This week's leaders' debates were held in two different languages, and, to those paying attention, for two different audiences. The English debate served a national audience, while the French debate served a handful of Quebec seats. Making localized appeals is a well-trodden path in Canadian politics, and voters in swing Quebec ridings aren't the only beneficiaries. But few subsets of voters effectively get an entire debate handed to them, as the national party leaders and the broadcast consortium allowed on Wednesday night.
Consider the rhetoric of the NDP, now sitting second in many polls in Quebec and actively courting Bloc Québécois voters. Jack Layton reiterated his support for an unnecessary extension of Quebec's controversial language law into areas of federal jurisdiction. He then echoed Lucien Bouchard in pledging to create "winning conditions" for Quebec, by bringing the province back into the constitutional fold. In fact, in terms of culture and language protection, Quebec is already winning within Canada.
But that position is thought to be politically untenable in parts of Quebec, and so the pandering has continued.
Stephen Harper, rejected re-opening the constitution, but still couldn't resist the temptation yesterday to firm up a few seats, pledging to move an economic development office from Montreal to Quebec's less concentrated regions. In the debate, Michael Ignatieff by turns articulated a pan-Canadian vision, and pledged support for an improved Champlain Bridge - the promise was not in his platform - to help a few candidates on either side of the St. Lawrence.
This parochialism was also illustrated in the questions and questioners, which did not take a national perspective and were dominated by one demographic group: older, white francophone Quebeckers. The one million non-Quebec francophones, the millions of new Canadians, the anglophones who speak French, indeed all those without a regional axe to grind, were structurally excluded.
But undoubtedly the worst was Mr. Layton's proposal. It is a divisive policy to effectively allow for the import of controversial provincial legislation into national politics.
The whole affair lifted the veil on the state of Canadian politics, which is not, despite the national party leaders' stated efforts, national politics at all; but rather, a series of plays for select constituencies, at the expense of a national vision.
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