Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Harper: Québec a "nation within a united Canada"

It was quite a political shock, but Stephen Harper -- with backing from Bill Graham and Jack Layton -- introduced a resolution to declare that Québecois are a nation within a united Canada. This was quite deliberate, to undercut a resolution from Gilles Duceppe, the separatist leader in Ottawa, that Québec is a nation, period.

It seems to me that Harper has backed himself into a corner these last few weeks. Not only does he had to explain why he has chucked out the autonomy of MPs to a level of party discipline not seen in years, but also why he betrayed the oil patch with his government's announcements on income trusts. He was rapidly heading for a no-confidence vote and there's no doubt it would have passed -- whether it was a straight up motion or the vote on the Ways and Means Motion dealing with tomorrow's economic statement.

I don't think any of the federalist parties are actually ready for an election -- they need at least until the spring to get organized in a meaningful fashion. So I think what happened today is really a way of buying Steve, Jack and whoever wins the Liberal leadership next week time; time to get ready for what promises to be an even nastier round of hustings than the last one. Two things are pretty obvious to me from this: One, the Cons and the other federalist parties want the Bloc off the political map once and for all and return Parliament to an all-federalist institution. Two, Harper wants a showdown with Michael Ignatieff, who has been pushing the nationhood idea for Québec the most aggressively; so much so that the main contenders for the leadership actually had to sit down this morning to come up with a compromise position.

What is less clear is how it will play out with the people. Since the resolution has no more binding effect than the Nickle Resolution which supposedly prohibits Canadians from accepting honours from Great Britain, people in Québec will probably just give it a shrug and say, "Well, at least they realize what we have been all along," but it probably won't change the dynamic that much in provincal politics. Out West, however, where the Conservatives have their base and are actually "in" after saying for years they wanted "in," they're probably going to ask: "Is this the same Stephen Harper who fought so hard against Meech Lake and Charlottetown? Why has he suddenly become like the old boys, and so fast?"

I wrote a few weeks ago that it was my feeling that all French Canadians, regardless of the province they live in, were the real nation within Canada. But I figure, it probably won't do much harm to just state the obvious here. If the Scots are a nation within the UK, the Basques a nation within Spain, and the Tartars a nation within Russia, then what makes Québec not a nation within Canada? If it undercuts separatism, it's a good thing.

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