Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What Is The Liberals Quebec Strategy?

Two new polls in Quebec, both of which demonstrate serious problems for the Liberals in Quebec. In a survey of political figures, Dion ranks last amongst federal leaders:
least positively viewed were federal Liberal leader Stéphane Dion with a 58 per cent negative reading and Prime Minister Stephen Harper with 51 per cent. On the positive side, Harper's 47 per cent reading put him in 13th place overall, well ahead of Dion's 35 per cent that left him in 22nd place.

There is good news for the New Democratic Party and its campaign in the Outremont by-election. Not only is NDP leader Jack Layton ninth among favoured political figures, but former Liberal minister and now NDP candidate in Outremont Tom Mulcair ranks close behind in 11th place with a 47 per cent positive reading.

Another poll, on best Prime Minister:
Stephen Harper continues to lead among federal leaders with 26 per cent of respondents preferring him as prime minister to 18 per cent for New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton, 14 per cent for the Bloc's Gilles Duceppe and a mere nine per cent for Liberal leader Stéphane Dion (seven per cent among francophone respondents).

Could Dion recover from such disastrous numbers?

I suppose the good news, the second poll puts the Liberals in a virtual deadheat with the Conservatives, although support is very weak with francophones. If you put down the partisan lens, there is something objectively wrong about a francophone leader of the Liberal Party badly trailing the leader of the no-seat NDP, not to mention their star candidate in Outremont. "Disastrous" is a reasonable term, admitting you have a serious problem half the battle.

What I find frustrating, you get no sense whatsoever that the Liberal Party comprehends the need to change the landscape. There is no sense of urgency, the status quo rules, comforted by history and Harper's politics. What exactly is the Liberal strategy in Quebec, to win back francophones and present a fresh vision of federalism?

I mentioned this before, but at the very least the Liberals need to re-package themselves, develop some new language, accomodations and balance. You get the sense from Quebecers that the Liberals aren't even in the game, irrelevant to the discussion, outside of a few supposed "strongholds", which look weaker by the minute. The Liberals need to adopt a high-profile message, that tells Quebecers that the party has actually moved beyond the Trudeau era, because clearly the internal discussions have moved forward. I'm not suggesting the party abandon its strong federalist roots, but it is beyond obvious that the terminology needs an update. There are ways to acknowledge more autonomy, while simulatenously articulating ways to work together and weave, which results in a net neutral in terms of "power sharing".

Liberals have lost touch with mainstream Quebec, the choice is either stubborn traditionalism and further marginalization, or pragmatism and viability. What we see now is the equivalent of passive submission, trying to "hang on", as opposed to resonating. Where is the effort to re-frame Dion, a concerted effort to meet the negative opinion head-on? It is pathetic and unacceptable for a francophone leader to poll a distant fourth in his home province. It would be nice to get the sense of crisis, as opposed to the timid, the glass is half full approach. In reality, the glass is empty and thirsty people are looking elsewhere to wet their pallet.


Anonymous said...

I don't often agree with you but today you've hit the nail right on the head.
Unfortunaterly they haven't moved beyond the Trudeau era, and I have to give them credit for some honesty in not pretending they have.

Calgary Junkie said...

IMHO, the Liberal Party for too long has avoided answering this question:

What is the proper role of the federal government ?

This is now catching up to you guys in Quebec. Harper is showing Quebecers that the federal responsibilites, as outlined in section 91 of the BNA Act, is going to be what Conservatives stick to doing at the federal level.

There won't be any big social programs, like Dryden's national day care plan, being integrated with what Quebecers already have.

Quit intruding on provincial responsibilities, and you might get more respect from Quebecers (outside of Montreal).

Gayle said...

That is kind of funny CJ - because that question is exactly the one that Harper will not answer.

Tomm said...


The Liberals should force an election ASAP. If Dion doesn't gain seats, than the LPC has their opportunity to stage a palace coup.

Without an election, Dion, and the LPC brain trust, continues to look frozen, and will be unable to build a winning personality and platform.


Tomm said...


Your blaming Harper for not having a definitive policy on what the Federal government's mandate is?

Wow, if that's not the pot calling the kettle black. At least Harper has a policy on mandate. The LPC thought everything was Federal. Even the stuff that wasn't. Here's an incomplete list of how badly the LPC has stepped over the Federal mandate line:

Education - Millenium Scholarships, strings attached to Federal education transfers.

Health - need I even say anything? For a government that doesn't have a mandate it sure is cool to see they have buildings full of civil servants doing "nothing" productive.

Natural Resources - National Energy Policy and more recently Mark Holland reminding everybody that the LPC could do it again.

Gun Registry - was that suppose to be "law and order"? Someone should ask Allen Rock to explain what was going through his head? He shouldn't have gone off his meds.

Species at Risk and Inland Fisheries - not often discussed but an arguable breach of Federal authorities.


ottlib said...

