Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Prime Minister Stephen harper speaks with the media during a news conference in Los Cabos, Mexico Monday June 18, 2012

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

The potential for a national unity crisis to emerge out of the next Quebec provincial election has prompted Prime Minister Stephen Harper to do something he has refused to do for years: meet with former prime minister Brian Mulroney.

Stephen Harper held a secret meeting in a Montreal hotel with Mr. Mulroney last week, The Canadian Press has learned, to seek advice on forming a better relationship with Quebec. He sought similar advice that same day from Liberal Premier Jean Charest, government sources said.

The meetings came ahead of a planned Conservative rally in Quebec this weekend where the Prime Minister is going to try again to restart the stalled Tory machine in the province. He needs to get it roaring not just to increase his paltry number of just five Quebec MPs.

Story continues below advertisement

A provincial by-election in Quebec last week saw the sovereigntist Parti Quebecois win a riding that's been held by the Liberals for 46 years. It suggests the party's strength is growing as support for the current Liberal government melts from the heat of sustained student protests and a provincial election is expected in the fall.

If another national unity debate springs from a PQ victory, Mr. Harper would be in an enfeebled position relative to his predecessors: his Conservative party Polls in the low teens in Quebec and there is no effective spokesperson for federalist forces in the governing party.

The sit-down with Mr. Mulroney signals how skittish the federal government is about their continued failure to connect with Quebecers.

In 2007, Mr. Harper excommunicated the former prime minister over his business dealings with German lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber.

Relations have slowly been warming since, setting the stage for Mr. Harper to seek Mr. Mulroney's advice on how to appeal to a province that once embraced Conservatives but have now all but written them off.

Mr. Mulroney still remains a respected political figure in the Quebec and probably knows it better than any current Conservative, while Mr. Harper can't shake the stereotype of being a Western cowboy out of touch with la belle province.

Several members of Harper's cabinet, including Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Defence Minister Peter MacKay, have regular discussions with Mr. Mulroney.

Story continues below advertisement

In 2006, Mr. Harper's newly-minted minority government, with 10 MPs in Quebec, celebrated St. Jean Baptiste Day with a full cabinet retreat in the provincial capital. This year, it will be a BBQ in the riding of one of his five elected MPs, though a handful of cabinet ministers will also be on hand.

The advice Mr. Harper received from Mr. Charest and Mr. Mulroney is expected to figure prominently in the prime minister's speech on Sunday, where he will seek to remind Quebecers of his commitment to giving greater powers to the provinces and his respect for Quebec's place in the federation.

But with effectively no political machine in the province and a year of majority government that has seen Quebec constantly irritated by everything from the end of the gun registry to changes to employment insurance, it won't be an easy sell.

The New Democrats continue to maintain their political hold following last year's surge to Official Opposition status that came thanks to Quebec.

Conservative cabinet ministers insist their message of economic stewardship will eventually resonate. It's about showing who has Quebec's best interests at heart, suggested Industry Minister Christian Paradis, who is also Mr. Harper's Quebec lieutenant.

"Quebeck ers will turn to our party – the only party that believes in low taxes, the only party that knows how to manage the economy in a prudent and stable way, and the only one who believes in a proud and autonomous Quebec nation within a strong, united and independent Canada," he wrote in an email.

Story continues below advertisement

But one of the few Tory MPs with any star power in the province – Maxime Bernier – acknowledged there's a challenge in communicating that message. "They are policies that perhaps not as popular today, but they are policies that are necessary for the long-term viability of the economic recovery," he said.

And should a referendum rear its head, there's the real risk the Tory economic agenda will be tossed off course.

Studies of the 1995 referendum show the Canadian dollar and interest rates took a hit in the run up to the vote because of political uncertainty created by the question of whether Quebec would separate.

"In the month of the referendum, the Canadian dollar was particularly vulnerable to what appeared to be growing support for sovereignty as indicated in the frequent public opinion polls," said a 1996 study for the U.S. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

The authors went on to find that "after it was known that the sovereignty question had been narrowly defeated the Canadian dollar moved sharply higher, and Canadian interest rates fell."

But the problem is broader than that, suggested longtime Quebec Tory Peter White.

Story continues below advertisement

If the election of a PQ government does eventually result in another election on the question of separation, who is going to wave the maple leaf?

"Who is there from the federal government to lead the no side in the same way [Liberal prime minister Jean] Chrétien led in the last referendum?," Mr. White said.

No one ever speaks in favour of Harper in Quebec and in fact he is reviled there, he added. "If there's an election pitting Harper against (PQ Leader Pauline) Marois, Marois wins hands down.

"And that is a problematical scenario."

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies