Who would have imagined that our first majority government in years would have the potential to be more divisive than any government containing separatist or regional-anger parties? Don’t believe me? Then don’t take my word for it – McGill professor and noted Canadian historian Desmond Morton wrote about it in today’s Ottawa Citizen.
‘A nation divided by an election’ outlines what Morton argues may be the largest surprise of the 41st General Election, one even more shocking than the Orange Crush that saw the New Democrats take 103 seats in the house (the number went up by one this past week due to a re-count.) Namely, the complete lack of Quebec representation in government, and the return of politics divided between English and French.
Morton notes that while Quebec re-thought their political alignment, “the hard news, of course, was that Harper had finally won a majority, though, in a Canada of two nations, he had swept English Canada and been thumped in French Canada.” He goes on to note that “for Conservatives, this was historically unprecedented. John A. Macdonald, R.B. Bennett, Brian Mulroney, even Robert Borden, had formidable backing from Quebec.”
But not Harper. The biggest message sent in this past election came from Quebec, and it said to Stephen Harper loud and clear: Quebec voters would rather (temporarily?) abandon their separatist party to support a left-wing federalist party, rather than give the Conservatives any significant support. It was, as Morton attests, “a massive rejection by voters of [Harper’s] appeal for a majority government.”
Sadly, while Quebec was shoving Harper out the window, the rest of Canada was sneaking him in the back door of our broken electoral system. The result? A majority of Conservative seats in Parliament, and almost all of them Anglophones.
But the question is, in Canada in 2011, are we still fighting the cultural and political war with Quebec that characterized most of the 1980s and 1990s? In other words, is a federal government without any significant support in one of the most unique and populous provinces something we cannot live with? I am still undecided on this issue, although I tend to think in a federal system, national gepgraphic representation is always beneficial.
And while I would argue that it should not matter because cabinet ministers should be chosen based on their expertise and merit, rather than by chat-room demographics like age, sex, and location, Harper has shown a particular joy for snubbing those voters who did not vote for him. And as long as we choose our cabinet ministers in the same way we chose people to talk with in chat rooms in the 1990s by asking “a/s/l” before anything else, the longer our cabinet ministers will remain relatively powerless, while the strength of the PMO grows by leaps and bounds.
But back to Quebec. As Morton argues, “Stephen Harper now faces a hard choice. Can he suppress his own resentment at rejection and risk annoying his triumphant followers by giving Layton some tangible rewards for winning Quebec’s support away from the Bloc? Or will his ego and his ideology take pride of place?”
I’ve never known Harper to be magnanimous in defeat, so why expect as much in victory?