""To perform in Quebec, he will have to perform outside Quebec first" and show he can be a strong federal leader, Léger said."

From the very same story you quoted Steve and a very good point.

Jean Chretien did not have very high Quebec numbers when he first took over the Liberal Party. His baggage was much heavier since he was a key player in the deal that brought about the repatriation of the Constitution and which is still considered by Quebecers to be the ultimate betrayal. And to make matters worse, Jean Chretien campaigned against the Meech Lake Accord. Brian Mulroney was thought of as almost God-like until the Meech Lake fiasco. When he fell off of his perch that support went to Lucien Bouchard.

So by all rights and by conventional wisdom at the time he should have been dead in Quebec and for a time he was.

So Jean Chretien pretty much ignored Quebec and focused on the rest of the country, knowing that when the time came his performance there would be noticed in his home province. If worked.

The baggage that Mr. Dion is carrying is not nearly as heavy as that of Mr. Chretien. The Clarity Act has been largely accepted by Quebecers, including by the separatists, and the sponsorship scandal is slowly but surely fading into a bad memory.

Despite Mr. Dion's low ratings the Liberals are constantly in a statistical tie with the Conservatives, in Quebec, so there is no reason to panic. Mr. Dion needs to continue to build a rapport with all Canadians and as that rapport builds his personal numbers will rise, in Quebec and elsewhere.

Steve V said...

"That is kind of funny CJ - because that question is exactly the one that Harper will not answer."

Exactly Gayle. I also disagree with the notion that the Liberals haven't articulated the proper role of the feds, because they have been clear, the problem is the script needs updating.


I'm not in panic mode, but I don't think this is a time for complacency. There is a problem, that is obvious, if we don't acknowledge it, then we really don't deserve to govern again. You are using the "tied in the polls" argument, which is fine, but that is more a function of Harper's failure than our success, hardly a winning long term strategy. Do we just accept the Bloc as a permanent fixture in Ottawa, or do we develop ideas to offer an alternative?

Dan McKenzie said...

This is according to John Ivison, so be cautious of course:

"He thinks he may have found his wedge in Mr. Harper's plans for open federalism.

Mr. Harper is banking that his plans to enshrine federal spending powers will win him support in Quebec, where almost all voters believe that social policy should be determined by the provincial government.

Mr. Dion is hoping that many voters in English Canada support the right of the federal government to initiate national programs it sees as being in the national interest.

Crucially, he is said to be prepared to take the electoral hit in Quebec that opposing limitations on federal spending powers would bring, in the hope he catches fire in Ontario and other parts of English Canada.

The Liberals suspect that patience is running out for any further accommodation of Quebec in English Canada, where any move to limit federal spending powers would inevitably be viewed as yet another sop to Quebecers, just months after the Conservatives handed the province "nation" status and $700-million in additional equalization payments, only to see the money used to fund tax cuts instead of services."


Koby said...

I wrote this a while back. "The Liberals have a choice. Either they can attempt to change the channel in Quebec, or they can continue with business as usual and go down to defeat there. Going Conservative Lite will not work. Dion’s reputation as an arch federalist speaks against it as does the fact that Conservative do asymmetrical federalism far better than the Liberals and they did it first under Mulroney meaning the Liberals came off looking like a bunch of Johnny come latelys on Martin. The Liberals must shift the entire focus away from federal provincial relations."

I have not changed my mind, but Ivison of all people as given me pause for thought and so too have unnamed Liberals.

Ivison: "The Liberals suspect that patience is running out for any further accommodation of Quebec in English Canada,"

As I said time and again I think the Liberals should campaign on the type of social issues popular in Quebec, but offer them as part of a national program. Indeed one the reasons why Quebecers prefer provincial delivery of social policy is that Quebec provincial governments always seem to beat the Feds to the punch. That was certainly the case under the last Four Liberal governments.

Mark said...

I completely disagree with your assessment. For nearly twenty years we have run on less and less in Quebec, and the response with every successive reduction in our vote totals is "we must appease soft nationalists even more next time".

Screw that. I'm tired of appeasing nationalists. All it does is spawn more of them, not only in Quebec, but increasingly in Alberta, Newfoundland and elsewhere. If the Liberal Party of Canada isn't willing to stand up to this nonsensical revisionist history perpetrated by Levesque, Mulroney, Bouchard, and the rest of 'em, then it should simply pack it in.

Steve V said...


You are misrepresenting what I said. The Liberal Party evolving its view of federalism doesn't mean pandering to nationalists, it just recognizes the changed dynamics. There are ways to integrate Canadians that people would be amenable to, if trust and respect is established. If you choose to stubbornly cling to a concept that is outdated, how does that hold the federation together, who exactly does that speak to?

If you are arguing "screw that", then you effectively acknowledge a failed state. I would rather see the Liberals offer a 21st century vision for Canada, that gives and takes where required, and see if that viewpoint resonates with people. The status quo is a slow burn anyways.

