Monday, July 27, 2009

Québec & Canadian Federal Politics:: Does a Parliamentary Majority Depend on La Belle Province?

Alternative version on ASA's ThickCulture.

Late last week the CBC reported on an EKOS poll stating that the majority of Canadians wanted a majority government. Barely. The poll have the following options::
  1. Conservative (PC) majority 26%
  2. Liberal (LP) majority 25%
  3. Conservative (PC) minority 9%
  4. Liberal minority (LP) 15%
  5. None of the above 25%
In terms of Federal vote intention, here's how the numbers broke down::

Québec As a Path to a Majority?

An article a week and a half ago by the Montréal Gazette brings up a controversial argument::
"Quebecers more than others have it in their power to break this log-jam, by taking a more active hand in national governance instead of 'parking' their votes with an increasingly irrelevant Bloc Québécois. Had Quebecers voted for national parties in the same proportion as other Canadians in the last election, we would have a majority government. The instability of minority times makes the government of Canada weaker, which serves the sovereignists' interests but not the public interest."
No. Looking at Québec polls, while I've noticed the Bloc Québécois {BQ} numbers slipping since the 2008 election on the 308 blog, the Gazette's line of reasoning is unlikely to lure enough Québec voters to the Conservative or Liberal camps. In the EKOS full report {pdf}, 59% polled want a minority government or "none of the above," with respect to the major party scenarios. The Gazette said that in the Harris-Decima poll {pdf} that 63% of Quebecers want a majority, but the poll also reported that the desired election outcome in the province has under 50% wanting a majority government. According to the EKOS poll, the federal vote intention in the in Québec shows a plurality of support for the Bloc::

The 2008 federal results in Québec saw BQ making a strong showing with 49 seats of 75. The map below shows Bloc in light blue, Conservatives (PC) in dark blue, Liberals (LP) in Red, and New Democrats (NDP) in orange. The Bloc is strong throughout the province, while the Conservatives have support in a few rural areas, and the Liberals and NDP have appeal in or near the cities of Montréal and Ottawa.

The current polls compiled on threehundredeight show that the Bloc is still polling well and that overall Liberal support appears to be gaining at the expense of the Conservatives. I don't see a Liberal majority on the horizon in Canada, let alone Québec being a factor in a Liberal majority. So, given the polls, I don't see Québec as playing any role in moving Canada towards a majority or even a coalition. Unless the Conservatives and PM Stephen Harper do something soon, a Liberal minority government may well come to pass. While the instability may be unsettling and frustrating, I don't see a majority or a coalition forming in the near future. I do see opportunities for the Greens and possibly the NDP for gaining seats in the turbulent political environment.

Liberal Surge in Québec:: Cultural Politics
Last month, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff showed how hard it is to manage perceptions in Québec as the leader of a Canada-wide party. While promising restoring funding to the arts and appointment of Québecers to cabinet posts, he also said he has no plans to give Québec any special powers, if elected as Prime Minister. This opened the Liberals open to criticism in the province by rival parties.
"It's the same good old Liberal Party of Canada that wants to put Québec in its place."--Pierre Paquette, Bloc MP Joliette

"It shows that he's not only been out of Canada for 35 years, he's never known anything about Québec except what he learned at Upper Canada College and, frankly, I'm not afraid of him a bit."--Thomas Mulcair, NDP MP Outremont
The nuances of the issue of sovereignty and its manifestations is far too complex to go into here, so suffice it to say that concerns of Québec as a distinct society are far from settled. According to Andrew Cohen's The Unfinished Canadian, Québecers are more likely to be ambivalent towards the idea of a federal Canada, which isn't that surprising. Stephen Harper has done precious little to appeal to Québec, while Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, in my opinion, doesn't help things with statements like::
"The best possible Canada is a Canada where Québecers are in power...The Bloc Québécois is not a solution for a better Québec and Canada."--Michael Ignatieff, 3 June 2009 at a Montréal fundraiser
While Ignatieff may have had his reasons, the Bloc represents a set of meanings to many Québecers and I fail to see the upside of antagonizing the Bloc. The tories went after the Bloc earlier in the summer, accusing the party on being soft on pedophiles because they didn't support tougher legislation on minimum sentencing for child trafficking. The ads haven't affected polls and the Conservatices are still falling behind. Having appeal in Québec requires subtlety. As stated above, Harper hasn't done much to appeal to Quebecers, but Conservative writer Bob Plamondon in a Macleans article gets at the heart of the matter. Harper needs to understand culture in order to build social capital::
“I don’t think it was so much that those specific policies were abhorred by Quebecers...because in the scheme of government activities, they are relatively minor issues. But they spoke to larger issues—does Stephen Harper understand Quebec and can he be trusted? I think Quebecers drew the conclusion that he’s disconnected from them. They couldn’t identify among Harper’s team a particularly strong lieutenant who had near-veto power over what went on in Ottawa with respect to those matters that are of particular concern to Quebecers."
I don't see that happening, but I can see him using fiscal controls on Ottawa as an appeal to Québec and fiscal conservatives in other provinces. In any case, the Bloc and the Liberals are likely to go head-to-head in several swing ridings. In the 2008 election, there were 8 federal ridings that where the outcome was within 5%, with the Bloc in 5 close races with the grits, 2 close races with the tories, and 1 three-way race with the grits and dippers in Gatineau. The following is a list of the 8 closest ridings with the winning party the percent margin and the next closest party::
  1. Brossard-La Prairie [near Montréal] (LP) +.1% over BQ
  2. Ahuntsic (BQ) [Montréal] + .9% over LP
  3. Haute-Gaspésie/La Mitis/Matane/Matapédia [Gaspé] (BQ) +1.9% over LP
  4. Brome-Missisquoi [Eastern Townships/Cantons de l'Est] (BQ) +2.4 over LP
  5. Jeanne-Le Ber [Montréal] (BQ) +2.6 over LP
  6. Gatineau (BQ) [Ottawa] +3.1 over NDP, +3.9 over LP
  7. Roberval/Lac St. Jean [rural Sanguenay] (PC) +3.8 over PC
  8. Beauport-Limoilou [Québec City] (PC) +4.2% over BQ
The Web 2.0 Gap
Given the Liberal surge, it will be interesting how the Bloc responds. In the francophone Québec blogosphere, the following catchy Bloc video went somewhat viral in 2004 in the pre-YouTube era, as part of the "un parti propre au Québec/a party proper to Québec" campaign.

Given how 41% of younger voters under 25 support the Bloc {see above table on federal vote intention in Québec} and how Bloc support skews younger, I expect to see more Bloc use of Web 2.0 in the future, i.e., more use of YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, although there's clearly work to be done. Michael Geist noted how Canadian politics was stuck in Web 1.0 last election::
"Each party had the requisite websites, yet their most innovative initiatives - the Conservatives' and the Liberals' to name two - were quickly dismissed as juvenile sites that did more harm than good...With months of advance preparation, why did the parties perform so poorly? Part of the reason may stem from the Canadian approach to political campaigns, which emphasizes advance planning with each day fully scripted. Far from the decentralized model that thrives online, Canadian political parties have embraced the exact opposite - a model of top-down, hierarchical messaging with even local candidates constrained and required to follow a common playbook."
With the Conservatives struggling for relevance and all of the remaining parties needing cost-effective ways to build community and foster civic engagement, it's about time.

Twitterversion:: Canadians supposedly want a majority government & Montréal Gazette thinks Québec can play a role in delivering it. Unlikely given polls&cultural politics. @Prof_K

Song:: Tricot Machine -L'Ours {Montréal, QC}

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