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Is Quebec arena a life-preserver for Harper?

In Le Soleil this morning, a new poll shows the Bloc surging ahead in the Quebec region after Pierre Karl Péladeau's announcement that he'd invest tens of millions in a new arena. And on the front page of Le Soleil – the paper not owned by Mr. Peladeau – the arena is presented as a life preserver for Conservative MPs.

According to the poll, the Bloc leads the Conservatives by 37 per cent to 29 per cent, almost a complete reversal of the results in the region where Conservatives elected most of their Quebec MPs in 2008. Half of the 700 respondents were contacted after the Péladeau announcement; interestingly, in the first wave, the Bloc was ahead by only 33 per cent to 30 per cent, within the margin of error of the poll.

Over at Le Journal de Quebec, the paper that Mr. Péladeau does own, we learn that Labatt is interested in the naming rights for the new arena. Which sets up the prospect of a private-sector bidding war that could further " encourage" Quebec regional minister Christian Paradis. Whether it will be seen as such by Stephen Harper is another matter.

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No doubt the Prime Minister will spend some time doing his political calculations as he jets to Geneva today. In simple terms, he must find a way to bridge the two solitudes on an issue that is easily understandable to voters who frequent Tim Horton's. Hey, but whoever promised Mr. Harper that governing a country like Canada would be easy?


Update: Maxime Bernier, who's been carving out a niche as the true blue conservative in the Conservative caucus and had once opposed federal involvement, now says he's open to the idea of funding an arena in Quebec City:

"We're leaving it to Josée Verner to manage this file, but the government will be delighted to study the private sector proposals. The announcement [by Pierre Peladeau] on the weekend is certainly good news."

Another update: In a blog post, Maxime Bernier says a reporter for a Peladeau-owned paper overly spun his his earlier comment: while he's happy to see the private sector offer and believes the government should review it, funding arenas is not a priority and the private sector should be mainly responsible for it. Mr. Bernier is also concerned about the regional tensions that funding a Quebec arena might produce.

Meanwhile, at a press conference today, Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe reiterated his demand that Ottawa match the Charest government and contribute $175-million to the construction costs. Oh, and he'll be announcing the rest of the price of the Bloc supporting the budget at a press conference tomorrow.

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