The biannual convention of the Liberal Party of Canada took place in Montreal, but it might as well have been held in Saskatoon or Halifax. The French presence could hardly be felt.
There were very few delegates from Quebec – no more than 10 per cent of convention participants, according to insiders interviewed by Le Devoir. In his closing address, Justin Trudeau spoke almost entirely in English, and the rare paragraphs he delivered in French were even flatter than the rest of his otherwise unsubstantial speech.
Hélène Buzzetti, who covered the convention for Le Devoir, reported that the debates in several workshops were exclusively in English. Most guest speakers spoke only in English.
Even retired general Andrew Leslie, who is bilingual, spoke in French for just one minute of a 24-minute speech. "The hall was full for his speech, even though it took place during the Canada-U.S. Olympic hockey match," Ms. Buzzetti wrote. "When four francophone guest speakers succeeded him on the podium, the audience vaporized."
According to a CROP poll done a week before the convention, the Liberal Party had lost six points in Quebec since January, although it remained ahead of the other federal parties. The New Democratic Party was more popular by five points among francophones, and Thomas Mulcair was slightly ahead of Justin Trudeau in response to who would make the best prime minister. But, CROP analyst Youri Rivest warned: "The electorate is very volatile."
The dearth of French-speaking delegates at the convention, as well as the obvious disregard for French on the part of party organizers, say more than a poll about the real state of the Liberals in Quebec. For now, it looks like a rather empty shell.
Some delegates at the Liberal convention were openly worried about the strong possibility that the Parti Québécois could win a majority in Quebec's upcoming provincial election. But maybe they shouldn't worry that much, for a PQ victory, while raising the prospect of another referendum on sovereignty, would in turn help the Liberals gain ground against the New Democrats outside Quebec.
If the "separatist" threat is increasing, Mr. Trudeau's Liberals will appear as the uncompromising champions of national unity, while the New Democrats have lost credibility on the issue by rejecting a key provision of the Clarity Act. The NDP, whose MPs mostly come from Quebec, has said that a majority of 50 per cent of the vote plus one (instead of a "clear majority") would be enough for the federal government to start negotiating the breakup of Canada.
As for policy, the convention showed that the Liberals, true to their past, are heavy on costly "national" programs, and light on the question of how taxpayers pay for them. The fact that Mr. Trudeau doesn't seem too worried about facts doesn't help. In a cute clip made for television, he likes to say that the middle class hasn't had a pay raise in 30 years – that is, since his father left power. That's a blatant falsehood, contradicted by statistics.
More bizarrely, in his opening speech, Mr. Trudeau attributed the climate of xenophobia and division generated by the PQ's secular charter to the state of the economy, hinting that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government is the real culprit. Such a charter, he said, would be "unthinkable" if the national economy was well run.
But this is ludicrous. This charter has nothing to do with the economy; it originates exclusively in the PQ's resolve to play the identity card. Is Mr. Trudeau really living in Quebec?