Can the security card give Harper Conservatives new life in Quebec?

Feb 14th, 2015 | By | Category: Canadian Provinces

Sunday, February 15, 2015 marks the 50th birthday of Canada’s independent maple leaf flag --- originally supported even by Conservatives in Quebec..

According to legend, in the late 1960s a brilliant young political theory professor at the University of Toronto used to tell his students that “an independent Quebec could never be more than a pale imitation of Franco’s Spain.”

Much later and a little wiser, I  myself came to believe that this makes sense only for one historic minority side of the Quebecois homeland, aka la belle province.

(And besides Franco died in 1975. Spain is now a democracy more or less like Canada. The old Orange Toronto syndrome in local politics didn’t really end until the 1960s,  etc, etc, etc, etc.)

Some will nonetheless remember Conrad Black’s biography of Maurice Duplessis. And they will say that memories of the older Franco’s-Spain (or at least Vichyesque?) Quebec have something to do with such recent headlines as : “Quebec could be the Conservatives’ saving grace” ; “Harper’s fortunes rise in Quebec” ; “Politicians exploit Quebecers’ fears after terrorist attacks” ; and “Polls suggest the Tories are gaining in Quebec — what’s behind the sudden surge?”

The Conservative surge in the polls … Canada-wide and in Quebec

Maurice Duplessis, conservative “Union Nationale” premier of Quebec (he said prime minister, like John Robarts later in Ontario), 1936–1939, 1944–1959. He gave Quebec the first provincial flag in Canada in 1948. And in 1958 he helped federal Conservative leader John Diefenbaker win 49.6% of the popular vote and 50 of 75 federal seats in Quebec.

One thing is clear enough. At least until quite recently, the Harper Conservatives’ performance in the ubiquitous opinion polls we ineptly try to measure our politics with has been improving — in both Canada at large, and, quite surprisingly, in Quebec.

Polling guru Eric Grenier’s latest public poll averages have actually had the Harper Conservatives slightly ahead of the Trudeau Liberals, across Canada. And Grenier’s current seat projection for this year’s federal election suggests a Conservative minority government

Moreover, as Mr. Grenier explained this past Wednesday : “the fact that the Conservatives are now first in the national polling averages owes a lot to Quebec. The party has gained about eight points in the province since early November, equally at the expense of the Liberals and NDP … Of all the scenarios that might have been envisioned to cause the Liberals to lose the national lead in the polls, I don’t think many of us had wagered on a Conservative breakthrough in Quebec. The province continues to surprise us.”

A recent Léger poll for Le Devoir has also pointed to some underlying logic in these results. As Don Macpherson explained in the Montreal Gazette this past Wednesday : “73% of Quebecers said they were concerned by terrorism, and 77% by religious fundamentalism ….  The Léger results suggest strong support for recent anti-terrorist actions by the Harper government, which might explain recent gains in popularity for the Conservatives in Quebec in other polls … While Quebecers tend to be pacifists, 62% of them said they agreed with Canadian military participation in the combat against ISIS … And 74% of Quebecers expressed agreement with the Harper government’s proposed new legislation to give the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and police more powers to fight terrorism.”

But in the Latest Forum Research poll … the Trudeau Liberals are back!

Former Governor General Michaëlle Jean and her husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, with Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Gregoire, at recent Montreal social event.

Before Conservative supporters start buying too many party hats, they might want to ponder the very latest poll results from Forum Research, just out yesterday, and taken this past Monday and Tuesday.  This “public opinion survey found the Liberals have 39% support, compared to 32%  for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives …  The Opposition NDP are at 17% … A Forum poll two weeks ago had Conservatives and Liberals at 35 and 34% respectively — a tie when the poll’s margin of error is factored in — and the NDP at 20% support.”

The Forum Research seat projection model (sometimes called into question by people who know more than I do, I think?) gives the Trudeau Liberals a quite comfortable majority government, based on these numbers. This seems vastly uncertain at best, of course. But the latest Forum poll here may signal something of a break in a number of recent polls that have shown growing support for the Harper Conservatives.

Aéroport de Trois-Rivières, entre la ville de Québec et Montréal.

Lorne Bozinoff at Forum Research has speculated that the decline in Conservative support in his latest poll may have something to do with John Baird’s recent resignation from the Harper cabinet. And, unlike some commentators, Mr. Bozinoff thinks that Eve Adams’s and Dimtri Soudas’s defection to the Liberals this past Monday may have actually done Stephen Harper some harm, and Justin Trudeau some good.

Even so, and even in the latest Forum Research poll that gives the Trudeau II Liberals a comfortable majority government, the Conservatives are still doing a little better than usual lately in la belle province. The Forum regional results for Quebec show the Liberals ahead with 35% of the vote, followed by the NDP at 23%, the Conservatives at 21%, the Bloc Quebecois at 17%, and the Green party at 4%.  (The Harper Conservatives won 24.6% of the vote in Quebec in the 2006 election, 21.7% in 2008, and 16.5% in 2011.)

Anything is still possible … yes we Canada etc

Montreal in the middle of winter.

What gives the Liberals their real advantage in the latest Forum poll is that they do very well in all of Atlantic Canada (48%), Ontario (45%), and BC (47%). But the deepest meaning of this poll is probably that the cross-Canada electorate remains quite volatile. We still don’t really know just what might happen when the election finally happens (probably still on October 19?) .

Who knows? Thomas “Tom” Mulcair and the New Democrats in Quebec might still stage a dramatic comeback. Perhaps early in the summer, when something happens internationally to improve the global glamour of some (but not all) old social democratic ideals.

Château de Bonhomme at Quebec City Winter Carnival.

On the other hand, Justin Trudeau may still be having certain kinds of teething problems, and need more seasoning. In a word (or two) he’s less than perfect. But Canadians don’t entirely admire perfection. And it may be a little too early to write him right out of the picture just yet. He still has some kind of vague charisma that no other party leader shares. (And  his wife Sophie Gregoire just may be perfect!)

Stephen Harper probably has managed to advance his claims as a personification of the good old boring Canada with some striking success lately. But there may also be a lot of Canadians who really do not want to be quite so boring any more. And maybe they are not all terrified into blind submission on security grounds yet — in both official languages, in the far north, among all manner of migrants from other places, and on and on (and on and on) …

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