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February 2002

Uphill battle for Canadian Alliance in Quebec

On Jan. 7 2002, in Montreal Stockwell Day launched his campaign to succeed himself as Canadian Alliance leader. By the choice of this location, he wanted to show that he was the only pan-Canadian candidate for the Alliance leadership race. Notwithstanding a certain false enthusiasm of the 200 attendees, the beginning of his campaign was not a great success: only four Alliance MPs were present, nothing new to attract Quebeckers, and speeches by insignificants. Editorial writer André Pratte, in La Presse, compared it to a "Knights of Colombus meeting." The event was far from the launching of a future prime minister's election campaign.

In his apologetic speech, Day defended himself against evil "backroom elites," but he did not tell Quebeckers, or even Canadians, why they should vote for him and why he would do a better job at convincing Canadians to vote for him in the next federal election. His ideas were generally interesting, but nothing was new and we already know how his last election campaign was disappointing to many. His social conservative positions were not strongly emphasized, making only a few remarks about "respect of the family." But which family? What did he mean exactly? He did not take a precise position on "gay marriage" and he did not a say a single word about abortion.

What is his electorate in Quebec? The nationalists? The social conservatives? We have to admit that social conservatives are nonexistent. It is revealing that a large part of the audience was formed by the Franco-Protestant minority members (less that one per cent of Quebeckers). Is this his electorate in Quebec? The nationalists are still largely voting for the BQ and Day's position is not strong enough on decentralization to attract that constituency, which is significant. Unfortunately for many Quebec social conservatives, the Alliance is still a foreign party in the province. The defection of seven executive members of the Tory youth wing to the Alliance is just a micro-phenomenon. The reason for their rebellion is not clear and the speech of the ex-president, Audrey Castonguay, was not impressive on Jan. 7. She said that she wanted more collaboration between the CA and the PC and that the Alliance dissidents were the most radical and anti-francophone Alliance members. In fact, this collaboration is completely useless in Quebec, since both parties together would not have won a single seat more in Quebec during the last federal election. It is not difficult to collaborate when it means nothing.

Day's lieutenant in Quebec, Gérard Latulippe, an ex-minister in Robert Bourassa's government, was not even present at the campaign launch. In the Quebec City area, the Alliance got the best score during the last federal election in the province under Latulippe in the riding of Charlesbourg. Even there, he got only 15 per cent with the support of the popular and populist radio host André Arthur (who was fired last December) and the sympathy of the daily Le Soleil (owned then by Conrad Black). With the Tories, the Alliance could not get more than 20 per cent. The fundamental problem for the Alliance in Quebec is the bipartite election system. The BQ and the Liberals are sure to get 80 per cent together with their traditional electorate. The Liberals are now getting more than 50 per cent in the polls and the separatist vote will never be less than 30-35 per cent. What are the chances for the Alliance?

The only solution would be the implosion of the BQ, since the Liberal Party will last until the end of Canada. In 1984, Mulroney's Tories did well in Quebec because of the collaboration of the PQ organization and militants. With the existence of the BQ, this collaboration is impossible. Is this implosion possible? Perhaps, with a defeat of the PQ at the next provincial election (probably in fall 2002 or spring 2003). Even with that defeat, it is not certain at all that the separatists will give their seats to federalists. So, the future of the Alliance in Quebec depends less on anything the Alliance does than on the destiny of the BQ.




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