the environment has been lingering in the background of campaign
sparring among parties. Even the advent of the Greens as a national
party, with candidates in all 308 ridings, has not resulted in the
environment being elevated to elite status among issues. Yet this, above
all others, could be the pivot point for post-election manoeuvring.
Here's how it could evolve.
If the Conservatives won a minority government, they would have to
look to another party to prop them up. The Bloc Quebecois and possibly
the NDP would be in a position to allow the Conservatives to govern, or
not. Given Jack Layton's position as the national leader of the left,
diametrically opposed to the Conservatives on virtually all fronts, it
is inconceivable that he would compromise on any aspect of the
On the other hand, Gilles Duceppe, the leader of the Bloc, has much
less at stake than Layton reputation-wise, despite the socially
progressive platform of his party. As an avowed separatist, he has said
his top priority is Quebec, and he would support the Conservatives in
anything that would prop up his own agenda of driving a wedge between
Quebec and Ottawa.
In that vein, Stephen Harper's vision of a weak, ineffective federal
government and strong, independent provinces would be the bond between
Duceppe and Harper that could keep a Conservative government in power.
Never mind that Canadians have, over the century, decidedly favoured a
strong role for the central government as the glue which holds our
sprawling country together.
With his 'Quebec First' stance, Duceppe would not likely fight
against a two-tiered health system in Parliament as long as Quebec would
be left alone to set its own agenda and the cheques from Ottawa kept
coming. The same holds for education, childcare, pensions, employment
programs, or any avenue through which the federal government directly
interacts with Canadians. Stephen Harper has already said he would allow
provinces to opt out of federal programs but get the money just the
same, with the inevitable effect of the disappearance of any consistency
or equivalency across Canada where social services are concerned.
As for the Conservative social agenda, which is anathema to the
Bloc's progressive policies, Duceppe appears willing to gamble.
Ironically, it could well be the federal Constitution and the Charter of
Rights and Freedoms, which the separatists shun, that could end up
protecting women and minorities in Quebec and everywhere else against
Conservative attempts to roll back hard-won gains. Harper's willingness
to use the 'notwithstanding clause' to allow provinces to opt out of
constitutional protections would also play into Duceppe's hand.
So across the wide spectrum of issues that would separate the
Conservatives from the Liberals and NDP, one could imagine Gilles
Duceppe milking Harper's decentralization ideology for all its worth.
Only on one front - the international Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas
reductions to which Canada is signatory - has Duceppe drawn the line.
Stephen Harper opposes the Kyoto Protocol and, to the great glee of
Alberta Premier Ralph Klein and the oil and coal industry, would renege
on Canada's commitment. Duceppe has committed to defend Canada's
signature on the Protocol. Quebeckers, you see, are both
internationalists and environmentalists. This issue transcends
partisanship and, as a result, cannot be manipulated by the separatists
to their own advantage. Duceppe must toe the line on Kyoto or suffer the
consequences. This issue could bring down a minority Conservative
This is much bigger than a piece of environmental legislation. It's
an international treaty supported by all industrialized countries but
two. To come into effect, it needs the buy-in of either Russia or the
United States. Russia is now negotiating a financial package with the
European Union in exchange for ratification. If John Kerry beats George
W. Bush in November, the US would be quick to follow. With either one or
the other in, Stephen Harper would then be the Kyoto spoiler, making
Canada an international pariah, a reputation most Canadians would abhor.
Since Jean Chretien brought the Kyoto resolution to Parliament before
signing, Harper would have a moral obligation to bring a resolution to
renege on Kyoto back to Parliament. His minority government would lose
that vote, according to Duceppe. This could precipitate an opposition
non-confidence motion and the fall of the government.
While global warming may not influence the vote, with a
Conservative minority government it could well be the deal-breaker.