Stephen Harper -- that shrewd political strategist -- has maneuvered himself into the hands of the Parti Quebecois. He has vowed to stay out of the upcoming provincial election. But he will, nonetheless, be at the centre of the debate. Daniel Leblanc gives Globe and Mail readers a preview of that debate:
The issue of Canada-Quebec relations is guaranteed to play a part in the provincial election. The governing Liberals are set to campaign on a promise of constitutional stability, arguing that PQ Leader Pauline Marois’s priority is calling a third referendum on sovereignty and causing political chaos in the province. The upstart Coalition Avenir Québec, meanwhile, is trying to attract sovereigntist and federalist voters with its promise of a 10-year moratorium on constitutional battles, in order to focus on economic and social matters.
The PQ is refusing to box itself in on its timetable for a referendum on sovereignty, but vows to quickly make life miserable for the federal government after nine years of relative calm with the Charest government.
The truth is that, when Harper chooses to withdraw, he makes himself a target. And the PQ has a lot of ammunition. Leblanc writes:
As part of its strategy, the PQ argues that the Liberal government of Jean Charest has failed since 2003 to force the Harper government to adopt policies on crime, the environment and gun control to meet Quebec’s demands.
The PQ accuses the Liberals of failing to launch effective offensives on issues such as Ottawa’s decision to pull out of the Kyoto Accord or the dismantling of the long-gun registry, which have faced wide opposition in Quebec.
Harper thought that, by officially declaring Quebec a nation within a nation, he had solved a long standing problem. As usual, Mr. Harper's rhetoric is stronger -- but not smarter -- than his policies. He's gone from the frying pan into the fire.