Dan McKenzie said...

I gotta agree with Ottlib and Mark to an extent. The areas of Quebec where nationalist and separatist ideas are most popular the Liberals are pretty much non-starters. Becoming more nationalist or whatever wouldn't help much. I don't know the solution here. I'm pretty cynical about our hopes here. Maybe only time combined with the downfall of Harper and the disappearance of Gilles Duceppe might get us back.

And are we really about to take away from Canadians the last opportunity to vote for a party/person who believes the feds should have some role in the promotion of social policy.

We've got to wait and see how Outremont goes to see where we stand in Montreal. The Liberals under Dion in Quebec have polled consistently above where Paul Martin got us in the last election, so I'm not sure it's all bad.

Anonymous said...


Calgary Junkie said...

Chantal Hebert on the At Issue Panel video

They're not bringing in the throne speech on the basis that they are convinced that they would lose an election. I think they are doing the throne speech in part that they feel if they can't survive this, then they would win an election. The issue is that they wouldn't win a majority. I'm starting to pick up signals that they are tempted, that they find that Dion is probably as weak as they could hope him to be. And I think there is some resignation in the way that the Conservatives are looking at the calendar. They get the sense that Mr. Duceppe may be at the end of the rope, that he has been dragging to support them.

Anonymous said...

What do you think Mulroney's blustering and interviews, etc have been about? To raise the anger in Quebec guys. Doesn't matter if Mulroney lied and stretched the truth, he's always done that, but he knows how to get the Quebekers going and it seems to me that Quebekers are either very stupid or playing the blackmail game.

Gayle said...

Tomm - I have yet to hear Harper set out where, exactly, he believes the feds have overstepped their position, and what, exactly, he is going to do about that.

What you are suggesting is that Dion should tell us how he is going to fix a problem Harper believes exists. Harper raised this issue - Harper can tell us what he wants to do about it.

As for your examples, you do not strengthen your argument by making things up.

I think you will find the provinces agreed to accept federal transfer payments attached to health care, and that the Privy Counsel ruled that while the provinces have jurisdiction over the administration of hospitals, the feds have the responsibility for the overall health of Canadian citizens. (The same type of ruling applied in an SCC case from the early 1990's relating to the Oldman River Dam, where the SCC told the feds that even though the dam was provincial responsibility, the environmental impact was federal responsibility, and thus the feds were directed to do an environmental assessment).

NEP was rescinded, and Mark Holland said no such thing (this is where you are making things up, by the way).

Gun registry has absolutely nothing to do with the division of powers - or did you miss that SCC decision that said that.

Anyway - I, along with millions of voters, await Harper's great plan to "restore the balance".

ottlib said...

Sorry steve, been very busy so I have not been able to respond as much as I would like. So please forgive the lateness in my response.

I am not saying that Liberals should be complacent, I am just saying that Liberals should not have a Quebec strategy per se, but they should have a strategy to appeal to the broader Canadian populace.

As a couple of the other have said the only way the Liberals can grow their support in a Quebec only strategy is to pander to the soft-nationalists and the separatists. That is a non-starter and if I believed a federal party should do that I would be giving the Conservatives a very hard look.

Jean Chretien and Pierre Trudeau both took significant numbers of seats in Quebec because they succeeded in the rest of the country. Even though their successors lost that support it had no worse effects than a loss of government for the Liberals. And speaking as a Liberal I can live with that from time-to-time. :)

Contrast that with Brian Mulroney. His pandering gave him some temporary success but when he was unable to keep all of those grand promises that success turned to dust and almost destroyed the country. Stephen Harper is imitating Mr. Mulroney and he has probably put Canada on a similar road. Hopefully, he can be removed before it blows up in our faces.

One of the reasons why I like the Liberals is they have always generally avoided the regionalism of the Conservatives and the PCPC. They rarely have a "Quebec" strategy or an "Ontario" strategy or any other kind of regional strategy. That is probably one of the reasons why they have been so successful over the last century or so. If that aspect of the Liberal Party changes then so will their long term chances of success and personally I would have serious doubts about my ability to continue to support them.

Steve V said...

"I am just saying that Liberals should not have a Quebec strategy per se, but they should have a strategy to appeal to the broader Canadian populace."

Ottlib, I completely agree. Harper has his "open" federalism, what is the counter, beyond tradition? The Liberals are uniquely positioned to make the case for Canada, but I don't think it is acceptable to write off places like Alberta and large swaths of francophone Quebec. I honestly believe there is a way to compromise, without necessarily weakening the federation, if you adopt a give and take approach. IMHO Canada is drifting apart, the way to re-energize is respect the parts, but articulate the need for commonality, in way that everyone feels part of the decisions. That might open up another can of worms, but the current malaise seems just as dangerous, maybe just less dramatic.