Harper blocks Bloc

November 23rd, 2006
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Where is the Stephen Harper we once knew? Well, he’s busy being Prime Minister of Canada. Not only that, but he’s acting more and more like a Prime Minister of all Canadians. This has positives and negatives.

On the down side he is not able to singularly pursue the priorities of a given region – even if they are absolutely superior to those of another. He is weighed down by the reality of necessary political concessions to particular regions that may not be beneficial to all or even most other Canadians.

But he is Prime Minister. He runs the government, and can thereby advance necessary changes to federal government policy on a number of fronts – justice, finance, agriculture, etc. – that most, if not all the other parties oppose.

On which side of the ledger does the “Quebec as nation” debate fall? A fair question, especially to western Canadians who seem to have seen this all before. To believe Andrew Coyne, it’s the end of Canada as we know it (to which some would say – bravo!). Chantal Hebert sees it more as a tactical/strategic victory that bails out the Liberals and the 10 Conservative MPs from Quebec.

I tend to agree more with John Ivison who alone sees a positive in one key aspect of Mr. Harper’s speech (Andrew Coyne mentions it but sees the negative). It has been mainly overlooked that the Prime Minister actually thanked the Bloc for proposing this motion, because it implicitly recognized the right of all Canadians to decide this debate. That is, Quebec may not unilaterally redefine itself, affecting all other Canadians.

Furthermore, in a discussion of division of powers, Harper can rest on his consistent, long-held support of the constitution in defining jurisdictional boundaries. This is added to his authorship (with Scott Reid) of the original “clarity” legislation which emphasized the rule of law and defined the road to any attempted secession as leading through the Canadian constitution, not through unilateral action by Quebec.

Westerners should remember that only Stephen Harper has the political pedigree to credibly represent us on this file. He drew the constitutional line in the sand in the 90s, advocating the Plan B approach to the separatists – that separation would be no bed of roses, no having your cake and eating it too.

Then there is the tactical brilliance of the move. The Bloc had hoped to pin him and the Liberals in a corner. But where would you like to fight – on enemy soil or ground of your own choosing? Realizing he’d have to confront the “nation question” sooner rather than later, he stole a march on the Bloc by proposing his own wording and getting the other opposition parties to agree – all in a matter of 12 hours.

Will the Bloc and others try to use the word “nation” to cause further mischief? Absolutely. But they would have used its rejection to cause as much or more of the same. And when the trouble comes, I know of no one more qualified to represent Canada than Stephen Harper. In the meantime, Prime Minister Harper can continue advancing the entire Conservative agenda as best he can.

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