This week Prime Minister Harper delivered another painful dose of payback to Gilles Duceppe, Jean Charest and the people of Quebec, a harsh lesson in realpolitik for their betrayal of the Conservatives at the polls in the last federal election, as well as for the humiliation Mr. Charest inflicted upon Mr. Harper during the run up to the Quebec provincial election and for his theatrics and grandstanding, at Ottawa's expense, in Copenhagen.
Ever since the creation of the Bloc Quebecois, twenty years ago, Quebeckers have tantalized both the federal Liberal and
Conservative parties with promises of electoral support in exchange for preferential treatment and political indulgence.
The strategy worked quite well, highlighted by the
last coup, pulled off by Premier Charest in 2007 wherein he wrested a $2.3
billion federal equalization and transfer payment top-up, from Prime
Minister Harper, in the run up to the provincial election. Mr. Charest
cynically used $700 million of the money to give Quebec voters a tax
break, thus contributing to his re-election, but at the expense of
humiliating the Prime Minister. LINK
on that largess, Mr. Harper hoped for the quid pro quo of a Quebec bounce in the
next federal election, one that would have given him a majority, but after a
gaffe over his cancellation of a small subsidy to the artistic community, the
Quebec electorate voted solidly for the Bloc, once again.
Harper, utterly frustrated by the betrayal, decided to write off
Quebec for good and rule with a minority, while seeking a majority, outside the borders of Quebec.
The game which the
province had been playing for decades, that of a reluctant girlfriend, always promising to
put out on the next date, while demanding gifts from an eager
and gullible suitor, was over. Mr Harper had figured out that despite the flowers and
chocolates, there'd be no nookie for him in Quebec.
Mr. Duceppe and Mr. Charest, may not have realized it yet, but the jig is up.
Harper now listens to Quebec's demands with a deaf ear. He's decided to expend his political capital (and dough) elsewhere and so Quebec is truly left sucking wind.
Ironically the Bloc Quebecois has been 'crying wolf' for so many years, now that Quebec is getting a bum deal, nobody's listening to the legitimate complaints.
Mr. Harper hasn't even tried to hide or couch his actions, his disdain for Quebec is a signal to his traditional base in the West.
The first major indication in his shift in policy was the stimulus package, which saw
Ontario and B.C. get the lion's share of the money, while Quebec's devastated
forestry industry received peanuts.
Last week the
federal government told Mr. Charest, in a letter forwarded (and leaked) just days before the Quebec finance minister was to present his budget, that the province
wouldn't be receiving an expected $2.23 billion payment for having harmonized the
GST and provincial tax. Quebec had been led to believe that a deal was done and were caught unaware that the money wouldn't be forthcoming. It was a humiliating signal by Harper that 'two can tango' and the miscalculation by Quebec of Ottawa's intention, left a big hole in the already prepared budget.
The snub was particularly painful because both Ontario and British Columbia had already successfully negotiated their
inducements to take on the tax harmonization project. Quebec had harmonized their system years ago and after seeing that payments were given to others,
went cap in hand to Ottawa demanding the same treatment. Thomas Mulcair, a Quebec NDP member accused the Harper government of double-crossing Quebec(with some justification.)
The latest slap in the face by Mr. Harper towards Quebec, is the legislation adding 30 new seats in Parliament, none of which are to be allocated to Quebec, notwithstanding that this action is wholly justified as Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia have been seriously underrepresented demographically in Parliament. In fact, of all the western nations, Canada has one of the most unfair electoral maps and this legislation will redress the issue of voter equality.
Of course the effect of this is to reduce Quebec's influence (and that of the Bloc Quebecois) in Parliament, something both the Conservatives and the Liberals are pleased with. The seats in question are pretty much up for grabs between the two main parties, so you won't hear a peep from the Liberals when it comes to opposing the bill.
Perhaps now, Quebec will finally understand, that had the province wielded more influence in cabinet, it might have averted the catastrophe. The devastating effect of the legislation is that a majority government no longer necessarily runs through Quebec.
Mr. Duceppe is already promising that he and his party will defend 'the honour' of Quebec by opposing the legislation vigorously and like before, his huffing and puffing is an exercise in futility.
He has announced that he is setting off on a cross-country
tour to assess the future of sovereignty, an effort to deflect attention from the ongoing calamity in Ottawa.
I can save him the time and frequent flier points by assuring him that at the conclusion, he'll determine that the sovereignty movement is in great shape, that Canadians are unwillingly to satisfy Quebec and that sovereignty is not only necessary but inevitable.
Perhaps he can be successful from shielding Quebeckers from the truth, that their rejection of the main stream federal parties has left the province isolated and unrepresented in the halls of power.
The decision by Quebeckers to thumb their nose at Ottawa is coming home to roost.
Next on the Mr. Harper's agenda - reduced equalization payments. Just wait....
PAYBACK'S A BITCH!!