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Today's Big Story

The Quebec Election Effect

Reading the impact on the next federal contest.

By Richard Warnica 29 Mar 2007 | TheTyee.ca

Richard Warnica is a senior editor at The Tyee.

Read much more Tyee analysis and reporting on the Quebec election at Election Central.

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Harper's billions couldn't buy Charest a second majority. Comic by James Weldon.

Ten days ago, on March 19, I wrote that Canada was entering a week that could change the federation. Between Stephen Harper's vote-luring federal budget that same day and the provincial election in Quebec a week later, we had entered a stretch that might have marked a major realignment of political fortunes and powers in this country.

So what happened? Did events justify the hype?

In Quebec, probably. As I wrote Monday, a province dominated for 30 plus years by two parties and one issue is now grappling with a host of new fractures. From the economy to immigration to an emerging anti-urbanism, Quebecers are now struggling to define a post-sovereigntist political culture.

Politically and culturally Quebec is in flux. We don't yet know if Mario Dumont and the Action Démocratique du Québec have earned permanent places in Quebec politics. Nor is the Parti Québécois -- or the separation movement -- dead. But at the very least it will no longer be enough to define parties in this province by their position on the national question. And that's a big change.

But what about Ottawa? Did Harper's budget buy him the goodwill of francophone Quebecers? And will Dumont voters swing Tory in the next federal vote?

Again, it seems likely, on both counts. Watching question period from the public gallery Wednesday, I was struck by how far the Liberals stayed from the Quebec issue. I found it hard to read that as anything less than a tacit admission that, for now, Harper owns the advantage in la belle province.

Whether that advantage translates into seats, we don't yet know. Sure, Dumont's middle class, small government line seemed torn from the Conservative playbook. And his ability to be a player without support in Montreal is good news for the urban challenged Tories. But as Dumont himself proved, anything can happen in an election. And until Harper calls one, or has one forced upon him (which, depending on your source will either happen next month or next year), all his good press in Quebec means rien.

So what does all this mean for the rest of us?

For one thing, it's time for British Columbians to better know Quebec. Language aside, Canada's second and third largest provinces have much in common: two resource-based economies with fast suburbanizing populations, two urban cores struggling to maintain cultural and political dominance, and two cultures not quite sure how to define themselves in an era of mass immigration. There are lessons both could learn from the other.

For another, it's time to consider what a Conservative majority government could and will mean for this country. Because, from where I sit, the possibility that that will happen in the next election now seems far from remote.

I argued here last week that, in the long run, Harper in Ottawa and a strong Dumont in Quebec could mean a gradual devolution of power from the Canadian centre. If that's something other Canadians don't want, I suggest they speak up now.  [Tyee]

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