06/29/2012 07:56 EDT | Updated 08/29/2012 05:12 EDT

Mulcair and Harper's Quebec Tug-of-War


According to Thomas Mulcair, the recently crowned federal NDP leader, the fact that Prime Minister Stephen Harper would consult former Tory prime minister Brian Mulroney about Quebec, proves how little he understands that province.

Think about that for a moment on this Canada Day weekend.

Does Mulcair truly think Harper consulting the prime minister who won the greatest election victory in Canada's history -- 211 of 282 Commons' seats -- is a gesture of ignorance? Or is he fearful that it was a shrewd ploy by Harper to regain support in Quebec?

I'd argue the latter. And I'd also argue that Mulcair's apparently dismissive remarks are evidence of his concern about his own fate in the next federal election.

Harper's Conservatives won their first majority in the last federal election

without support from Quebec, where the NDP thrashed and trashed the other parties --

especially the Liberals and Bloc -- and became the official opposition for the first (and perhaps last?) time in Canada's history.

Next time round it is inevitable that the NDP will lose seats in Quebec, most likely to the Bloc Quebecois. There is little Mulcair can do to stop this from happening, but he is trying mightily to curb a drain-off.

He's managed to alienate the west with criticisms of Alberta and oil production and environmental issues -- all in hope of shoring up support in Quebec.

Mulcair is no dummy, and knows that the huge NDP win in Quebec in the last election (59 of 75 seats -- the Liberals got seven) is credited to the late Jack Layton, so any drop in seats in the next election will be blamed on him. Not fair, not correct, but inevitable. That's politics, that's reality.

Harper taking some 18 cabinet ministers into Quebec for St-Jean-Baptiste Day

celebrations, and declaring that his government can work with a Parti Quebecois provincial government, is little more than good sense, good politics and good news.

Of course the federal government will work with whatever party forms a provincial government. So it should.

Quebeckers have proven they are not puppets of any party. Sure, they do what they can to gain concessions from Ottawa, and are not loath to try blackmailing the federal government for benefits. And they succeed more than any party or any other province.

But they all try it, and tend to resent Quebec for being better at it than most.

Quebeckers, too, must realize that Canada (and Quebec) are blessed with a federal government that has contributed to Canada being the most blessed developed country in the world, at a time when economic and social woes wrack Europe and threaten the U.S.

Harper is legitimately worried about the turmoil and collapse of euro currency in Europe affecting Canada. As an economist, he is more alert to dangers than other politicians. And all this is good luck for our country.

The Liberals are soon to choose a leader -- another bid for charisma that they hope won't explode in their faces as previous choices have. And Mulcair is always a time-bomb, which is both part of his appeal and his vulnerability.

So Harper wooing Quebec is reasonable and reassuring -- on condition that he doesn't get swept away by generosity, and give away the store.

Quebec gave Harper five seats in 2011 -- but gave Mulroney 58 seats in 1984. Harper would be nuts not to consult Brian on future prospects.