So much of why Stephen Harper didn’t find a single seat in Newfoundland in 2008 was the widely successful ‘Anything But Conservatives’ campaign, led by then-Premier and pillow-case-on-fire Danny Williams. And those of us wishing for a similar return this year may have reason to fear a much tighter race, and a more sympathetic reception in St. John’s.
It is telling that Harper has spent his first full week of campaigning in Atlantic Canada, wooing voters in a part of Canada that he has typically done very poorly in since 2006 – not Liberal west of Ontario poor, but still not up to his exacting standards. And promising chronically under-employed Atlantic Canadians everything short of the full return of the Cod is exactly what he has done. But whether spending a full week of a six-week campaign wooing a region that, at the end of the day, is not as vote-rich as other key battlegrounds, may not prove strategically worthwhile.
Enter Newfoundland. Newly minted Premier Kathy Dunderdale is much more receptive to getting Newfoundland’s shaky relationship with Ottawa back in black, and this week of campaigning has brought promises of loan guarantees for the Lower Churchill project with economic benefits for Newfoundland at the expense of Quebec. This gentleman’s agreement on the campaign trail was the exact commitment Dunderdale was looking for from Ottawa, and in principle at least, she has it.
But is this gamble worth alienating Quebec further? As Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe called it, it was “a slap in the face” to Quebecers economic prosperity. And last I checked, Quebec has many more seats to offer the Conservatives than Newfoundland does.
Is Quebec a lost cause? Or is winning a seat in ‘ABC’ Newfoundland worth the symbolic risks for the former ‘Harper Government’?
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UPDATE (17:45 – Fri Apr 1): Within hours of Harper’s pledge to support the Lower Churchill project, Quebec was up in arms. And it would appear that the CPC has answered my question! Quebec is not a lost cause to the Conservative Party of Canada, as they rushed late in the day on Friday to soothe tensions created be their meddling in provincial energy markets, according to the Winnipeg Free Press.
Within moment of Quebec Premier Jean Charest calling the Conservatives out of their blatant political pandering, Quebec lieutenant Christian Paradis remarked to the Canadian Press that: “I want to reiterate to Quebecers that Mr. Harper is committed to equitable treatment across the country.”
Sure – as long as equity suits their political goals.
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UPDATE (12:05 – Sat Apr 2): Stephen Harper’s political bet on supporting Newfoundland’s energy economy has officially brought on the wrath of the Quebec government. Yesterday afternoon, Quebec Premier Jean Charest dropped his veil of ‘neutrality’ – one of the worst kept secrets in Canadian politics – in calling Harper’s support of the Lower Churchill “astounding.”
According to the Montreal Gazette
“We oppose a federal government intervening in the production and transmission of hydroelectricity,” he said in a news conference held in Quebec City Friday morning. “Quebec denounces this promise.”
Once again, according to the Gazette, the nature of the conflict is that
The promise by Harper was for $4.2 billion in loan guarantees to fund the building of an underwater transmission line to enable Newfoundland to sell electricity to the U.S., putting the province in direct competition with Hydro-Québec.