Quebec leaders, sovereigntists divided over coalition deal

All three main party leaders in the Quebec election campaign are duelling over the parliamentary crisis in Ottawa, as the federal Liberals and the NDP, with the help of the Bloc Québécois, prepare an attempt to take power from the minority Conservatives.

All three main party leaders in the Quebec election campaign are duelling over the parliamentary crisis in Ottawa, as the federal Liberals and the NDP, with the help of the Bloc Québécois, prepare an attempt to take power from the minority Conservatives.

Turmoil in the House of Commons has nearly hijacked the Quebec election campaign and news coverage as the provincial race enters its final stretch, forcing party leaders to comment on the Ottawa situation instead of their own platforms and issues.

Quebec Liberal Leader Jean Charest, Action Démocratique du Québec Leader Mario Dumont, and Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois attacked each other Tuesday over what is best for the country.

Marois defended the coalition deal that could see Liberal Opposition Leader Stéphane Dion become prime minister, while claiming the upheaval in Parliament proves the Canadian federation doesn't work, and Quebec should get out.

"We can see clearly that this country doesn't work," Marois said, adding the federation "denies the reality of Quebec."

"The only solution is to get out of there, and choose our sovereignty," she said while campaigning in a sawmill town in northern Quebec.

But Marois favours the Liberal-NDP coalition because she said it would help the Bloc get a more favourable equalization deal for Quebec. The Bloc has promised to support the coalition, should it gain power, for at least 18 months.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest greets business leaders at a Montreal conference Tuesday. Charest says his government has aptly defended Quebec's interests, without the Bloc's help. ((Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press))
Dumont called the federal crisis "unbelievable, frankly," saying the Bloc could have gained as much for Quebec by pressing Prime Minister Stephen Harper instead of lending a hand to efforts to overthrow him. Dumont also blasted Marois for backing the Bloc deal.

Charest continued to trumpet his Liberal government's record in office, reminding reporters that he doesn't need the Bloc or an opposition coalition to advance Quebec's interests.

He also stressed that the crisis in Ottawa underscores the need for a stable, majority government in Quebec.

While in power, Quebec's Liberal government sought and secured an increase in federal transfer payments, and won the province a place at UNESCO, Charest said.

Sovereigntists divided as national unity comes under fire

Speaking to reporters after Tuesday's question period, Dion said he trusted sovereigntists would accept his pledge to work with the Bloc, and would be "more likely to be reconciled with Canada if we work with them, than if we marginalize them."

What is clear is that Harper's politics this past week are undoing all the groundwork he has laid to win over Quebecers, said Michael Behiels, a political historian at the University of Ottawa.

"He's really got the pot stirred up to the point where I think it's a bit irresponsible on his part, because there's so much anti-Quebec rhetoric going on out there, that this is very, very dangerous and damaging to national unity," he told CBC News.

PQ Leader Pauline Marois, shown here with candidate Etienne-Alexis Boucher, says the crisis shows Canada doesn't work as a country. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press))
Quebec sovereigntists appeared divided over the Ottawa coalition deal that would give the Bloc an increased role in governing Canada.

Sovereigntist bloggers feasted on the possibility of a coalition, with some suggesting the Bloc signed a deal with the devil when it joined forces with the Liberals and Dion, a staunch federalist and architect of the Clarity Act, which spells out conditions under which a province can separate and is widely despised by Quebec nationalists.

"The Bloc are whores and traitors," Christian Bergevin wrote on the sovereigntist blog Le Québécois.

"What else is there to say? It is obvious. They have indirectly allied themselves with the two most anti-Quebec parties in Canada, parties which are not looking after the real interests of Quebec. I believed in the Bloc once but I finally understand that the Bloc is an opportunistic party that is even more insignificant than the New Rhinos."

Others found the idea of the Bloc holding the balance of power to be enticing, even if that hypothetical government would be led by Dion, who remains hugely unpopular in Quebec.

"The Bloc has the government by the balls," wrote Frédéric Picard on Le Québécois's blog. "It won't be able to do anything for two years.

"Some call it treason. Me, I call it a show of force. Put the feds on their knees."

Quebec election fades to background

The coalition talks in Ottawa will have a direct impact on the Dec. 8 Quebec election and on the province's relationship with the rest of Canada, if not the sovereigntist movement.

As media outlets zero in on the Quebec campaign, some political pundits suggest Charest's rivals have even less of a chance to catch up to the Liberals.

ADQ Leader Mario Dumont called the federal political crisis 'unbelievable' and chastised Marois for supporting the proposed coalition. ((Graham Hugues/Canadian Press))
Most Quebec newspapers went large with their coverage of coalition talks and buried provincial campaign coverage Tuesday.

The turn of affairs is unusual for Quebec, where provincial politics often supersede federal politics in the public sphere.

The province's biggest radio and television talk shows debated the pros and cons of the coalition proposal, while discussing future impact on Quebec's sovereignty movement.

The new situation in Ottawa could help revive the sovereignty movement while weakening national unity, warned Michel David, a columnist with Montreal newspaper Le Devoir.

"Even if Mr. Harper is the primary architect of his own misery, the Conservatives' collapse would certainly mean great alienation in the West and the idea that a separatist party has a veto over the country's destiny will certainly not delight everyone in English Canada," David wrote in French.

"From a sovereigntist's point of view, that's not without its appeal."

David reminded readers that former PQ premier Jacques Parizeau imagined the Bloc's role as a catalyst for an "Italian-style parliament" in Ottawa that would be so chaotic and dysfunctional, it would weaken the federation.

With files from the Canadian Press