As we approach Canada Day, Stephen Harper is once again reaching out to Quebec and consulting with Premier Jean Charest and former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. With the potential resurgence of separatist parties in the next provincial election, this is none too soon. Whether or not the separatists win government, it will put the national unity debate back on the front burner.
Harper has proven that he can win a majority without widespread support in Quebec, but at what cost to the country? Admittedly, Quebec will always complain about something, and no federal government should give in to all of their demands, but it doesn't hurt to listen and even seek their advice on proposed legislation, in the same way that it can be sought from other provincial governments and leaders.
Practicing divisive politics might get you elected in the short term, but successful Prime Ministers also look at the long game. Prime Ministers eventually learn that they can't impose their will and political beliefs on every region of the country. The outcry in Quebec over the 2008 culture cuts and over the musings of Vic Toews about putting 10 year olds before a judge are just a couple of examples of the pushback a prime minister can get from a region.
As Harper faces the challenge of a renewed unity debate, he is taking steps to once again expand the big blue Conservative tent to include Quebecers. This is good news for many Quebec organizers who feel largely abandoned by the party and they will welcome Harper's new initiative.
It is interesting to note that to do so he has turned to two former Progressive Conservative leaders for advice. Whether or not he follows their advice and whether or not he will be successful in expanding and building the Conservative brand in Quebec remains to be seen.