This is the Life: Quebec election shakes up status quo

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It was a statement I never believed would have come out of my mouth. “Go PQ.” I made that comment on election day in Quebec a couple of weeks ago, not because I support the province leaving Canada, but because I wanted to see how Prime Minister Stephen Harper would respond after having made huge efforts to bring la belle province into his party’s fold.

Harper is a canny politico and he knows that if he can garner a majority of seats in Quebec and keep up, and even increase, Conservative Party support in Ontario, he can look forward to keeping a comfortable majority in the House of Commons in the next election. Mathematically, the West is pretty much irrelevant and the Maritime provinces are meaningless to any party that can dominate Central Canada.

Since the late 1960s, Quebec has played both ends against the middle, using the threat of separation to ensure preferable treatment from whichever party is governing Canada. To be honest, until recently, I would have been among Canadians who would flock to Quebec if they thought it would help deliver the message that the province is wanted in Canada. After all, we share nearly a century-and-a-half as part of this nation and it seems almost unthinkable that the province would want to go it alone despite all we have in common. In my limited travels in Quebec I have enjoyed every minute and I like what the province’s differences bring to our national palate.

But what would The Rest of Canada lose if Quebec decided to opt out? Not much, I’m afraid. There would be that worrisome little detail about how to keep the four easternmost provinces connected to the five west of Quebec, but economically it would probably be pretty much a wash. Quebec, I am sure, would have more to lose. No direct connection to a consistently strong economy, a smaller national market to sustain demand for anything it produces and a great reliance on what it sees as its mother country, France. But any true value to that relationship would be limited now that the European Economic Community places restrictions on what its members can and can’t do economically.

I seriously doubt that a referendum can succeed, at least in the next decade or so. After all, a shaky global economy isn’t exactly conducive to risk-taking. How badly do Québécois want to chance going it alone to protect things like language and culture, when those issues could be under even greater threat without a generally supportive Canadian umbrella?

With a slim minority government in place, no doubt new Quebec Premier Pauline Marois is going to have to become a very adept juggler just to hold on to power — a coalition government could force her out in a heartbeat. Her biggest challenge, though, might be in forging some sort of beneficial relationship with Harper’s Canadian government. She’s going to want the economic taps to continue flowing into her province and Harper is going to want to see a good reason for letting that happen.

It’s all a game of quid pro quo and Marois isn’t holding a very strong hand. She’s in a far too shaky position to play hardball with the feds and I suspect the man she succeeded, Jean Charest, is sitting back with a bit of a grin these days, now that the reality of his personal defeat has kicked in.

Charest helped the Conservatives gain ground in Quebec in the last federal election and he rightfully expected that rewards would be forthcoming to his province. Marois doesn’t have that luxury. It’s often said that people get the government they deserve. The coming months will see how that adage plays out for Quebec residents.

Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.