05/31/2013 10:39 EDT

Harper Conservatives May Be Going Extinct In Quebec, Poll Suggests


Are Quebec Conservatives about to go extinct?

Increasingly, it seems that Stephen Harper has given up on the province. In the end, it may be a realistic assessment of his electoral chances in Quebec, especially considering that both leaders of the main opposition parties are now Quebecers.

A poll conducted earlier this month by CROP for La Presse found support for the Conservatives has fallen to only 9 per cent in the province, putting the party back to where it had been prior to their breakthrough in 2006. Conservatives had the support of only 8 per cent of francophone Quebecers in the poll, while just 10 per cent of non-francophones in the province said they would vote for the Tories.

Similarly, Conservatives were polling in single-digits on the island of Montreal, in the surrounding suburbs, and in the regions of Quebec. Only in and around Quebec City did Tories have any life, but at 21 per cent, the party was pegged in a distant third behind the Liberals and New Democrats.

Only five Conservative MPs represent ridings in Quebec and none are considered leading figures within the party. But because of their rarity, all hold either ministerial or parliamentary secretary positions. Aside from Denis Lebel, there is some question as to whether any of them would be given these roles if the prime minister had more Quebecers from which to choose.

Unless the trends are reversed, his options will probably diminish. With Conservative support tanking in Quebec, the re-election of all five MPs would be in doubt come 2015. Only Lebel and Maxime Bernier probably boast enough local support to have reasonable expectations of victory, but with Liberals surging and the NDP not going away even they would have to put in a good effort to be re-elected.

They are certainly not helped by the national party. One local Tory organizer in Quebec recently and publicly slammed the door on the Conservatives due to a perceived lack of interest from national headquarters.

Recent Tory attacks leveled against Justin Trudeau for seemingly favouring Quebec over the rest of Canada — by exploiting an out-of-context quote in which he paraphrased his father and remarks on Senate seats — have criticized the Liberal leader as pitting one region against another. Though it is the sort of comment that would go on unnoticed in the rest of Canada (and the attacks have been almost entirely in English), it is a departure from the Conservatives’ initial support for the designation of Quebec as a nation. The sort of soft nationalist support Tories have relied upon in the recent past in Quebec might bristle against the implication the province is just one region in Canada among others.

And revealingly, the prime minister responded most fiercely in English to nearly all of the questions from NDP leader Thomas Mulcair in Wednesday’s question period. Even when Mulcair asked his questions on the Wright-Duffy affair in French, Harper moved from French to English to criticize the opposition leader for not immediately telling police about an alleged bribe attempt by former Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt in the 1990s. Despite the issue’s relevance to Quebecers, Harper repeatedly switched over to English to level the broadside at Mulcair. He only tried it once in French, and it fell flat.

The Conservatives may be dispassionately calculating that the effort needed to win or even hold seats in Quebec is not worth the return. And it does seem that Tories are being crowded out of Quebec as Trudeau’s Liberals and Mulcair’s NDP jostle for position, not to mention the Bloc Québécois. Conservatives did not need their five MPs in Quebec to win a majority government in 2011, but with his party dropping below 30 per cent support nationwide, can Harper afford to surrender any seats to the opposition?

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

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