In Quebec at this juncture, Harper has not secured his big jump. This is the good news. In the last weeks, anything but Harper has made a difference. The Harper revolution has been challenged. Like the new repressive legislation to put kids in prisons. An unusual coalition came about to denounce that, including the police, academics, professionals and the left! It is sensitive here because the established approach of using prevention and rehabilitation has been successful whereas most of the kids convicted of criminal offenses are actually getting out of it.
On the attacks against culture by Harper, another grouping across the board has been formed, with the Quebec Liberals on top of it. The minister of culture, Christine Saint Pierre, not very popular in the cultural community and in Quebec in general, has brought the light brigade against Harper, even calling a common front of the provincial governments against the cutbacks. Over 600 000 people have watched Michel Rivard’s la culture en peril. Harper looks like a fool, a bigot, a hard-line neoconservative.
Many more fundamental issues remain in the picture to the detriment of Harper, like foreign policy, the response to the US economic meltdown, the devastation of the environment. etc. The week-end edition of La Presse, the leading daily in Montreal and the province, has a four page dossier on how Alberta is being destroyed. Really, this could have been published by Rabble, but it is in a paper that is slightly to the right of the Toronto Star on most issues.
One can say with firmness, none of the fundamental Harper policies are popular in the sense of getting supported by a majority.
But electorally, the battle is not there, as we know. At the last election, Harper got a little bit less than 25% of the Quebec vote. But it was concentrated in the central part of the province, so it got 10 MPs with that. It would be surprising, taking into account that Harper controls the big government structure, that he would get less than the last time: it would be actually an important defeat.
So by and large, Harper would hope to get 30% of the vote, again concentrated, and therefore aiming to have some thing like 20-25 MPs, taking into account the division of the votes between Liberals and Bloquistes in regions like la Mauricie, Saguenay, Bois-Francs, etc. If Harper gets that, it would be a success.
What can happen for the rest of the campaign? Harper is emphasizing the fact that he is running comfortably ahead in the rest of Canada. ‘Join a winning party and be part of the next government, instead of remaining in the opposition’, this is what the Conservatives are saying, arguing that the Bloc is ‘useless’ and is wasting the taxpayers’ money. It is very vulgar and anti democratic, but it can affect the electorate. Indeed, Harper’s game now in Quebec is basically to shut up on its own program and objectives because every time it comes out, people reject it.
The Bloc’s game is obviously the opposite: to run as the firewall against the (neo)conservatives. It has to be a bit lucky, capitalizing on its nationalist core, and also on the Liberal meltdown whereas federalist centrist votes will not go to Harper.