Let's not make too much of the Quebec byelections

Anthony Salloum, the Rideau Institute’s Program Director, contributed to this column by Barbara Yaffe of the Vancouver Sun. – Steve

Let’s not make too much of the Quebec byelections
The Vancouver Sun
19 Sep 2007
by Barbara Yaffe

Calm down, everyone. They were just byelections and fewer than half of eligible voters even bothered partaking.

It’s true, federal Conservatives have every reason to bring out the bubbly in the wake of three Quebec elections Monday. But it’s possible that too much is being read into the results.

Doom and gloom projections for the Liberals, who lost the Montreal seat they long held and were booted in the backside in a couple of rural Quebec ridings, are over the top.

Those who’d bring out knives against leader Stephane Dion had better wait until the main course because Canadians haven’t yet had a fair chance to taste an appetizer from this party.

Liberals only now are rebuilding the party post-Chretien/Martin and have not so much as issued a first policy platform. In many ways Dion is the Kim Campbell of his day.

Just as Conservative leader Campbell was left to deal with the stench of too many Conservative cow pies, so Dion is having to relaunch a party in the wake of Shawinigate, Sponsorgate and a decade-long civil war between the Chretien and Martin forces.

Dion is a worthy man and has what it takes to become a strong leader. He quickly struck the right balance on the Afghanistan issue, arguing the combat aspect of the military mission should end in 2009.

The formidable former Grit cabinet minister deserves a chance to assemble a strong roster of Liberal candidates in advance of a general election and to put his own stamp on the party.

At the same time, New Democrats risk exaggerating the significance of their win in Outremont. The jubilation is understandable; this is the second seat the NDP has ever won in Quebec.

But exactly like the first seat, it was captured by an extremely well-known and admired individual, of which there tend to be relatively few in broader contests.

Thomas Mulcair was a popular former Liberal provincial cabinet member, just as consumer advocate Phil Edmonston was a star when he won the NDP’s first Quebec seat back in 1990. Good on the NDP for snaring Mulcair.

But again, byelections are different from federal votes in that constituents are free to simply vote for a local candidate without being concerned about electing a governing party.

Leader Jack Layton may be able to parlay Mulcair into something more for the NDP in a province where the party has had no traction. When Parliament is back in session, Layton should use this MP to the max.

As for the Conservatives, leader Stephen Harper certainly has reason to believe his political strategy is sound. The byelection results were a solid pat on the back for his aggressive efforts in Quebec. And they have been aggressive.

This PM, because he is a Calgarian, has gotten away with pandering to Quebec without having to live with associated accusations of favoritism. He gave Quebec a seat at UNESCO, declared it a nation within Canada and addressed the so-called fiscal imbalance.

In that Harper is helping to emasculate the Bloc Quebecois, Canadians everywhere should be encouraged by the Conservative gain in Roberval-Lac-St. Jean Monday evening.

The Rideau Institute, an Ottawa-based political think-tank, notes that Harper still has a tough road ahead in Quebec because his Afghanistan position is so unpopular.

Institute program director Anthony Salloum opines the byelection win can be explained by several factors.

First, Denis Lebel, the party candidate, is a popular local mayor. Second, the Bloc’s influence is waning in rural Quebec.

And third, Harper cleverly tapped into Quebecers’ frustration regarding reasonable accommodation of immigrant cultures when he fussed about the possibility of Muslim women wearing niqab when voting.

What’s clear for all parties is that a caution light has gone on with respect to the triggering of any general election this fall.

Conservatives have more work to do to consolidate support necessary to win a majority. And the other parties would have to be nuts to want to risk going to the polls at this juncture, based on Monday’s results.


Tags: Elections