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The Quebec Election's Warning to Harper: Bad Ideas Will Lose

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There is a message from the Quebec election for Prime Minister Stephen Harper: ideas matter while dangerous, unfair ones will come back to haunt you.

In a result few would have predicted at the outset, Quebec's Liberals unseated the reigning Parti Quebecois and won a solid majority after running a straightforward campaign of better government for a better economy.

It was a victory of reason over the politics of division and it shows that campaigns do matter. As Tim Harper noted in a column in the Toronto Star, a number of recent provincial election campaigns have taken unexpected turns, often caused by party leaders shooting themselves in the feet at key points. It shows that leaders who articulate a clear vision can carry the day by appealing intelligently to a worried and plugged in electorate.

This week Quebecers voted for "normal" government, in the words of the Globe and Mail, and thoroughly rejected another referendum on independence. Premier Pauline Marois downplayed the referendum issue but it was clear that the issue was part of a hidden agenda that would be brought out if she had won a majority. As well, Quebecers were not keen on the so-called charter of values, which proposed dictating who could wear what to a government office in the name of secular freedom.

In sharp contrast, the slogan by the Liberals led by Philippe Couillard was simple and direct: "Together, we will take care of real problems."

So what does this mean for the Harper government, which could take the country to the polls in the coming months? It will all come down to whether constituents, especially in vote-rich Ontario, are tired of the bad ideas and divisive overreach of their government in Ottawa.

The case can certainly be made that Harper has been up to all kinds of shenanigans as the economy floundered since winning his majority government in 2011. The list of grievances is long and painful -- the gutting of environmental protections, the muzzling of scientists, the sellout of Ontario in the South Korea trade deal and the stunning waste of taxpayer money used on advertising to promote the tar sands.

Harper's unfair election act (let's all agree to stop using the grossly manipulative legal name for it) is just the latest in a long list of jaw-dropping maneuvers by the government that are so dangerous to the future of Canada.

The election law overhaul, unfortunately, follows a pattern of manipulation that we have seen from this government when it introduces new legislation. The bills typically have a grand title but inside there are details that are clearly dangerous. In the election bill, the government says it's going to make elections "fair" but instead the bill will make Elections Canada beholden to the party in power and introduce other measures to suppress the vote. Fair it is not.

And the thing is institutions matter in democratic countries. If you start undermining the government entities that underpin society you start unraveling the fabric that keeps successful countries on the right track.

Just listen to what former auditor general Sheila Fraser said of the election act in Parliament this week: "At the end of the day, if this is (to) continue we will all pay, because no one will have faith in government, in the chief electoral office or our democratic system." Shocking words from a respected voice on the deteriorating democratic values in this country.

It is amazing how adept the Harper government is in carrying out its Orwellian strategy of saying one thing while meaning the exact opposite. This "war is peace" way of governing is ultimately insulting for all Canadians because the government believes they can get away with doing egregious harm to the country and that no one will notice.

So it will be up to Tom Mulcair of the NDP and Justin Trudeau of the Liberals to mount the campaigns of their lives in their election bids. Like the Liberals in Quebec, they need to explain that Canada must abandon the divisive ideological agendas and save the country from the crumbling Harper economy.

And let's hope sound ideas will triumph at the national level for the sake of our future.

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