Tuesday, March 27, 2007

On conventional wisdom in Quebec

If there's anything this election proved, it's that it's nonsensical to bank on the conventional wisdom.

Like the current conventional wisdom taking hold in the wake of these Quebec election results as to how it's a big win for Harper's Conservatives. Never mind the fact that his "boy" (as so aptly put by Andrew Coyne last night, one of the few commentators to stray from the conventional wisdom), Jean Charest, served up what is in effect a loss last night. Anybody but Jean seemed to be the theme of the campaign and election night. Never mind that Harper joined himself at the hip to his "boy" in the run up to the election (recall the joint, big environmental announcement in Quebec, for e.g. just before the election call). And never mind that Harper tried to, in effect, buy Charest a return to a majority government by dumping billions in his lap in last week's federal budget. It's good news for Harper, nevertheless, that his "boy" barely eked out a minority government over someone who started the election in the distant rear view mirror.

Even the new guy's showing, Mario Dumont - whose team and policies people openly profess not to really know that much about - signifies a big win for Harper! Because after all, Quebec is naturally a conservative province, they say. And Dumont's voters are natural Harper voters. I see. That's why these Quebecers have been electing Liberals, PQ and Bloc politicians for the last twenty years. All this time they were just waiting for Mario Dumont and Stephen Harper's Conservatives to ride in and save them. Apparently Quebec is the new Alberta, we just never knew it until now.

So it was quite the night. If Charest wins, Harper wins. If Dumont wins, Harper wins. I mean, you've got to be thinking to yourself that Stephane Dion would have to be delusional to even bother showing up for the next election at this point. How's he going to overcome the presumptive story line being broadcast by the commentariat lemmings about Harper's coming majority?

Well, not to be a party pooper, but is everyone willing to immediately rule out the Bloc given last night's supposed "implosion" of the PQ? Is it a possibility that having a minority government in Quebec City that is largely federalist in orientation would suggest the Bloc's chances remain quite good in the next federal election? Quebecers have been known to choose contradictory results - the 1970's for e.g., Liberal MP's federally, PQ provincially - in order to gain leverage. I wouldn't rule it out at this point.

The popular vote split was very close. Liberals 33%, ADQ 31%, PQ 28%. There is a degree of unpredictability evident in these results.

Dumont came close to becoming Premier. He's a new face. He caught on in a brief campaign. It's possible an unforeseen leader could do the same in Quebec, or elsewhere during a coming federal campaign.

And is it good news for Harper's Conservatives to be affiliated with a latent resentment of minority accommodation that Dumont tapped into during this election?
Since the fall, an angry debate over accommodating religious minorities roiled the province.

More incidents erupted during the election campaign. People complained that their party at a sugar shack was curbed by Muslim patrons who needed prayer space. There was outrage over whether Muslim women should lift their face veils to identify themselves when they vote.

Mr. Dumont barely touched on those issues during the campaign, but he had already gained a lot of capital last fall when he was the only leader who spoke forcefully against accommodations, saying Quebec had gone too far in placating religious minorities. (emphasis added)
Nah, that's not a good look for Mini Bush and his gang...this is exactly the kind of issue Harper's Conservatives need like the plague at this point. They're ticking time bombs with such issues and they embrace it at their peril.

We saw how the conventional wisdom played out last night. I think I'll maintain a healthy degree of skepticism.