REACTION IN QUEBEC | Canada | PM accused of fanning flames of separatism
PM accused of fanning flames of separatism
Dec 05, 2008 04:30 AM


MONTREAL–Baffled by the intensity of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's aggressive condemnations of the Liberal-NDP coalition's deal with the Bloc Québécois, Quebecers are now weighing the consequences of his strategy.

"Maybe the rest of Canada is going to help Quebec separate, and that would be great!" said Nathalie Pauzé, a graphic designer in Montreal, and evidently a sovereignist at heart.

Pauzé thinks that when it comes to national unity, Harper's ongoing invective against the separatist Bloc – which had only agreed to support the coalition – has fanned the flames of discord, and that can only help the sovereignist cause in Quebec.

Marco Fortier, columnist for Le Journal de Montréal, called Harper the "pyromaniac fireman."

"It's hard to believe that the aggressive Stephen Harper we saw in the Commons this week is the same man who courted `nationalist Quebecers' two months ago," he wrote.

Especially in his first mandate, Harper seemed intent on gaining the favour of Quebecers. For instance, he recalibrated the equalization formula, giving Quebec billions of dollars more. He gave the province a voice at UNESCO. Most dramatically, he adopted a motion in the House of Commons saying Quebecers formed a "nation."

But Alain-G. Gagnon, a political scientist at the University of Quebec at Montreal, said Harper "in the last two days has done more damage to the Canadian national unity cause than all the efforts he's made in the last few years."

The reason is that Quebecers, even those who aren't ardent separatists, tend to view the sovereignist parties as legitimate political formations. Quebecers feel they need parties that solely focus on their interests.

Even Liberal Premier Jean Charest, who in the last days of the campaign leading up to Monday's election, came to the Bloc's defence, saying every party elected by the people is "legitimate."

Gagnon estimates that Harper's bluster could lead to a mobilization of sovereignist forces who have felt marginalized as the provincial Parti Québécois has pushed aside talk of sovereignty.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see an upsurge in nationalist forces in the next few days," Gagnon said.


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