distribution of seats in the House of Commons signals that Harper has given up on Quebec and has come to believe that the only way to achieve a majority government is to marginalize Quebec.
Public Works Minister Christian Paradis painted the project in much simpler terms, conveniently omitting the political benefits to the Conservatives.
"It's a democratic principle that there must be a basic element of proportionally and presently it's disproportionate."The calculatingly cool Harper is counting on the Liberals to support his legislative knifing because he estimates that Mr. Ignatieff and the Liberals have as much to gain as he.
Opinion polls show that the Bloc continues to maintain a stranglehold over the bulk of Quebec Parliamentary seats. The Liberals resigned to the fact that they are not going to achieve any breakthrough in the next election and will have to content themselves with holding the traditional Anglo seats around Montreal, which remain unassailable regardless of whether the party supports the proposed legislation or or not.
And so it's a question of numbers, the proposed 41 seats will be added to the suburban areas of Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary and as things stack up, the seats look to split evenly between Conservatives and Liberals. The biggest losers, of course, will be the Bloc and the NDP and turning the federal campaign into a two horse race is as appealing to the Liberals as it is to the Conservatives.
For Gilles Duceppe the attempt to marginalize him, his party and Quebec is as dangerous a scenario as it can get. The realization that he hasn't got many cards to play is all the more galling. Ergo his rage.
His amateurish threat, that those parties that support the bill, will be punished in Quebec come election day is hollow, the damage is minimal and has already been factored in by his foes.
Interestingly, if Mr Duceppe's analysis is right, his party stands to win even more Quebec seats, so it seems a bit disingenuous of him to argue against a bill that will reap him so many benefits. It's more likely that he understands that even with more seats, he'll have less power.
The Bloc, unable to argue against the proposed legislation based on democratic principles is forced to resort to the old chestnut of 'fairness'.
The 'fairness' that he's taking about, is the fairness wherein Quebec gets more out of Canada than it puts in.
It's the 'fairness' that guarantees Quebec one-third of the seats on the Supreme Court, with just 22% of the population.
It's the fairness wherein Francophones hold a disproportionate amount of federal civil service jobs, especially in senior positions where bilingualism is a requirement.
It's the 'fairness' wherein Quebec pays less in taxes and takes out more in services.
It's the 'fairness' wherein Quebec can demand more Parliamentary seats then their numbers warrant.
It's that type of 'fairness' that enrages Canadians.
Mr. Duceppe makes the argument for this disproportionism with a straight face and moral indignation, after all he's used to the old Quebec counting formula - '"Two for me, one for you."
Lost in the debate is the fact that while Canada is growing, Quebec is barely maintaining it's numbers with projections that within twenty years, the province's population will actually decline.
The majority of the proposed ridings are in areas of the countrt that are teeming with new Canadians, who are largely responsible for the population explosion in the suburbs of the big Canadian cities.
Perhaps the next time Quebec politicians, editorialists and pamphleteers rail on about how the immigrants are diluting the gene pool, they could examine the impact of a diminished birth rate on the future population of the province.
Either Quebec comes to terms with the fact that it cannot maintain itself as a white, Christian society where everyone is born speaking French, or they will lose more Parliamentary seats in the future as the province's population shrinks. The rest of Canada has already embraced the reality of the twenty-first century, Quebec could well be left behind.
The furious denunciations over the new seat proposal coming out of Quebec are rather delicious to hear. The usual smug face of Duceppe is now tortured and bewildered.
There hasn't been this much indignation in Quebec since the "Night of the Long Knives' back in 1982 when the nine provincial Premiers and Pierre Elliot Trudeau agreed to repatriate the Canadian Constitution behind Rene Levesque's back while he slept obliviously in his hotel room in Hull.
For Duceppe, its a perdre/perdre situation.
The more he complains about Quebec getting screwed, the happier most Canadians will be and the harder their position will become. Canadians have been waiting a long time to get revenge on the Bloc, a party which they perceive as making a mockery of the political process and they will perceive this as the perfect opportunity.
Payback's a bitch!
Mr. Duceppe and his party have always claimed to be in Ottawa to defend the 'interests' of Quebecers. His failure on this issue, after promising that his party will fight tooth and nail to stop the legislation, is going to be problematic. When Quebecers realize that when push comes to shove, the Bloc Quebecois is unable to do anything concrete in defence of Quebec, they are going to be forced to re-evaluate their situation. Voices from the right in Quebec, will howl in derision at Mr. Duceppe's and his party's failure.
If a majority government can be achieved without Quebec, it will mean the end of the Bloc Quebecois as a force.
Quebecers will never give up completely on the Bloc, there are too many separatists who would rather vote for a shoe than a Federalist party, no matter how self-defeating. They'll continue to vote for the Bloc as an affirmation of their separatist faith.
There are Quebec nationalists who will threaten that any attempt to reduce Quebec's power will lead to a rise in the separatist mood of Quebec.
Those who make this argument are sadly out of touch with the mood of the rest of Canada. Most Canadians are over Quebec's tantrums and are impervious to threats. The prevailing attitude is 'Take it or leave it.'
There is another alternative, one that is more likely to happen. Nothing.
Quebecers have notoriously short memories. Last spring Premier Charest was considered toast by experts because of his cynical handling of the fiasco at the Caisse de Depot when he hid the financial disaster until he could be re-elected. Today he's back atop the polls.
It's at least three years until the next provincial election and by then the issue will have been all but forgotten, the only lasting effect being the diminished seat count and the diminished influence of Quebec in Ottawa.