Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Moi, j’oublie

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Bad Press, A House Divided (Thursday December 1, 2005 at 9:11 am)

James Travers of the Toronto Star has a story to tell. There was a time, he says, when Quebec was a base for the federal Liberals — when they could count on the province for their seats; and represented the country there.

Ah, but that was before three problems, says he: a ‘perfect storm’ of politics. Chretien’s mistakes in dealing with soft sovereigntists, Gilles Duceppe’s resuscitation of the Bloc Quebecois, and the sponsorship scandal. Since then, the Liberals have had to fight; and Martin’s pleas for unity must reverse this trend.

All well and good, save two mistakes: the trend, until recently, was the other way around; and one election does not make a trend.

The Bloc Quebecois secured 54 seats in 1993, 44 in 1997, and 38 in 2000. Clearly, Chretien’s approach to soft sovereigntists was playing right into the BQ’s hands. Moreover, the last time the Liberal party held a majority of the seats in Quebec was 1980, under Pierre Trudeau. Indeed, that was some time off. Since then, they’ve been engaged in competitive battles, first with the Tories, then with the BQ.

Gilles Duceppe became leader of the BQ prior to the 1997 election, and was at the helm as they slipped from their position as official opposition in that election and saw their seat total eroded yet again in the next. Has he since mounted a more effective campaign? Certainly. But it’s hard to say whether the credit for that should go to him or to a combination of unpopular policies by provincial Liberals and ongoing changes in Quebec politics.

So the “trend” is that the BQ gained seats in the last election. I suppose it will be a trend if (more likely when, granted) they gain seats in this election. But the writer woefully misrepresents history and does his audience a serious misservice.

The truth is that Quebec has been a battleground for the Liberals for a quarter century now, and not a base of support. Whatever Chretien’s faults, it’s clear that the BQ lost seats during his tenure in office. Is Travers right about Gomery? Sure. Is one out of three good enough? Not really.

Are there any fact-checkers working over there at the Star?

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