“This is no time for backroom deals with the separatists,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper gravely intoned in his televised address to Canadians Wednesday night. And in the struggle for his government’s very survival, Harper’s repeated dire warnings about the corrosive effects the Bloc Québécois could have on federal politics appear to have hit a nerve.
A Léger Marketing poll released the same day found 41 per cent of respondents are “very concerned” by the prospect of a coalition government propped up by Quebec’s sovereignist federal party. A further 19 per cent conceded they were “somewhat concerned” with the notion. Not surprisingly, most of the opposition is concentrated outside Quebec. In fact, only 39 per cent of Quebecers expressed any concern at all; outside the province, that figure climbed to 70 per cent.
Under a deal reached on Monday between the opposition parties, a Liberal-NDP coalition would take over for the Conservative government with the expressed support of the Bloc, which has agreed not to vote it out of office for at least 18 months. The unusual accord nonetheless finds Gilles Duceppe propping up a government headed by Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, a man widely derided by sovereignists in Quebec for his singular role in promoting the Clarity Act. But Duceppe has defended the move as being “in the best interests of Quebec, of Quebecers during this time of economic difficulties.”
In return, Duceppe has asked that a Liberal-NDP government increase its transfers to his home province. The Bloc has requested $820-million in extra money for education, $400-500-million of which would come in its first budget. The remaining funds would be delivered the following year.
However, some prominent figures of the sovereignist movement aren’t impressed with the deal. Like Canadians outside Quebec, they would rather see the Bloc abstain from participating in the federal government. “When I voted for the Bloc in the last election,” writes Victor-Lévy Beaulieu, one of the province’s most celebrated and prolific authors, “it was above all because I didn’t want Stéphane Dion to become prime minister at any cost.”
But the Bloc Québécois might not have as tough a sales job as its opponents; both Pauline Marois and Jacques Parizeau have, after all, already endorsed the proposed coalition. The Conservatives, on the other hand, are finding themselves on the defensive over rumours about their own past dealings with sovereignists. According to a Globe report published Wednesday, under the leadership of Stockwell Day, the Canadian Alliance had once sought similar support from Duceppe’s party back in 2000–proof, perhaps, that while the Bloc might not have convinced Canadians of their usefulness, they appear to have convinced their rivals parties otherwise.