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And Now, Let the Leadership Race Games Begin…But Before That, Let’s View The Quebec Challenge

Speculation regarding Jack Layton’s successor had already begun within days following his death.  Personally, I thought it was in poor taste. Kind of predatorial, really.  I mean, couldn’t we bury Jack first before getting to this new business?  Anyway, it’s all now in full swing as of today and as Jean Lapierre mentioned on Andrew Carter’s radio show this morning, the leadership race begins today.  Fair enough. So let the speculation games begin.  I will be providing my own analysis about the names being thrown out as time goes on, but before I do, I think I should talk about one challenge every leadership candidate will have, no matter who they are and where they come from, and that is the Quebec challenge.  How to maintain the support of all these new voters? How to actually get some kind of a base from La Belle province? Can any of this be done?

For openers, names like Paul Dewar, Gary Doer, Libby Davies and now, Olivia Chow have been and are being thrown in. One problem with those people though: none of them speak French, or at least, not as fluently as it would nessecitate.

First of all, unlike most of English media and much of the blogosphere outside of Quebec, I never believed that the vote for the NDP here was due to the fact that Quebec Nationalists have all of a sudden become enamoured with federalism.  As even Jean Charest had once pointed out, it simply meant that the sovereignty v federalism debate had moved to the provincial level. Sure it’s fragmented right now, but that’s all it is–fragmented–not dead. Apparently,  for a short while following May 2, Parti-Quebecois membership sales did go up . With this in mind,  the NDP will have enough of a challenge trying to maintain this newfound support they achieved on May 2.  Yes, even if Jack were still around, he, who Quebecers loved, would’ve had a formidable task to say the least. Trying to maintain the support of Quebec nationalists while trying to maintain support of an already existing base of English Canada has proven problematic in the past.  This is something any new leadership candidate will have to take into account.

The NDP has no real ground organization in La Belle Province to date and it has no base to speak of.  Furthermore,  membership in the NDP isn’t very high in La Belle Province and the number of delegates from Quebec who attended the last Biennial convention in Vancouver was very low.   As I’ve mentioned before, folks voted in droves for the NDP because of Jackmania, not orange crush. As there are not many who sought new NDP membership cards,  but how many of those nationalist voters did retain their Bloc Quebecois memberships?

Some might  also have a legitimate argument that Quebecers simply voted to ‘throw the bums out’, so to speak. After all, provincially, polls are show that  Francois Legault’s fictitious  (albeit, looking more like it’s about to become a reality as early as this October) center-right, pro-business party would win the next election. This would lend credence to that arguement. Oh, and Francois Legault’s  Coalition Pour L’Avenir du Quebec also calls for any talks of sovereignty to be shelved for about ten years. Same goes for any talks of repatriating Quebec into the constitution.

Then there is that Quebec caucus itself. Many of those neophytes are representing not only traditional Bloc Quebecois strongholds, but also, traditional separatist strongholds, provincially.  Many have proven to share many nationalist values.  How does the new leader keep them in check?

With all of this in mind, what would the new leader do? What kind of approach to take?  Will they take a Pan Canadian approach? More to the point, will they start paying less attention to the Quebec Nationalists than to their already existing base in English Canada? More to the point, will they differ with their predecessor regarding the Clarity Act? Just because Jack Layton didn’t have much use for it doesn’t mean his successor won’t.

Then again, perhaps it’s best to take more of a PanCanadian approach. I do remember Brooke Jeffrey, author of Divided Loyalties , telling Tommy Schnurmacher on his show that party leaders who take a Pan Canadian approach tend to be most successful. It is possible that the new leader would do just that and not even attempt to pander to the nationalists any longer.  There are quite a few federalist and swing ridings inhabited by so-called ‘soft’ nationalists who are on the fence regarding the sovereignty question and they tend to change their vote at any given election. Those are the seats the NDP have the best chances at retaining.  Those ridings would be good places to start Quebec membership drives.

Regardless of the approach the new NDP leader would want to take with the party, he/she must speak French. They still must be able to organize, to start a base of support and expand upon it, campaign and connect with Quebecers of all stripes.  Also, let’s not forget that there are other provinces like New Brunswick that have a high concentration of people who speak the language.  Also, there are those French language televised leaders’ debates prior to election campaigns as well as many other events.

Plus, Canada is a member of the Francophonie, and the leader is not only running to lead the party, he/she would also be running to be prime minister in 2015. It would be kind of weird if the Prime minister of a Francophonie member country didn’t speak the language.

Again, regardless of the approach the new leader would take, none would have the same connection they had with  Jack  in la belle province.  For la belle province, Jack was certainly one of a kind.

2 comments to And Now, Let the Leadership Race Games Begin…But Before That, Let’s View The Quebec Challenge

  • Kim

    For all of Canada, Jack was one of a kind.

    I agree with you that the next leader must be able to communicate in both our languages. What about Michael Layton? He seems comfortable in the spotlight.

    ck Reply:

    Mike Layton has just begun a career in municipal politics. As a rookie councillor, I think he would probably like to spend some more time cutting his political teeth in Toronto City Hall. But, if I were him, I’d start enrolling in French classes.