By Lysiane Gagnon, Globe and Mail, May 15, 2011
Quebeckers now expect that the NDP will morph into a clone of the Bloc. Because he owes part of his victory to Quebec, it is expected that Mr. Layton will forget his real ambition, which is to become prime minister of Canada, and will be happy to serve as the full-time champion of Quebec. If these foolish expectations don’t diminish with time, Quebeckers’ disappointment with the NDP will be huge – and the big bubbling orange wave will quickly dissolve before the next election.
Having bought in to the Bloc's template that all federal parties ignore the interests of Quebec for the last 20 years, it seems, according to Ms Gagnon, that they have merely transferred their perceptions of "Quebec first" along with their expectations, to Jack Layton and the NDP.
Certainly, from outside the province, perceptions that many Quebecers jumped on a band-wagon without much thought or reflection when they entered the voting stations are rampant. If they were tired of the dead-end approach of the Bloc, and searching for an alternative, naturally they found the approach of the NDP, if they looked at it at all, closely resembling their political comfort level, given the most advanced social policies of any of the provinces and territories.
However, now that some 50 of the Quebec MP's (out of 75) sit in the NDP caucus, the expectation that Quebec's interests will trump those of the "nation" does not follow. Layton's prime goal, according to his own words, is to become the Prime Minister of Canada. Feeding the Quebec appetite first, before examining the interests of the whole country will land Layton in a buckey of molasses. He will be stuck in a no-win proposition the imbalance of which will find those Quebec votes, along with thousands from the rest of the county will be very short-lived.
However, neither Harper nor the Liberals can claim any foothold in Quebec, so the spotlight will be on Layton and his band of MP's from Quebec, to attempt to balance their own re-election aspirations in Quebec with their political "reserve" in the rest of the country. And that will not be an easy task.
With the Liberals showing strength in Eastern Canada, the NDP in Quebec, the Conservatives in Ontario and the West, there continues to be a question about the governability of the country, through the resources of a single national party. We are a country of regions, and the regions have been given precious little to educate them with the common intersts shared with the other regions. We have been historically slow to recognize the strength that comes from provincial collaboration unless that effort was/is dedicated to "bashing" the federal governnment. And that has become a provincial hobbyhorse for decades.
However, there is a country to govern. The provinces have constitutional responsibility for those matters that most directly impact the lives of citizens like education, health care, social services, with funding coming from the single collection agency, the federal government. However, it is time for the provinces and the federal government to, once again, hold regular formal and informal sessions to bring the national goals and interests into the picture for the provinces to see where they are in the national picture.
For example, the needs of the people in each province can be, rather obviously one would hope, recognized as more similar than different, from the needs of people in other provinces and territories. And this provincial competition must give way to a national concensus, a legitimate goal of the national government to facilitate.
No one really wins when the interests of the provinces (no matter which province) are given a high priority that the interests of the nation, by the people of each province. Quebec is not in competition with the rest of Canada, no matter which party is the governing party in Ottawa. Alberta and Ontario should and must not be vying in competition for dollars for federally financed programs, because they happen to hold a majority of the seats in the Conservative caucus.
It is long past time for the country's interests, including but not restricted to those of language and culture, to be given a priority that can be both seen and appreciated by all Canadians, so that the balance in the federation is more collegial and collaborative than competitive and divisive. And Quebec's political climate can take the lead in helping to create such a new climate for Canadian federalism.