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Will the Liberals ever come back in Quebec?

Stéphane Dion is the darling of Quebec's cartoonists. He is often portrayed as a rat, nibbling at some cheese, conspiring and mumbling against the nationalists. He was an obscure federalist professor from the University of Montreal until the mid 1990s, until he came out of the box to slash at the Nationalists after their near-victory in 1995. He is also know for being the son of a hard-knot federalist intellectual from the conservative Laval University, who was one of the most important advisors of the Quebec Liberal Party.

Now Dion is a bit of a running gag. He follows the steps of the bankrupted Trudeauist legacy which apart from the Anglophone minority whose leadership retains a Rhodesian flavor does not have much influence. For Dion, Justin Trudeau and a handful of other maniacs of federalism, Québécois are another cultural minority that needs to take its place under the sun of multicultural Canada. Recently however, faced with the fact that Harper has used the «N» word, Dion is also talking about the Quebec nation. He was outmaneuvered in the Parliament and he almost voted no to the Harper's deceptive motion to recognize the «Quebec nation». So he has zero credibility on this front. Michael Ignatieff is better placed, for sure, but still, this is the Party that has smashed Quebec nationalism, even the middle-of-the-roaders like Quebec Liberals. People have a short memory, but not that short.

Otherwise, Dion has little to propose, even his «green plan» does not raise a lot of interest although he is probably genuine in his commitment to the environmental issues. Coming from a party that has ruled Canada for most of the twentieth century and created the mess in the first place, it is not terribly convincing. On economic issues, it would be hard for Dion to project another image after a decade of neoliberal policies under Jean Chrétien and Paul «Canada-Steamships-Line» Martin.

The fact is that the Liberals are unlikely to regain their hegemony of Quebec's political landscape for many years to come. On the left, the nationalists are well entrenched and even if they declined, most of that critical mass would unlikely go to the Liberals. (It will disappear for a while because left-oriented voters won't vote). I don't believe that Bob Rae, if he ever makes a comeback after the next disaster, will be able to change that even if the Liberal establishment would allow him to do so (which is unlikely in any case).

On the right, there is a clear-cut alternative, well supported by Quebec Inc. At least Harper has understood that he had to bow to the symbols of Quebec autonomism (not nationalism). In addition, the Quebec bourgeoisie likes the mix of unabated neoliberalism, moralistic neo-conservatism and outright slashing at the social spendings.

Traditional liberal strongholds of the Liberals are also dwindling. The Anglophone minority has shrunk a lot over the years and despite its huge institutional assets in education and business, its political influence is very small. Immigrants on the other hand have also evolved from their traditional role as Liberal-supporters by default. Second and third generations integrating in the francophone sector through Law 101 are more and more siding with their immediate friends in schools and at work.

Nevertheless, the Liberal Party will remain dominant in western (mostly Anglophone) Montreal and in the regions adjacent to Ontario. Gatineau is now integrated in the greater metropolitan area of Ottawa and has been basically transformed as a suburb if not a dormitory of the federal capital.

In conclusion, the tectonic plates in the political sphere have moved structurally in Quebec so that the traditional center-right Liberal Party is at a disadvantage. This is the opportunity of Stephen Harper. But remember Groucho Marx, «you can predict everything except the future».


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