If you’d already lost interest in the dark dreams of Stephen Harper and weren’t waiting for the centrist politics of the 90’s to re-assert themselves, then you’re free to appreciate that Canada’s new majority Parliament is positively pregnant with possibilities.
Quebec’s “federalism plus” status in Canadian politics is effectively over. For nearly a century, Quebec has either dominated or circumscribed the exercise of federal power in Canada. Since the Second World War, Quebec has been with every winning majority and has sent four majority Prime Ministers to Ottawa. When it was off side, it held the balance of power in minority parliaments.
So long as les autres were divided, Quebec didn’t have to worry about being with the winner. That changed this week and, more important, is not likely ever going to be like the good old days again.
Last April, the minority Harper government introduced legislation to re-allocate Parliamentary seats strictly according to changing demographic patterns. Support was voiced by a majority of MPs but it was grudging and the bill wasn’t passed. (An earlier proposal watered down the impact of population growth and, consequently, infuriated Ontario and the west.) With a majority and with the distortions in the electoral map growing, Harper will not be able to fail to pass it now.
Today, his government can survive for up to five years without the support of a single MP from Quebec, including any of the six Quebecers now in his caucus. After the next redistribution, it is likely, Ontario will have 18 more seats, Alberta 5 more, and BC another 7. That’s 30 more seats outside of Quebec that federal parties can pursue to win a future majority without Quebec.
That will, of course, not be the choice of the federalist parties, they’ll want to grow their support in Quebec; the other will try and, as ever, offense is the best defense. However, this new situation gives Quebec a fresh reason to alter its strategic approach. It can pursue independence. But it can’t any longer be the power it was in Canada by acting unilaterally.
Optimistically, regional protest politics will play a lesser role and Canadians will divide more on a national basis--on how the federal government should lead and when it should defer.
Neither the Liberals nor the New Democrats will get anywhere by accentuating their regional brands. Since they both now represent widely diverse constituencies, the logic of staying apart will steadily erode.