Monday, April 18, 2011

The Tory-PQ Alliance

The Parti Quebecois is riding high in the polls at the moment, though a provincial election is a long way off. And it seems to be filled with enthusiasm and vigor at the moment, coming off its convention this weekend-- though I can't say that I find the 93% vote in support of Pauline Marois to be quite so impressive as it's being made out to be. It sends the signal "in the face of a possible victory in the medium-term future, we are capable of acting as a basically unified and functional organization and not undermining our leader for no good reason." That's better than the PQ has sometimes done in the past, but it's not a dazzling accomplishment.

I fear that the real boost to the PQ's fortunes right now is coming from elsewhere: the Harper campaign.

To a first approximation, the median Quebec voter wants recognition as a distinct society, an advantageous fiscal relationship with Ottawa, and *not* to secede, have a vote on secession, or back into secession by a forced confrontation. That translates into a preference for voting for the Bloc as a substitute for voting for the PQ. The Bloc and the PQ are allies, of course-- but they are also rivals, in that the Bloc's success in extracting concessions at the center undermines the PQ's claim of urgency within the province. Voting for the Bloc thus becomes the safety valve, releasing nationalist-secessionist pressure and dampening fervor for the PQ and for secession.

As far as I'm concerned, this is a healthy dynamic. I don't like the Bloc; but I view them as a desirable feature of the Canadian political system, keeping pressure on the center to accommodate Quebec, and thereby keeping federation tolerable for Quebec.

But that dynamic only works if the Bloc is perceived to carry some weight in Ottawa. A Harper majority, and especially a Harper majority won on the basis of a nationwide attack on Quebec secessionist sentiment as manifested in support for the Bloc, will leave the average francophone Quebec voter with a sense of not having a voice, of having the desire to be maitres chez nous delegitimized in Canadian politics. Even if Harper doesn't win his majority, he's contributed to that delegitimation by making the thought of a de facto coalition with the Bloc anathema.

That can only be good for the PQ, two years out.