Be afraid! Be very afraid!
Why should you be afraid, you wonder? It’ll be right there on the front pages of tomorrow’s Alberta newspapers: Prime Minister Stephen Harper is heading to Quebec to, in the words of Postmedia News, “counter a potential threat to national unity.”
Now, it’s never a good thing in this country when Conservatives start messing with the national unity file. Those of us who were around at the time saw what happened when Brian Mulroney succumbed to this temptation – and Mr. Mulroney was reasonably well intentioned, at least as far as Quebec’s role in Confederation went.
But Mr. Harper, it is said here, is not all that well intentioned, and he sure as heck has a tin ear when it comes to what will play in la belle province.
But naturally our dour neo-Con prime minister wants to save his own political skin – what with Thomas Mulcair and the New Democratic Party continuing to hold onto their lead in Quebec public opinion – so this dangerous foray into French-speaking Canada was probably inevitable.
To hear Mr. Harper’s friends tell it, the PM merely has an image problem, and it’s not his fault. He’s practically the next William Lyon Mackenzie King, some of them say, an unloved but effective strategist.
“Party supporters say Quebecers generally agree with the Conservative government’s economic policies, but the problem comes from personal attacks and criticism directed at Harper that rarely draw a response from the government,” intoned the friendly Postmedia stenographer in what’s bound to typical of the coverage of the PM’s upcoming charm offensive – an oxymoron, come to think of it, that’s astonishingly appropriate for what is likely to happen.
But one of those friends had a more revelatory quote about the mood in Quebec: “People hate the guy,” Postmedia quoted a veteran Conservative organizer from Quebec explaining. “They really hate him. They think he’s got horns and a tail and eats babies, and I’m sure Harper has no idea that this is the case.” (Emphasis added.)
Sorry, but his doesn’t sound like Mackenzie King to me. The trouble, from the perspective of the prime minister’s professional spinners, is that it’s what the prime minister actually stands for that really seems to bug Quebeckers.
Remember, Mr. Harper and his coterie are the people who repeatedly told tout le monde Quebec to bug right off on the topic of the long-gun registry, and who indeed continue to do so, the better to play wedge politics in the last federal election and the next one. The arts? Ditto. Afghanistan? Ditto. F-35s? Ditto. The environment? Ditto. Neo-conservative economic calls for the privatization of everything? Well, maybe ditto there too, or at least enough agreement to get some good pot bashing going in certain parts of town on a Saturday night. And, yeah, I think you can add “Dutch Disease” to that list too.
Hell, maybe they don’t even like it in Quebec that this government seems determined to kick the crap out of refugees who wash up on our shores to win a few votes in some of the more backward corners of the West.
Let’s face it, Mr. Harper’s problem with Quebec may not be that the criticisms directed at him are unjustly effective – it may be that Quebec’s voters are actually paying attention to what he says and does!
Well, nobody’s going to accuse us of paying attention out here in Alberta! (Jason Kenney, c’mon down!)
What’s dangerous about this charm offensive is that it’s being mounted by the most divisive prime minister in Canadian history – quite willing to pit one region of the country against another for transitory electoral advantage. (And never mind his projecting his own strategies onto Mr. Mulcair, who had the temerity to speak the obvious truth about the impact of Canada’s petro-loonie on its manufacturing regions.)
Facing a tough and focused opponent for the first time in a spell, he’s likely to do or say anything to hang onto his majority.
Add this to his tone deafness on Quebec and his now-closeted history as a firewall-touting Western independentiste, something that’s bound to be useful to genuine Quebec separatists, and you can see how this adventure has the potential to end badly for everyone.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.