Harper’s rhetoric on Bloc risks alienating Quebec

*I am telling you…any more anti-Quebec rhetoric from this clown and I can assure you that more Quebecois will become more nationalistic.*

A political-turned-constitutional crisis in the House of Commons is dovetailing into a unity crisis, experts say, as the Conservatives continue to disparage the proposed Liberal-NDP coalition by bashing the Bloc Quebecois.

The Bloc is not part of the coalition, but Leader Gilles Duceppe signed an agreement Monday to support the Liberal-NDP coalition for 18 months.

Political analysts say such tactics could likely fuel the secessionist movement, which has been off-the-radar for the Bloc Quebecois in the past four or five years. Lately, many Canadians see the Bloc more as a regional party that fights for its province’s interest.

The Tories have bitten down hard on chewing out Liberal Leader Stephane Dion and NDP Leader Jack Layton for dealing with the Bloc Quebecois in recent days.

For example, on CTV’s Mike Duffy Live Wednesday, Industry Minister John Baird suggested it was “morally wrong” to let the Bloc Quebecois anywhere near the government.

During his address to the nation, Harper’s arguments against a coalition government focused on worries about national unity as much as it did on the economic crisis.

“Let me be very clear, Canada’s government cannot enter into a power-sharing coalition with separatists,” Harper said Wednesday. He mentioned the word “separatist” four times in less than a minute at one point in the five-minute address.

But the Conservatives’ sharp criticism of Bloc Quebecois is seen as a worrisome move, experts say, because it only adds to many Quebecers’ fears that the federal government doesn’t respect their views.

Antonia Maioni of McGill University told CTV’s Lloyd Robertson Wednesday that Harper’s “burned a lot of bridges in Quebec” with his actions this week.

“I think that many Quebecers are wondering if they vote for the Bloc Quebecois . . . whether or not they have a voice in Canadian parliament — they’ve all been labelled (now) as MPs who are representing people who don’t have a voice in parliament. ” Maioni said. “That’s a very serious affront to many Quebecers.

Maioni also says that the Conservatives and Harper in particular, are throwing away any chance of winning support from the province.

“Mr. Harper in Quebec was trying to woo Bloc voters away to the Conservative Party, but I don’t know how he can go back and do that,” she said.

Harper has made overtures towards Quebec such as naming the Quebecois as a nation within a united Canada, but his support in the province tanked after a few slip-ups in the fall election.

But the blasting of the coalition, particularly by accusing the NDP and Liberals of betraying Canada to separatists, has played well to the Conservatives’ base in the west — as any Calgary radio talk show host can attest to.

Alberta MPs say that they are receiving record amounts of emails and phone calls from constituents outraged by the idea of NDP-Liberal coalition. A major public protest is expected in Calgary on Saturday, among other major Canadian cities.

One NDP MP told CTV News that one of his campaign signs was set aflame during the night and he blamed the Tories’ rhetoric.

“This intimidation and fear mongering has got to stop,” B.C. MP Nathan Cullen said. “I do believe that this is born out of the anger and fury that is coming from the Conservative benches these days.”

Conservative MPs scoffed at the claims.

“I am not demonizing anyone,” Baird said Wednesday.

Liberals MPs say that Harper is fanning the flames of separatism for his own short-term gain.

“They are playing the patriotism card, which is the last refuge of scoundrels,” Liberal MP Bob Rae said on CTV’s Mike Duffy Live Wednesday. “But my own view is that it has less impact today than it had yesterday.”

“He’s trying to set people against each other at a time when national unity will be best served when the parties of the House of Commons work together for the economy,” Liberal MP Justin Trudeau said.

“That’s what this truce is all about.”

Heritage Minister James Moore seemed to suggest that all parties have gone too far in their rhetoric.

“I think it’s time for a cooling off period and a time out,” James Moore told CTV News.

It is expected that Governor General Michaelle Jean will agree to Harper’s request for Parliament to be shut down until January, which may be the time out Ottawa needs, though there are no guarantees that the unity issue will cool down.

http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20081203/crisis_quebec_081203/20081203?hub=QPeriod

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